Occasionally, the desire to write a longer, more-developed prose piece or essay will strike me, but lately, that desire is soon supplanted by a larger awareness of all things in my life that currently merit more attention--foremost, my daughter, staying in shape for firefighting, and starting small side hustles that I hope will come to greater fruition down the road. The random thoughts I have left, then, are usually prompted in response to the mixtures of media, interactions, and occasions of our weird, increasingly democratic, or one might even say, chaotic, times. And that leads me to….Dumbo.
I have Maryanne overnights on Tuesday--a full day, a full evening. There are many activities and ways to divide it, and it's time I typically like to end with something classic, something grounding for both me and her. It could be a book, or as in last night, it could be the 1941 Disney movie. Upon its release and to this day, Dumbo has been very well received. And for good reason: the animation is simple and vibrant. The music and mood are enticing. The characters are memorable. I do think it’s important to critically examine older cultural products for signals that could subtly perpetuate stereotypes, etc, especially when it’s presented to children. But on the surface I felt like it’s a work that can be genuinely enjoyed.
However, the following morning, soon after M woke up, I thought, “Why not see what other short films or shows from around the same era she might find entertaining? Why not try spunky, singing dancing little Shirley Temple?” I am trying to get her to enjoy dancing more for fun and exercise, so it sounded good, and I was off, looking up episodes on Youtube, which lead me, first, to a short documentary, and.... holy sh*t! The things that the Hollywood studios put those little kids through is incredible, and I mean that in the most negative way. I will post the video below, but to sum it up, they were treated like little circus acts, separated from parents on set, inhumanly punished for perfectly normal toddler behavior, and most appalling, exploited for their sexuality (often very overtly.)
Cripes! Needless to say, we did not watch Shirley Temple. M watched Elmo while I did some household chores and prepared for our bike ride downtown and generally had the time to connect the dots--”They were treated like little circus acts.” Dumbo is about a circus act. Dumbo is separated from her mother, dressed up like a clown and abused. What is Dumbo trying to tell me? Or more poignantly, what was Dumbo trying to tell the cabal of hollywood pedo-monsters during the time it ran?
Basically, upon a deeper reading, I think Dumbo was a shot at MGM, and the other studios, saying, hey look you sick f*ckers, we’re onto you and we’re going to make an entertaining film that elevates the public consciousness about the crap you’re producing. Films for kids should not be made by exploiting kids, they are made with colorful animations that appeal strongly to their senses. And in this case, the primary sense they appealed to is pathos, the pity viewers are made to feel for things unjustly put on display, which if the film is seen literally, just as well extends to animals. This is not to say Disney is some squeaky clean company without its own problems then or now. It’s a conglomeration of a bunch of imperfect people, as we all are, and even more imperfect stakeholders. But it is to say, I think the film itself is essentially moral, it is good, and I’ll always appreciate the time I spent watching it with my daughter.
Feel free to comment or disagree.
Rambo: I am concerned about socializing my daughter in this time of distancing. She's at the stage of development where I think it's important for her to be around peers. Who would like to arrange play dates in small group setting? Preferably outside, the weather will be nice. (zero likes)
Nancy: Your child is going to get the socialization that she needs if she stays healthy. Stay home and practice social distancing. This is not going to go on long enough to impact your child's social development. It will be okay. (5 likes)
Rambo: I'm sorry. I was under the impression groups of ten were still good, and there's no community spread, and the social distancing measures are going to last a lot longer than we can expect right now. I am young and healthy, and there are no reports of kids being seriously effected. (zero likes)
Jill: We started community spread as of 2 days ago. We now have 11 positives in Montana, including a new Missoulian in her 20s. It's here.
Bob: I feel for you with your situation with your daughter, but I also think that she is going to be totally fine socially after this social distancing period is through. Think about it this way: It only works for everyone if everyone participates, including you and your daughter. If you ignore the social distancing, then you are putting everyone else at risk. If your daughter touches 9 other kids, and someone has it, then they go and touch their parents and grandparents, whom are highly susceptible to this virus, then I hope you can see how everyone needs to be a responsible community member and minimize interactions with others. The point is: The better we all do it together, the quicker this will subside. (10 likes)
Rambo: People who are at risk or around others who are at risk can't decide to quarantine on their own? Have individual liberties been suspended? I guess my concern, almost as much as the virus, is the mass authoritarianism and public shaming that has started to emerge because of it. (0 likes)
Jill: Let's leave Rambo alone to make decisions. Rambo, I believe you'll have a difficult time finding others to have play dates but the choice is certainly yours. ( Rambo likes)
Susan: I don't understand why he and his wife can't play with the baby.
