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Blazing Saddles and Contemporary American Life and Politics

 The affairs of state

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiF0M4uOhgI&feature=related

What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?

Sometimes a film can capture the spirit of a society. If there is an iconic film that captures the spirit of America it has to be Mel Brooks’ classic Western spoof Blazing Saddles.  It debuted back in 1974 when the nation was bitterly divided facing political crisis in the wake of the Watergate break-in cover-up which was soon to usher President Richard Nixon out of office and an economic crisis including a spike in oil and gas prices brought about by Middle East tensions.  Americans also faced the end of a disastrous war in Vietnam the military threat of the Soviet Union, dissent among our Allies and the rise of a new economic power Japan.

It is at times like this that our political leaders almost always fail to rise to the occasion and take every opportunity to preserve their power and political offices catering to their own interest groups at the expense of everyone else.  Blazing Saddles captures the moment quite well when upon learning of chaos in the town of Rock Ridge Governor LePetomane played by Mel Brooks reacts as almost all politicians do when a crisis arises.

“Holy underwear! Sheriff murdered! Innocent women and children blown to bits! We have to protect our phony baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!”

Unfortunately when I look at our political, economic and social landscape I am frequently taken back to this bit of the film.  Sometimes I think that Governor LePetomane is much more reflective of the men and women that we elect at every level of government than it is not. I think that the only time that politicians get concerned about something that really matters is when their “phony baloney jobs” are at stake. Come to think of it I don’t think it matters if they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Tea Partiers or even Commies the only time that 99.61872% of politicians give a damn about an issue is if it threatens their re-election bids or aspirations to a higher office.  Then and only then do they at least pretend to care, well at least until they are re-elected.  My number might actually be lower than reality but you get the idea.  But of course the affairs of state must take precedence over the affairs of state and the business of government really hasn’t changed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-cje17OGnQ&feature=related

Attorney Generla Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman): Under the provisions of this bill we would snatch 200,000 acres of Indian Territory, which we have deemed unsafe for their use at this time. They’re such children.
Governor LePeotomane: 200,000 acres? 200,000 acres? What will it cost, man? What will it cost?
Headley Lamar: A box of these (box of paddle balls).
LePetomane: Are you crazy? They’ll never go for it, and then again they might. Little red devils! They love toys!

Lamar then has Governor LePetomane sign another bill to “convert the state hospital for the insane into the William J. Le Petomane Memorial Gambling Casino for the Insane.”

In such times many people take refuge in their faith and the people of Rock Ridge were no exception. Since I am well versed in almost every Mel Brooks movie song I immediately thought of the following verse from the song The Ballad of Rock Ridge.

Now is a time of great decision

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v0OLW3Qhc8

“Now is a time of great decision, are we to stand up or to quit? There’s no avoiding this conclusion, our town is turning into shit.”

In such a climate citizens have to ask the question so aptly put in The Ballad of Rock Ridge. What will citizens do?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v0OLW3Qhc8

Some like the preacher, Reverend Johnson want to leave “Now I don’t have to tell you good folks what’s been happening in our beloved little town. Sheriff murdered, crops burned, stores looted, people stampeded, and cattle raped. The time has come to act, and act fast. I’m leaving.”


But the town drunk Gabby Johnson tells the reverend exactly what he thinks:

“You get back here you pious candy-ass sidewinder. Ain’t no way that nobody is gonna’ to leave this town. Hell, I was born here, an’ I was raished here, an’ dad gum it, I am gonna die here, an no sidewindin bushwhackin, hornswaglin, cracker croaker is gonna ruin my biscuit cutter.”

Gabby manages to inspire his fellow townspeople into staying as Olson Johnson played by David Huddleston rallies the town “What are we made of? Our fathers came across the prairie, fought Indians, fought drought, fought locusts, fought Dix – remember when Richard Dix came in here and tried to take over this town? Well, we didn’t give up then, and by gum, we’re not gonna give up now.”

I think is that if we want the country to get better we can’t give up no matter how nutty the extremists on both sides of the political divide get. Of course those on the extremes who all believe that they are the mainstream seem to constantly multiply by exponential exponents. This means of course, mathematically speaking that there are a lot more of the extremists than there have ever been before and we moderates will soon be an endangered species no matter which bunch of extremists eventually wins though at the present time it seems that the political right is setting the agenda but back to the film and its application in today’s world.

I saw an article about a Republican leader of the Orange County Tea Party named Marilyn Davenport who had sent out a very racist and ugly e-mail to friends and supporters that like so many e-mails happen to get forwarded to people that don’t see the humor.  The e-mail showed an image, posed like a family portrait, of chimpanzee parents and child, with Obama’s face artificially superimposed on the child. Text beneath the photo reads, “Now you know why no birth certificate.”

