The Last One

The last motion picture theater of my youth is gone.

For several years, The Avalon, sitting on Kingshighway, across the street from a mortuary that has now become a church, has been shuttered and slowly decaying and finally has met its inevitable fate.

In a way, good.  It has been an eyesore for some time, a constant reminder of neglect and a ruin of a bygone era.

Hyperbole? Indeed, yes, but true nonetheless.  As you can tell by what remained, it was an elegant, simple building, with a lovely facade.  A symbol of an age thoroughly gone—the single-screen, stand-alone movie theater.

The last film I saw there was back in 1986 or ’87—The Last Temptation of Christ.  The theater had passed into the hands of a single owner who was a bit of an eccentric, and he tried everything to keep it going.  He had a bit of a windfall with that film because of the timidity of every other movie theater in the city and county.  They all refused to show Scorcese’s flawed depiction of Jesus’ final days.  The Avalon announced it would screen it and it was no doubt the last time it had sell-out audiences for several days.

By then, the wear and tear was already very apparent.  One of the speakers had been busted for years, generating an annoying buzz off to stage left, and he had never, evidently, made enough money to fix it or replace it.  For ordinary dialogue it was fine, the buzz only became noticeable during very loud sequences.  Probably a torn cone.

But the air conditioning worked, the concession stand still operated, and the seats were kept in repair.

After that, we never went back.  When the doors closed, I expected someone to buy it and try to restore it, but I always thought that during the ’80s and ’90s, when so many of these disappeared one way or the other.

There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s film Radio Days that shows the family Going To The Movies during the 1930s.  In Allen’s handling, it is a reverential scene, like people going to church, slow, a processional, and while I never quite felt that way, there is certainly something of that in my memory.  Nostalgia often becomes a frame for reverence.  Going to the movies for us was a Big Deal and our major entertainment, up till the age of VCRs.  I have vivid memories of a childhood with many options for movie-going.  St. Louis was full of them.

A few of the buildings remain.  The ultra-modernist Martin Cinerama is still there, but it serves as a church now, which pains me.  It was the most expensive theater to go to, but it was the only Cinemascope screen in town.  I remember seeing Grand Prix there.  I also saw 2001: A Space Odyssey there four times.  But not much else.  We may have seen How the West Was Won there, but my more vivid memory of that was seeing it in our local theater, The Shenendoah, and being annoyed at the peculiar warp in the center of the screen where the wide Cinemascope picture had been compressed.

The Melvin is still there, but it, too, is a church, one of those little revival things that can barely support itself.

And of course The Fox is still there, majestic centerpiece of our threater district, and up the street a little bit is Powell Hall, which was once The American, a movie house of the grand tradition.

The rest?  All the stand-alone neighborhood theaters are pretty much gone.

The ones I spent my adolescence in were within walking distance, albeit long walks:  The Shenendoah, The Ritz, The Washington, and The Columbia.  I saw Gone With The Wind in The Columbia.  To be fair, that one is somewhat still there.  The building is, anyway.  After the theater closed, it was converted into a sports facility for a while, with handball courts.  It burned.  Now it is a private home, a showcase bit of architectural bravura owned by the architect.  I sometimes wonder how many people anymore know what it once was.

But the others are just gone, torn down.  Parking lots.  That’s also what became of The Granada, another of my favorites.  I remember when it was demolished, standing in the remaining space and trying to fit the immense theater of my memory into the claustrophobic area of the empty lot.  That’s another one I recall the last picture I saw in—Star Crash.  It rained hard that night, too.

The Granada in particular galls.  I knew a bunch of people, my age, who had formed a company to try to buy it so they could turn it into a revival theater.  The owner, for reasons that escaped us all, refused to sell, delayed and delayed, until one year the roof fell in and the building became a hazard.  The cost of renovation at that point was too high and soon after it fell to the wrecking ball.

The Ritz…yes, I remember the last picture I saw there, as well.  The owners had tried to convert it into a multi-screen venue, which sort of worked, but the crowd had deteriorated into a Roman mob and I was threatened with a knife in the hands of a ten-year-old I told to shut up.  The film?  Airplane II.

Not sure about all the others.

