Reconsidering Paris’s Judgment

The Judgment of Paris - Gore Vidal.jpg

I never knew much about Gore Vidal, spare his notable row at the 1968 Democratic National Convention with William F. Buckley, Jr., where Buckley threatened to “sock [Vidal] in the goddamn face.”

Here’s a moment of silence for the death of live TV

Naturally, when I heard that Mr. Vidal had himself gone the way of live television a few days ago, I was a bit ashamed that I had not read any of his works, although Buckley dismissed them forthrightly as “perverted, Hollywood-minded prose.” Even so, I decided to rectify the situation by making my way down to the local book seller where I found Mr. Vidal’s “The Judgment of Paris” above. 

Now, the premise of the book is intriguing in its own right. Vidal sought to add a personal take on the eponymous Greek myth – as opposed to, say, the eponymous website extolling the virtues of plus-sized models. At risk of boring you with too many details, the myth finds Paris judging a celestial beauty pageant between Hera (Queen of the Gods), Athena (Goddess of Wisdom), and Aphrodite (Goddess of Love/Pleasure). Each goddess employs her wiles upon young Paris, making the contest quite fierce indeed. The ultimate winner is Aphrodite who gifts Paris (a mere mortal Trojan) the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. The rest, as they say, is mythology. Helen of Sparta assumes the much more well-known name, Helen of Troy. Thus, begins the Trojan War. Homer writes The Iliad and The Odyssey, and Western Civilization is born. Of course, Western Civilization is subsequently destroyed by the Cohn Brothers’ retelling of The Odyssey in O Brother, Where Art Thou? but that’s a different matter. Call me the man of constant sorrow.

Anyway, in Vidal’s novel, young Philip Warren is similarly positioned to choose between three women, each of whom in some way mirrors the virtues of the Greek goddesses above. The task proves to be quite the embarrassment of riches for so young a man. First, he is seduced by Regina the arm candy of a major politician who offers him a career in politics and the promise of power. His next encounter is with Sophia a burgeoning academic who catches Warren’s eye but never his lust, as wisdom herself has suffered at the hand of many a man throughout the ages. Finally, Warren meets Anna, yet another married woman, with whom he begins a smoldering affair. 

Vidal’s resolution of the myth is much less clear than the Greeks’ myth. But the one bit of writing that struck me was the quote from Warren toward the end of the novel as he grapples with the choices he has made over the past year: 

I find it demoralizing to realize that there is no such thing as future, only a long present…that all acts are essentially meaningless, except of course to one’s self. p.203.

It may seem strange but I find the obvious nihilism of Vidal’s character to be mildly comforting. To accept life’s transience is really a means by which one may simply live. And perhaps that’s Vidal’s point. Like Paris, we mortals have only this long present, so the best we can do is make a go of things incrementally. Long planning is a farce for there’s no guarantee of a tomorrow let alone tomorrows many years hence. Or as the Greek Goddess Nike might say, “just do it.”

In all, the story was an interesting spin on an ancient tale that all but solidified Vidal’s stature in my mind as a truly entertaining writer – his political views and literary predilections notwithstanding. 

September in the Rain

The leaves of brown came tumbling down,
Remember, in September in the rain.
The sun went out just like a dying ember,
That September in the rain.

Rod Stewart, September in the Rain

It’s been a wet few days here in Tucson. But not even our Indian summer monsoons could compare to the tears that rained down from Congressional Democrats last night. At the end of an undoubtedly Bourbon-soaked evening, Democrats lost disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner’s solidly blue Congressional seat to Republican Robert Turner, 47% to 53%. The White House made an effort to put its spin on the results, but the point remains the same: if Brooklyn and Queens aren’t safe for the Dems, what districts are?

Unlike the unreasonable folks over at HotAir, I won’t read the results as anything other than what they are – an epic repudiation of President Obama’s failed policies that all but portends a historic GOP victory in 2012 and beyond. Objectivity aside, it strikes me that when there is a Republican Congressman from New York City (New York City!?), it’s either a sign of the apocalypse, or the sign of a burgeoning political tsunami. I’m hoping for the latter, but I think there’s some evidence that it may be the former.

First, the New York Times, ran a reflective piece musing about the travails of living the authentic life. Alas, given that no one at the New York Times is actually authentic about anything, the article does little more than state the obvious. For the curious, the essay sagely observes that the image we project to others is little more than our perspective of how we want others to see us. Startling, I know. According to the NYT, this indicates that no matter how much we change our looks, or how ardently we attempt to conform to social mores, at the end of the day, we’re all about as authentic as a James Frey autobiography. Somewhere in Hell, Michael Jackson is rolling over in his grave singing “Black or White.”