I am depressed

Unfortunately beyond the matters of policy, eligibility or political ideology that some on the right have with President Obama and the Democrats there is also a racist element that just hates the fact that we have a black man in the White House. Mr. Taggart played by Slim Pickins made this comment on being introduced to a very black Sheriff Bart played by Cleavon Little  “Well, if that don’t beat all. Here we take the good time and trouble to slaughter every last Indian in the West, and for what? So they can appoint a sheriff that’s blacker than any Indian. I am depressed.”  Having been threatened by White Supremacists on this website I know that there is an undercurrent of racism involved in this. Policy disagreements are one thing, as far as I’m concerned on policy issues there is nothing off limits whether I agree or disagree. That is political free speech which I will die to defend. However vitriolic racial hatred masquerading as “internet humor” as Mrs. Davenport called it is unacceptable. It may be free speech but we have to call it what it is, racial hatred.  Now people on the political left often flippantly refer to Conservatives of all varieties as “Nazis” and have their own fair share of hateful e-mails and prejudices so this cuts both ways.

However I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s when lynching’s still occurred in the South and even in Northern California adults, contemporaries of my parents produced some of the most racially insensitive and prejudiced comments when our schools in Stockton were desegregated.  The comments were made in school district meetings and in the opinion page of the Stockton Record and they were quite ugly. I was part of the first High School classes to go through my entire high school years in a desegregated school, Edison High School in Stockton California. Somehow the “Soul Vikes” made it work and of our class which was about 25% black, 25% white, 25% Mexican American and 25% Asian along with a further 8% that no-one could place are still close and care about each other.  We have we attended reunions and hundreds of us are friends on Facebook. We defied the “experts” who said that there would be violence and that the “social experiment” could not work.  We are conservatives and liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Tea Partiers, straight and gay, black, white, Hispanic and Asian, Fundamental Christians, Progressive Christians, traditionalists, non-traditionalists, Buddhists, Jews, maybe even a Moslem or two and certainly some free tinkers, agnostics and Atheists too, but we share something very special. While we may disagree on some very important matters we still care about each other and respect each other.

What bothers me about the present racism is that some of the worst offenders claim to be Christians or if they do not claim to be Christians often seek the support of conservative Christians for their political agendas.  Somehow I think that Jesus would not approve.  Racism has no place in our society no matter what race does it especially for people who claim to be followers of Jesus.

The sad truth is that in his time Mel Brooks took a bolder stand against racism than most Christians. Using the Old West and humor he mocked racism and showed its ugliness in a way that Middle America got.  Maybe we should take a mass dandelion break and grab a copy of Blazing Saddle’s put it in our DVD, Blue-Ray or computer and reflect back on what might be. Maybe like Sheriff Bart we can ride into the sunset knowing that our job is done.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MySGAaB0A9k

Bart: Work here is done. I’m needed elsewhere now. I’m needed wherever outlaws rule the West, wherever innocent women and children are afraid to walk the streets, wherever a man cannot live in simple dignity, wherever a people cry out for justice.
The Townspeople: (in unison) Bullshit!
Bart: All right, you caught me. Speaking the plain truth is getting pretty damn dull around here.


Dull can be good but anyway I digress….however there are times that I feel like Mongo…”Mongo not know Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, movies, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

“The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” Robert E. Lee

I am always attracted to military leaders with a tragic and honorable history, men who maintain honor and humanity even when the nations that they serve was on the wrong side of history.  There have been such men in almost every war and I admire them even in defeat more than I do those that win victories at all costs and in the process lose their souls. This puts me in a select minority and minorities are not always appreciated we tend to make people uncomfortable just by existing. Since I have been threatened by threatened by Neo-Nazis, called weak, a heretic, apostate and sometimes worse by fellow Christians even being tossed from my former church for now being “too liberal” I am now officially used to this even when it comes from friends Romans and countrymen and the occasional nutty European, Asian or Islamist from abroad.

Today we stand at a political divide not seen since the days leading up to the American Civil War but it didn’t have to come to this had our political and corporate leadership been responsible and acted with wisdom the past 40 years or so. Robert E Lee a man unquestioned integrity was torn by his desire to see the Union preserved and his allegiance to it and his loyalty to his own family and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Lee is a tragic figure a true man of courage, faith and decency, a man of moderation who maintained a profound respect and love for the United States even while leading the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.  He had his flaws as well but on the whole he was one of the truly great men in American history. When the war was lost he was an advocate of reconciliation between the deeply divided North and the conquered South.

In an age of bitterness brought about by defeat and the repression of the draconian measures of Reconstruction Lee was a man that understood that as Americans it was necessary to put aside bitterness.  After the defeat he was accosted by a woman professing her hatred of the North. His reply to her would be a good start for all of those today who hate their fellow Americans be they Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Tea Partiers on the basis of political ideology and the raw quest for power.  Lee said to this woman “Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”

Unfortunately among certain parts of the electorate the Government of the United States is detested and some even call for revolution if not at the ballot box if need be by violence.  The rhetoric is certainly pointing that direction as conservatives and liberals alike turn up the heat on this witches cauldron that our country has become. Compromise is considered anathema by both sides especially by the Tea Party movement and the fact is that we are at war with ourselves the national fabric is broken even worse than or economic state or moral state.  We may not be shooting at each other yet but unless we see some kind of national decision by all Americans to stop the political fratricide and work together to solve the problems that have been festering for decades it may come to down to bullets and the tragedy will be worse than that of the Civil War because despite the tragedy of it some good did come, the end of slavery and an understanding of being Americans rather than simply New Yorkers or Virginians. Lee writing about the war said “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

