Saturday, February 22, 2020

Right-wing support for left-wing candidates

Reports that Putin’s Russia has been attempting to load the electoral dice in favor of Bernie Sanders,  likely startled adherents of monolinear manicheanism, but that sort of thing is a time-tested gambit.  There is a notable parallel from the Presidential campaign of 1972.  A historian writes:

What all the 1972 dirty tricks that had become known as “Watergate” were intended to accomplish:  sabotaging all the other Democratic candidates  in order to leave Geroge McGovern, the field’s weakest link, as the last man standing.
-- Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge (2014), p. 170.

Additionally, Nixonian operatives went about “drumming up fake enthusiasm for the black female candidate Shirley Chisholm" (id., p. 171)

The strategy worked.   McGovern received the nomination, then a shellacking in the general election, losing in 49 states.


Hunter Thompson, describing the Democratic convention in his entertaining Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,  via interviews with the pols and pros of the delegate floor, describes considerably more byzantine maneuvers -- feints, pawn sacrifices, “shaving”, sitting-out a round, taking a dive, lowballing your vote-totals till the propitious time -- telos and kairos being the watchwords.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Eyeless in Serbia

Her eyes, while fiery,
also appeared strangely unfocused,
as though blotted out by superstition,
like the saints’ eyes  in the church.
-- Robert D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts (1993), p. 34

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Damascus, in the Grand Mosque

The court was half full   of afternoon shadow,
  and half  of sun …

-- Gertrude Bell, The Desert and the Sown (1907, repr. 2001), p. 150

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Soiled Light

From the west sky, a wrathful shine -- all that wild March could afford in way of sunset --- had burst forth after the cloudy day,  flooding the tired and sticky faces of the threshers, and dyeing them with a coppery light, as also the flapping garments of the women, which clung to them like dull flames.
-- Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbevilles (1892),  ch. XLVIII

Monday, February 17, 2020

That Orange Glow

He virtually glowed with vanity, and its evil twin, the infinite capacity for vengeance when insulted.
-- Alan Furst, The Spies of Warsaw (2008), p. 105

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Dispatches from the Buffyverse

(1) Precedent for the Hellmouth:

On an island in the west of Ireland,  an entrance to Purgatory was revealed to St Patrick, that he might overcome the obstinacy of those whom he was trying to convert.
-- The Oxford Companion to English Literature

More re antecedents for the Hellmouth:

(2) The vision of “Once More with Feeling” (“They Got the Mustard Out”):

If reapers sing while reaping, why should not auditors sing while auditing, and bankers while banking?
-- G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Epistolary epiphanies

The anglophone literary world is aflutter  over the newly-unsealed cache of intimate Dickensian correspondence:

Unseen Charles Dickens letters open window into the life of a genius

All of Dickens previously published works  have been amply studied, from every standpoint;  that ground has been tilled  this way and that, for over a century.    These new revelations  will therefore  principally interest scholars, for any light they may shed on the only recently discovered, and still mysterious fragment, tentatively title “The Dinner at the Veneerings”,  whose byways and undertunnels  we examined here:

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Three Powers

The impeachment struggle  has been a three-cornered contest, among the three branches of government.   Such a delicate triangular balance  is what keeps things interesting; a contest between but two  comes down to arm-wrestling, and is quickly settled, though maybe settled amiss.

Elizabethan times witnessed a similar struggle among a triad, with monarch corresponding to the Chief Executive, Parliament to the Congress, and the third, robed branch, the clergy, replaced now with the judiciary.

In Elizabeth’s time, the puritans had endeavoured to bring ecclesiastical grievances before the House of Commons;  this, the queen resented, as it seemed that the commons were endeavouring to go outside their province  and legislate on matters which could only be constitutionally dealt with by the clergy in convocation, and by the crown.  In this way, the religious question assumed a constitutional form.
-- Ward & Waller, eds. The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. IV: North to Drayton (1909), p. 305

The parallels here are more than we would have expected, right down to the detail about the “puritans”, neatly re-incarnated in our own day  by the Woke brigade.  And that of the monarch being a Queen -- like our POTUS, though he is  of the drama kind, and not of Tudor blood.


The motif of the “Trivet of Conflict” finds its supreme cinematic embodiment in the final scene-sequence of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” -- not a circular firing-squad, but an equiangular shoot-out.   The act plays out, as ideally in the  Seventh Art, without words or sudden motion  till the fatal climax, silent but for the tinkling melody of an antique music-watch  winding down.  Here too, for our own amusement (or that of the blog-observing gods) we may match personages across the spheres:  here,  Good (a.k.a. Blondie) is the Supreme Court (granted, partisans carp at decisions that do not go their favorite way, but that branch is surely the most dignified and even relatively impartial);  Bad  is our naughty POTUS;  and Ugly -- who could that be, but our quarrelsome Congress.

To spare our readers further metaphor, we shall not be drawing comparisons between the branches as enumerated in the Constitution, and the Persons of the Trinity (as explicitly enumerated  nowhere in Scripture, but now held dear).


[Update 8 Feb 2020]  For any who deem the Elizabethan analogy  too ennobling for our present sticky pickle, look ye rather to that trio of Stooges, who, in simpler days, brought delight to tots and idlers.  Our pushful POTUS is perfectly cast  as Moe.

[Update 9 Feb]  What sketch of the American polity, with any pretentions to, well, pretentiousness, could be considered complete, without the obligatory obeissance to Tocqueville?  We must check the Tocqueville box.

The basic dynamic of the first two branches of government, whether monarch and parliament, or President and Congress, is a matter of politics and power.   It is the third, robed element, whether the Church or the Judiciary, that is less obvious: with goals and methods less tangible, more nearly timeless.
Historically, as the sway of the Church retreated from the secular sphere, in general  it was not replaced by another body.  America, it seems, was an exception:

Aucun peuple n’a constitué  un aussi grand pouvoir judiciaire  que les Américains.
Chez toutes les nations policées de l’Europe, le gouvernement a toujours montré une grande répugnance à laisser la justice ordinaire  trancher des questions qui l’intéresent lui-même. … A mesure, au contraire, que la liberté augmente, le cercle des attribtions des tribunaux  va toujours en s’élargissant.  …Chez les nations de l’Europe, les tribunaux n’ont que des pariculiers pour usticible;  mais on peut dire que la cour suprême des Etats-Unis  fait comparaître des souverains à sa barre.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique (1835), vol. I, p. 225-6

[Update]  To have three pre-eminent and even quasi-coequal powers within a polis, is inherently metastable and dramatic, and indeed has found its way into drama.  Cf. the Scottish poet David Lindsay’s morality-play A Pleasant Satire of the Three Estates (Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, in contemporary spelling), 1552