Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Hamlet, Fortenbras and the Border
We face on our border with Mexico much of what Hamlet's royal family faced with Norway.Borders are never easy to maintain. The news reports following Katrina included a brief mention that our border guards had been pulled from the Mexican border to assist with the recovery. Congressional authorization for increased guard strength has only partially been executed by our president. Since he's from Texas, President Bush is undoubtedly familiar with the personal virtues of our Mexican neighbors – by all accounts hard-working, religious and family-oriented - and so he may be reluctant to force their removal. Presidente Fox of Mexico, and the Mexican nation at large, are certain to follow American policy closely, measuring options. After all, Mexico cannot look on so much territory which was once Mexican without a wistful sense of longing. A longing that Fortenbras, the young and headstrong leader of Norway, understood.
In Hamlet, Fortenbras seeks to reclaim the lands lost to Denmark in an earlier war, occurring before the play begins. King Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, step-father and king, summarizes:
"Now follows that you know, young Fortenbras,
Holding a weak supposal of our worth,
Or thinking by our late dear brother's death
Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
Colleagued with the dream of his advantage,
He hath not failed to pester us with message,
Importing the surrender of those lands
Lost by his father…".
For Fortenbras, let's substitute the broad stream of Mexican society as it regards our society from across a thin strip of neighborly fencing. Nor is there lacking the sense of resentment over lands thought taken and sought to be restored. Horatio explains Mexican, I mean Norwegian, sentiment in Act I, Scene I:
"…Our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortenbras of Norway,
Thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride,
Dar'd to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet, -
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him, -
Did slay this Fortenbras;"
It's easy to forget that Hamlet killed Fortenbras' father in a prior war. It's easy to forget how the swath of land from Texas to California was once listed on maps as part of Mexico. And it's easy to forget that no matter how virtuous individual Mexicans may be, they remain saturated in a broad culture of poverty and corruption that we cannot expect them to leave behind as they import themselves into America, and that this culture has led them to a fully understandable desperation. Horatio explains:
"…Now sir, young Fortenbras,
of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there,
Shark'd up a list of landless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That has a stomach in't..."
These "landless resolutes, for food and diet" travel thousands of miles to Denmark, I mean America, because their own government over centuries has preferred corruption to growth. These are the most ambitious and most misused of Mexicans, the ones paying graft rather than receiving it, the ones who would push for change within Mexico if they couldn't get out.Even under Claudius, Denmark's response was better than ours. Horatio's speech about Norway is in answer to Marcellus' question about why he and Bernardo and Francisco have been assigned additional watch duties:
"Why this same strict and most observant watch,
So nightly toils the subject of the land…?"
Things break down later, of course. Denmark's government becomes distracted over domestic, indeed very domestic, concerns. Gertrude's fecklessness, Hamlet's doomed but good faith attempts to confirm his suspicions of his father's murder, the Miers nomination, the leaking of a possibly covert CIA agent's name. The list goes on.
Decades of distraction have opened portions, in fact all, of our country to essentially uncontrolled entry. Our past allegiance to the concept of assimilation, for ourselves and other new Americans, has been weakened by concepts of multi-culturalism. And even though our constitution does not require it, our laws generously permit the children of illegal immigrants automatic citizenship.
Our imaginations flee from the prospect of a Trail-of-Tears forced march back to Mexico. But what will the social reaction be during the next economic downturn, when the labor of these non-citizens becomes not only unneeded, but unwelcome? We are responsible today if we fail to avoid such a predictable reactionary surge before it happens.Fortenbras found himself in charge at the end of the play, having sensed such weakness, represented by Hamlet's collapse of will:
"O that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew…"
That's not exactly leadership.
Friday, October 21, 2005
The Bard on Brad (and Jen and Angelina)
If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with 't."
That's Miranda's opinion about Ferdinand, offered in The Tempest. Do we agree? Do people like Brad, Jennifer and Angelina find good things striving to dwell within the fair houses of their fair bodies? Do their arresting bone structures and pleasant wrappings of flesh compel what is ill to flee from entry?