The litany is long, like absent friends.  The Crest, the Crestwood, the Ambassador,  all the Loews theaters, Midtown, State, another one that eludes memory just now, the Mark Twain, the Creve Coeur…

I remember the first time I went to a multiplex.  I didn’t know then that it was the wave of the future.  My dad took me to The Des Peres to see 2001, on a screen not much larger than a widescreen LCD you can put in your home now.  They were known as “Jerry Lewis Intimate Theaters” and we thought they were a joke.  Well.

Movie houses, as they were once affectionately called, suffered, I think, the demise of the B Picture more than anything else.  In an era where the cheapest Hollywood production can only be done for close to ten million, the need for box office returns simply will not support the way theaters used to operate.  Oh, there are certainly B pictures, but they go direct to television (cable) or direct to DVD.  No one is going to pay the cost of an evening at the theater for less than a major motion picture, so the bread-and-butter of the former age is gone.

I can understand, intellectually, what happened, and if I had been a businessman in the movie house business back then I probably would have taken the same series of decisions that has resulted in the current loss of what for many decades was an American institution.

Going to the movies is a social activity.  It’s not like gathering a couple friends at your home to watch a DVD.  It is a civilizing activity when conducted the way it once was.

One benefit of this, probably unforeseen (I didn’t see it), is the revival of live theater.  If you’re going to pay a lot of money to go be entertained, the novelty and impact of the stage is the thing that draws the audience.  Not, perhaps, large audiences—many local theater groups struggle—but devoted audiences, and this, I think, is a good thing.  Live theater is about the story, the characters, not the special effects.  At live theater, you have to pay attention.

I miss going to the movies.  We stopped doing it years ago because, frankly, it was just more convenient to rent the video.  The “pause” button has spoiled us, weakening out bladders, giving us opportunity to replay what just happened because we don’t pay as close attention as we used to, and avoiding sitting in a hall with people who don’t know how to shut up during the film.  It became expensive and a bother.

Now it’s a special event, something we might do once or twice a year.  (I have every intention of going to see John Carter of Mars at the theater.)  And, yes, there are still theaters—multiplexes, often in shopping malls (although that peculiar institution itself is struggling, so who knows what may happen)—and they are expensive.  Now we have OMNIMAX theaters, which, impressive as they sometimes are, is nevertheless part of an ongoing tradition in film to try to coax people to leave their homes and go to the movies, like VistaVision, Todd-AO, Cinemascope and a dozen others, all trying to offer people what could not be had on television.  The current revival of 3-D is such a gimmick.

Anyway, I thought I’d take some space to lament the passing of yet another monument from my youth.  The intersection where The Avalon once stood was home once to a remarkable piece of urban architecture, a Famous-Barr department store that, when it was built, was shocking for its modernity.  That’s gone now, too, a strip mall in its place with a Walgreens and an Office Max.  Around the neighborhood you can see the architectural motifs on apartment buildings and private homes that speak of a more optimistic, confident time—and, perhaps, a more thoughtful time.

Or not.  Nostalgia is deceptive and memory a dangerously mutable realm.  But there is still some comfort there, to go along with the melancholy.


Equality Means Just That

Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark. I’ve seen him on other occasions and he is articulate and, from what I’ve seen, fearless, a rare combination today in politics. In this excerpt he’s talking about gay marriage.

No, that’s not right. He’s talking about equality. And that’s what is at the heart of so much today. Listen:

He says what I believe. Being an American, to me, means something very basic and unequivocal. Equality is not a commodity, available for a price, which some folks can afford more of than others. it comes with the territory and the idea that we still, after all this time, have to have special legislation to defend various aspects of what should be presumed without question irritates me.

His remark about the utility of popular votes is also spot on. We like to assume democracy is applicable in all cases, but it is not. This is one reason we have a republic rather than a full-blown democracy. A democratically empowered republic, yes, but in a republic the passions of the moment do not hold sway, or should not. Lest anyone thinks otherwise, for a vast portion of this country slavery existed by dint of popular mandate. So did the chattel condition of women. While it may be true that these things would have (and did) erode in time, that is not the same as saying democracy worked. Other factors were involved, but in the case of slavery a war had to be fought in order to enforce what ought to have been recognized as a fundamental right.

Americans are no different in many ways than any other person on the planet. We have our foibles, our prejudices, our blindnesses. Many of us really don’t think through the meaning of our convictions and in some uncomfortable areas we would rather the issue never come up than have to deal with it. And doubtless a great many of us want to feel special if not superior in relation to others. We have many euphemisms for those with whom we wish to have no association, and most of them are class-based, some are race-based, others are behavior-based. None of them should be permitted to dictate legal status.

