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Saturday, November 19, 2005
MACHO IS AS MACHO DOES
or, MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH
There is something in all of this that's been lurking the whole time -- one of the fundamental reasons that I've been actively repelled by the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney Gang from the very first day. As crooks go, at least Butch and Sundance had grit.
It starts with an old joke:
Q: "Why is a cowboy hat like a hemorrhoid?"Well, Bush and Cheney both have cowboys hats. Quod erat demonstrandum.
It's ironic, because Cheney makes a big thing of his Wyoming roots. But, Cheney is the antithesis of Wyoming manhood.
When I was growing up, in the bad old pre-Women's Liberation days, there was a certain "thing" that fathers were expected to teach sons. It was a certain "thing" that Boy Scouts were to be mentored in by their volunteer scoutmasters, some of them actual working cowboys. I don't know how it was in other places. I only know how it was in Wyoming.
And it was a certain "thing" that hung heavy in the ethos of a state whose place names dominated the TV cowboy shows suffusing the airwaves of the time: "Cheyenne," "Laramie," "The Lawman" (set in Laramie), "The Virginian" (set 30 miles north of Laramie in Medicine Bow), and let us not forget "My Friend Flicka" (set on a ranch between Laramie and Cheyenne), or the Jimmy Stewart film "The Man From Laramie." The tension between the real and the cinematic was almost palpable.
The "thing" I'm talking about was the secret teachings generally referred to as the lectures on "how to be a man."
It's an old concept, probably dating from the first hunter-gatherer killer apes of the African savannahs, but modified to each age, and to each culture. And no, Robert Bly, it doesn't have to do with drumming or any of the rest of the sensitive new age guy ephemera.
Now, I have to admit that I was raised in a "real" cowboy code, passed down from my father's grandfather, William Gaines, formerly the marshal of Ellsworth, Kansas, (replacing Bat Masterson, honest-to-gosh).
If you appreciate how much my dad idolized his grandpa, you'd understand how much of his personal code came directly from old western marshal Bill Gaines. So, trust me, whatever else it was, it was 'authentic' Western.
And it was compounded in the Wyoming brew of Manliness -- no one remembers that, while the men of Wyoming voted to enfranchise women as full voting citizens in 1869, they had to stand (often alone) against vehement national masculine opinion until the rest of the men in the nation finally agreed with them by amending the Constitution in 1920. The men of Wyoming held steadfast, and it is not for nothing that the nickname of Wyoming is "The Equality State."
(The men of Wyoming remain unsung heroes in the saga of women's suffrage, passed over in favor of lionizing the women whose enfranchisement their votes had assured. And for fifty years, they stood by those votes -- Republican and Democrat, for it was bipartisan -- even refusing to enter the Union as a state unless women's suffrage was preserved in Wyoming. Wyoming said "no" and Congress blinked first.)
Well, herein, a peek into those mysteries.
The unspoken but shown by example maxim was the most important: a "real" man is strong enough to yield. If you know who you are, you can be "weak."
I watched it in a zillion confrontations that never were, but I'll get to that in a minute.
The endlessly-lectured maxim seemed like a cliche to me when I was a kid, but it really is at the heart of the masculine mysteries, at least as transmitted to me: "It takes a bigger man to walk away from a fight than to get into one."
Trust me, it's as tough a thing to live as it was an easy thing to say. But really, there is a subtle psychology underneath it: the aggressive party is out of balance. They're the one with the problem, unless you choose to enter into it, in which case they've just dictated their problem into your behavior. And now you've got a problem.
Getting into a fight is the easiest thing in the world, and when I was a kid, Laramie afforded endless opportunities. But Dad was right: it takes a lot more art, self-control and inner strength to stay out of a fight than to pick one.
Only bullies pick fights.
Which brings us to the second masculine mystery, as transmitted to me as a youth in Wyoming: "Never start a fight; never throw the first punch."
When Bush announced his "pre-emptive war" strategy, every fiber left in me from that kid from Wyoming rebelled, repelled. What our bully president was proposing was that he should have the right to throw the first punch if he thought that was the right thing to do.
