A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Sunday, August 10, 2003 :::
Chrestomathy One: What to Be Grateful for on July 4...The Selfish Generation, At It Again...What Weddings Should NOT Be...What Leftists Should Apologize For, Now...What the Economy is Actually Doing, and What the Press Says It Is Doing, and How That Affects W...Bob Dylan, Genius and Copycat...

A Reflection Written Quickly On Independence Day

Today is a lovely, slightly muggy day in Washington. A Mind That Suits makes extra cash by managing other people's parties, and he must do so today, but that is fine: the apartment he is going to is a few blocks from the Washington Monument, and a nice view of the fireworks is guaranteed. He cannot take the sun, as the English half of his forbears bequeathed him nearly translucent skin, so he could not spend time with most of his friends anyway.

That does not stop him, or anyone else, from taking the day to acknowledge what a wonderful country we live in. There are a host of problems here in the good old U.S. of A, some of them quite serious, most of them the same as any other country's. But in very many areas, Americans can still find their own solutions, and that means that solutions of some kind will be found, although they invariably cause other problems that must themselves be solved. But that is the key to American success.

Right now, our economic indicators are at their historic average. That's right: the way the country is going right now is exactly the way, over time, that she has achieved as much as she has. That makes you understand how difficult people have it in many other countries, where they are granted so few freedoms. A Mind That Suits spends an awful lot of his time with immigrants, and he cannot help but admire people who sacrifice so much to give their families something better. And he thinks about those left behind, who must suffer at the hands of truly heartless elites. Our own elites are often heartless, especially if they went to our "best" schools. But they can't control everything here, and that is something. (Lest anyone thinks this blog distrusts intellect, it should be noted that A Mind That Suits went to one of those elite schools. Intellect is fine; intellectuals want watching.)

How to Protect Yourself From Your Parents. This was the stunning headline on the front of the Personal Journal section of the WSJ. It wasn't advice for kids whose moms slap them too hard. It was advice for financially independent adults whose parents need them. The advice offered was sound--plan ahead--but the tone smacks of the whiney '60's generation complaint that they are "the sandwich generation:" just as their kids grow up and leave home, their own parents begin to slow down and need some attention. This is viewed as an enormous burden by the Selfish Generation, which it is, but the rest of the world calls it "life."

The gander dishes sauce onto the goose. A Mind That Suits sees a lot of weddings. He has long since concluded that weddings are like old age: they amplify whatever is already there. Happy families have happy wedding parties, unhappy families turn them into yet one more battle in a protracted war.

The incredible wealth of most Americans has only made this more true. If you read the novels of Jane Austin, you will see that even in the heights of English society 200 years ago, the groom's family simply went over to the bride's family's house, they rode to the church together, and then they all came back for dinner. The nannies who raised the young couple probably went along. 25 guests tops.

No longer. Weddings get more and more elaborate, more and more complicated, thus having many more opportunities for serious fights among the female members of the bride's family, with the women on the groom's side occasionally joining in for fun. People in the wedding business are very good at coming up with new accessories essential for "the perfect wedding," and all too many women are willing to take the bait. The "wedding industry" now takes in $50 billion a year.

This has coincided with the growth of the notion that the purpose of life is "personal fulfillment," however one defines it, so one should scrap for every piece of territory you can. Carol Rogers was the psychologist who really crystallized the self-help philosophy into a handy weapon for terrorizing those around you. He even called one of his books Personal Power. So much for the simple sacrifices and compromises that make life together possible and truly fulfilling.

You can imagine what the weddings of two people into "personal power" can turn into.

You will have noticed the shift from the initial emphasis on women to the "two people." The indispensible Miss Manners, years ago, once told an anxious young groom that his only job was to show up, on time, properly dressed, as weddings were a female concern. A Mind That Suits even knows a younger man who married into real wealth. His only task was to say "I do" during a full weekend of activities involving 700 guests. (A Mind That Suits pauses to wonder, for the millionth time since meeting this man at another friend's much simpler wedding, how one can possibly know 700 people well enough to invite them to your wedding.)

Things are changing. The Journal had a lengthy article recently on how actively involved men are now getting in their own nuptials. Partly this is just a result of professionals marrying later and paying for their own weddings, but some of what was described clearly falls under the rubric of "personal power." One man wanted tulips when his bride wanted roses. Feelings ran high enough that they really fought over it and compromised on calla lillies, which are beautiful, but not what either of them really wanted in the first place. It may be a natural development, given the way we do things these days, but A Mind That Suits--who is not married--would like to suggest that this is not a good way to start off what is, by all accounts, the most important year of the marriage.

A Mind That Suits happens to know that calla lillies are more expensive than either roses or tulips. The wedding industry smells a doubling of profits, or at least a large increase, and is pouring gas on the flames by rushing in to give the groom ideas for things to demand. Make capitalism another thing that merely amplifies what is already there.