Rambo: We do play with the baby--she gets lots of mom and dad time, but seeks attention from her peer group. Do you have a child? What do you think the acceptable amount of time to quarantine a child is?
Susan: Let me ask you this...what is your little bundle of joy's name? If you continue your reckless, anti-social behavior, she'll no doubt have a new nickname soon. Like Typhoid Mary but for Covid 19. (noone likes Susan)
Bob: Classy, Susan. Do you think such comments are helpful or in any way persuasive? Nothing wrong with disagreeing, but when you act like a know it all and attack someone people stop listening. (people like Bob)
Rick: Rambo, if your child has a play date please don’t send her to Susan’s parents house. (haha faces)
Justin: Links to news articles about Italy.
Rambo: I've read the news from Italy and other countries. I think what concerns me is that when social distancing is lifted, there's going to be a second wave of the virus, and then a third, and you get my idea. It's not going away anytime soon, only the economy is going to get continually worse, and we still won't have the medical resources to deal with it, because what does that take? Taxes. And how do people afford to pay taxes? Young healthy ones who have a low risk of a severe side effects or transmitting to others with that risk continue to go to work. And what provides them the opportunity to go to work? They socialize their children with others under the supervision of other adults. I don't see another way around it.
Margaret: If this helps, I and my peers went through several 3 months isolations in the 1940s and 1950s due to the then Polio epidemic. We were stuck in our home and yard. My little brother was 2 when the first one was instituted and since my other siblings and I were 10 years or more older, we didn’t play with him much. (Ignoring my parents rules). My brother grew up totally normal, outgoing, popular athlete in school and ended up a physicist. We also played “long range “ games with the other kids across the street, if that is something possible where you live, but at your daughter’s age, you will have to participate too. I am 76, prone to pneumonia, and trust me, this social isolation is difficult for us too, especially since we already knew that the end of the tunnel is closer for us anyway. Hang in there. We will get through this. (Lots of likes)
Rambo: Thank you, Margaret. That does help.
Jill: Maybe just change focus for a few weeks until we get a better grasp on how this is going to affect Montana? (Rambo Likes)
No one likes Rambo.
Just mentioning the title, Moby-Dick, can stir up as many ideas about it as there are people, which I suppose is appropriate so far as the novel is concerned with interpretations. But to root out one of the more negative ones, I think it important to address the idea that to read it is somehow an exclusionary or chauvinistic exercise-- an undertaking predominantly for the male elitist. Of this opinion, I’ve always had a sort of snarling, knee-jerk reaction, as I was unable to put into words what I intuitively felt. Though happily I’ve found there are other people who are more apt in expression and to whom one can search out and defer if your base sentiment is known. This is the case here, as critic Jane Mushabac so eloquently states of the relevance to women,
“[it] springs from Melville’s humor, his gift in portraying marginalized people… how they have lived at the bottom, dreamed of the top, survived by their wits, bucked their "betters, fought subservience, and lyricized a closeness to the feel of life free of the pretensions and distortions in the upper regions of power. It turns out one may find more of the traditional underdog female experience in Ishmael, more of survival humor, than in many a female character”
Indeed, she states, “all great art is androgynous.” And in pointing out the novel’s portrayal of marginalized people, Mushabac also helps breaks down the perception that readers must necessarily be apart of some highly-literate specialized class or pretentiously aspiring to it as though such a class exists. (It doesn’t.) As indicated, the novel’s content is thoroughly democratic, thoroughly accessible with a little work, and what’s more, it’s still thoroughly relevant. Need I say anything more than that the captain of the ship in pursuit of Moby-Dick sinks the whole enterprise with his monomaniacal ravings?
Then again, I suspect more than the content, popular apprehension is founded on the novel’s size. But, as few read the bible front to back in one sitting, so the case may be made for America’s secular bible, which-- supposing Moby-Dick to be-- is best read little at a time. Then, after a few times, if one’s experience is anything like mine, a curious thing happens… You feel subsumed, as though the space debris that is your everyday experience is continually being pulled into the orbit of the giant celestial body that is the novel’s symbolism. It really is powerful stuff. So, when I get to an artistic rendering of a scene like that below I become fascinated for days.