Well, according to the Code, that's the way cowards and bullies act -- and I've found generally that, while all cowards aren't bullies, every bully is a coward.
Another part of that code was: "a man is honest." The unspoken underlying truth is that he's honest because he's strong enough to face the truth.
You might say that the code I was taught was that the core of being a man was in finding a moral strength; a strength of basic decency and equitability. If you saw John Wayne's version in his valedectory "The Shootist," you would know that HIS distillation runs contrary to the Code as I was taught it.
And so while my fundamental disgust with this whole Bush Political Pandemic has simmered beneath the surface, I've never really grappled with the facts that these truths, which seem, to me, fundamental (because I was raised in them) are beyond the grasp or the ken of our yowling pack of macho men, unleashed at last after 9-11.
It's not just Bush. It's the Republican macho swagger, it's the preening and the posturing of pussies like Bill O'Reilly -- a man whom I would never get into a fight with, but who, should that event miraculously transpire, would throw the first punch before I mopped the floor with his sorry ass.
Or the Sean Hannitys or the Rush Limbaughs or these other false prophets in the name of "being a man."
According to the ancient lecture series that I was involuntarily forced to attend, none of these blowhards qualifies as a "man."
A man doesn't brag about his accomplishments.
A man doesn't threaten, swagger or intimidate.
A man is honest.
A man doesn't start fights, but, if forced into one, finishes it. (The sick echo of that one came in Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, when he multiply asserted "If we are FORCED into war," which means that ignorance is not at issue here: being a bully and a coward IS.)
A corollary is that a "real man" can also STOP fighting at any time. He can withdraw without feeling shame. Funny thing is, Sun Tzu says much the same thing 3500 years ago in the much-abused (and oft-misquoted) text THE ART OF WAR. Which is exactly the same thing that the man who trained me to be a bouncer in Boulder, Colorado told me: If you get into a physical confrontation, it's because you didn't do your job. Sun Tzu:
The general who advances without coveting fameNow, I realize that this whole "you'll be a man, my son" schtick went out of fashion slightly after Rudyard Kipling wrote the endlessly-stapled-to-school-bulletin-boards poem "If," but the news travels slowly to Wyoming.
The essence of it was that "strength" which was, in essence, a strength of KNOWING who you are. If you are secure in yourself, then you don't go picking fights, you don't go bullying, you don't engage in shouting matches. Because that was another part of it: "If someone calls you names, don't dignify it by answering back."
That's not the whole thing, of course.
It's always a good idea to have your safety on, to always point your rifle at the ground, look at the drainage before setting camp, and know how to tie a bowline. Those are some others.
But it was an oral transmission of the old "wisdom," you might say, the whole "how to be a man" thing. And I'm sure that a lot of men learned it differently than I did, but I found that it was good policy and I haven't jettisoned it.
Remember: there was something about Wyoming masculinity that made a "man from Wyoming" a very popular speaker at Women's Suffrage meetings for over fifty years: the hard-bitten, super-macho Wyoming cowboy (remember, the mythologizing of the West had begun with Jacob Astor commissioning Washington Irving to write about the Oregon Country long before the first covered wagon ever set out for the West), who was secure enough in his "manhood" that he was glad to accept women as equals. That ethos became part of the warp and woof of Wyoming society between the 1860s and the 1960s, and that ethos remained a part of the "Code" as it was taught to me.
But we live in a country where very few men were taught the "cowboy code" by real cowboys, but where most of the idiots, braggarts and bullies that strut their macho in public learned their chops from old John Wayne and Randolph Scott movies. (Did you know that Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were "roommates" in Hollywood for several years?)
The Hollywood cowboy that these macho idiots learned was as phony as a three-dollar bill, but there are a lot of political change machines in Washington D.C. and New York City that are geared to accept three-dollar bills, evidently.
Now, me, I'd say that stuff was only in the movies, but this whole Bush disaster has been a function of phony cowboys, of phony invocations of the Code, and frankly, where these weasels chart on the Manhood index doesn't even register. They are the antithesis of what it means to "be a man."
