I am at the office, but I should probably be home. It’s wet outside, slushy and dank, and mothers of another generation would consider this perfect weather for getting a cold, and ideal weather for exacerbating one. You’ll get na-monia! I should feel sicker, but I don’t. I have plenty of energy, and aside from the nose and a slight feeling of being off-kilter by a degree or two, I’m fine . . .
Unfortunately, I have nothing to say. I don’t know why I’m here, except that I had to get out of the house, and I’m trying to show up at the office more.
What to say. Hmm. Well. I do know what the site will provide in the way of updates; there’s the Fargo section, and the return of regular Joe Ohio episodes. Other than that, I’m low on Stuff. Well, there’s this:
Last night I laid on the sofa and watched part of a 1933 submarine movie, “Hell Below.” Never knew they made sub movies about WW 1. The boat’s cook provided the comic relief, of course. He was named “Ptomaine,” and was played by a fellow who looked a lot like a younger Jimmy Durante. Perhaps because he was. Although Durante never looked young; he was born 50. He’s obviously Durante in this movie, too – mugging and quadruple-taking and muttering asides like a vaudeville Popeye. I switched between the movie and an episode of the “Twilight Zone,” which starred the guy who played the cook, and hence the comic relief, in “Forbidden Planet.” (He’s still alive!) (And it turns out it was the very first Twilight Zone broadcast: cool.) Then I scrolled around the TiVo menu to see what it had recorded, and found a promo for “Forbidden Planet,” with Walter Pidgeon larfing it up with Robbie the Robot. Somehow that brought things full circle, and I went to bed.
For the second night in a row I slept all through the night, and woke in the same posture I’d assumed when I laid down. That’s good sleep. Nice and deep. I’m surprised everyone in the dream wasn’t wearing a diving suit.
Huzzah: piano went well. That's the highlight of the day, frankly. She regained her confidence and pleasure in playing. I didn't push it beyond two pieces, so we're still behind, but it was enough. Whew.
Man, this is one of the lamer Bleats thus far. In history. I should just link to today's updates and call it a night.
Or not. When I mentioned Walton the other day, I got some mail asking why I said “Middle age is a bitch.” I think I had my pieces confused, in retrospect; I was thinking of the First Symphony instead of the cello concerto– and ha ha, don’t we all make that mistake sometimes. Also, he wasn’t really middle-aged when he wrote the First. He was in his thirties, though, and I supposed in the 1930s that was close enough. The first movement of the First is really something; if this is the classical / romantic tradition on the way out, it’s going out with fury and glory. The composer wrote the piece while having a “tempestuous” relationship with a woman – a situation you frequently find in the lives of the great composers. Berlioz was mad about Harriet, for example. Poor lad. Did him no good whatsoever, but we got a magnificent symphony out of it.
Heck, let’s pad out today with more music. Because of the 10MB file limit on Box – I’m not complaining; it’s free and I like it, a lot – I’ll excerpt the work.
Walton 1: The first movement has a moment of smashing anger, and it comes about 4 minutes and 45 seconds into the piece. Wait for it. Walton pounds the table, screams his head off, throws open the curtains to let the sun blare in the room, then loses himself in doubt and joy again. I love rock and roll, but the idea that four people on stage, one of whom has an amplified lyre, can match the power and drama of orchestral music is simply ridiculous.
Doubt me on that? Listen to Walton 2. We’ve been through a lot in this movement, and it reaches a point of almost painful dissonance before it gets its legs back. And they are very British legs, too. You can feel the sea in this segment; it’s under your feet, spraying against the rocks. There's some tough going here, but stay with it; he earned those last 30 seconds, and so will you.
You’re also listening to a Britain I fear no longer exists.
Today: new Quirk; new Fargo - and then some, folks. I'm anxious to finish up this site and get to the Minneapolis Project, a complete 100% redo of the original site. So today's Fargo addition contains a mere 17 pages. There's also Joe Ohio, Part Two. We pick up the story in 1957.