What can one say about the picture? In most college English departments, students are taught the value of interpreting a work through a specific lense. So if were to look at this picture through a formalist lens, I’d say the composition is such that the whale dominates the frame with a look of malice reflecting the volatility of the sea. Or, if I were to look at it through a Freudian lense, I could say the scene represents a repressed element of the psyche welling up from the vast depths of the subconscious to sink the fragile ego. Or if I was to interpret the painting through a feminist lense, I could ask my self-avowed feminist girlfriend for help, which I did and received a patently feminist reply: “I don’t have time for that right now. I’m doing my own work.”
The point is, when considered as a whole there’s no objective truth to be gained. We are cast adrift in sea of relativity-- a realization that the novel represents not only in metaphor but in motif. Melville attempts to scientifically classify the whale, but that falls apart. The sailors aboard the ship try to collectively pin down the meaning of a gold doubloon that the Captain nails to a main beam, but that too falls apart. And when Ishmael tries to interpret a painting (which stands for the novel itself) we are left with about the most stable approach to truth there is, which is to arrive at an individual conclusion, only after struggling with the alternatives. It’s possible, therefore, that Melville-- romantic as he’s been described-- recognizes the spark of divinity in each of us. But only a spark.
This brings me, then, to my own interpretation of the painting. In it, I see the men’s attempt to gather the whale’s spermaceti to fuel the lamps of 19th century America as a relatively fragile human enterprise compared to the terrific might of nature poised to obliterate the entire thing. And from that, I consider the lights that now fill each continent from coast to coast and the alternative source of fuel we’ve found--oil. And I wonder, if because of this we’ve not exacerbated our precarious position in relation to nature, especially considering climate change. And upon reaching this conclusion, I feel the sort of sublime awe and terror that I think Melville, through his art, would have been happy to inspire.
…But anyway, Moby-Dick is a wonderful book.
One thing I credit Trump and his administration for is their transparency. I know this seems an antithetical statement to make given certain allegations. But, due to Trump’s complete lack of political subtly, their inner workings seem clear enough to me: he knows he can’t lure back the industries he promised his voters, because the market, as he champions it, won’t permit it. So, in order to continue stimulating the economy, he must exploit resources on American soil in protected areas and perpetuate the great trickle-down myth that tax breaks for the rich will incentivize them not to reinvest overseas or purchase luxury goods or buy up large tracts of real-estate, but to create American jobs and buy homemade craft items and leave the people their land... This, of course, is laughable.
There is no recourse for the economically disenfranchised voters who compromise the Republican base but to either maintain their hopeful illusions or focus their anger on a culture war, which Trump has strategically inflamed and the left have been happy to engage in to their own undoing. It’s very hard to side, after all, with a party increasingly associated with YouTube propagated instances of college campus tantrums and the self-righteous suppression of free speech. And this is unfortunate too, because it not only subverts the party but the Universities and an important role in which they could play, that is, to promote dialogue-- without fear of reprisal from either side—that addresses the underlying tensions in a system that continues and will continue to build, unless Truth about an alternative system can be detached from the emotion its often abhorrent history creates and meaningful policy measures acknowledging that Truth are voted into place.
Where am I going with this?
And here, this brilliant professor, Dr. Richard Wolf, who can so clearly elucidate Marx’s theories as they apply today. The video outline is posted below.
So, that’s Marxism simply put.
Another thing I really like about this Dr. Wolff is he’s willing to engage in a debate and not with just anyone either but in a hostile environment with hosts looking for soundbites and a penchant for otherwise inviting on buffoons to make a caricature of leftist thought for their audience. If you ask me, Fox news may have slipped up this time. Decide for yourself.
“I’m not in favor of taking [wealth] from the rich to give to the poor. I’m in favor of not distributing it unequally in the first place.”
Concerns over land rights are central to the political attitudes of many citizens across the west. Although for anyone not here, you may not know it except for the occasional Bundy flare ups—their stand at the Malheur Wildlife Reserve being the most recent. While these incidents may provide newsworthy spectacles for people to color, or rather off-color, with knee jerk commentary, there are more insidious movements always beneath the surface. From whom do these movements issue? What bowels dare profane America’s liberties? Who else, after all, but America’s enemy from time immemorial….the communists! That is, from communists embodied in their most recent form, outdoorsmen and wilderness lovers at large, who’d slap from the market its inviolable hand and advocate for federally protected public land. But no fear, America! Though the Bundys may have fallen, the Texans have arrived, and they’re going to prove how laissez faire land grabbing is fun for everyone, mostly.