Equal means equal. Until we internalize that, breathe it like the very air we take for granted, we will continue to suffer the kind of strife that often renders our politics abusive and fruitless.

Just sayin’.

Writers On Religion

This a collection of excerpts from interviews with a wide range of writers, some science fiction, some fantasists, several so-called “mainstream,” on their belief—actually disbelief—in a deity.

I think the most difficult thing for many people to grasp is the idea of purposelessness, the concept that the universe simply Is and has no other purpose for its existence. Humans like to have a sense of where they’re going, what they’re supposed to do when they get there, and why. To say that these answers must come entirely from within is, to put it mildly, a bit unsettling, especially as in the first part of one’s life someone has kept stressing that there is an innate purpose, that “nothing happens without a reason,” and that this purpose comes from what we call god, a being who first made the universe entirely with us in mind that we might live according to some plan. I admit, this would be very comforting. Life is a confusing collection of event and reaction and it would be nice if there were an instruction book. Barring that, simply trusting that it all leads to something is one way to get through a day, a year, a life. To then have the idea that this is not the case dropped on us is understandably discommoding.

But is it? I found it liberating, since now I no longer had to worry about living up to a standard kept mystically hidden. And I could do my own work figuring out what “it all means.”

Anyway, I found this thoughtful and interesting, so…enjoy.

Just So You Know…

Recently I’ve received a spate of those nasty politically-naive, rather insipid yet clever emails that go round and round, forwarded from one to another to hundreds, spouting off about the woes of the country, the supposed sins of the Left, and all containing a germ of truth wrapped in misinformation, outrights lies, and substanceless assertion.  Mostly I delete them without a second thought.  They are noise, distraction, mud thrown into the waters of discourse where above all clarity should be our goal.

All of them have to do with what liberalism has done to our country.  All of them are concerned with telling anyone who will listen what the Right is trying to “save us” from.  And all of them are pretty thoughtless.  It would be funny if there wasn’t so much at stake.

Below is a post from Lawrence O’Donnell, a newscaster and polemicist who I have listened to occasionally.  I don’t follow such people, on either side.  From time to time I listen to someone from both camps.  I’ve found Mr. O’Donnell more reasonable than most.  But I thought he really captured something with this, so I’m borrowing it to express my own views.




For the record, I am very tired of the attempt to make me feel guilty for the progress I support.  The only charge I ever heard that had any traction with me about the problems with liberals was the “tax-and-spend” one, but that doesn’t even hold water anymore with me.  Conservatism these days seems—may I stress seems—to be all about preventing people from doing things, about taking rights away from those deemed undeserving.  Liberalism has always, even traditional free market liberalism (which, yes, free market enterprise is a liberal  invention), been about letting people do more, have more rights.  I don’t see much wrong with that as a fundamental principle.

So, just to let anyone interested know…

What Is Wrong With Conservatives?

I wonder sometimes how a modern conservative maintains.

Romney has won the New Hampshire primary.  All the buzz now is how he’s going to have a much tougher fight in South Carolina, primarily because of the religious and social conservatives who will see him as “not conservative enough.”  There is a consortium of social conservatives meeting this week in Texas to discuss ways to stop him, to elevate someone more to their liking to the nomination.  And right there I have to wonder at what it means anymore to be a conservative.

I grew up, probably as many people my age did, thinking of conservatism as essentially penurious and a bit militaristic.  Stodgy, stuffy, proper.  But mainly pennypinching.  A tendency to not do something rather than go forward with something that might not be a sure thing.

I suppose some of the social aspect was there, too, but in politics that didn’t seem important.  I came of age with an idea of fiscal conservatism as the primary trait.

That doesn’t square with the recent past.  The current GOP—say since Ronny Reagan came to power—has been anything but fiscally conservative, although what they have spent money on has lent them an aura of responsible, hardnosed governance.   Mainly the military, but also subsidies for businesses.  But something has distorted them since 1981 and has turned them into bigger government spenders than the Democrats ever were.  (This is not open to dispute, at least not when broken down by administrations.  Republican presidents have overseen massive increases in the deficit as opposed to Democratic administrations that have as often overseen sizable decreases in the deficit, even to the point of balancing the federal budget.  You may interpret or spin this any way you like, but voting trends seem to support that the choices Republican presidents have made in this regard have been supported by Republican congressmen even after said presidents have left office.)