Things have changed somewhat, but I think it'll feel familiar.
Anything else today? Well, how about a book review?
My friend Hugh Hewitt has written a political biography of Mitt Romney, and I can recommend it for one solid reason: this marks the second time in my life I have looked for my name in the index, and found it. Aside from that, I can recommend it on several levels.
I should preface this by saying I’m not a Romney guy. It has nothing to do with his creed. I think his accomplishments are impressive, his public persona solid and direct. I think he is what he seems to be. You could say that’s the case with many other candidates, and I agree; inasmuch as all politicians show us a polished carapace, I think Guiliani and Obama are the Genuine Article as well - in different ways, of course, but when they smile I don’t see the wires leading back to the Calculating Machine. Romney has all the hallmarks of a polished robot whose public persona is a buffed and tailored suit, a shell that hides something raw and convoluted. But I never got that impression. There are happy confident rich guys with great family stories, you know.
I just never found him very fascinating on an immediate level. The difference between Rudy and Mitt’s personality, one suspects, is the difference between wandering around the Louvre with two glasses of red wine under your belt, or being handed a shoebox full of high-res Louvre gift-shop postcards, arranged by artist and date. (Then there’s Fred Thompson, who would nod politely while you described your visit to the museum, then tell you about the picture he has in his study. It’s dogs, playing poker.)
So I was interested in Hugh’s book. What makes him interesting to the author? Romney and Hewitt are not, to say the least, members of the same church, yet Hewitt is emphatically sympathetic to Romney’s candidacy. Since I began the book, Romney’s campaign has continued its attempt to climb out of the slough of despond; the media likes the Rudy – McCain dynamic, the social conservative base that might flock to Mitt seems either indifferent to anyone who can win, or has made a private deal to support Rudy on the half-a-loaf theory. Much of Romney’s 02 has been absorbed by Fred Thompson, who has basic bona fides, a satisfyingly saturnine persona, and some other intangibles. Like, HE’S NOT A MORMON.
Well, it had to be said. But that’s not all of it; Romney’s religion isn’t the main reason his campaign isn’t out front by 10 points. There’s something else at work; could be the YouTube flip-flop problem. But I think I know what it might be. He’s in a hard position: he’s too good to be true, but he’s truly that good.
Let’s step back.
If you’re interested in the upcoming campaign, and wish to enter any political debates with a certain amount of preparation, this book is a brisk and clear rundown of Romney’s private and political life. I had a glancing knowledge of the Salt Lake City Olympics story, but the chapter about Romney’s experience in private industry was news, and suggested – which I’m sure was the point – that Romney is a meritocrat above all. (One of the oft-noted characteristics of the Bush family – loyalty first – is one of my least favorite attributes.) His evaluations of Romney’s political positions are clear and fair; his analysis of the logistics of the election are typically canny, and the overview of Romney’s “Christmas card-perfect” family will annoy anyone who believes that any real life has be fraught with sixty-eight tons of complex parental issues. We learn about Romney’s experience with the Bainiacs – an interesting look into his private sector experience, but not, I suspect, something that will have much of a role in the Presidential campaign. Green eye-shade conservatives will view it as a comforting plus, social conservatives won’t care much at all, and economic nationalists will seem him as a pawn of Big Capital. In any case, it’s all prologue. What counts are the Mormon Chapters.
That’s the meat of the gist’s pith, after all. You can’t write a book about Romney without writing about his Mormonism, simply because he’d be the first Mormon president. It’s not the same as having a Catholic president; Protestant and Catholic beliefs branched out but attained parallelism over the course of centuries, whereas Mormonism seems to be a diagonal line that intersects with Christianity at a big crucial junction, then heads off in a different direction. The angle is low, but the line still diverges.
