A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happier New Year! Please?

It's that time when we still write the previous year on checks. (If we write checks. I do most of my bill-paying online.) When the newspapers are full of lists of who did what and whatever it meant for good or ill. And when there are jokes about New Year's resolutions.

I make no resolutions other than to keep up my meds and stay out of the emergency room. I will not, I think, intentionally break those.

My hope for 2009 is that it will be a landmark year politically and socially. Someone observed recently that just as the Sixties ended with the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon in 1972 (and you can argue that the Eighties began with Reagan's election and the Nineties with Clinton's), so the 21st century won't really begin until Obama's inauguration on January 20. A specious observation but a pleasant one nevertheless. It embodies the hope we feel, not just at the beginning of the Obama administration, but at the prospect of the end of the Bush-Cheney reign of error.

I also hope that that tarnished old word "liberal" will get polished up again, so we don't have to keep using euphemisms like "progressive." (Progress being something of an illusion -- at least in the short-term scheme of things.) The problem with liberals -- oh, where to go with a sentence that starts like that? The problem with liberals is that they keep seeing their own faults. Conservatives, on the other hand, adhere to the "never apologize, never explain" rule, best exemplified by Bush's stubborn refusal to admit that he might have screwed up a teeny bit during his presidency.

Liberal ambivalence, and liberals' tendency to pride themselves on being open-minded, is often their undoing. Even Obama has fallen into this trap by being "open-minded" enough to invite the execrable Rick Warren to invoke his deity at the inauguration. Liberals can also be mighty self-righteous, which enables a wartnoggin like Jonah Goldberg to coin the oxymoron "liberal fascism" -- and for some ambivalent liberals to say, "Well, he might have something there." (Aside: Does Rush Limbaugh's pill-popping make him an Oxy moron? Sorry.)

There's no doubt that this New Year's begins on a somber note, with everyone's 401(k) in tatters, stores shuttering, unemployment ballooning, mortgages collapsing, Israel bigfooting it around in Gaza, the climate going wacko, and so on. If ever there was a time of "malaise" -- Jimmy Carter's infamous epithet -- this is it.

But Obama continues to radiate a calm determination that things can be fixed. Of all the character traits he's shown, his unflappability is for me the most attractive. "No drama Obama," his staff called him. We live in what might be described as "interesting times." (Remember the old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times.") Maybe we should hope that they get a little less interesting -- no drama, please -- this year.