Saturday, September 21, 2013

AS I LAY DYING - The Movie

It took me about about eight years to get into William Faulkner. 
That's unusual for a native Mississippian, especially considering that I'll read the label on the salt shaker during breakfast if nothing else is available. 
The first thing I picked up was "The Sound And The Fury", sometime during college.  I got lost in the first chapter. 
Then I tried "Absalom, Absalom".  I was totally defeated.  No idea what was going on. 

Five or six years later, I had the good fortune to manage a Taylors Books location that also employed Charles Lester and Joseph Holt.  They weren't Faulkner scholars, but they set me on the correct path.  Just as you don't learn to read English by dipping your toes into Chaucer, Shakespeare, and James Joyce, you don't learn to appreciate William Faulkner by diving into "Light In August".

Once Charles and Joe got me into the proper order of things, I spent two years of my life reading the stories, novels, screenplays, letters and non-fiction essays of William Faulkner.  In order.  I used Joseph Blottner's two-volume biography as my guide.  Whenever Faulkner wrote something in the biographical account, I hit "pause" on the biography and read the work in question.  It took me two years to complete that project, and another two years to learn to speak English again.  Time well spent. 

Here's how you can understand Oxford, Mississippi's 3rd most famous export.  (Archie Manning and John Grisham are #1 and #2.) 

Read "A Rose For Emily".  It's a Southern Gothic horror story.  Great stuff, and an easy read. 

Then try "Red Leaves".  It was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post, and therefore you should be able to get through it in one sitting.  An Indian Chieftain has died, and tradition dictates that all his possessions (including his black slave) be buried with him.  The slave doesn't want to be part of the tradition, for obvious reason, and escapes.  No one has any heart for the process, or the chase, and this includes the chief's son.  Faulknerian decay before Faulknerian decay was cool. 

This will get you to "Spotted Horses".  Flem Snopes (who could've been the inspiration for Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might Be A Redneck" schtick) and Ratliff the dry-goods salesman both make an appearance at a horse auction gone bad. 

"Barn Burning" is about another Snopes, a tenant farmer/sharecropper who moves from plantation to plantation threatening to burn the barns of his landlords.  (A quick word about the Snopes family - Faulkner and novelist Sherwood Anderson dreamed up the Snopeses in Jackson Square, New Orleans.  They are a stench in the nostrils of everything the Old South stood for.  The Snopeses are too cheap to buy train tickets for their children.  They put luggage tags around their necks and ship them as freight.  Memorable names in the Snopes clan are: Admiral Dewey, Wallstreet Panic, and Montgomery Ward.) 

Ok, that should get you ready for your first Faulkner novel.  I think you ought to start with "The Hamlet".  It's the first volume in the "Snopes" trilogy.  If you've read this website with any regularity since 2007, you'll love "The Hamlet".  White Trash comes to town and threatens the established order of things.  The horse auction from "Spotted Horses" is told from another point of view.  Ike Snopes keeps things Moooooo-ving.  Heh.....

If you've made it this far, try "Sanctuary".  Faulkner needed some money and decided to write a potboiler, and Lord have mercy, he got this pot to boiling.  An Ole Miss sorority girl gets raped by an impotent dude named Popeye.  Popeye uses a corncob.  A condemned felon's hair needs straightening on the gallows. The hangman fixes it for him by springing the trap.  Everyone is drunk all the time.  This is the novel that made Faulkner's literary reputation. 

Then, and only then, should you make a stab at "As I Lay Dying".  Faulkner claimed that he wrote this masterpiece while working nights at the Ole Miss Power Plant, writing on an overturned wheelbarrow.  There are 15 different 1st-person narrators in the fifty-something chapters of the book.  Some of them are stark, raving mad. I know that 2 of my 3 siblings read this book and loved it, loved it, loved it.  Addie Bundren is dying.  Her husband, Anse, has agreed to haul her corpse to her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi, for burial.  In reality, he just wants to purchase some false teeth there.  The oldest son, Cash, is busying himself building a coffin outside Addie's window.  He wants to go to Jefferson to buy a phonograph.  Dewey Dell, Addie's only daughter, wants to go to Jefferson for an abortion.  Vardaman, the youngest son, just might be mentally retarded, but he gets to narrate as much of the novel as anyone else. 
When Addie dies, the Bundrens have to take Addie through fire and water (with buzzards circling overhead) to get Addie to her final resting place.  Larry McMurtry cheerfully ripped off the last 10% of this novel for the finale of "Lonesome Dove", when Call has to get Gus's reamains through fire and water for burial. 