You know what I haven't seen? Remember 'shock and awe?' Lefties got all upset with this phrase, on the grounds that it meant all these poor civilians were going to suffer just so we could impress our enemies. That, of course, was a brazen distortion, as the reality was that we had spent several weeks leafleting the neighborhoods near military targets telling everyone to move. As the Washington Post reported at the time, the Iraqis had more sense than the war protesters, and left the neighborhoods. Only the redoubtable William F. Buckley, Jr, has revisted this issue, but the left's feet should be held to the fire on this one. They were wrong, and they should apologize. "Shock and awe" is what "just war" theory is all about.

What recession? With those words, the first President Bush sealed his fate. In fact, he was right--the 1990-91 recession was over when he said it, but the press, at the time a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party and tired of Republican presidents, would have none of it. They kept reporting the economy as if it were dying. James Carville and George Stephanopoulis, neither of whom has ever really worked for a living, put a sign up in the Clinton Campaign "war room" that said, "It's the economy, stupid." It wasn't; it was the perception of the economy. Clinton, during the transition, held an "economic summit" of "experts" in Arkansas to determine what he would do when he got to Pennsylvannia Avenue, but in fact, nothing was necessary. Which was a good thing, because the consistent testimony of his aides is that for the first three years he had no idea what he was doing.

Bush fils has lucked out, and everyone agrees that the recession, which started under Clinton, is now over, although the economy is not vibrant. That was confirmed recently by a board of experts, though the public's perception may take some time to catch up. A Mind That Suits has seen it said plausibly that the economic indicators are at their historic averages; i.e., it was this economy that made America what it is. If Bush just sends 100,000 more troops to Iraq, he just might walk through the re-election the way everyone is talking. If Iraq turns sour--which would indeed be his fault--then it may not matter how the economy is sputtering along. (As of January, 2004, we have moved to a level where a Shi'ite Ayatollah is more important than the Democratic nominee, whoever he...or she...might be. See blog for January 15, 2004.)

Bob, Bob, Bob... Bob Dylan, a favorite of A Mind That Suits, has always built his dense poetry out of building blocks provided by previous writers. Shakespeare worked from many sources, so it is hardly a dishonorable and unprecedented way to work. With Dylan, most of them, unfortunately, have been Romantic poets. Indeed, Dylan may be the only Romantic poet besides Wordsworth that A Mind That Suits can stomach. All those tragic, youthful deaths!

Dylan spends a lot of time in Japan where, for reasons that at first may escape most Americans, he is very popular. So it is hardly surprising that Dylan might have been taken by some Japanese writing, particularly if it was about the darker side of life, and built songs out of whatever he found there. This may very well be what he did with a book called, Confessions of a Yakuza. (A "yakuza" is apparently a gangster, but you could not prove it by A Mind That Suits, whose Japanese is limited to the names of former students.) About a dozen lines from songs on Dylan's most recent album of new material, the well-received Love and Death, closely parallel passages in the book.

The part old Bob didn't notice was the the author, a physician named Junichi Saga, is quite alive, and the book is quite copyrighted. Of course, such things need to be examined carefully, but if it turns out to be what happened, Dr. Saga is blessedly forgiving. It is bringing some welcome attention to a book that has sold slowly in the United States and even more slowly in Japan, and Bob Dylan is a major artist. Dr. Saga explains that his book is about how people find love even in the worst circumstances, such as the world of the underground "yakuza." "In other words," he explains, "love and theft."

Dr. Saga is an opera fan, but bought a copy of Love and Theft and pronounced Dylan quite good, because of the way everything flows together and the atmosphere, although he is not sure the lyrics all make sense. Dr. Saga is of course the first person ever to say Dylan's lyrics might not all make sense. He and his publisher are seeking merely recognition from Dylan. An American author would be out for blood, and so Dr. Saga is to be commended. One hopes that this is resolved quickly, amicably, and, to use Dr. Saga's own word, honorably.

Dylan has been notoriously unconcerned with the usual things a star must do to keep his fans happy, but he might suggest his management take a closer look at the fan websites. Chris Johnson, a rabid fan who teaches English in Japan, first noticed the similarities, kept track of them as he was reading Confessions, and sent them to a website. The story was picked up by the Wall Street Journal, from which all of the above information and quotes are taken. The Journal put the story at the center of the front page, which means that all 8 million of its daily readers now know about the controversy and are discussing it with others, as are, of course, the millions of daily readers of A Mind That Suits.

Speaking for himself, the admiration that A Mind That Suits feels for Mr. Dylan is undimmed, and he here repeats his hope that this is settled quickly and honorably.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 5:19 PM



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