What they seem adamantly opposed to is spending on people.  By that I mean, social spending.  Welfare, MedicAid, unemployment relief, housing subsidies, minimum wage supports, education, and so forth.  With a few exceptions, we have seen conservatism take on the mantle of Scrooge and move to cut people off.  This has been in the name of States Rights as often as not or welfare reform, but in the last ten years it has come out from its various nom de guerre’s and stood on its own as an attack on Entitlements.

When you look at all the things, say, Ron Paul wants to eliminate from government, you can’t help but thinking that he believes government should do nothing for anyone.  If the factory up the road dumps toxic waste that gets into the water table and poisons your farmland, government should have no brief to take that factory to task and see to it you’re made whole again.  I assume the thinking is, well, you can take the factory to court, just like anyone else.  By “anyone” I take it they mean anyone with the means to mount a protracted legal battle.  Why isn’t it better to enforce laws to prevent the pollution in the first place?  If your boss pays you less for the same or more work based on your gender, according to this thinking there would be no governmental recourse to making your boss either explain the situation or do anything to rectify it.  Likewise, I suppose, in matters of race.  The assumption, I suppose, is that if you feel unfairly treated in one job, you have the right to go get another one.  This ignores the possibility (indeed, the fact) that this situation is systemic.  That’s something no one in the GOP seems to want to address—systemic dysfunction—unless of course they’re talking about all the aspects of government of which they disapprove.

Of course, this is not just Ron Paul.  Most of them, with the notable exception of the two candidates who haven’t a chance in hell of the nomination, seem to have some variation of the “smaller government” mantra as part of their platform.  Taken with the chart linked above, you have to wonder what they mean by “smaller” when it seems they spend as much if not more than the Democrats.  Obviously, Republican administrations have never cost us less money—it’s just that the money gets spent in ways that make it appear they’re focusing their attention on what is “important.”

Debating what is or is not important is certainly legitimate and we’ve been doing that for over two centuries.  And certainly intractability has never been absent from our political discourse—such intransigence led, most famously, to the Civil War.  But we have also grown accustomed to such stances being in the distant past, not part of our present reality.  Meanness in politics has always been around, but it seems the GOP has, at least in some of its members, embraced it in particularly pernicious ways.  The gridlock of the last couple of decades is indicative of the quasi-religious fervor with which members of a major political party have adopted as a tactic.

Newt Gingrich oversaw a government shut-down by instigating an intransigent position.  It can only be seen in hindsight as a power play, since the fiscal policies of the Clinton Administration saw one of the last periods of general economic well-being that reached a majority of citizens.  We wonder now what that was all about.  Gingrich’s “contract with America” was billed as a way to return control and prosperity to the average American, but that happened to a large degree without the hyperbolic posturing he indulged, so it’s a question now what happened.

I’m not going to review the politics of the time here, only point out that what was on the GOP’s collective conscience then and continued to be was their goal to disassemble the apparatus of government that militated against vast accumulations of wealth.  Again, in hindsight it is obvious, and Clinton himself was seduced into the program by signing the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which has led directly to the current economic situation.

Now here lies the peculiarity of our modern times.  You can lay out the causal chain of Republican collusion with the economic catastrophes of the last three decades and find general agreement, even among Republicans.  But when asked if they will continue to vote Republican, well, of course.


Anyone with a smidgen of historical memory cannot but see Obama as a right center president.  He has done virtually nothing that Reagan would not have been proud of (with the single exception of the Affordable Health Care Act).  Yet you would think he is the devil incarnate if you listen to the Right.  Hatred of Obama has grown to phobic proportions, coupled with more and more strident positions among the suite of Republican contenders for some kind of new rapprochement with Americans to establish—

What?  I’m not altogether sure they understand the kind of country they’re advocating.

Now John Huntsman has bowed out of the race, throwing his support behind Mitt Romney, who is still being viewed with suspicion by the far right of the party—hence the conference in Texas mentioned above.  Not that Huntsman would have had a chance with the evangelicals.  Not only was he reasonable about many issues, he was two things the Right cannot abide: one, he is an advocate for science, supporting both climate change science and evolution, and two, he actually worked for Obama as ambassador to China.  He is, therefore, tainted.