It would be a mistake to see (as many, sadly, do) this whole thing as a "White European Male" thing. No: it's a bully thing that wouldn't be countenanced under any "White European Male" code since at least the time of Vlad the Impaler. There is no justification for it.
Which is why the "cut and run" bullet point is so abominably laughable. Bullies and cowards are the sort of "men" who fear being seen as cowards. "Real" men know when it's time to stop. "Real" men can walk away from a fight, even if it's already started.
Nowhere in the Code of "Being a Man" that I learned were being stupid and stubborn held as desirable traits. "Cut and run" wouldn't have any appeal to "Real" men. The only people who would be swayed by it would be ... cowards and bullies. (Nothing enrages a bully worse than being called a coward. A chicken. Yellow. A fraidy-cat. A wussy. Craven -- except that the bully needs a vocabulary wide enough to understand what he's being called.)
So, don't think that the false dichotomy is about macho men; or about cowboys; or about some other hunky narcissism. Because it's less "Bonanza" than it is "Lord of the Flies." The "ranch" with no horses, and the cowboy hats and Cheney's townie bluster -- these aren't about "being a man."
It's about being a bully. And real men don't like bullies. Real men also eat quiche: the perception that one might be less than "masculine" only stings if you don't know who you are, and "real men" know who they are, and are secure in it.
Ronnie Reagan weren't no cowboy. And neither is George W. Bush. And neither is Dick Cheney. He's a "townie" from Casper, Wyoming, the biggest urban center in the state.
So, don't disparage men or cowboys just because these political transvestites have chosen to prance across the world stage in macho drag.
Nothing could be further from "macho" unless you mean it in the pejorative sense. In which case, they're "macho," in spades.
But they' ain't real men. And I doubt that they can spell 'quiche,' let alone be seen eating it.
Friday, November 18, 2005
THE ASTRAL WEATHER THIS THANKSGIVING
or, WE'RE ON HIATUS AND CAN'T BE EXPECTED TO COME UP WITH ALTERNATE TITLES (SHEESH!)
Here's the piece heard on KOPT Friday morning.
It's an 871k download. The (hilarious) piece runs 1:51.
Download the MP3 (right click and "save as"):
Oh, and here's a Machiavellian thought: given the Bushies' past behavior, a recess appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court this weekend would seem a slam dunk. They've lined up the cases they want, and if they appoint Alito, he can be the swing vote on every case this term, and they can run the table without bothering to give the Democrats a chance to filibuster.
Here, from SLATE:
What Is a Recess Appointment?Given their attitude on the Bolton appointment to the UN, do you actually believe that such a move is beyond them? No national debate. No NARAL pushback. Just a straight power play. On second thought, NAWWW. Couldn't happen. Forget that I ever mentioned it.
Now I'm ready for some turkey jerky.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
or, SMOKE 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM
On November 3, 2004, I returned to writing, and to writing about politics after a self-imposed recusal during my nine-year period as a partisan -- I don't claim that I'm not opinionated, just that I'm a non-affiliated opinionated person. Or, as we used to call us in college, a G.D.I., a "God-Damned Independent."
And, as you may have noted, I've written virtually an essay a day for the past year. I'm a bit shagged out.
So, my batteries are recharging, while I spend the month leading up to my fiftieth birthday contemplating the tragedy of my misspent youth and the further misdirected errantry of full-blown adulthood. Not a pretty sight, let me tell you.
A little intermission, if you please. When I have something to say, I'll say it, but there is a pregnant pause in the proceedings, t'would seem: the whole Bush misadventure has been leading up to this Final Act, this denouement, and, suddenly my inner crystal ball is fogged.
Here in the silicon forest, the silicon birds have suddenly stopped their chirp; the silicon squirrels have ceased their chittering, and it's quiet. Too quiet.
I have the sense that dramatic and climactic events are about to unfold. Today's Senate vote on the war was a shot across the bow at the Administration, but I don't have any sense as to where it all will lead.
So, while the Grand Drama pauses, as the backstage players furiously rearrange scenery and props behind the Great Curtain, I will pop out the back door for a smoke and a brief hiatus.
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