04 June, 2011

Oops, she did it again

Another female journalist has been assaulted in Egypt. It was one of the first things I found when I checked the news this morning, so I don't have any details. I've noticed I tend to wait a few days for things like this. It's easy to go into attack mode without knowing the facts.

Such as with another female assaulted by journalism. Like most people who care about this sort of thing, I'd heard last night - I don't always wait a few days - that Sarah Palin had said something stupid about Paul Revere, warning the British, ringing bells, and all the things that good well-informed American citizens know never ever happened so she is unquestionably stupid for saying otherwise.

The fact that she's taking a family trip through American historical sites completely escapes her critics. For someone who might enjoy pranking those who irk her (you know, the way any normal human being does) there's probably a dozen things learned at each stop that makes her go "Ohhhhh" in an ascending feminine voice, turning to whoever's next to her and going "I didn't know that", like any woman on a public tour of [insert historical stop here] would do and then turn back to the guide. 'I always thought Paul Revere rode through and yelled that the British were coming. How fascinating!'

But she's a politician who may or may not run for President. This sort of prank is pretty mild as far as those people go. And it's funny. It's a shame John Hughes is dead, he could probably get some great mileage out of the Palin family bus trip across America, minus Christie Brinkley speeding by in a Ferrarri. In the meantime, we'll have to sit through all those people who consider themselves informed about America [slavery, racism, sexism, genocide] calling someone else stupid. Why else would the press be giving her such coverage?

Last week at Westminster Abbey, Barack Obama was signing the guest book, turned to ask someone what the date was, and then put May 24, 2008.

You see, she's stupid. He's thoughtful and competent. That's why he asked somebody first before getting today's date wrong by three years, and that's why it doesn't get remotely the play that Palin's gaffe-that-wasn't gets. Because Obama's opponents are so hateful and condescending.

I've been thinking about national identities recently. Whether deliberate or not, I've wondered if Palin's family trip (and recent career choices) has been a (reference? invocation? affirmation?) of Americana. Some time ago, she told Tea Partiers to party like it was 1773, and got this same accusation of being stupid, ignorant, ill-informed. Of course the Boston Tea Party happened in 1773, so she actually knew what she was talking about, and the people criticizing her didn't.

[These same people rushed to accuse her of murder in the Giffords shooting. You'd almost think they didn't like her, that they didn't think she should be treated the way they'd like to be treated in a similar situation, you know, as an equal.]

It's a little unnerving that she's going straight to references from the American Revolution for these references. In a time of crisis like this - I hear the rapture was scheduled for a couple weeks ago - it makes sense to retrace our steps from the Founding Fathers, but it's a bit worrisome that she has to. This reminds us where we came from. It's what our national identities are. Americans play baseball and bake pies and go to work and watch tv and raise their kids to be Americans, and we're already sick of hearing about the election scheduled in seventeen months, the same thing Americans were doing a hundred years ago, or two hundred.

When Obama wrote the wrong date, it occured to me that it was a case of national identities bumping against each other. Even on vacation, I'm sure the President has to sign and date any number of papers every day, so the likelihood of him forgetting what year it is seems pretty nil, even if he's being absent-minded or having an off-day.

To quote the Reverend Jesse Custer, "This is kinda difficult to put into words an' not sound a little shy in the hat size." I wonder if it was the location itself, and a judgement served by the building itself, or at least whatever historical forces run through it.

Founded by Benedictine monks in the 960s-70s, the actual abbey was built by Edward the Confessor, right before the Norman Conquest. It was spared the wrath of Henry VIII when he took over the English churches. When the abbey was founded, the Magna Carta, one of the basic building blocks of Western Civilization, was still over two and a half centuries in the future. It's been less time than that since Americans signed the Declaration of Independence. Geoffrey Chaucer was even more centuries ahead when he lived there on a royal pension and founded English Literature. Just down the road, the Beatles recorded a few popular tunes. Let's just say it's seen a lot of history in its time.

Since people don't live longer than a century, we don't think in those terms, but if there are any... presences? apparitions? ghosts? they probably do think of a hundred years as being a short span of time. They would probably associate with the places and things that have lasted as long. Their presence may have contributed to the buildings and institutions themselves lasting for so long. Or maybe it's because the places last that "ghosts" come to exist and inhabit them.

I am speculating that these "ghosts" are conscious themselves, while they may just be natural forces akin to gravity or entropy. We record the effects as history but can't do more than speculate the causes.

So when the current historical blip occupying the White House - burned by the English in 1812 - visits Westminster Abbey, the collective judgement of England represented by the building guides his hand to inscribe a date before his election. I don't know why, I don't know what it means, not a clue why he would otherwise choose 2008. Hell, Occam's Razor says that it was purely his own screw-up (because he's so thoughtful and competent, not like GWB or Sarah Palin.)

I'm certainly glad that so many people are paying attention to this or that historical moment (like the story of Paul Revere, who probably hasn't gotten this much attention in ages). But it's a bit depressing to think we have to instead of watching movies or whatever else we'd rather fill up our lives with. But at this crucial time in history, it is important to affirm how we got to where we are and what makes us Americans (or British, or English, or Westerners, or civilized.)

I was hoping to get back to musings on rock music in this post, specifically Aerosmith, but it doesn't look like it'll happen now. Much like a new Aerosmith album...

Instead, here's their early 90's live performance of "Dream On", a song Steven Tyler wrote when he was about 17, long before Aerosmith was formed, before the song briefly appeared as the first single from the first album, before it became a hit when it was rereleased after the 'Smith found commercial success. That's Michael Kamen leading the orchestra, as he's done everywhere from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" to Metallica's "S&M" and G'n'R's "November Rain".

And here's the video for Queen's "Who Wants To Live Forever". Kamen's not in it, but he did arrange the orchestra, so his work's there anyway. I once played this song for my grandmother, and even she liked it. Roger's kind of out of place though. Freddie's in a suit, John's in a jacket, Brian's in respectable dark clothes and Roger's in a denim jacket.

And what the hell, here's "November Rain". Kamen's conducting the orchestra, but strangely he didn't do anything on the song, that was all Axl playing on synthesizers. Kamen was basically the go-to guy for a couple decades when rock stars wanted to use classical orchestration. He's dead now. He also did the scores for all four Lethal Weapon movies, in collaboration with Eric Clapton. and a lot more besides.]

Amusingly if you don't know who these people are, G'n'R is indistinguishable from Aerosmith in the earlier video, down to the tall blond bass player. [G'n'R would be flattered, they certainly patterned themselves after the 'Smith. As with "Dream On", Axl was even working on this song long before the band was formed.]

We never did find out why the guy jumped through the wedding cake at the end. I think it was because the rain had already ruined the cake and the reception, so why not? When else was he ever going to have a chance to do that. Wouldn't you?

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