From the few things he has said about them, Romney is fuzzy on climate change and evolution.  One suspects he tends to accept the science but he’s been careful not to come right out and say it, which is tiresome.  But the fact that he has felt it necessary to soft-pedal his positions on these is a telling clue as to what the Right wants.

What they want, briefly, is an America as they always thought it should be.  The strongest, the richest, the least controversial, the purist, and able to do what it has always done in order to stay that way.

If this sounds like a fantasy, well, it is.  It’s Camelot, the City on the Hill, the New York That Never Was.  It is greatness without cost, freedom without dissent, progress without change.

It is also elitism without earning it.

Just as one example, the continued harangue for deregulation.  The case is made—or, rather, asserted—that growth, including jobs, depend on less regulation, that regaining our standard of living and reinvigorating American enterprise requires less government oversight.  How this can be said with a straight face after three decades of deregulation have brought commensurate declines in all those factors, leading finally to near-Depression level unemployment, astounds.  This is surely a sign of psychosis.  From 1981 on there has been a constant move to deregulate and in its wake we have seen devastation.  The airlines were deregulated and within less than two decades most of them had been through bankruptcy, many of them no longer exist (TWA, PanAm?), and service has suffered.  Oil was deregulated with the promise of holding prices and increasing production, but we have had regular if staggered rises in price, chokes in supply, and an environmentally worse record of accidents.  The savings and loan industry was deregulated which resulted in a major default and rampant fraud, the loss of billions of depositors money and a housing crisis, and we then watched the same thing happen with the deregulation of banking.  How much more evidence is required before that mantra of “deregulation will lead to more jobs and better service” be seen for what it is—a lie.

The Far Right of the GOP is living in a fantasy.  The problem with that is they have a profound influence on the Party mainstream, which is exactly why reasonable candidates like Huntsman and Johnson have no chance of garnering Party support and people like Romney have to waffle on positions in order to woo the tail that is trying to wag the dog.

What I do not understand is how those who make up the mainstream of the Party can continue to support policies that make no sense.  Momentum is one thing, but this has gone on far too long to be attributed to that.

I do not here claim that the Democrats have legitimate and sensible alternatives.  They have their own set of problems.  But Democrats have generally been willing to abandon a policy that is shown not to be effective.  Right now that says a lot.  It’s not much of  a choice, but frankly it is more in line with the country I grew up understanding us to live in.





Stacks and Time (or Time and Stacks, whichever…)

I am probably never going to read all the books I own.

The last few years I’ve been dealing more and more with that realization.  I have thousands, maybe several thousand, and the ones in the house are certainly not all that I’ve ever owned.  I have culled a few times over the years and I’ve slowed down acquiring new ones, but it’s a kind of compulsion.  I mentioned once in a post, I think, that owning books for me is a sign of wealth.  By that standard, I’m moderately well off.

Here’s the thing now.  I don’t read particularly fast.  I can be dogged, and from time to time manage to read a book in one day, but honestly my average lo these last few decades is about one or two a week.  This is down considerably from the few years between 16 and 19 when I could speed read.  I took a course in high school that increased my reading and comprehension to a ridiculous level.  The machine they used to bring us up to speed only tracked at two thousand words a minute and I went past that.  At peak, I was probably reading close to three thousand words a minute, which is about eight to ten pages, depending on typeface.  I was reading all my assignments in home room or study hall.  A book a day? How about an average SF novel in an hour or two?  I’ve talked about my senior year before, during which I cut maybe two thirds of it.  Most days I walked up the street to the local library and spent the day reading.  By the time I graduated high school I was reading a book a day there and another one at home in the evening.

The problem with that is, I have pretty much forgotten all those books.

Oh, some of them stuck, certainly.  I went through most of the “classics” section at the library and I can conjure images from a good number of them, but the rest?  I know I read a great many ACE Doubles, a lot of Ballantine SF works, and so forth, and any number of detective and Other, but do I have any memory of them?

I post my reading lists on-line now.  I have two accounts, one at Shelfari and one at Goodreads.  You may notice that the numbers are different.  I did a much more thorough job of recovering lists of past reading for Goodreads, so there are several hundred more books there than Shelfari.  (I keep the Shelfari account because I’ve been participating in some of the discussion threads.)  Even so, the Goodreads list is incomplete—because I cannot remember all those books.  It lists about 2700 titles.  I conservatively estimate that this is short by nearly a thousand.  Partly, I’m making myself be honest.  I know of a couple of hundred titles that I did read, but I frankly can’t remember anything about them beyond the title (most of Thomas Hardy, a number Theodore Dreiser novels, Trollope, and the like) and so I won’t list them unless I either suddenly remember something about them or reread them.