Well, Miranda, we should remember, was abandoned from the age of three with her dispossessed father on a desert island. Ferdinand was the first normal guy that she encountered.
"You are the cruelest she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy."
Viola says this to Olivia in Twelfth Night. It is a favorite theme of Shakespeare's, the obligation to perpetuate one's graces through reproduction. Infertility is a tragedy or at least a challenge for many married couples, who have with solemn dignity pledged themselves to each other in marriage, hopeful of children, and have then met with this difficult fate. For many adoption follows. But Brad can't adopt unless he marries someone, or unless someone marries him. Meanwhile Angelina is effectively cuckolding Brad with the children of other men (if of other women as well), right before our eyes:
"...On each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling cupids,
With divers-coloured fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did."
A description of Cleopatra offered by Enobarbus. The smiling cupids are hers, not Brad's. Yup, Brad is starting to look a wee bit foolish, with aspirations toward love, marriage and fatherhood - all pleasantly mired in a swamp of sex. While exceptions need to be made for a woman like Angelina, it's all just a bit unbecoming in a forty year-old man. He might've kept his mouth shut about his conflicting desires.
"To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in waxBy him imprinted..."
Theseus in Midsummer's Night Dream. I thought I'd be writing about the catfight between the two women, but I find myself focusing on Brad, a strangly passive figure being publicly eaten alive by Angelina, as his child-rearing years dwindle away, the woman he might find to realize this happy ambition (if Angelina won't permit him to jump on the runaway train of her own single-mothered family) still unsought, unfound, their relationship unforged.
But I have my objections to Jen and Angelina as well. Ordinarily it would be none of our business as to why these two ladies don't or didn't want to bear children. But if indeed they don't, then as public figures I think a certain deference is owed the millions of couples who do marry, and who stay married, who do render society more orderly and dignified by removing their volatile sexual desires from the public sphere, who do desire to bear children, and who are unable to have them. Theirs are serious lives, and they should not be lived under the checkout line shadow of such frivilous ones.
"Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime."
(NOTE: please recall that I am shifting all blogging to my new blog at;
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Shakespeare on the Miers Nomination
I had a few choices for this one, just like President Bush did, but I've decided to go with Henry IV, Act 4 scene 4. I know what you're thinking - was this Henry IV Part One or Henry IV Part Two?. Can't get much past you, can I? It was Part Two, le sequel.King Henry says the above line to his son Prince Henry, also known as Hal, and later to be known as Henry V. Hal has been struggling with his youthful spirits, constantly led astray by the larger-than-life Falstaff. He will eventually undergo a profound tranformation into the wise ruler we see in Henry V, the next play in Shakespeare's history series.
Miers too, as we know, has undergone profound transformations, changing religions and political parties, struggling we all hope successfully to come into a full maturity.Hal walks in on his father when he's asleep. Thinking him dead, Hal takes the crown into the next room and weeps over it. His father awakens and suspects his son of ambition. They argue, but at last Henry is assured of his son's great love, and reciprocates it. We see the same sort of bond, forged over time and shared adversity, now existing between President Bush and his personal attorney.
"...God knows, my son,By what by-paths and indirect crook'd ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head..."
Our democratic party-affiliated readers will savor this passage. Miers, but of course I mean Hal, assures her client, I mean his father, of the legitimacy of his rule:
"...My gracious liege,You won it, wore it, kept it, gave it me;
Then plain and right must my possession be..."
And so too would Miers' rule, in a judicial position in many ways co-extensive with the presidency, extend beyond her father's, I mean the President's.
"Thou seek's the greatness that will overwhelm thee."
Henry says this earlier, before he is won over to full confidence in his son. Miers of course oversaw the selection process for Bush's previous judicial picks, including the strict vetting of candidates. Though she did decline once the crown of nomination, she accepted the second offer, and when she did she exempted herself from the same vetting process. Only a personal friendship could support such an exemption, which is now getting her nomination into trouble and harming her client's - the President's - interests. But then I suppose he is now her former client.
