Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hero of the Lord of the Rings

By most reasonable standards, Sam Gamgee should be the recognized hero of the Lord of the Rings.
Think about it:

Where Frodo (and before him Bilbo) were reluctant, Sam was less so. He might have been threatened by Gandalf, but, it did not appear he was really afraid of him.

Sam went with the best of motives, to care for his friend and "master" (in the very English way) Frodo. Frodo repeatedly tried to give the ring away.

Sam never flagged in his courage, though he was wise enough to be cautious.
- He followed Frodo, whose burden the ring was, in the face of the terrifying black riders.

- He tried to protect him from the much larger Strider, who turned out to be Aragorn.

- He tried to protect him from the sneaky and powerful Gollum.

- He protected him from the terrifying Shelob.

- He attacked ferocious orcs for Frodo's sake.

- He tried to follow Frodo into a river out of loyalty though he could not swim.

Despite his demeanor, Sam was wiser than Frodo.

-He understood Gollum's true nature, whereas Frodo was foolhardy.

-Frodo was easily fooled by Gollum and if not for Sam's undying loyalty, would have lost him.

-He understood the ring and what it did to Frodo better than Frodo did.

Sam was at least as compassionate than Frodo.

-Frodo was worried about Gollum and did understand what his sacrifice would mean to the world. But Sam seemed to worry about the whole world too and also understand their decisions would have a tremendous impact on everyone. He did not have the burden lay upon him. But he took it up all the same.

Sam was more useful than Frodo.

-He could cook. Without him Frodo would have died just from hunger.

-He could throw a rock with great accuracy.

-He was an agriculturist who could recognize the herb kingsfoil and helped save Frodo's life.

Sam had more to do with the success of the quest than Frodo. Without him

-Frodo might have died from the Witch King's sword thrust.

-Frodo would have died from hunger.

-Frodo would have died from Shelob or Gollum.

-Frodo would have failed to make it to Mount Doom.

-The orcs would have taken the ring to Sauron.

-And, of course, at the end, Frodo tried to keep the ring. He failed.

Sam was more resistant to the ring than Frodo.

-Other than the magical being, Tom Bombadil,  no one else was as resistant to the ring as Sam.
-He took it and resisted it' power where even Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel knew they were not

  up to it.

Even the ring knew better than to choose Sam.

-The ring had a consciousness of sorts. It chose those it thought weak enough to surrender
 their will to him. It chose the Baggins family, not the Gamgee family. It chose bearers like Isildor,  
 SmeĆ”gol/Gollum and Frodo - upon all of whom it worked its will?

So why is Frodo considered the hero?  For one reason, religious symbolism.  Frodo is a Christ figure (as were others in the story) even if not precisely so.  Frodo also has some mystical connection with the angel like creatures, elves, or actual angels, like Gandalf, who were fading from Middle Earth.  This is why he left Middle Earth too. Another reason is that Frodo and Bilbo before him were gentlemen of a sort and Sam a laborer. While Tolkien extolled Sam's virtues, he still believed in the typical British natural nobility. Frodo had it. Sam did not.

Yes, I know. Frodo had the burden of the ring and its exhausting and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Did you read what I wrote? The ring chose Frodo because it had no power over Sam.

Let me change topics.

Tolkien thought the eagles a dangerous creation. Others have noted that it would have been a lot easier if the eagles had just flown the fellowship to Mount Doom and it that didn't happen only because it would have ruined the story. Many have pointed this out.

I don't buy it. While it is not quite definitively established by Tolkien just what these giant eagles are, it seems pretty obvious they are not just birds. After all, they are intelligent and aid men when they see fit, even fighting their battles.

There are lots of reasons the eagles might not have participated other than it would shorten the story. The most obvious reason is that like Gandalf, who was restricted in how he could help men, the eagles had spiritual guidelines. They might be able to turn the tide of a battle, but they could not start them or act so that man could avoid them.   Nor could they solve the ultimate problem that would end one age and start another. Why is that so hard to figure out? It seems the answer to the problem.

A secondary reason is that they didn't care all that much. Think of the eagles as America. Would it have been so hard for Tolkien to think of the Eagle as representing America? I know he was deeply engaged in his medieval mindset, but, on the other hand, he lived through WWI and II. He saw America participate in the first (even if late to the game) and come to the rescue of the old world - his world, in the second. But, the U.S. didn't just jump in when Hitler made a move. We had to wait until we had good enough reason (which, would be Pearl Harbor, of course). That's the way it might be with eagles too. They are interested, but they are not delivery birds and need a good enough reason to join in. Even today, many people throughout the world look to us to save them or solve their problems (well, not me or readers of this blog, but, heroic people). This is a stretch and I doubt that Tolkien really meant that the eagles to represent America (although, of course, the eagle is actually America's symbol). Besides, he said he cordially disliked allegory and that would have been a big one.