I suppose matters could be worse. At least many of us have, or will have, the comfort of a stable relationship/marriage to fall back on when times get tough. Unless, of course, you reside in the 2/3s of the country typified by the American South and the American West. These decidedly red states, where God’s faithful foot soldiers defend the citadel of marriage from the onslaughts of gay barbarians – these red states boast the highest divorce rates in the country. The hypocritical-evangelical-Christian meme is tired at this point, so I won’t go there. But I recognize that, with the exception of Kim Kardashian, people aren’t perfect. Still, maybe it’s time to give the gays a chance at being miserable too? Fair is fair.

With New York turning red, marriages yielding to divorce, and weeks passing without a post, one might think your humble blogger has become more jaded than ever. This simply isn’t true. I start my day with a cup of Joe (that’s coffee, not Biden), and look for the good in the world.

One source of inspiration for me is the performance of the Oklahoma Sooners football team. OU was recently ranked the No. 1 team in the land for a record-setting 100th time, besting Notre Dame, Ohio State, and USC, coming in lightyears ahead of Texas. Second, returning to the topic of marriage marriage, I was also encouraged to see that roughly 86% of all Americans now approve of interracial marriage, or as they say in Tennessee, miscegenation. Should my wife and I ever decide to have spawn, they’ll grow up in a much more tolerant society than the one Gary Coleman did, and that’s a good thing.

But then I learn about products for children such as the Thudguard Infant Safety Helmet, and my hope for humanity languishes once again.

The aim of the Thudguard is to soften the blow, so to speak, while children are learning to walk. This, of course, begs the question, how in 7 million years of human evolution did we ever get by without the Thudguard? God only knows what the poor kids will do once they’ve out-grown their helmet. Walk without one? I realize if you’re Rick Perry, the question may be a little different since the Earth is only slightly older than 5 thousand years. But even a creationist must consider how inexorably different history would have been. Imagine if Goliath was wearing a Thudguard when he fought lowly David? I’m not just saying, I’m just saying.

After reading about the Thudguard, I immediately recalled the poetics of former hip-hop sensation Aaliyah (RIP), and wondered how the lyrics of her song Try It Again might change given the advent of so ingenious a device. Perhaps we wouldn’t encourage folks to try it again, so much as we would encourage them to be extremely careful while trying it the first time. Naturally, I promptly horrified myself by wondering whether Thudguard made an adult version of the helmet, and how much it might cost. If there’s a moral to any of the above, it’s probably that less is more.

For all my hemming and hawing, I don’t think the apocalypse will be here any time soon. My Dallas Cowboys still haven’t won a football game, meaning that Hell hasn’t frozen over – unfortunately for the King of Pop. To celebrate the non-event, tonight, I will enjoy a quiet glass of wine with the wife who really is as close to perfect as anyone I actually know. I will be thankful that my marriage is well on the positive side of 50% of marriages in our great and blessed land. And I’ll probably block http://babysfirstheadgear.com/ in my bank account’s security settings.

But assuming my own happiness isn’t enough to chase away your blues, as always, let not your heat be troubled. Things could always be worse. We could be living in Beijing.

Best Political Use of a Country Music Song

The typically all-business, conservative website Hot Air threw me a bit of a curveball as I perused yesterday’s headlines.

In a nondescript article, mulling the Presidential aspirations of Gov. Rick Perry and his, admittedly impressive, record of job creation in Texas, Hot Air titled its piece:

Why All Your Exes May Live in Texas

[Link]

The urbane and sophisticated among us would probably miss the reference – as might anyone who did not feverishly listen to country music during the middle 1980s. Being neither urbane, nor sophisticated, it just so happens that yours truly did in fact grow up during the middle 1980s, feverishly listening to country music – or as I like to call it, the music of angels.

Purely for your edification, I can say with conviction that the headline above is a riff on the Billboard No. 1 Country Music song from 1987, All My Ex’s Live in Texas, performed by none other than country music legend, George Strait.

Given Hot Air’s readership, I might very well be the only person in these United States to recognize the schtick. Regardless, well played Ed Morrissey. Well played.

Of course, it’s not nearly as clever as the UPN sitcom Eve, which ran a 2004 episode in season two titled, All My Exes Havin Sexes. We all have our betters, I suppose.

Why I Love America

American flagA prominent Native American law blog I follow posted a tongue-in-cheek message to Americans celebrating the Fourth of July. The headline declared:

Happy Fourth from the Merciless Indian Savages

[Link]

For the confused, the headlined referenced a brief passage from the Declaration of Independence, listing the offenses of King George III. The excerpt appears in full below:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

It’s true that the United States has had a violent relationship with American Indians. From an abject policy of destruction and relocation hailing from the early years of the Jackson Administration, to a policy of systemic termination of tribal governments, I suppose if any group in America has a grievance against the government we celebrate today, it would be my people, the Native Americans.