Hugh’s book isn’t a defense of Mormon theology. It’s a defense of the Mormons' right to have their beliefs respected in the public sphere. Hewitt gives two reasons; religious tolerance is the first, obviously. The second concerns a bright line not yet crossed in the mainstream political arena, and it’s a line I’m sure will be erased in years to come. It’s the line that surrounds an individual’s belief in what some call the divine or the miraculous, and others call Magical Thinking. In short, it’s about the right to believe in something that lies outside the realm of empiricism.
Oh, we can all respect that right. We can all make public proclamations about the sanctity of individual beliefs. And we’ll all qualify those remarks in private, among friends. (Note: nothing I’m saying here reflects personal conversations with Hugh about the matter. Just so we’re clear.) People who have friends of different creeds can josh about the differences, as long as each knows that the each respects the other’s beliefs. But some beliefs are, well, out there; doesn’t it say something about a person if they’re a Raelian, or subscribe to the Church of Joe-Bob Briggs (a splinter group of the Church of Subgenuius, formed in the great Bob Schism Wars of the early part of this century) or pray to a plaster bust of St. Leibowitz? Yes. It does. That’s the problem for many: it does matter.
Privately, anyway. The public realm has different standards, and it should.
Or so we’d like to hope.
It doesn’t matter much to me, because I’m more concerned about the policies the candidate advances, and how well I think they’ll advance them. If Fred Thompson gave a speech about Iran I loved, and I also knew he believed that humans were seeded on earth by lizard aliens who will return in 3030 AD to construct a Dyson-sphere terrarium, I’d still be more interested in how his Iranian policy stacked up against the other candidates. Not to suggest that Mormonism is akin to the space-lizard belief-system or Raelianism or whatever, of course. But you get my point.
The point is made with greater clarity in Hugh’s book, which cautions against putting Belief into the mainstream pundit’s meat-grinder. Because once Faith is a fair target, every aspect of faith will be put under the microscope. If you can dismiss a candidate for his belief in the golden tablets, then transubstantiation is next on the list. You want to snigger about Mormon undergarments? Fine; the next time a Sikh runs for public office, quiz him about the same issue. You want to probe a Mormon for the ways in which their Jesus narrative varies, you’d best do the same to a Muslim candidate. And if you can’t see yourself standing up in a press conference asking a Muslim candidate whether Christians will have a problem with him because he doesn’t think Christ died on the cross, you’d best throttle back your zeal for digging into a Mormon.
I’m not comfortable with all beliefs, but I am comfortable with believers. I am not sympathetic to the tenets of Mormonism. But. Just last week I got a knock on the door on a rainy night, and there they were: two Mormon missionaries. White shirts, black ties. They explained their mission and asked if I’d like to talk. Well, lads, I’m what you call a hard sell. I told them that I appreciated their concern, though, and wished them well.
“Do you know anyone around here who needs some help?” said the shorter, dark-haired one. (The other was tall, which gave them a Napoleon-Pedro vibe.) I said that I didn’t, and they thanked me for my time and they went on their way.
If at that moment I had some sort of domestic emergency that required me to leave the house but also required someone to stay at the house – I don’t know, to watch a scientific experiment or take a cake out the oven (a cake – for the Pope!) – I would have trusted both of them to hold down the fort until I returned, and I know I would have found both of them sitting in the living room when I returned, with nothing in the house out of place or moved to a pocket.
Surely how one lives one’s life is as important as the things the curious things they believe, no?
Anyway. I hadn’t thought much about these matters until I read Hugh’s book, and I expect it will have the same effect on those who have a passing interest in the matter – or for Democrats as well, since the Senate Majority Leader is a Mormon as well. (If Romney’s fair game, so’s Harry Reid.) If nothing else, the book is a quiet refutation of all that “Christianist” nonsense; it’s a fair and respectful evaluation of a politician who happens to be Mormon from a commentator who happens to be an evangelical Christian, amply sourced, replete with other voices, and laid out with Hugh’s trademark clarity.
Plus, I’m on page 266.