My point is that Tolkienistas debate this like they discovered the great red spot on Jupiter and its some insolvable puzzle or wink, wink, we know he couldn't write himself out of this one thingee. Really, it was no big deal at all.

In the end, I hope he didn't lose any sleep over it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Worst President? III

This is a continuation of my series on why President Obama is the worst president in my lifetime (hard to believe worse than Nixon, who was undoubtedly a criminal, but he is). For an intro go back a few weeks to the first posting on it.

7) Foreign Policy - I knew from his campaigning that President Obama was going to be a disaster in domestic policy. There are few things I can agree with him on there. But, in his first year or so, I thought his foreign policy was not going to be so bad. I do not doubt his patriotism or his firmness of will once he makes up his mind. It's that he believed his press clippings that he could be humble with foreign leaders and countries which would get behind him and watch the waters recede.

His so-called apology tour getting that label is really not off the mark though it is probably overstated by many. It is hard to understand, for example, a President of the United States telling France that we have been arrogant and dismissive - even derisive. Of course, there have to be Americans who are all these things, and no one argues but that we have by far the most powerful military on earth. It's hard to understand him giving a long speech to an audience in Cairo (not an entirely bad speech) which seemed to say - we are just culturally different, but morally and in other ways the same. Given the treatment of women alone (he did not even mention the ubiquitous horror of female genital mutilation practiced in Egypt and elsewhere - and no, not the same as male circumcision. And his reluctance to talk about American exceptionalism would humble and admirable on a personal level, but not for the president talking about the country he was elected to lead. I think he may have realized his error as his second term heads downhill.

It was a sentence here and there, but they were pregnant sentences and bound to get media coverage.

Robert Gibbs, his former press secretary said his confessing our sins changed our image around the world. He may be right, but, if anything, it changed it for the worse.

It may be appealing to President Obama and perhaps it is personally appealing of him as a person, not to lord it over others and show humility (though, in the rough and tumble of politics that has not always been the case). But, our country is actually based on something, and it is not just the right to vote, but that things like capitalism and freedom work. Sure, we have sins, and I don't have a problem with discussing them, even in other countries, but let's mostly talk about now - not centuries ago.

That may make a foreign audience feel good about itself, but its not going to help anyone, particularly oppressed women and minorities or help us in the world.

What he was looking for in Cairo was reset, just as with Russia. Well, he got both and it hasn't done us much good either.

The truth is, since then, our foreign policy has failed virtually everywhere in the world. It's not that I expect America to be able to control the world or dictate to any particular country. It's that there seem to be NO successes in his administration. All failures.

Russia - it sneers at us and the so-called reset was just made Putin more popular at home. Obama told Putin he'd have more flexibility to work with him after the election (read, I'm not going to be entirely honest with the American people), but Putin has run rings around him, particularly in . . .

Syria - Assad was on the run for a while. But, after the use of chemical weapons (which, along with very few other voices, I claim was not a violation of any international treaty, regardless of what SecState Kerry said or how horrendous it was), and with supposedly Russia's help, we forced Assad to give up his weapons - and in doing so, practically guaranteed his survival, as we needed him to do it. I heard Robert Gates, Bush and Obamas SecDef state this himself only a few days ago. The reversal of Assad's fortunes was almost immediate. 

Egypt - in his Cairo speech, Pres. Obama said we respect democratic elections but winners could not then rule by coercion and pick on minorities. That, of course, is exactly what Egypt's elected prime minister did and it ended up in a military dictatorship which we opposed because Morsi was elected - even though the takeover by Sisi (and his subsequent election) was better for Egypt, better for us, better for our allies in every way.

Iraq and Afghanistan - Well, in his Cairo speech, Pres. Obama explained how we wanted nothing from Afghanistan and Iraq and would not force our type of government on them. Fine, we should not take their property or their land. But, we should have insisted on a certain type of government. We did not and look where it got us. Iraq is being torn apart. Afghanistan appears to be little better off.  I'm not going to suggest that Obama is worse than Bush in his handling of these two countries. You couldn't be. But, he may be as bad. I'm not going to suggest we force our ways on other countries either. But, we can insist on it in exchange for the "blood and treasure," can't we?

