You may not understand freedom


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goldfish jumping out of the water

We have at least two kinds of freedom, and I think we often misunderstand them.

Take the First Amendment. We think of it as a “freedom to” law: freedom to speak, to assemble, to worship, and so on.

But that’s not what it says.

It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of relisgion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . . .”

That’s not “freedom to.” It’s “freedom from” — in this case, freedom from Congressional interference.

And that makes sense, because “freedom from” comes before “freedom to.” You can’t exercise your freedom to do something until you get freedom from whatever’s blocking you.

Another example: the Civil War. It gave African-Americans some freedom to determine their own destinies. But they couldn’t exercise that freedom until the war freed them from slavery.

Jump to the next century. Ronald Reagan felt that businesses could exercise their freedom to prosper only after they received freedom from over-regulation. Again, “freedom from” came before “freedom to.”

And when Franklin Roosevelt gave his famous speech about “Four Freedoms,” two of them were “freedoms from”: freedom from want and freedom from fear. People have to be free from illness, starvation, and neediness, and from terrifying war and invasion, before they can exercise the freedom to do — well, almost anything.

Which brings us to Obamacare.

Obamacare has helped to free people from awful medical conditions and heavy burdens of medical debt. This “freedom from” has increased their “freedom to”: the freedom to enjoy what America’s founders called the pursuit of happiness.

I’ll admit that Obamacare may have interfered with some freedoms as it expanded others. Creating freedom for one group often reduces freedom for another.
• In the early 1860s, some Southerners considered Abraham Lincoln a tyrant because, in their opinion, his desire to outlaw slavery would steal their freedom to enslave.
• By mandating safe food and medicine, the Pure Food and Drug Act reduced the freedom of businesses to peddle hidden poisons. But it freed Americans from the fear that the next thing that they’d put in their mouths might kill them.
• World War II’s military draft stole freedom from millions of men so that they could win a war to free millions of other people from tyranny.

So I don’t blame people for opposing Obamacare. I just think that it provides more freedom than it removes.

“Be vewy quiet. I’m hunting Jimmy Stewart.”


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My fellow animation fans, you’ll like this.

Sirius XM’s Classic Radio channel is running a theme of “Christmas in July,” airing Christmas-themed shows. Today, they broadcast a 1949 version of It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the role that he played in the movie.

For the guardian angel Clarence, the producers didn’t get Henry Travers, who played him in the movie. Instead, they hired . . .

Elmer Fudd.

I am not kidding. Arthur Q. Bryan, the voice of Elmer Fudd, played Clarence in the voice of Fudd. Maybe it was Bryan’s natural voice; I don’t know.

But it’s weird as hell to hear Elmer Fudd introduce himself, as Clawence, to George Baiwey of Bedford Fawws.


The philosopher thug


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I recently finished reading Fight Club. I’d seen the movie but never read the book until now.

The most dynamic character, fight club founder Tyler Durden, is of a species that pops up occasionally: the philosopher thug, who pushes an innocent young man into witnessing destructive and self-destructive behavior, and participating in it, to show him hard truths about how life really is. Another example is the bad cop Alonzo Harris (played by Denzel Washington), who shoves young patrolman Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) into corruption and violence in the movie Training Day.

I’ve always found the philosopher thug cruel and smug. I yearn for his young victim/protégé to punch him in the mouth and say, “You’re not trying to open my eyes to reality. That’s just your excuse for treating me like crap, you bullying jerk.”

Of course, at that point the insufferable philosopher thug would just smirk and say something like “You’re finally standing up for yourself like the man I’ve been trying to turn you into.”

The hell with you, philosopher thug.

Super dead girls


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I just finished reading Catherynne Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues, which the lovely Lea Seidman Hernandez recommended to me, and I recommend it to you.

In the afterlife, a bunch of super-heroines, girlfriends of super-heroes, and at least one villainess — all deceased — gather to tell each other how they lived, how they died, and what they think of the super-doings that they encountered. None of the characters is exactly Gwen Stacy or Harley Quinn or Jean Grey, but it’s not hard (or even very important) to dope out who’s supposed to be who.