The actor James Franco has made a movie of "As I Lay Dying".  The early reviews from the Cannes Film Festival are good.  I've long dreamed of someone bringing this book to the big screen, just to see if it could be done.  From the look and tone of the preview, it looks like Franco just might have done it.  I don't see any listings of the film coming to Dallas, but when it does, I'm going to be there. 


Friday, September 20, 2013

Jesus and Ayn Rand

A friend of mine sent out a group email about Ayn Rand a few days ago.  The recipients were mostly church members.  Here’s the gist of it…..
A few days ago, (spouse) and I watched a documentary about the life and work of Ayn Rand.  She summed up her philosophy in two words:  objective reality.  Even though her parents were Jewish, at about age 10, she confided to her diary that she was an atheist.   Possibly she used objective reality because, leaving The Soviet Union in 1926, she saw how propaganda and coercion could create false reality and control people.  She abhorred altruism, the idea on which Communism and Nazism were able to function by convincing people that the individual is unimportant, that only the group, the nation is worthy of dedication.  She believed each person should pursue self interest openly without deception.

Is it possible that, when we do something good or charitable, we do so in order to feel better about ourselves, to earn approval of our peer group or, in some cases,  to earn a reward after death?  If true, it would mean the person doing good is acting on enlightened self interest. 
I realize you may consider this silly and unworthy of thought or comment, but if you have any thoughts on Rand's work or this  subject, I would be glad to receive them.   Possibly you will share your thoughts with this group of addressees.

I sent back the following, from Rand’s 1964 Playboy interview:
“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.
The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.

It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others—a doctrine which is extremely offensive to both parties, leaving men no choice but the roles of sacrificial victim or moral cannibal . . . .
To view the question in its proper perspective, one must begin by rejecting altruism’s terms and all of its ugly emotional aftertaste—then take a fresh look at human relationships. It is morally proper to accept help, when it is offered, not as a moral duty, but as an act of good will and generosity, when the giver can afford it (i.e., when it does not involve self-sacrifice on his part), and when it is offered in response to the receiver’s virtues, not in response to his flaws, weaknesses or moral failures, and not on the ground of his need as such.”

This prompted a few emails about Rand’s atheism, and the vast philosophical chasm that separates Ayn Rand and Jesus.  Here’s a sample, from a guy I genuinely admire:
Ayn Rand was very clear that her personal philosophy is the antithesis of the Christian teaching on selfless love.  She disagreed with Jesus in a fundamental way and made no bones about it.  It follows, therefore, that if Christians are attracted to her philosophy they are either confused, they think Rand seriously misread Jesus, or they see Christianity as a private matter with few moral implications.  I think Rand was right on the money.  The two philosophies are antithetical.  Jesus has my vote.

It went on for a while longer.  Most of the people copied on the email were good church people, all of whom I respect and admire.  I like to think that these are the people who would come to my aid if my family were to get into serious trouble.  I like to think that I would help them out in similar circumstances.  But I started thinking about what Rand said and what Jesus said.  NOT how they’ve both been interpreted, but what they actually said. 
Jesus supposedly said the following, in Matthew 6.  The additional italics are mine, for emphasis:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (money).
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

ehold the birds of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his height?

And why do you worry about clothing?   Look at the lilies of the field, how they grow; they don't work, neither do they spin fabric for themselves:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these flowers.

Wherefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, you of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, How shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things.
But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

That's kinda intense. 
Don't worry about what you're going to eat or drink. 
Look at the birds.  They don't grow crops, but God cares about them and provides for them.  Aren't you better than they are? 
Consider the flowers.  They don't work.  They don't make fabric, or anything else, yet they're more beautiful than Solomon! 
Here’s Matthew 5:40 – 42:  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And if someone forces you to carry his load for a mile, go with him for two miles. Give to him that asks upi, and from him that would borrow of you, turn not him away”.
Translated: If the damn lawyers take away your jacket, let 'em have your overcoat also.  If someone forces you to carry their load for a mile, go ahead and put in two miles.  GIVE to anyone who wants what you have, and if someone wants to borrow from you DO NOT turn them away. 
Luke 14:12-14: “Then said he also to him that asked him, When you make a dinner or a supper, call not your friends, nor your brethren, neither your kinsmen, nor your rich neighbors; lest they also ask tyou again, and a recompense be made thee. But when you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and you shall be blessed; for they cannot recompense you: for you shall be paid back at the resurrection of the just”
Don't have family over for dinner.  Ever.  Never, ever, ever.  Always feed the street people first. 
Now.... Compare Ayn Rand's statements on charity with those of Jesus.  I only know of one Christian who lives his life according to the statements of Christ quoted above, and most people think the guy is stark raving mad.  Maybe he is. 
Everyone that I know, and I mean everyone, Christian or not, tries to maintain health and life insurance, and keep up their house payments.  They try to get educations so they can provide for themselves and their families.  I've never seen anyone go into debt so they can feed more strangers, and I've never seen a robin drop worms into every nest in the forest. 
The average yearly income on this planet is $6,000 per person.  I've never known any follower of Christ to give away his stuff until he had less than that.  Ayn Rand advocated giving to people you feel like giving to, but only if it's not going to put you at risk.  Jesus taught that we should sacrifice ourselves, our stuff, and our security. 
In short, there has been an ongoing battle in the Christian church between the philosophy of Ayn Rand and the philosophy of Jesus. 
Ayn Rand has won it. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

