Monday, August 16, 2010

Apocalypse, the 14th Amendment, and opera in Vienna

It's always tempting to look at the news and, cherry-picking the bits and pieces that fit, to propose a Theory of Everything. Synthesis is fun. But today I'm going to resist the temptation. Tomorrow? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it

For today, some selected bits and pieces.

First, "leading Republicans" want to re-consider the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Here's how the NY Times summarized it in an op-ed about a week and a half ago:
Leading Republicans have gotten chilly toward the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the United States. Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl have been suggesting that the country should take a look at it, re-examine it, think it over, hold hearings. They seem worried that maybe we got something wrong nearly 150 years ago, after fighting the Civil War, freeing enslaved Africans and declaring that they and their descendants were not property or partial persons, but free and full Americans.

Articles on (some of them coming from the Associated Press) and opinion-pieces are largely -- and I'm only talking about the articles and invited opinion pieces here -- leaning against this "leading Republican" pander-fest. Blogs and comments are a different story. Though you may find it repugnant, have a look at some of them to get a sense of the vitriol involved. Here's a particularly telling example, from a blowhard who hides behind the nom-de-imbécillité 'sleuthboy':
Anchor-Babies are at the epicenter of all that is wrong with our broken Immigration system.....fix this amendment and you automatically take care of over half the Illegal issues/abuses. You can tell just by the swift and viscious reaction of the Brown-Supremacist/LatinoFirst zealots......"

What's an "anchor-baby" you ask? Don't ask. To whom are leading Republicans pandering? Keep reading.

Remember the "birthers"? As explained in Counterfactual thinking in April, these are
Wingnut conspiracy theorists stoked by elected congressmen and professional journalists [who] invented a so-called Birther movement that aimed to invalidate the election of President Obama by repeatedly asserting falsehoods in the face of solid evidence disproving their lies.

It was wingnut in April, it's wingnut in August, but it's hard to ignore the common threads between birther wingnuts and the 14th Amendment rot: birth, identity, citizenship, legitimacy. If they can't get President Obama thrown out of office on false accusations that he was born outside the United States, how 'bout changing the law so that certain people, nudge nudge, can't be citizens just because they were born here.

Then there's the Cordoba House 'controversy,' which earned a mention in this blog's Debased discourse post two weeks ago today. On Friday, the President weighed in: "Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site," as the NY Times headlined the news. Pretty much everybody with a real dog in the fight had already, including NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R, or, as the Tea Party people would have it, RINO), so the President must have imagined it would be safe to declare freedom of religion an American value. The next day, the same reporter (Sheryl Gay Stolberg) reported that,br />
Faced with withering Republican criticism of his defense of the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near ground zero, President Obama quickly recalibrated his remarks on Saturday, a sign that he has waded into even more treacherous political waters than the White House had at first realized.

On Sunday morning, headlined its site with an article titled "New Battle Lines Drawn Over Ground Zero Mosque Debate." The details are depressing; if you can stomach them you've probably read all about it in the MSM. Bottom line? G.O.P. Muslim-bashing is being served as another entree in this year's menu of populist-xenophobia-as-politics.

A "theory of everything" attempt to wrap one's mind around these and similar stories in the news might be to hypothesize that the American Century is over, the empire is falling, and as the glaciers melt and oceans rise we're going to see the question of whose United States (and planet, for that matter) we live in subjected to more and more lunatic, lethal, selfish, and absolutist claims.

But I promised at the start of this blog that I'm going to resist temptation. For now. No theories of everything.

Instead, I'll tell a little story. If I were to give it a title, I might call it A parable of platz.

In the hour before curtain at the same Wiener Staatsoper performance that I blogged about in Are you a lyrics person?, in the area at the back of the hall reserved for standing room ticket-holders, I witnessed an odd, ultimately quite pathetic scene. The standing room audience was a mix of staid, properly dressed Vienna residents; tourists in cargo pants and polo shirts; and a smattering of 'tweeners, such as my partner and myself, tourists who had packed something at least vaguely respectable to wear around Europe. The locals at Wiener Staatsoper knew and exercised a custom that, on reflection, seems central to regular enjoyment of standing room at the opera.