The writing is sharp, the insights into character are smart, and the stories rattle along swiftly, with virtually no narrative waste. I think the book will entertain a variety of readers, even people who know about super-heroes only through movies. And for comics fans, the book provides nasty little thrills on the order of “This is what nice, sweet Gwendy would’ve really felt about Spider-Man after one of his adventures got her throat snapped.”

Buy. Read. Enjoy.


Donald Trump, rich kids, and the impostor syndrome


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donald-trumps-pivotal-childhood-experiences-in-the-art-of-the-deal-include-punching-his-second-grade-teacher-in-the-faceYoung Donald Trump

I grew up in Beverly Hills. The experience has given me an idea about Donald Trump.

My dad didn’t earn one percent of the money that Trump’s father did — far from it! — but I knew kids whose parents had heavy money. It can make a kid insecure: “I’ve got so much stuff, but I didn’t earn it. Maybe I don’t deserve it.”

If an insecure person achieves high status, his self-image can congeal into the impostor syndrome: “I’m in this great position, but if people find out that I don’t deserve it, my life could fall apart.”

That person might hide this fear under bluster and bravado: “If I act like I’m the greatest and like anyone against me is just jealous or lying or crooked — like they’re the undeserving ones, not me — then I’ll be safe.”

Trump would probably deny that insecurity could be driving him. He doesn’t seem introspective enough to explore whatever subterranean fears might be spinning his turbines. Nor does he seem likely to consider that he may have built up the hard-charging front-line fighters of his outward behavior to protect him from his own feelings.

And I’ll admit that Trump-size wealth seems likelier to make a kid feel secure, not insecure. If everyone around you always gives you the best of everything as if you deserve it all, then you’ll probably believe that you deserve it.

But when I see someone who boasts about himself and denounces others as often and passionately as Trump, I see insecurity. And it may be the insecurity of the rich kid who feels like an undeserving impostor.

If Hitler wrote science fiction


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I’ve just finished Norman Spinrad’s 1972 book The Iron Dream, which answers the question “What if Hitler had become a science-fiction writer instead of a dictator?”

Most of the book is Hitler’s allegedly Hugo-winning 1954 novel Lord of the Swastika, plus blurbs from Spinrad’s peers (Michael Moorcock: “It is bound to earn Hitler the credit he so richly deserves!”), a short bio of Hitler (who “dabbled briefly in radical politics in Munich before finally emigrating to New York in 1919”), a list of Hitler’s other SF books (e.g., The Master Race) and an afterword by a New York University professor who attacks Hitler’s literary flaws.

Of which there are many. The book’s a heavily romanticized, post-apocalypse version of Hitler’s real-world career. Blonde, muscular, genetically perfect Feric Jaggar (same scansion as “Adolf Hitler”) accumulates dark-eyed, intense propagandist Seph Bogel (an analog of Joseph Goebbels), worshipful aide Ludolf Best (Rudolf Hess), portly war minister Waffing (Goering), and SS leader Remler (Himmler) as lieutenants in his crusade to eliminate inferior “mongrel races” and the evil Dominators, whose subversive influence weakens the spirit of pure, true humanity.

After Jaggar rises to rule the noble land of Heldon (in German, “Held” means “hero”), he leads his men — the story has no women, except in very brief passing — to war against the Dominators and their slaves. At this point, the book loses dramatic tension, because Jaggar is so superior to non-Helders that they rarely offer him a challenge — just opportunities for him to inflict orgiastic violence, which Hitler/Spinrad describes in the pulpiest prose. True to Hitler’s roots as an artist, the book packs its scenes with vivid and often grotesque visual detail.

The book parodies space operas in which a manly, all-American champion destroys an entire (predatory and physically ugly) alien race, and sword-and-sorcery epics pitting a beefy, undauntable conqueror against corrupt, decadent schemers. If you’ve ever cheered for such protagonists, Spinrad gives you an extreme version and then says, in effect, “You enjoy stuff like this? Well, it’s the kind of thing Hitler would write!”