Thus it is that I feel an accusation of ambition is justified against Miers. And when I refer to ambition I mean the wrong kind, the kind Brutus killed Caesar over, not the good kind, that led let's say Roberts to devote himself for over 30 years to developing an expertise that rendered him at last deserving of his nomination. Like Hal.
Yes, I think Henry IV Part Deux will do quite well for Miers. This will now leave me free to move onto something lighter, like Brad, Jen and Angelina. Actually Falstaff, in this same play, has an eventful dinner with two competing women, Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly. One of them has sued him over a proposal he denies making while the other applauds everything he does. That may well do for Brad's triangle. I'll be thinking it through.
A Slight Adjustment
During my trip to Scotland, and aside from enjoying the stately cities and stunning countryside, I reflected on the experiment of this blog. When I was younger, I could never have dreamed something like this was possible, to present to as broad a readership as found itself interested the full range of my desired expression. And I find myself wholly involved, committed and encompassed in the project.
Still, my desired expression will only take me so far. What happens when I've expressed pretty much all I have to express? I want to create something that grows and ramifies over time, reflects my interests, and serves or responds to (some) people's needs and interests as well.
On our return from the well named Isle of Skye, where the heavens themselves seem closer, our train took us past Burnam Wood, the one Macbeth felt sure would stay put, guaranteeing that he would not be murdered, as per the witches' fortune-telling. An idea occurred to me.
I will be amending the focus of my modest blog in a way that will guarantee a lifetime of content and, if done well, I hope may of interest to others as well. I've started a new blog entitled bardseyeview, at http://bardseyeviewblog.blogspot.com Bardeyeview will present a Shakespearean parallels on the people and issues of the day, leaving plenty of room for my own ideas as well. I'll be posting simultaneously on both blogs for a while, to alert existing readers, and will then transfer to bardseyeviewblog.com only.
I look forward to a shared learning experience as I delve deeply into Shakespeare each day to find how he would or might have looked at Brad, Jen and Angelina, or Saddam, or the Miers nomination. And I hope you'll stop by.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
King John, As Portrayed By Saddam Hussein
Shakespeare doesn't have King John announce his villainy like Richard the Third. His evil choices are borne of weakness, and if this makes him less satisfying as a villain, it makes him probably more believable. Watching Saddam in court as he vacillates between denying the proceedings and practicing amateur legal maneuvers, you see someone who has made a successful career out of lying to himself about his true nature, or what his nature has truly become. John is much the same.
King John's nephew Arthur is a young boy with a rival claim to the throne. We'll let Arthur be a stand-in for democracy, accountability, legitimacy. Like Saddam, John's against it. John takes Andrew's keeper, Hubert, aside:
""I had a thing to say, - but let it go;
The sun is in the heaven, and the proud day,
attended with the pleasures of the world,
Is all too wanton and too full of gawds
To give me audience;"
He has a little trouble getting to the point. Daytime is not his idiom, and he knows enough to admit it. Saddam certainly spent his share of time avoiding the light of day. And just this morning he objected to sunlight being brought to bear on audiotapes which apparently will incriminate him.
" - If the midnight bell
Did, with his iron tongue and brazen mouth,
Sound one unto the drowsy ear of night;
If this same were a churchyard where we stand,
And thou possessed with a thousand wrongs;"
Hubert's virtue, even as it guarantees his loyalty, is abrasive to John as well. And when will he be able to get to the point?
"Or if that surly spirit, melancholy,
Had baked thy blood, and made it heavy, thick, -
Which else runs tickling up and down the veins,
Making that idiot, laughter, keep men's eyes,
And strain their cheeks to idle merriment -
A passion hateful to my purposes, -"
Human as he looks on stage (or in Saddam's case, weilding a rifle before a dutiful rent-a-crowd while wearing a suit and what I believe was a bowler hat), the guy's starting to seem not just non-human, but defined by whatever being human isn't. It's laughter that's grating on him this time. Meanwhile Hubert's waiting for his orders.