Then there are all those paperbacks I flew through that I can’t even remember the titles.  Now and then, in conversation, one of them will pop up and I’ll have an “oh, yeah, that one” moment, but to be truthful I think a book should stick somewhere in your memory for you to claim it.

Why can’t I remember them?  Probably because I went through them so fast there was no time to form a longterm impression.  Some of them were over my head and I passed through them without having grasped them (I read Joyce during that senior year and it made no impression other than the sense of being completely out of my depth—I’ve since reread Ulysses and so I can claim it).  I read a number of science books that left behind a lot of general scientific information, but nothing about the specific texts.  And then there was a considerable amount of what one might call “trash” fiction—which term I loathe, but I use it here as a handy marker, since I think everyone, whether they admit it or not, knows exactly what I mean.  For instance,  Anne and Serge Golon’s  Angelique series.  I don’t think I read them all, but I read a number, and aside from a vague costume drama residue and a lot of erotic imagery, not a bit of their plots or characters remain in memory. The same can be said of any number of antebellum novels, like the Kyle Onstott/Lance Horner Falconhurst series, some of which I read back in grade school, but again, little of that stuck.  (There was a fad for these things in the mid to late Sixties and several writers indulged–Ashley Carter comes to mind, and Boyd Upchurch.  Ah, well.)

Sometime after I turned 21 I consciously slowed my reading down.  I realized even then that I was retaining little.  Oh, it stuck for a while, it was the perfect “cramming” technique, but even then I could barely remember what I’d read two years prior.  That, and I was simply not enjoying it.  Everything reduced to “textual experiences” that held none of the real pleasure of reading a good book.

So I went too far in the other direction.  In a good year I read between 70 and 80 books cover to cover now.  If I estimated all reading, it probably comes up to the equivalent maybe 120 or so.  A far cry from when I read four or five hundred a year.

But I’m enjoying each one now, and remembering them more clearly.  I would hate to read certain books too fast—books that should be savored.

So I won’t be getting through my stacks.  Ever.  But I find I am appreciating the journey a lot better.

President Santorum

I’ve always wondered about people in Iowa.  Only a little less than those in Idaho, specifically the northern part.  Why, I wonder, should this state be our early warning system, our barometer of coming political shitstorms?

Just as a historical note, the caucus is concerned mainly with choosing state electoral delegates.  In 1972, it was altered slightly to become a bellwether process in early presidential showings. Altered by the Democrats, who sponsored the first early January caucus there.  By 1976, the Republicans opted for the same model, and it’s been rumbling along that way ever since.

Interestingly, though both parties participate, national attention is almost entirely on the Republicans.

This year’s caucus may tell us why.

I admit, before today I knew very little about Rick Santorum’s stands on issues unrelated to sex.  So I Googled him.  There’s a link to Where I Stand/Rick Santorum.  When you click it, you are taken immediately to a donation page.  Right up front, before you find out one more thing about him, his hand is out.  I suppose this is all right, since I frankly can’t imagine anyone but those who have already decided that he’s the one will go there, so why not get the business out of the way first?

Click the next link and you get to his main campaign page and then you can click on the Where I Stand button.  Here’s the page.   As you go down this list, you find almost nothing overtly related to the topic that has become the chief identifier for Santorum since he was thrown out of his Pennsylvania senate seat, namely his attitude toward sex.  Instead we find a list that could be found on almost any mainstream politician’s roster of important talking points.

At the bottom, though, is a final section, 10 Steps to Promote Our Interests Around the World.  Here it gets interesting.  The first two are typically Republican—a call for broader “free markets” and the promotion of religious liberty.  That one is worth quoting:  “… religious pluralism where people of faith have the right to pursue their beliefs and not be abused by either their government or a majority. This is the only ground upon which we can truly live in peace with our differences and also advance the moral teachings which are essential for freedom to thrive.”

This sounds almost mainstream, doesn’t it?  Nowhere on his site does he expound upon the basis of such religious egalitarianism, but he does advocate the traditional conservative backing of Israel (even though he states in another section that “housing” issues there should be on equal footing between Israel and Hammas.  Not sure what that means).  But you must also keep in mind that christian conservatives have for years been claiming that they are “under assault” by a godless government and majority, and that this is Santorum’s constituency.