Spinrad deliberately wrote a bad story to make you feel bad about enjoying other bad stories. This is high satire.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — one year later


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maxresdefaultYesterday as I write this, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off aired for free online, courtesy of Domino’s Pizza.

I always wanted to see a sequel showing Ferris’ future, in which these events have happened:

• Ferris, always unable to ignore temptation, cheated on his beloved Sloane and broke her heart. 

(The original movie hints at this future during the parade scene, when Sloane looks up and sees the girls on Ferris’s parade float adore him — and, to her disappointment, he enjoys and indulges their adoration. Later, when he’s running home under terrible time pressure, he stops to chat with two swimsuited women sunning themselves. His devotion to Sloane is not exactly monogamous.)

• Cameron told his father about destroying the man’s beloved Ferrari, whereupon Dad beat Cameron nearly to death, shipped him to military school, and (using the benefits of being rich) escaped prosecution and bad publicity for assaulting his son.

• Jean/Shauna got involved with the druggy Charlie Sheen character, who used her as his drug mule; she got arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for possession and trafficking.

• Ed Rooney’s agonizing failure to take Ferris down pushed him into a spiral of attempted (but always failed) revenge. His unending obsession led him to losing his job and near-death by alcoholism.

• And Ferris, as usual, skipped away from all of this suffering — until Sloane, Cameron, Jean, and Ed caught up with him.

How fame, wealth, and power made Donald Trump weak


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Something that Gwyneth Paltrow said reminds me of Donald Trump:

“Fame is such a weird and distorting thing. I’ve thought a lot about it, and my theory is that you kind of stop growing at the age you are when you become famous. Because what happens is, people start removing all your obstacles, and if you have no obstacles you don’t know who you are. You don’t have real perspective on the problems that face you in life, how to surmount them, and what kind of character you have.”
–– Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales.

Paltrow’s right. But fame isn’t the only attribute that removes obstacles. Wealth and power have the same effect.

Whether you have wealth, fame, or power, people without those advantages will try to do favors for you. They may not like you, but a lot of them will try to please you, because you have what they want or what they fear.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

Trump has been wealthy since infancy, famous since his early thirties, and powerful — first in business and then in politics — for decades. Whenever he’s faced obstacles, he’s used his wealth, fame, and power to help him surmount them.

When someone without Trump’s wealth, power, or fame faces obstacles, she can surmount them only by raw strength of character. Even the mostly despicable Richard Nixon developed impressive tenacity and resilience.

Not Trump, though. He’s never had to build up those mental muscles.

No wonder he goes on Twitter rampages when people displease him. He may never have needed to learn other ways to respond.

Veterans and taxes


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On this Memorial Day, while we remember people who have fallen while in service to this country, I’d like to propose something for those still living.

Right now, disabled veterans get tax breaks. That’s a good thing.

But I’d go further. I’d provide tax breaks for all veterans, even those not disabled.

These breaks would last for as long as the veterans spent in uniform. So if you spent four years in service and then left the military, you’d enjoy tax breaks during your first four years after becoming a civilian. These breaks could be similar to the tax breaks that servicepeople get while still in uniform.

Veterans have served us. Let’s serve them.

The beat of the Beatles


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I’m no expert, and maybe my fondness for the underdog is showing —

— but as I listen to Sirius XM’s new Beatles channel, I find Ringo’s drumming especially appealing.

Ringo does what great movie/theater designers and crew do: create the ambience and environment that let the stars appear at their best. In the Beatles’ case, the stars were the melodies and lyrics, and the performances thereof.

But Ringo does more. As a song progresses, and its melody and rhythm repeat over and over, Ringo tosses in inventive fills and other touches to keep the song fresh.

Since, as I said, I’m no expert, and maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about — but dang, I think Ringo was good.