"Or if that thou couldst see me without eyes,
Hear me without thine ears, and make reply
Without a tongue, using conceit alone,
Without eyes, ears, and harmful sound of words,
Thin, in despite of brooded watchful day,
I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts."
Let's have those sensory organs removed Hubert, they make me uncomfortable. We see the plastic shredders into which victims were fed, the surgical removal of the hands of those Saddam felt might oppose him.
"Oh Hubert, Hubert, Hubert, throw thine eye
On yon young boy; I'll tell thee what, my friend,
He is a very serpent in my way."
Hubert gets the point. "Death," says John. "He shall not live," Hubert replies. Hubert escorts Arthur onto a ship which will take Arthur to his place of imprisonment. During the voyage, Hubert opens a letter from King John. It commands him to put out Arthur's eyes with a hot iron.
"Oh Hubert, if you will, cut out my tongue,
So I may keep mine eyes: O spare mine eyes;
Though to no use but still to look on you!"
Hubert loses his nerve, or gains his nerve, and relents. Arthur is spared and hidden. He will die later while trying to escape from the tower Hubert hides him in. Ironically, this occurs after John has lost his nobles' support when they hear that Arthur is dead and suspect John of the crime. Hubert, at that future time, tells John Arthur is alive and John runs to collect him in order to win his nobles back. But the boy's body is found at the foot of the tower, by the nobles, the people of Iraq, who by now have had enough.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Repatriot on Hiatus
Please stop back after the 18th when I will resume my daily essay-like inquiries in the nature of things.
I realize most blogs are faster paced, but I prefer things stately and sedate.
Until then, please consider browsing through some of Repatriot's Posts of Enduring Value, linked at the left.
Monday, October 10, 2005
A Look at Oil Shale
As big and rudely muscular as the US economy is, three-fourths of the world's oil demand is non-American. And good luck standing in the way of Mr. Lee and Mr. Cho as they gain the chance to drive and air condition themselves. So the question of whether we'll be paying six dollars at some point is going to hinge on supply. Saudi princes have recently been acting as coy about their reserves as debutantes about their chastity, and so we in the general public, incluidng bloggers like myself, have begun wondering about alternatives. And you can dream all you want to, but the realistic short to medium-term alternatives all involve alternatives that you can still pour into your tank.
Hence oil shale.
I know what you're going to say. What about thermal depolymerization? Whereby they process garbage and animal biproducts in a manner similar to how crude oil itself is treated - they heat and pressurize it, and then depressurize it at differing rates to produce different oil grades. I'm all for it. It's going to be a welcome, small-scale contributor to our solution. But there's just not going to be enough feedstock to affect the big picture.
Ethanol? Please. How much corn do you want to plant? And like tar sands and coal and gas conversion, the low net energy output means you're running ever faster to produce only marginally more. That didn't work for Alice in Wonderland and it won't for us.
Now, probably around when our children are older than we are, in my inquiring but admittedly layman's opinion, hydrogen produced with excess nuclear capacity may kick in, but until then oil shale is the real trump card for the next generation in terms of large scale production of stuff you can put in your gas tank.
Oil shale is bituminous material containing kerogen that can be heated to 450-500° C in the absence of air to distill it into petroleum. The US Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale reserves places world supply at 1662 billion barrels. 1200 billion barrels of that is in the US.
Point one: We've got 3/4's of it. With apologies to my non-American readers, but that puts the same big fat smile on my face that I trust good news about your nation would put on yours.
And no, you don't have to strip-mine it using West Virginian child labor in a sardonic reprise of a Dickens horror scene. You can convert it in-situ. You lower a heating element into a mineshaft and heat it up. It converts into oil right there in the ground. Then you pump it up. Any non-idiotic regulatory policy would further allow refineries to be built within pipeline range of the shale fields. Are there any retired military bases along oil shale's major Uinta, Green River, Washakie and Piceance basins which runs across Wyoming, Utah and Colorado?
Environmental? The strip mining form of extraction is indeed problematic, because the extracted rock expands after heating and must be disposed, plus a lot of water is involved.