You have to go to his public speeches to realize that his moral universe is driven by an almost Old Testament view of morality, which requires the rolling back of personal liberties that do not fit within such a framework.  He’s a vocal opponent not just of abortion but of birth control and on more than one occasion he has claimed that he opposes birth control because it promotes multi-partner sex, which is a guaranteed path to horrible diseases.  He is a forceful opponent of gay marriage, something that has already become a fact in this country, though not federally.  So right there he has stated his moral position, which will require him to strip rights from people.

As you continue down his list of proposals, his focus is clearly on the Middle East and a little bit on China.  There’s a strong whiff of the Cold War in his specifics—missile bases, increased intelligence operations, and a pronounced suspicion of Iran.

In short, most of this is mainstream Republican.  He’s opposed to Obamacare, but that’s no distinction, they all are—even though as the law works its way into practice it is becoming increasingly clear that much of it will be popular, and possibly even radical enough to work to the nation’s benefit.

There is something that bothers me, but it bothers me about all of them, not just Santorum.  One of his proposals states:  “…we need to change our information operations abroad to promote our core values of freedom, equality, and democracy — just as we did with the Soviet Empire in the 1980s.”

That in itself doesn’t trouble me so much—it’s a debatable bit of propaganda, since we always maintained as part of our efforts against communism an information component—but when combined with this:

  1. Finally, we need to have a national effort to restore the teaching of American history in our nation’s schools. It is our children’s worst subject — they simply do not know their own story and thus when they are told ours is a history of aggression and immorality, they have no counter-narrative to refute it. It is worth remembering that Ronald Reagan’s final wish in his farewell address was to ask America to instill in our youth a renewed “informed patriotism.” Unfortunately, we ignored this lesson, and we are reaping the consequences.

If you are going to advocate a deeper understanding of our history as a core principle, then you should also present that history accurately throughout your platform.  The implication of the information quote is that it was our strong advocacy of core ideas that brought the Soviet Union down, and this is simply not true.  Reagan did not crush them by showing them the error of their ideas.  The United States spent the Soviet Union into bankruptcy and it collapsed under its own unsustainability.

Of course, that’s not sexy.  But it’s true and consistent with historical accuracy.

But this is a charge that can be leveled equally at all presidential candidates of either party.

On the face of it, Rick Santorum’s proposed policies are not that different from any other candidate currently making a viable bid for the Republican nomination.  Ron Paul is distinct on his foreign policy positions and his economic ideas, but not so much on anything else.  It appears that Rick Perry is about to go back to Texas to lick his wounds and Michele Bachman has finally become the mediocrity she has always been.  (She’s been one of the worst offenders of historical accuracy in this campaign.)  John Huntsman is about to become a footnote.  (Which is a shame, as he seemed to have been the only one of the bunch who had the most traditional conservative viewpoint.)

What is there to say about Newt Gingrich?  He will still run, but he will talk his way out of more and more victories.

So we have Romney, Santorum, and Paul going into New Hampshire.  You could probably mix and match among them and come up with one pretty good candidate, but—

Santorum has made his reputation as an advocate for marriage, absolute monogamy, and a repudiation of homosexuality as a legitimate state of being.  He has made a political fetish out of sex and abortion.  And his pronouncement upon the results of the Iowa Caucus that the cohesion of the family is the source of economic progress is a pompous oversimplification and distraction about the nature of economies and the variety of human experience and potential.  He makes a big deal about supporting religious pluralism, but has been clear about his aversion to human pluralism.

Why am I harping on this?  Is it just about the sex?

Well, no.  But the sex is a marker for the problem.  It’s about freedom of association.

The personal liberty movements of the 20th Century—civil rights, racial equality, gender equality, gay rights—all share one common feature: they are all concerned with the freedom of association.  With whom may we associate…and how?

To say to people that their choices concerning with whom and in what way they will spend their lives must be limited by a particular social convention is perhaps an underappreciated cost of this conservative war on gays and women.  It is in a very real sense telling people that they may have only certain kinds of conversations with only certain kinds of people.