First enter the billionaires. Recently it has been reported that two Texas brothers have bought up hundreds of thousands of acres in Montana and Idaho. Of course, the liberal media bemoans this as a cautionary tale with its claim that: “Many of these acres were historically used by hunters, anglers, snowmobilers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.” You can read for yourself here…
But what one must keep in mind is now that the lowly despoilers and locals have been fenced out, the truly successful among us have been granted greater access. And should that not encourage us all to cut throat our way to top as national prosperity would have by design? Regional character, community, and goodwill be damned! We could all benefit more from such callousness.
Enter Ted Cruz… This revered patriot and senator is the second instrumental Texan, for where the billionaires were able to buy state land up for purchase, there were limits to their reach. And limits Uncle Ted does not abide. He would have it so all federal land is turned over to the state for their better management or sale, but mostly, we can assume for their sale, because that’s exactly what state track records show them doing. Hurray!
Now the fun can begin.
What we will have done is made permissible large game reserves, not unlike in Africa, where rather than an elephant tail, you, worthy citizen, could collect the antlers from the last big game animals on our continent, completely guided and without any effort of your own. Or hell, with that amount of land, maybe elephant tails, too, could be arranged. See what they’ve done here…
But I know, I know… There may be a few of you who’ve all but abandoned such ambitions as landing in that moneyed class, and you might be wondering, well, where does this leave me? The answer, I’m happy to report, is the couch. Yes, in its comfort and security, for you see, there will be TV shows where you can watch the guided hunt’s excitement and interludes that unfold the drama and laughter behind the scenes. And if that’s not enough, we’ll all feel superior together too, for on the next channel you might find another show portraying bulked up bearded guys with high-speed rifles patrolling the fence’s perimeter, snuffing out the few insolent and immoral outdoorsman and wilderness lovers who remain and dare trespass on the private domain. As I said, fun for everyone, mostly.
Rough Sea with Wreckage J.M.W. Turner
I had recently returned from my first tour in Afghanistan. At the time, I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington, about an hour south of Seattle. My buddy, who deployed with me, suggested we go see this metal show there. Neither of us were very familiar with the band, Isis. It was 2009, before the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and so the negative connotation did not exist. They were named Isis after the Egyptian Goddess. So, we went to this show at a small venue, a little standing room up front, a little seating in the back, and my buddy, he asked that we sit, because while deployed he’d been shot through the leg.
We sat down, a crowd of tough looking kids filed up front, the lights dimmed, and the band walked on stage. Immediately, we were blown away. The dark ambience of synthesizers, the thunder of bass and drums, the crack of guitar, and from the lead singer and guitarist, Aaron Turner, a growl like nothing I’d ever heard, all of it emerged seemingly from some unfathomable abyss. And I mean that in the most positive way.
Simultaneously, my buddy and I turned toward each other with the same look on our face expressing the deep resonation we both felt. This music was it, the musical parallel to our psychological state—something true and also necessary. Throughout the show, the band would bring the crowd to an almost unbearable state of tension, so that out of the circling mosh pit, seeing a body sacrificed and thrown on stage- like a Pre-Christian form of catharsis from a wrathful God—would not have seemed altogether out the ordinary. But then, at this climatic point, the music would lapse into tranquility, and all was at ease.
Now, as back then, I have a taste in music that could only be described as eclectic. I try to find the beauty in all things, but I still return to the since disbanded IsIs, and I’ve found, more recently, Aaron Turner’s new projects, the first being, Sumac. Here again, after first listening to their album “What One Becomes,” I was struck by the profundity of its arrangement.
Warning: not for the casual listener. The album opens with chaos, a universe being created from the collision of atoms in space, and from this, oceanic waves of sounds—almost 20 terrifying minutes of it before the first rays of light shine through. The harmony, however, is brief. As the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and mankind over them, all remain locked in a primordial struggle, so too does the music and never full resolves. Yes, it is heavy. Yes, it is metal.
But, before dismissing Turner’s musical philosophy as some woebegone nihilism, I think it is important to look, too, at his collaboration with his wife, Faith Coloccia. She is the one who really heads the project, Mamiffer. Together, with rotating line of other musicians, they have released several albums, the latest being, “The World Unseen,” which she described as “an exploration of subconscious and psychic bonds between the past and present, and the ways in which the musical devices of repetition and incantation create hands across the chasm that divide the human from the divine.” Reflected in this concept, as with those underpinning ISIS and Sumac, there is really a wholeness one might take solace in. Between our conscious and subconscious, past and present, humanity and divinity, there we exist, as capable of creating some really beautiful stuff as we are at destroying it.