But there's far less footprint with in-situ production. CO2 emissions from the energy used in extraction and refining (oil shale is 4.5% sulphur, double or more heavy crude but less than tar sands) have to be considered and the groundwater exposed to the in-situ heating has to be cooled or managed in some other way. From this standpoint, it is indeed not a sexy, forward-looking solution, but it buys time for technology to advance. Time that we can hope won't be squandered the way the last 30 years - following the wake up call of the 1970's oil shocks - was squandered.
Economical? Royal Dutch/Shell (they've all merged, haven't they?) proclaimed this year that oil shale could be extracted at $30 a barrel. So long as the oil companies are sure it won't drop below that price, and republicans - real republicans - are in office to cut prohibitive regulation that extreme enviros use to circumvent the popular will (when they're nto using the courts to do the same), it will be produced.
For further reading, let me direct you to this post and succeeding comments at futurepundit where energy-savvy experts offer greater expertise than my amateur survey can provide.
Harold Bloom, the Yale professor and literary critic, describes Americans as doom-eager. He says nice things about us at times as well, but I see his point about our willingness to read today's bad news as signs of the end times. I wrote in opposition to that idea yesterday and in a sense I tried to do the same today.
There is no cause for real alarm, so long as we do not shrink from confidence in our own system, which has brought prosperity to hundreds of millions (simultaneously with a cleaner environment than Old Europe's). No doom awaits us without our consent. With oil shale and other potential sources out there, second-or third best solutions though they are, there is broadly speaking a ceiling on the price of oil.
Just as there is none on human ingenuity.
Sunday, October 09, 2005
The Horror in Pakistan and India
Still, it is worth wondering if too unrelenting a series of disasters will cause our modern world to lose its already precarious hold on reason and begin regarding these calamities as signs – presumably signs of a divine hand that is either benevolent and displeased or not benevolent in the first place.
As far as divine hands go, I raise mine in favor of the theology presented in the Simpsons, whose characters all have three fingers and a thumb. G-d, who does make cameo appearances, is depicted as a hand in the sky with five fingers. I know this doubles as the cartoon drawers' inside joke that they are the five-fingered (ok, four plus a thumbed) collective god who create their characters, but it also suggests the image of a six-fingered (five plus a thumbed) G-d who has drawn us.
"…There is one within,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn'd and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fight upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war.
Which drizzled blood upon the Capital;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan;
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
If you prefer something more contemporary to Shakespeare's depiction of a freaked-out wife of Caesar describing calamity below brought upon us by displeasure above, there is always Bill Murray in the first Ghostbusters describing to an incredulous mayor of New York what would happen if the Keyholder were to successfully contact the Gatekeeper, releasing thereby the malevolent god Zuul:
"Dogs and cat living together…".
To me, all of this goes back to the distinction between godly religion and paganism, a distinction that is not between mono- and poly- as to theism. The pagan Greeks and Romans acknowledged a unitary force behind the distracted and adolescent three-ring circus playing around on top of Mount Olympus. The true difference is not between many and one but between (a) listening intently for what G-d or the gods want of you, known as prayer, and perhaps modestly asking for something, and (b) not asking the gods at all but trying to order them around. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter, in focusing on the incantations and spells which order the gods to do our bidding, both get paganism right. Under Judeo-Christianity, who does whose bidding is reversed. You can also ask if you want, but you can only ask.
But I wouldn't waste any breath in asking for the mud huts in Pakistan to be raised by divine hand. In this world, as JFK said, G-d's work truly must be our own.
And as each part of the world grows more acutely aware of every other part, our sense of responsibility over what we can no longer pretend not to know about must grow. If a divine hand provides anything, it provides not disasters, but the urge and impulse to alleviate them. Ultimately that urge and impulse should impel us equally toward charity, volunteerism and as well toward good citizenship. The last because every dollar wasted to bad government or bad policy is another dollar not available for relief, and every percent hike in the tax rate above what's necessary squeezes more charitable giving out of existence. And that would be a calamity indeed.