Santorum might be very surprised by this notion.  In his view, and the view of the GOP lo these last few decades, barring gays from marriage and women from full equality is supposed to free people from being forced to make choices they don’t wish to make.  I’ve never understood how that works—by expanding rights, how is it that we therefore limit them?—but it really was never about controlling one’s own life, but about controlling the choices of others.  If people are kept in neat, distinct boxes—husband, wife, toddler, preteen, teen, and young adult, christian, working-middle-upper middle class—business can operate more confidently, predict trends, guarantee profits.  If everyone is running around messing with the categories, who knows what the future will bring?

(You think I jest?  Expanded freedoms bring expanded expectations, which takes control from one group and gives it to another.  Why do you think business is so keen on busting unions and shipping jobs overseas?)

I didn’t see anything on Santorum’s site about energy policy or, beyond his pledge to end Obamacare, anything about public health—except a safe commitment to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and a concern for fraud in MediCare.  I didn’t see anything there about his commitment to science, but given the distortions he has indulged in his war on abortion I doubt he has much use for it—that and his vocal advocacy of a religious temperament.

I would like to know how any of these people think they can enlarge and advance the cause of freedom by taking it away from groups they don’t like.

It’s no secret that I won’t be voting for any of these people next November.  I rather doubt that, in the unlikely event that he somehow snags the nomination, I’d vote for John Huntsman.  The problem is not so much them as candidates as the fact that they are tied to a political party that has gone completely off the rails in my view.  Since 2010 the GOP in congress has managed to be on the wrong side of almost every issue, simply in their blind hatred of Obama.  They have repudiated programs that originated with them simply because Obama advocated support for them.  I haven’t respected their social agenda for decades and now their unwavering and idiotic support of tax cuts and regulation rollbacks in the face of one of the worst failures of laissez-faire policy since 1929 doesn’t show so much their love of the rich as it does their complete lack of common sense.

But I had to go look, since the good Republicans of Iowa have elevated Mr. Santorum up to the status of a real contender, because I really didn’t know.  His reputation has been so colored by his pathological obsession with other people’s sex lives that I knew nothing about his other positions.  Now I do.

I think I can confidently predict that Obama will be reelected.  I don’t say that’s a good thing.  But the thought of Rick Santorum in the White House is a very sobering thought.


For the New Year

This took a bit of patience.  For a comparison, here’s a thumbnail of the original:

Basically, this just took a lot of patience to get rid of the phone lines and such.  I shot the original from my backyard and in future I intend to do some further manipulations and other cool stuff.  But I wanted to put something up for the beginning of the year.  Ad Astra!


So we survived the night.  The mad hordes banging on the steel shutters disturbed our sleep not at all.  This morning we looked out at the devastation and counted ourselves among the fortunate survivors, nevertheless aware that this year—this year—is the one to fear most…

I never make resolutions and usually I don’t even make plans.  Over the last many years I’ve found that all I accomplish is an increase in guilt when I fail to live up to my promises to myself.  I have enough self-deprecation already, I don’t need to make an annual celebration out of it.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have things I want to accomplish.

I think I’ll keep most of it to myself.  Anyone keeping up with this blog has a pretty good idea what my ambitions are, and they don’t really follow an annual cycle.  If there is one thing, though, that needs to change, it is my deep conviction that much of what I wish to do will never happen.  I surprised myself between 1990 and 2001 by doing exactly what I had till that decade thought I’d never manage—publish.

The fact is, I have always held back from myself the kind of faith that opens up possibilities.  I’m ready to accept successes when they happen, but I always seem to keep myself from believing they will.  Sometimes—often—this can result in self-sabotage.  Never intentional, always unconscious, but effective all the same.  And I don’t know why.  Thirty or forty years ago, untried and with nothing to show for any effort, it made a kind of sense.  I hadn’t proved anything to myself or anyone else.

Starting in 1980 that changed and I have a track record now.  So it’s maybe time to start believing in myself.  At least more than I have been.  And enjoy it.

So here’s a few things I’d like to try to do this coming year.

One, publish a new novel.  At the very least get a contract for one.

Two, take a long vacation or two with Donna and travel to some new places.

Three, maybe actually mount a decent photographic exhibition.  It’s long overdue, I have a lot of good work that will, if I don’t do something about it, disappear into oblivion without anyone ever seeing it.


Well, four, have a better time.

So, irresolute but with purpose, I welcome 2012 and wish you all the very best in the coming 12 months.  I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

And thank you for paying attention and giving a damn.