A few updates on the youngsters as Thanksgiving approaches. Caleb's response on a recent trip to the National Gallery of Art: "No, no, no. No more pictures" (this while pulling to go back outside). I agree. This weekend while the wife, a relative, and Eli looked at art, Caleb and I got ice cream, watched the ice skaters (Caleb's new word: Zamboni), rode the carousel, and took a nap on a park bench. I may be a philistine, but that is way better than any art I've ever seen.
I'm going to give Eli a nickname: Catfish. Set him down on the floor, and he will commence to picking up anything in sight and putting it into his mouth. Occasionally he'll crawl over to his mother's favorite rug and yack up a hairball or a dried pea or something. He's very cheerful about all of it. He's a total bottom feeder. I'm worried he will become a lawyer.
The wife says I use too much slang around the youngsters. I'm thinking she may be right. While Caleb and I were looking at Matchbox cars in Target the other night, he pointed to one and said, "Whoa, check it out, my friend." This comes after we've finally broken him of the habit of expressing appreciation by saying "Sweet."
One of Caleb's favorite things is to sit on the couch with me and watch football while eating chocolate creme Oreo's. The other night we got to bedtime before getting a chance to do that, which made him a little unhappy. After I tucked him in, I sat down and had a cookie. A few minutes later, the ruckus from the boys' bedroom (which amounted to the boys yapping and giggling at each other from their respective beds) gave me cause to go up and restore order. As I re-tucked Caleb, he lifted his head towards my face, sniffed, and said, "Did you have a cookie?" Sniff, sniff. "You had a cookie, didn't you?" Sniff, sniff. "Can I smell?" Sniff, sniff. "Cookie."
So, enough already. Go get ready for Thanksgiving. If you prefer to call it "the holidays," then, for lack of a more delicate way to put this, and in keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving, you can bite me. For those of us who do call it Thanksgiving, let's remember to give thanks tomorrow. Give thanks that we don't live in the places where slavery still exists, or where people and their children are considered the property of the state. Be thankful that we live in one of the best countries in human history, despite what idiots like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon have to say about it.
Be thankful you have food to eat, and that people love you. All of these, by the way, are part of what theologians call "common grace." As you sit down to a nice meal tomorrow, however, remember just for one day that for many people in the world, they aren't so common.
I used to have a dentist, by the name of (I am not making this up) Dr. Payne. He was an entertainer, as are many dentists, perhaps because the field is less regulated (i.e., the competition is more intense). During our first appointment, as his assistant got my head and mouth into a vulnerable position, he loomed over me to block out the bright lights, and asked, "Is it safe?"
He was alluding, of course, to that 1976 movie, "The Marathon Man," starring Dustin Hoffman, whose character is tortured by a former Nazi dentist who repeatedly asks this question. I recently re-watched this movie, and noticed something that I missed years ago. Hoffman plays a history graduate student who is writing a book on (of course) the reign of tyranny that was McCarthyism, and who has a special interest in it because his father was driven to suicide as a result of being hounded by the red-baiting totalitarians. There is a scene in which a U.S. government agent (of course) rifles through Hoffman's research work, and tosses aside a book titled False Witness.
Though I had never read Whittaker Chambers' Witness, I think I got the point. I decided to read the book. For those of you not familiar with the story, Chambers was a devoted communist spying for the Soviets in Washington, D.C. who became, in his own words, "an involuntary witness to God's grace and to the fortifying power of faith." Chambers was transformed like the unnamed Soviet he mentions in his introduction, whose daughter explained once to Chambers that her father abandoned the cause because "one night he heard screams." Chambers also heard the screams, which led him to realize that man has a soul, which led him to God, which led him to the conviction that communism is not only evil, but that it should be opposed, even unto calumny and death.
And so he named names, and one of those he identified was the spy and traitor Alger Hiss, a high-level State Department official and eventual head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Hiss was part of the better half of Washington -- genteel, respected, progressive. Chambers was dumpy, of no particular breeding, and -- trés gauche -- a newly confirmed Christian. The dispute ranged through Congressional hearings, a perjury trial for Hiss, and a libel trial for Chambers. You needn't guess whose side the press, the President, the Washington establishment, and, of course, Hollywood, chose.
Over time Chambers was proven right, which means he has been unduly overlooked. The dedicated Left still thinks he lied, however, such that the few doubters find themselves in league with the likes of The Nation (recently noteworthy for the extent it is willing to excuse terrorism so long as the victims are American and/or Jewish).
The Nation and (of course) Hollywood. This is true in both large and small detail: anti-communism as entirely unfounded marks the changeless backdrop of any movie touching on the fifties, and anti-communists are usually murderous militarists. In 1964, for example, -- the year noted peace activist Lyndon Johnson opposed Barry Goldwater with his infamous "Daisy" ad -- there were no less than three Hollywood movies about nuclear war, and in two of these conservative anti-communists are the cause. (Anyone who thinks campaign finance reform will remove the adverse influence of the moneyed on U.S. public opinion should consider the net assets of major Hollywood filmmakers.) One might also consider on this topic Kenneth Billingsley's excoriation of Hollywood for failing to portray with accuracy the consequences of communism. And then there is this little detail from "The Marathon Man." I suspect there are others like it.
Perhaps I am wrong about the intent behind positioning False Witness on the desk of a hero researching McCarthyism, but I doubt it. Witness was a beacon for anti-communists, and hence the book -- and its author -- were the target of the anti-anti-communists, which included a large chunk of the creative talent in Hollywood. So I think the choice of titles was intentional. It is offensive to see people with little courage mock someone with Chambers' moral courage. This seems a fair description of the man who told his wife as he made his choice to speak out, "You know, we are leaving the winning world for the losing world," and who through years of vituperation and isolation could tell his children:
"True wisdom comes from the overcoming of suffering and sin. All true wisdom is therefore touched with sadness."
It seems strange that a man who was forced to write his story in a secluded farmhouse, with a gun on his desk, should be judged by people who write their meaningless stories in coffee shops and Hollywood beach houses, usually poorly at that, and who have never faced censorship beyond the overly minimal selectivity of the popular marketplace.
But things are what they are, and so perhaps I should not have been surprised to see the likes of Dustin Hoffman helping to deliver a little jab from the safe confines of Left-mindedness. Hoffman, who will most likely find that his enduring claim to fame is playing the part of an idiot (albeit a useful one, if I remember the plot of "Rainman"). Perhaps this is not the end that an objective viewing of Hoffman's oeuvre would dictate, but it certainly seems a just one.