This political fratricide is in large part due to the manner in which our politicians, political parties and even religious institutions are the servants of multinational corporations and financial groups. When everything comes down to it all of these institutions are deeply subservient to the whims of special interests especially multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It is no wonder that leaders as diverse as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Napoleon Bonaparte recognized the threat that they pose to nations and in the case of the United States to democracy itself. Jefferson wrote “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Roosevelt noted quite rightly, much to the chagrin of his fellow Republicans “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of today.” While Napoleon cut to the heart of the matter when he wrote “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

Yet in the midst of our political fratricide there seems to be one special interest group above all which always seems to win even when the people of the country suffer. That group is the multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It doesn’t matter what party is in power they somehow come out with a big fat profit margin and get treatment that regular people could never hope to get. Now since the Supreme Court has ruled that big corporations (and labor too) now have no limits on what they can contribute to political campaigns you can bet your ass that politicians of all ilk’s will be suckling lucrative money milk from the tits of these corporations which will dispense billions of dollars to political campaigns in the coming year and a half leading up to the 2012 election.  We expect this of Republicans and Democrat but rest assured my friends that even Tea Party candidates will line up for their turn in order suckle at this tit to keep their newly acquired offices or gain more in the coming election. Such is the nature of politics in our fair country.

Meanwhile both parties dither about a budget that if they had been doing their jobs would have been completed months ago had Nancy Pelosi bothered to submit a budget for 2011 while Speaker of the House.  Now about three months into the new Congress both parties are posturing on the next year’s budget all the while the government lurches toward a shutdown of unpredictable consequences.

Yes we have to deal with the mess that these same people of both parties aided and abetted by their special interest group supporters have made over years to get us in this mess. Administration after administration and Congress after Congress have kicked this can down the road and now they have kicked it and the country into the ditch. Now something has to be done and Democrats seem loathe to step up to the plate and take political risks  while Republicans, particularly the Tea Party leadership are acting like the Jacobins during the French Revolution even threatening even their own party leadership if they don’t get everything that they want. All seem to ignore the fact that the vast majority of the country just wants both sides to figure the damned thing out and fix the problem for real even if it means personal sacrifice rather than seeing these people pursue the policy of mutually assured destruction.

Why does this seem so personal to me? Let me tell you. When I came back from Iraq after seeing the results of unbridled hatred in that country and having travelled in the Balkans after the Yugoslav Civil War I became frightened when I saw politicians of both parties speaking with the same invective as I saw in those countries. Nothing like seeing the effects of a real live shooting civil war to give one pause when political enemies threaten to cross that same line in this country.  Don’t dismiss this out of hand. For years certain pundits, politicians and preachers on both sides of the political chasm have been dehumanizing their opponents and once people are no longer seen as human it is very easy to resort to violence against them. Just take a look at the ordinary Germans who took part in the extermination of the Jews under the Hitler regime.

Am I forgetting something here? Yes I almost forgot, in 2008 we saw the housing crisis in which the very institutions caused the crisis were bailed out by both President Bush and President Obama with Congress willing and lovingly joining in to approve billions and billions of dollars for them. This included huge amounts of money which went to foreign financial institutions. Meanwhile regular people had their home value and credit slashed even as unemployment skyrocketed and in the following years we have seen the same banks seizing the foreclosed homes in record numbers while millions of others now owe far more on their loans than their homes are worth. It’s a great deal for the banks. Approve loans for people who will have a hard time repaying them, crash the economy have the government bail you out and then take the homes and sell them while still collecting the cash from the unfortunate former owners. Well to quote a great line from the Roman Empire segment of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy History of the World Part One

Leader of Senate: All fellow members of the Roman senate hear me. Shall we continue to build palace after palace for the rich? Or shall we aspire to a more noble purpose and build decent housing for the poor? How does the senate vote?
Entire Senate: F*** THE POOR!

It’s funny how a comedy from the late 1970s offers such remarkable political and social insights for us today. But then Teddy Roosevelt said of the Roman Republic as a warning to us back in 1903 “The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.”

Well if these present rulers don’t get their act together parts of the government will shut down and your military which is currently involved in four wars, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the nearly forgotten War on Terrorism in lots of places that the media doesn’t mention will not get paid. Ain’t that a hoot?  But mind you as military personnel try to salvage the wars that our politicians have plunged us into we still serve even if we won’t get paid.  Yet when push comes to shove we are cast aside by the political ruling class for their short term political gain.  I remember a quote of Robert E Lee which speaks volumes on this subject. Lee was besieged at Petersburg, his haggard and outnumbered Army deprived of food, ammunition and replacements was dying in the cold mud of the trenches when he went to seek help from the Confederate Congress. After his visit he remarked “I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.”

Seems that nothing really changes, does it? This unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides. When will we ever learn?

God help us all,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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