Places to stand, you see, are what we in the States call "general admission" -- first-come, first-served. Reasonable enough, given the staggeringly cheap rates at which standing-room opera tickets are sold in Vienna, on the order of three or four euros a pop ... less than the price of an American movie ticket to see opera at one of the finest venues on the continent of its birth. So what is the local custom? Why, simply to save one's place with a piece of clothing, generally a scarf or a tie, fastened to the handrail provided for each of the standing-room rows. (Blogger Aaron Anthony explains the whole business quite nicely in a post of about six months ago, in case you find yourself in Vienna with a hankering to see opera on the cheap.) Standing in line to get in early enough to claim a place with a view, then taking the time one has prior to the performance to do something, anything, other than stand in the place from which you'll be watching two or three or four hours of opera ... well, that's just common sense, isn't it?

So there we are, waiting for the opera to begin, when one local in respectable dress -- having secured his place as is the custom, and gone to have a look around, or a bite, or to see a man about a dog -- arrives back in the standing room area shortly before curtain. It is soon apparent that he is deeply put out to find that the place he thought he'd claimed has been usurped. Worse, it has been usurped by a cargo-pantsed, polo-shirted, young, buff, irritatingly healthy-looking American!

The Viennese gentleman addresses the young American. Politely. In German, of course, it's his own damn city.

"Das ist mein platz," he says, without aggression, particularly; but, well, firmly.

The American appears not to understand. The gentleman repeats himself. Das ist mein platz. This is my place. Still, the young American doesn't get it. Again. The light bulb is starting to go on for the American now, and some of the bilingual members of the audience begin to offer some assistance. But, no, the American insists, in English. He came early, there was no one in this place when he arrived, the place was not marked, the platz is, in fact, rightly his.

This goes on for several, increasingly heated rounds, both ticket-holders quite certain they are correct. The Viennese gentleman sticks to his German; he does not seem to speak any English at all. The American youth, a stranger in a strange land, does not try to meet the local on his native linguistic ground. The Viennese gentleman starts to lose his cool. The American sticks to his guns. "Das ist mein platz, das ist mein platz!" the gentleman insists, growing strangled and red in the face.

At last, with the house lights dimming to signal the audience to take their places, another American leans forward from the row behind the contestants for der platz, and wonders aloud, in American-accented English, whether the tie fastened to the rail next to him belongs to the gentleman. The gentleman looks around, in a huff. Again, the American suggests ... the Viennese gentleman is startled to see ... he takes a closer look ... he realizes ...

... and all of a sudden he finds he can speak heavily-accented English after all. "I am sorry," he mumbles to the young, buff, irritatingly healthy-looking American. His platz, it turns out, was in the next row back all along.

Well. I'm not going to say anything, I said I wouldn't ... but I've just got this feeling that if Chicken Little were alive today, she'd be worrying away, clucking something along these lines: The empire is falling, the empire is falling ...

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the Vienna Opera poster image.

1 comment:

  1. Poor little Birthers (still in denial about their losses), but our Judges will continue to smack down the crazies .

    To all the birthers in La, La Land, it is on you to prove to all of us that your assertion is true (TOUGH WHEN YOU KEEP LOSING CASES), if there are people who were there and support your position then show us the video (everyone has a price), either put up or frankly shut-up. I heard Orly Taitz, is selling a tape (I think it’s called “Money, Lies and Video tape”). She is from Orange County, CA, now I know what the mean when they say “behind the Orange Curtain”, when they talk about Orange County, the captial of Conspiracy Theories.

    You know Obama has a passport, he travel abroad before he was a Senator, but I guess they were in on it.
    In my opinion the Republican Party has been taken over the most extreme of clans; the Baggers, Birthers and Blowhards (people who love to push their beliefs on others while trying to take away the rights of those they just hate) and that’s who they need to extract from their party if they real want to win in November. Good Luck, because as they said in WACO, “We Ain’t Coming Out”.

    I wonder if Orly Taitz, is a mail order bride, just like her law degree? She is perfect reporter material for “Fake News”, where unfounded rumors and innuendo reign supreme, unlike a our US courts of law. The way our courts work is that you get a competent lawyer, verifiable facts and present them to a judge, if the facts are real and not half baked lies, then, and only then, you proceed to trial. The Birthers seem to be having a problem with their so called facts that they present. Let’s face it no one will go along with you until you guys win a case, but until then, you will continue to appear dumb, crazy or racist, or maybe all three. A lawyer, dentist, realtor and black belt, WOW I must say a JACK of all trades master of none.

    I heard that Orly Taitz, now wants to investigate the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC), she wants to re-establish a family values party, good luck with that.

    We won the election and now these sore losers will continue to spew their hate with lies.