Perhaps he learned his lesson. He stated that he would only help Iraq now if they agreed to be inclusive. On the other hand, maybe not. Our actual help seems tied to nothing at all. I do want us to help the Kurds and stop genocide if we can. Groups like ISIS(L) can't be defeated fast enough. If they take Baghdad, there will be worldwide ramifications. But, at the same time, I want us to stop with the United Iraq nonsense. It is a fantasy we chase that does them and us no good. Help those who want an open and free society. Do not help the others. At the same time, we are now bombing ISIS. Do you think we will not kill more innocents? It is almost inevitable in war. Ironically, we demand Israel stop defending itself when it kills, against its intentions, innocent people in Gaza. Which brings us to -

Israel - all presidents in my lifetime have struggled with our relations with Israel. Pres. Reagan, who is touted by conservatives as having had the best relation with them had his U.N. ambassador vote to condemned Israel in the U.N.  But, there can be no doubt that our relations with Israel are at their low point ever right now.  Pres. Obama has deliberately snubbed Israel and Netanyahu time and again. Sure, he went there while campaigning in 2008 because it was good politics, and I do not disagree with him that Israel must stop building in disputed areas. On the other hand, we are prolonging the pain of the Gazan people by forcing Israel to stop its destruction of Hamas. Do you notice that Hizbollah has not attacked Israel in 8 years. Despite the cries of knuckleheads in the media that Israel lost, Hizbollah took a terrible beating it does not want repeated. I cannot even understand Hamas, which seems to have an endless capacity to sacrifice its people, though, they do have guts. That's all I will give them. But, we allow (and more than us - Europe) an unfair double standard where we can defend ourselves however we want and make mistakes despite our best intentions and Israel cannot. I feel horrible for the Gazans, but I feel more lives will be saved if Israel can destroy Hamas. I have much more to say about this problem, but it would take over the post and I want to move on to -

Iran - our so-called breakthrough in negotiations has gotten us nowhere. There is no success.

Libya - Not only did Pres. Obama further weaken congress and constitutional law by not only eradicating Art. 1, sec. 8, cl. 11 (congress's war power) but he ignored the War Powers Act by determining our aerial assault in Libya wasn't a war. Since our help, of course, we had the debacle in Benghazi and now have completely fled the country, which is in great disarray. Again, he can't be blamed for the problems of these countries - but he just has no successes.

China - our relations with China are worse than ever since before Nixon went there.  Moreover, China grows more powerful in the pacific with a growing navy and growing confidence in pressuring its neighbors over disputed islands. China is a country which has no moral restraints on who it does business with and who it supports. It is almost always on the wrong side. But, how are we better off since 2008 in respect to China? We are not.

North Korea - the most we can possibly ever hope for during my expected lifetime with respect to this pathetic and sad country led by madmen is that they keep quiet. But, there is certainly no success here.

Germany - one of our allies and they are barely speaking to us over the Ed Snowden revelations. They recently expelled our CIA chief.

Brazil - ditto. Bad medicine all around.

Argentina - since at least last year, we are barely considered allies.

Colombia - at least we can say, he didn't screw up here. Thanks largely to our aid in helping Colombia conquer some of its narco-terror problems, relations have been improving - but for a long time, at least back to Pres. Bush's terms. There is nothing different.  This is probably the closest  Obama can do. But,

I could go on, but, if you think we have a success, tell me - with what country and how? And please don't say, we are not at war with Canada and Mexico.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A little story with a lot of staying power

I can't tell you how important the following story has been in my life because it taught me - maybe just confirmed for me - multiple lessons.  I say this even though what transpired was so innocuous, so trivial, that I am positive no other person alive today would possibly remember it happening or think it had the slightest importance. I hope I've lowered your expectations sufficiently, anyway. But, it meant something to me and still does.


Among the several hats I've worn, movie theatre usher came first when I turned 17. My friend, who had worked at the theatre  a while, got me the job.  There were a number of other kids working there about our age and it was both fun and crazy. How so? For example, we used to go up into the attic of the theatre above the customer seats to put light bulbs in the ceiling. I don't remember anymore if it was my friend or I who accidentally pushed a heavy bulb through the ceiling, nearly hitting a customer on the head, but it was one of us. We also used to change the signs for the movies outside in front of the theatre, which at that primitive time was accomplished by snapping plastic letters with built in clasps over thin railings in order spell out the movie titles. We even had to do the main sign on top of the building, putting us up high in the air, with no safety restraints, no hard hat, no nothing, just hanging on by the very  tips of our sneakers and one hand, while we snapped the plastic in place with the other, sometimes in freezing weather. It really was fun. But, yes, crazy.  


Our manager was not the nicest man in the world. He was grim and unforgiving if you made a mistake, or even if he thought you might have.  He was also cruel. For instance, he would every day send an illiterate black custodian who had worked with him for many years to their bank to get some change. Mr. M. would write out a note for him to deliver explaining what was needed each day. This went on for years. Then one day, when he handed the note his boss had written to the teller, he found himself facing a drawn gun and eventually a lot of policemen. Why?  The note had read  "Give this n****r all your money." Because it was the 1970s, everyone laughed it off.  But, nice guy, right? I knew the story because my manager told me himself. When he got brain cancer, the other managers made a pool to see who would get closest to his date of death. The old crusty thing beat them though and returned to work. We did not have a good ending. He tried to tell me what I could wear outside of work and I quit.