The point is not to measure effronteries, but I can understand the purpose in the making the statement. The simple fact is that America is neither a perfect angel, nor an evil villain as the social extremes would suggest.

The best description we can give America is that we are a wonderful, complicated, dysfunctional family.

Think about our family tree. We have Bible-beating aunts from the midwest. We have uncles that drink too much from the south. We have mothers and fathers who don’t speak to each other anymore (but refuse to divorce for tax reasons) in the northeast. And we have lazy cousins who would rather be professional students than get a real job from the west.

But even the most dysfunctional of families has to come together every now and again.

So, we have an annual probate meeting to discuss the estate of our late Uncle Sam. Each family sends its delegates to the meeting down in Washington, D.C. where they take in the sights, and pretend to be very busy. Being a family meeting, however, you can imagine how little they actually get done. In fact, they spend most of their time yelling at each other, drinking, and having the odd sex scandal. The end result is the occasional bastard child, and the need for years of therapy.

But sometimes we really do come together, and get important, things, done. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen on occasion. And when it does happen, we’re a stronger family for it. That is until the next time Uncle John gets drunk watching Nascar, and mocks Cousin James for his vegan lifestyle in San Francisco. Then we have a family World War III and Grandma and Grandpa have to step in and settle things down.

And that’s why I love America really. We behave just like a family, only on a bigger scale. And even while we may loathe our cousins for being self-righteous, at the end of the day, we would miss them if they weren’t around anymore.

America’s greatness isn’t the moral high-ground we sometimes claim. And our weakness isn’t that we drive trucks instead of hybrids. America’s greatness is that we manage, somehow, to get along. Mostly.

The Dean Martin – John Boehner Connection

The DMJB Connection
Much ink has been spilt about the new Republican Congressional Majority. But perhaps readers are unaware of the comparisons being floated between incoming House Speaker John Boehner and the erstwhile King of Cool himself, Dean Martin.

To wit, no less than three press shops have made the comparison – one as long ago as 2006:

Easygoing and well liked, with a perpetual tan, a low golf handicap and an ever-present Barclay cigarette between his fingers, Mr. Boehner, 56, looks like a throwback to the 1950’s — Dean Martin comes to Congress. But he is known around the House as a serious legislator, a pro-business lawmaker who is one of the few senior Republicans who can work with Democrats.

[Link]

Building on the NYT’s motif, AOL’s Politics Daily recently mused, “Who Is John Boehner: Dean Martin? Don Draper? Or the Next Newt Gingrich?” While U.S. News’s Washington Whispers delivered the most glowing comparison of all:

Like a character out of Mad Men, likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner is about to bring old-school cool and political wrangling back into fashion. “He’s so cool, every man should hate him,” says Tea Party organizer Dick Armey, who calls Boehner the “Dean Martin of politics.” 

[Link]

Notwithstanding the fact that I am a Republican and the fact that Speaker Boehner is, indeed, pretty cool, comparing an individual to the standard of cool set by Dean Martin is a serious compliment – certainly not one to be taken lightly. A penchant for slick suits and cigarettes simply is not enough. Like the CIA looking for weapons of mass destruction, we require further proof.

The most instructive analysis on this score comes from the Daily Beast’s post-election article describing the new Speaker’s fondness for hooch. Two quotes are on point:

When President Obama suggested a “Slurpee Summit” with Boehner and his colleagues this week, the likely Speaker came back with a counterproposal. 

“I don’t know about a Slurpee,” he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “How about a glass of Merlot?” 

[And here:

“You have a good party and people tend to show up for the next one,” Boehner once told The Hill. “You’d better make sure the first one’s a good one.” 

[Link]

While comparisons alone are insufficient to bespeak a ‘coolness connection’, I think that Dino Martin would approve of merlot over Slurpees. And he certainly would approve of a good party. After all, if we can say anything at all about Dean Martin, it’s pretty clear the man loved life.

So, as a final verdict, we’ll let the comparison stand for now– at least until  Speaker Boehner does something to require a rescission. As with Dino, It’s hard to call the man set to put the party back in GOP anything but cool.

Special Thanks!
By the by, special thanks to Dean Martin aficionado “Dino Martin Peters” for calling the US News piece to my attention. DMP has a terrific site discussing all things Dean Martin since 2007. His slice of the web can be accessed at http://ilovedinomartin.blogspot.com/ .

As a special note, last week’s “Song of the Week: On an Evening in Roma” was featured recently on DMP’s site. It’s a great privilege for us here at Pax Plena to connect with the broader community of Dean Martin fans on the web. Thanks a ton!