American Exceptionalism

Vladimir Putin took to the pages of The New York Holy Times a few days ago, bent Barack Obama over his knee, and gave him a firm spanking.  Most of Putin's editorial was about Syria, but some of it addressed the issue of "American Exceptionalism". 

Here is Putin's money quote:
 I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Yeah, France thinks that is exceptional because of the French food and lifestyle. 
Italy believes that it is exceptional because Italians have the misguided belief that no one else in the world can make decent wooden chairs. 
The Chinese pictogram for "China" literally means "Middle Kingdom", as in "China is halfway between earth and heaven", which is taking exceptionalism to the next level. 
Great Britain believes that it is exceptional because it really used to be exceptional, and ruled half the globe from a few buildings in London. 

Here's how Wikipedia defines "American Exceptionalism":
American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is "qualitatively different" from other nations.  In this view, America's exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipsett called "the first new nation" and developing a uniquely American ideology, "Americanism" based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire.  This ideology itself is often referred to as "American exceptionalism."
IMHO, here's the only thing that has ever made the USA exceptional - the opening salvo from the Declaration Of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We are exceptional, and have prospered, and gotten richer than the founders could've imagined, because our government was founded on the idea that government is to serve us, and not vice-versa.

We have the right to Life,


and the pursuit of Happiness (not a guarantee, but we can sure chase it and occasionally run 'er down.)

 It's not our insane foreign policy that makes us exceptional, it's not about us being Jesus's favorite tribe, and it's not about our willingness to go to the Lands Of Brown People and blow up their wives and children. 

We have certain rights, and the government is supposed to acknowledge them - Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Whenever the government is "destructive of these ends" it is the "Right of the People to alter or to abolish it".   

The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue believes that we are a collective, and that there is such a thing as "Group Happiness" and this plays hell with those of us who march to a different drummer. 
He believes that we have the right to organize, to confiscate, to re-appropriate, and to transfer property. 
He believes that we have the right and responsibility to abide by the will of the majority, no matter how harmful the majority opinion reveals itself to be. 
He believes that we have the right to bomb other nations (in an "incredibly small" and not time-sensitive way) in order to please our military contractors. 
He has no concept of the difference between democracy and liberty.   

Barack Obama's idea of American Exceptionalism is radically different from anything that might have made us exceptional in the past.  We are now buried in debt, we are governed by con-men, and we now have to read accurate and timely lectures from KGB strongmen in our paper of record.

We are on the path to becoming the next Bulgaria.  American Exceptionalism was nice while it lasted.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tarrant County Libertarian Meetup, Thursday Night at Fort Worth Food Truck Park !!

Food Trucks. The police harass them. Brick and mortar stores don't like them. Tax collectors are frustrated by them. And consumers LOVE them!

An entrepreneur has found a compromise by creating the Fort Worth Food Park, a small enclave that holds about a dozen of these rolling restaurants until they're finally free to drive at will about the city, committing acts of agricultural capitalism.

 So is this not the perfect spot for an Libertarian Party Meetup??? ...

The Tarrant County Libertarian Meetup is going to get together at the Fort Worth Food Park, 2509 Weisenberger Street (behind the Target Shopping center near Montgomery Ward Plaza and West 7th Street) on September 19th at 7:00 p.m.

In addition to eating some great food with great people, we'll have Robert Harris, who is running for the State House nomination for District 94 give us a quick talk about his campaign, why he's running, and how you can help.

Stay tuned to this page (or the Tarrant LP Facebook page) if we have bad weather. The Fort Worth Food Park is near the 7th Street development, and we'll go somewhere in that area if it rains.

The trucks scheduled to be there on the 19th are: Holy Frijole, Life is Sweet, Sauzy, The Que, Three Lions, and What's Cook-N Chef. Good food. Good people. Good Libertarian Party politics !! Hope to see you there.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Putin And Obama Go For A Horsey Ride !!!

This might be the greatest Photoshop in the history of digital manipulation. 
Obama in his bike helmet and Mom pants, going on a nice relaxing ride with the dude from the KGB.