But, before he returned, while I was still happily showing people to their seats and the like, we had a substitute manager named Mr. Fat. . . . . He was a nice man, but true to his name, really, really fat.  It was really a strange coincidence.  Though we liked him, we would make jokes about him. My favorite was that his would be the only ghost that couldn't fly. These days, they'd probably make me take a sensitivity class for that one.  One day I was acting as doorman and I saw a young man come up to the outside ticket window. When he left, the cashier began waving frantically to me. At first, I thought she was just saying hi and waved back. But, she gave me a "No, you idiot!" look and I went up to her. She had been robbed. The kid had stuck his hand enclosed in a paper bag through the slot. We had to tell Mr. Fat. . . . . so he could call the police. But, we couldn't find him for about 20 minutes. Then we did. He was sitting in the driver's seat of his car, right in front of the cashier's window, sound asleep.


None of those is the actual story. I'm getting there. I'm getting there.


So, I was working the floor one day when we were showing a Clint Eastwood movie. I think it was The Gauntlet.  Mr. Fat. . . . bustled over to me like Fezziwig and said that the company had sent us a game and I'd have to operate it. The game was constituted of a life size cardboard cutout of Clint with a circle around his heart and a dart gun with a rubber tip that was supposed to stick to the board. You had to stand about six feet away and shoot the dart at the board so it would stick in the circle in order to win free tickets to the theatre.  Since I was in charge, I enforced the rules strictly.  Toy dart guns are very difficult to aim. Almost no one could even hit the cut out from six feet. And the two people who hit the board with the dart out of the hundreds who tried, couldn't get it to stick, never mind strike the heart.  After a while Mr. Fat. . . . . came by and watched. He saw everyone failing and asked me how many people had won. I said none. He stood there some more watching.


Finally, someone's dart came within a foot of the heart and bounced off. Fat. . . . . screamed "Winner!" What the hell, I thought.  This violated all my notions of fair play. Two others had gotten as close and lost. And it didn't stick.  It was against the rules!


But the really interesting part came when the gentleman who was told he had "won" started giving advice to others on how to do it.  And they listened to them - just as if they had actually hit the target or could aim better than they! By my new orders, anyone who got even close to the target was a winner.  The point was apparently to give away tickets - not have a competition where everyone failed.


Welcome to the world, David (a subconscious voice said).  This is the way things work.  I probably can't say the experience opened up my eyes. Maybe more so it confirmed a feeling of skepticism I had been developing since I was little.  The rules are the rules until they aren't.  They are subject to change to make someone victorious or maybe even a specific someone. Often the call, the advantage, the declaration of victory goes to whoever people expect to or want to win.  Often when no one can do something, but we just decide someone can and we lower the bar until someone can leap it.  Many things we do are based on a host of fictions about ourselves and others including attributing skills to winners where none exist.  We nominate certain people as "experts" when they know nothing more than anyone else. This is especially true in the field of law, I've learned, where the courts allow the testimony of so-called experts who have, in actuality, no more ability to say what or have an opinion about their topic than anyone else.  In fact, sometimes there opinion belies common sense.


Of course, sometimes people are talented at something or very good. And, I'm not leaving my long held believe that most people who are good at a particular mental challenge and often physical ones too are so not because they were inherently smarter or more athletic, but because they were more motivated.  The question still remains as to what motivates them.  But, often, the playing field is tilted by a Mr. Fat. . . . clone or clones and the expected victor is sometimes celebrated and even given extra attention or training that leads to increased performance. One great example of this was given by the writer Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, where he describes how great Canadian hockey hall of the famers tend to be born in the same few earliest months of the year.  It appears that because of the January 1st cutoff for junior hockey, some children were nearly a year older than other children with whom they were competing. At very young ages even a few months often makes a tremendous physical difference and it was the older children, born closest to January 1, who were successful and thereafter singled out for extra training, attention, praise, etc.


The truth is, though when discussing this relative age effect, most people now associate it with Gladwell - who had nothing to do with the study.  It was made by a Canadian psychologist named Roger Barnsley and others about two decades earlier. Though many online articles mention Barnsley, try to find one about this subject that doesn't refer to Gladwell as the more important person. The reason is only that Gladwell is a bestselling author and Barnsley is not (I think I located him online and alive at something called Island Health, but not sure).


My adventures with Clint Eastwood's cut out is hardly unique. I'm not suggesting I wouldn't be so cynical or skeptical if it hadn't happened that way.  But, somehow the way it happened had a tremendous impact on me such that almost 40 years later I consider it a signature moment in my life - a secular epiphany.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .