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War and Peace

Some thoughts that are shorter and pithier than Leo Tolstoy’s book:

“Peace is not the absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice.”  -Baruch Spinoza

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Not necessarily war related but so often overlooked by the peacemakers as well as the war hawks:

“If you don’t take the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?” – Former Advanced Inorganic Professor

“Begin with the end in mind” – Stephen Covey

 

Why the hippies get punched.

We are starlight, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon…

But first, I found this article on Liberalism and what it’s up against that was published yesterday.  It’s by Edward Fawcett, who has just written a book called Liberalism.  Just read it because I think there are nuggets there that we need to digest.  I’ve already gotten some ideas about how American liberals can fight back.

Ok, now, onto the hippy punching.

As many of you know, I am a Tolkien junky.  Seriously, I can’t get enough of the guy.  Someday, we’re all going to recognize what a genius he was.  His philosophy is deep and he was a careful observer of human nature.

One of the most puzzling of his characters from the Lord of the Rings is Tom Bombadil.  Even Peter Jackson didn’t know what to do with him and anyone who has read the books remembers that the story loses momentum when the characters travel through the Old Forest and meet Tom Bombadil and his lady, Goldberry.  That’s a movie killer so old Tom and Goldberry had to go.

I took the name Goldberry on DailyKos when I started blogging because she was the river’s daughter and I love Pittsburgh.  But I also liked her part in the story as a sort of natural tranquilizer.  She’s all about rain and dancing and laughter and getting a good night’s sleep.  Ok, I’m nothing like that but a girl can dream, right?

Back to Tom Bombadil.  Tom is a merry fellow.  His jacket is blue and his boots are yellow.  He’s in tune with nature and spends his days getting to know the trees and the wind under the hill and probably puts a little weed in his pipe after his supper of bread and honey and cheese and wine.  Tom Bombadil probably owned Yasgur’s Farm.

But note that you can easily remove Tom and his old lady from the story and no one even misses them.  So, why did Tolkien write this little diversion in the first place?  Tolkien provides a very telling answer:

Tom Bombadil is not an important person- to the narrative.  I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’.  I mean, I do not really write like that (he is just an invention who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely.  I would not, however, have left him in if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way.

The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were taken ‘a vow of poverty’, renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war.

But the view in Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends.  Ultimately, only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive.  Nothing would be left to him in the world of Sauron…

I find it interesting that Bombadil was created in 1933.  This was about the time when Hitler was making a name for himself.  The most recent episode of the podcast History of WWII by Ray Harris called The End of the End describes this period of time.  Churchill read Mein Kampf and saw the danger as well as admiration for what Hitler was trying to do for Germany.  He immediately asked for a report on the military readiness of Britain in the event that Hitler came to power.  He was concerned that the allies had mothballed their military might too precipitously while backing off on demands for reparations payments.  Ironically, Hitler was surveying the political landscape of Britain at the same time and was pulling for Chamberlain to ascend, not Churchill.  Anyway, go listen to the whole podcast for a better idea of what was going on.  Ray Harris is very thorough, especially with respect to Churchill’s history and motivations.

My point is that there were many in Britain who were aware of what was going on on the Continent with both Mussolini and Hitler.  Tolkien must have been one of them.  And while he hated war (he participated in the Battle of the Somme during WWI), he was not a pacifist.  When it comes to fighting for your friends and the defenseless, Tolkien thought war necessary.  That didn’t make him a war hawk.

But if you think that the Bombadil diversion is all about war, you’d be missing the point.  If Sauron could achieve his goals without the bloody orc melees, it would still result in a world where Tom Bombadil could not peacefully exist.  What I think Tolkien was saying is that you can not hide yourself away from the world, live an ascetic existence and not be affected by what goes on outside your boundaries.  If you have the power to do good and choose not to use it, you will be subject to the people who use their powers to do ill.  At the same time, hippies are useful because they have this affinity for nature and preservation and environmentalism.  So, the combination of them being utterly useless to the fight along with their love of beauty and nature makes us want to punch them in the face.  Over and over again.

I get pretty annoyed with the ‘pacifism at all costs’ faction of my side.  There are times when war is absolutely a stupid, destructive waste of money and time.  Take Iraq, for example.  That was morally an evil war and none of us should be proud of what happened there.  We sent young men and women to get blown up for a bunch of narcissistic free marketers who wanted to experiment and rob a sovereign nation of its oil.  It just doesn’t get worse than that.  And I’m not blaming the soldiers who we sent.  They’re trained to carry out orders.  But the reason we sent them to Iraq was just evil.  There’s no doubt about it.

Afghanistan was a different story.  We had an obligation to put the Taliban and Al Qaeda down for our safety and the safety of others. Should we have gotten involved in Libya?  I would argue yes.  There was a tipping point in Libya and we helped it over the edge.  Better to pull the bandaid off quickly than allow a civil war to go on indefinitely.  I don’t know where the tipping point is in Syria but I don’t like the way the instability and breakdown of government in the region is going.  I think the Kurds have got the right idea.  They were prepared and vigilant and well trained.

But pacifism is only one part of the equation when we are fighting the bad side.  Right now, the bad side is moving rapidly to quash net neutrality and fair elections.  Sometimes, I feel like the Bombadils of our side are still wringing their hands about GMO crops and slinging words like corporatist around while the bad guys are done with dialog and moving in for the kill.  I worry about politicians and activists who are not focused on the very imminent threats to their survival and are still looking for a way to scapegoat the Clintons.

We’ve never lived in a feudal system, although that seems to be changing rather rapidly.  But it pays to remember that back in the middle ages, the forests were owned by the king and managed by his agents.  It wasn’t just the forests that were his property but every animal and twig.  Poaching deer and collecting firewood could get you hanged.  I’m not sure what the status of water lilies would have been but there wouldn’t have been any crackling fire in the grate in Tom Bombadil’s house in the forest.  Sleeping peacefully would be impossible.

Now, the Chamberlain Obama administration has its own reasons for punching the hippies but I think the hippies give them plenty of material to work with.  This is a shame because our side can use all the help it can get.  But unless they are willing to give up their isolation and put their efforts behind a power, and all the icky things that power needs to do to accomplish its goals, they’re going to end up on the wrong side of history by default.

JMHO

 

The Hobbit Eve- Tolkien and wealth

Pete Petersmaug

I challenge Stephen Colbert to a Tolkien Geek Off.  I can name all of Galadriel’s names in Quenya, Sindarin and the Common tongue.  I know who the Fëanturi are. I know how many Glorfindels are running around Arda. Take that, Stephen!  He won’t take me up on it because he knows he doesn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, The Hobbit- An Unexpected Journey starts on Friday and there’s a good chance that I will be at the very first showing.  My local theater will show it in 24 fps but I don’t care.  I’m going for the story.

And what a story it is, a quest to burgle win back the Dwarves gold from Smaug the dragon. While I was reading advanced reviews of the movie, I came across this reminder of Tolkien’s thoughts on gold and wealth.  The New Yorker reviewer went back to the book to explain the greed of dragons:

It is there in every shimmering scale of Smaug, the dragon; deprived by a mouse-quiet Bilbo of a single precious cup, he falls, Tolkien writes, into “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never used or wanted.”

Like tax cuts they didn’t need on top of the insane amount of money that they have already hoarded for themselves and have been sitting on for more than four years.  It’s too bad this movie is split into three pieces and we won’t get to The Lonely Mountain until towards the end of the second movie*.  Tolkien didn’t like allegories but Smaug the dragon is a timely metaphor.  He is the very picture of greed without purpose, sitting on a mountain of gold and keeping all of that capital out of the hands of the people of Middle Earth who could put it to use it to set up their own Inns, mills, vineyards and small biotechs.

I won’t tell you how it ends if you haven’t read the book.  Let’s just say that dragons aren’t the only creatures with lust for gold.

One of my favorite quotes about wealth and gold from Tolkien comes in the Fellowship of the Ring when Galadriel asks Gimli the dwarve what he would ask of her as a gift.  Dwarves are particularly attracted to shiny objects and the craftsmanship of intricately worked gold and silver.  She would have given him whatever he asked for.  But he asks for a single strand of her beautiful golden hair.  She gives him three and says:

‘These words shall go with the gift,’ she said. `I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.’

Discuss.

**********************************

Andy Serkis becomes Gollum:

*It has occurred to me that I might die before I see all of the Hobbit films.  I could have a house dropped on me or catch some nasty MDR bacteria or my kid could be infected with a zombie virus and will eat my brains some night when I neglect to arm my bedroom door.  It could happen.  It’s possible that I will never see film three.  Peter Jackson should rethink the timing of the movies.  Wait.  I had this very same irrational fear when the first LOTR movie came out and nothing bad happened.  Nevermind.

But I was 12 years younger then…

#S17- I Occupy

Good Morning!  Today is the anniversary celebration for Occupy Wall Street.  I am still at home this morning for various reasons.  I have things that urgently need to be finished here.  But my afternoon looks free so I might scoot up to NYC later.  In the meantime, I’ll be finishing putting down a new floor in my basement and watching the events live.  Anyone who wants to help let me know in the comments.  Yeah, didn’t think so.  {{sigh}}

You can watch all the #S17 events streaming live here and at several Ustream channels.

And for anyone who doubts whether I still believe in Occupy, listen up: I still believe.  Not only do I believe but every day I see and hear evidence that the message, “We are the 99%” has grown and spread beyond the numbers of the bold individuals who risked arrest to protest in Zuccotti park and other places.

Movements go through phases and have to figure things out.  How to organize, who to trust, what they say and how to say it.  This is what happened to the Jesus Movement, the most successful Occupy movement up until this point.  This Occupy has the benefit of knowing what lays ahead for movements that are co-opted like the early Christians were, but it doesn’t know the future.  None of us do.  Occupy is a moral movement and it is a catalyst for many other movements.

Here’s what we do know.  That all people and all work have dignity and worth.  That there is more to life than screwing your neighbors out of their fortunes in order to hoard obscene gobs of cash for yourself.  That there is nothing wrong with people who refuse to use their talents to exploit others.  They are not losers. And that there’s nothing worse than insisting,unquestioningly and unwisely, that others kiss the whip of those who would exercise their power and authority over them.  You are not a mindless automaton who takes orders and whatever your master throws at you.  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

So, to those of you who are wondering whether I’ve abandoned Occupy Wall Street, think again.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and some of us need to finish other things that can’t wait. But if you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve written for most of my career here, you will know that I’ve *always* belonged to Occupy, long before it even came into being.  And there are many others who are just beginning to understand the message, many of them formerly middle class professionals who have through no fault of their own have fallen into economic despair.  Their careers and fortunes have disappeared.  Every day that this little Depression goes on, new Occupy sympathizers are created. Yes, even among people who only a couple of years ago wouldn’t have dreamed of questioning their authority figures are striving to understand where it is the 1% is trying to take us and are realizing that they need to resist it in their own way.  In that sense, Occupy has succeeded and will continue to succeed.

You don’t need to go to Zuccotti Park to Occupy, although, I highly recommend it because it’s exhilarating.  Just soap your car windows today, chalk a sidewalk, bang a pot.  Let the 1% know you’re still here, everywhere, and you aren’t going away.  Ever.

I do not believe this darkness will endure.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Here’s what an Occupy event is like.  This is my poor excuse of a video on the events from #N17 last year.

Bold Occupiers come in many flavors.  This group of wheelchair Occupiers blocked Liberty and Broadway in Lower Manhattan and are being rolled off to jail.

So, you know, if you can run, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, roll.  Occupy does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, disability, lifestyle, age, religion or national origin.

 

If Boromir had seized the ring…

Tolkien talks about WWII and speculates what might have happened if Boromir had seized the ring and taken it to Minas Tirith:

“The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-Dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

Tolkien hated allegories but it’s hard to not apply his scenario to just about any situation where a besieged group gets its hands on an unaccountable, powerful advantage.  Once you abandon your principles in order to gain the upper hand, there’s nothing to stop you or others from allowing treachery after treachery to happen without restraint.  Someone is bound to get hurt and it’s usually the little people who have no desire for power or unlimited wealth.  The powerful hold them in contempt and scorn them for failing to be as ruthless and selfish.

Before long, the hobbit gardener would be patronizingly praised for struggling to pull weeds without pay.

**********************************

The accusations of neoliberalism have flown fast and furiously at Bill Clinton since Wednesday night when he reminded us all about what our lives *used* to be like before the Democrats seized the ring stabbed him and his wife in the back. We’ve gotten little lectures from Atrios, Thereisnospoon and Matt Stoller.  Matt seems to be having a moment of cognitive dissonance.  He clearly doesn’t love Barack Obama anymore.  But he, like the others, have completely lost the plot over Bill Clinton.  One of our commenters tried to explain it to my silly lady brains about what the neoliberalism thing is all about.  Unfortunately, he used Chile and Pinochet as an example.

Yeah, THAT Pinochet.  You know, the guy who made torture into an art form and trained dogs to rape dissidents?

Can anyone out there see Bill Clinton even coming *close* to behaving like Pinochet or entertaining ideas of being a ruthlessly cruel, powermad dictator?

Anyway, while I understand that the University of Chicago is now the new Isengard and Milton Friedman is Saruman the White (and have forbidden the kid from going there, I don’t care how many recruiting letters they send her or how close it is to Ira Glass), I think the neoliberalism thing has been blown up to ridiculous proportions and misapplied to Bill Clinton.

Furthermore, I think it is the delusional neoliberalism boogieman that has in a way contributed to the advance of the true neoliberal president, Barack Obama.  Yep, in your paranoid frenzy to avoid electing a person who was associated with the hated neoliberal William Jefferson Pinochet, you have managed to elect and promote the guy who seems to be completely devoid of any principles whatsoever.

If you crazy neoliberalphobics didn’t exist, the right would have to invent you (and for all I know, the right has invented some of you).  You have done more to help them achieve their goals than Bill Clinton ever could and they’ve been trying for 20 years to shut him up.  In four short years, your unbridled enthusiasm to nurture Barack Obama and protect the country from Hillary Clinton has resulted in the worst performance by a Democratic president in my lifetime.

I’m not actually sure that Barack Obama *is* a Democrat, to be honest.  He’s got a D by his name on the ballot but I have read Democrat after Democrat in the past few days who say that they do not feel like Democrats anymore. Whatever the party is, they feel completely alienated from it.  It is making it easier for them to feel comfortable with their third party vote this fall.  This is a party where a small group has seized control and our input is no longer required.

This is not a plea for Hillary Clinton.  I never give up on sanity returning to the party but it’s pretty clear that as long as the “neoliberalism is evil!” Democrats are vulnerable to the corrupt and authoritarian party leadership poking them when its necessary to squelch the voices of dissent, sanity will not return to the party any time soon.  Hillary’s presidential aspirations are over and were over in 2008.  She’ll move on to something else and if it turns out that she is more powerful than ever and bedevils the young, overeducated, grad student suckup guys who let their paranoia get the best of them, I can hardly wait to see it.

For the past four years, I’ve heard nothing but ridicule from these same party loyalist “neoliberalism is evil!” people who thought the PUMAs were stupid, uneducated, ugly, menopausal, working class women. And while a lot of former PUMAs let their anger take them places where Clintonistas should never go, there were a lot more of them who kept their heads down over the past four years so they wouldn’t have scorn and mockery heaped upon them.  Four years later, it is the “neoliberalism is evil!” clique and Obama faithful that look delusional and out of touch, sticking with a dying party that has gone out of its way to shed what it thinks are its losers.  Good luck to them.  No matter what happens this fall, they have managed to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the right and I want no part of that.

In the meantime, the rest of us will have to put up with the “You have to vote for Obama or the bad guys will win!” crowd freaking out for the next 8 weeks.  I am not afraid of what is to come.  As long as friends stick together and work for a better way to live, we will weather the bad stuff.  The last thing I will ever do is voluntarily surrender my principles in order to satisfy the mob.

“Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. just so a Party-spokesman might have labeled departure from the misery of the Fuhrer’s or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery …. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot. (On Fairy-Stories)”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

***********************************

Take us out, Taylor:

Tolkien Quote for the Evening

“It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

Tolkien Quote of the Evening

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers

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