Monday, July 20, 2009

Iran, Big Bopper and the Imperfect Perfect Game

Iran - A nation that operates solely on religious principles - the theocracy in Iran, for one --cannot endure - impossible. A clash between a burgeoning class of young, educated citizens and a corrupt ruling religious order was inevitable. Something's got to give in this struggle, and I'm afraid in the short run it's not going to be the deadly grim and frightened mullahs.
The 'Supreme Leader': That appellation, redolent of Orwell or the Land of Oz, sums up beautifully the pomposity, grandiosity and, yes, the fraudulence of the ruling mullah class. The story goes that the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution that overthrew the Shah, was the embodiment of God on Earth. As he was dying, he passed, through his fingertips, his divinity to Ali Khamenei, the present ruler and Supreme Leader. Since he's essentially the channel of God's will, every decision he makes is just, final and absolute. Today, he's murdering his country's women and children. Some divinity. A theocracy must fail - to cite Karl Marx, the contradictions become too apparent.

In the flush of elation after the Shah was overthrown, the Iranian revolution and ruling class were sustained for thirty years. This past election destroyed the legitimacy of the regime, though. The Supreme Leader, injecting the will of God, steals the election. The Big Lie didn't work any longer. Iranians were not duped; the ruling mullahs treated the voters as dumb, powerless fools, and enraged the citizenry. And, then, when students, not yet besieged by work, marriage, children or all the other burdens of middle age, decided to act on their impulses, the revolution was on.

A couple of thoughts on religion in general: at the outset, let me state emphatically that Mr. Gripes is a strong proponent of freedom of religion - any individual should be permitted to worship whomever or whatever they choose: Buddha, the Virgin Mary, false idols, The Supreme Moose of the Northwest, witch doctors, burning bushes, Zeus, or, indeed, although I can barely refrain from cursing, psycho-wacko Scientology with all its nutty Hollywood trappings - it's not my business to object. But what I can't support is the imposition of a particular religion on any other person. Worship in your church, and leave everyone else alone. 'Organized' religion, though, doesn't leave well enough alone. Every religion, certainly, thinks its divine path is the only true path to enlightenment and to whatever awaits us after death. Emanating from a belief in a religion's superiority is the urgency to convert practitioners of alien faiths. And, that in a nutshell is why so many murderous, bestial cruelties have occurred through the ages. The prospects of a glorious, idyllic afterlife have been the excuse to unleash unspeakable horrors on the 'unenlightened' masses. The reality is that there's no such thing as a 'superior' religion: none of us knows what awaits us, none of us has seen God, and, if indeed there is a merciful God, he works on a 'level playing field'; He would assert surely, 'No religion, just like no man should lord over any other man, is superior to any other religion.' Unfortunately, world history, seized by power, money and the sexual allure of women, has rarely operated according to that precept - just the opposite, in fact.

By the time you, my readers, have read this column, I fear the courage and collective strength of millions of protesting Iranians may have already been expunged by the implacable mullah power structure in Iran. The state has all the weapons, police and sadistic militias on their side, and will not hesitate, once the decision is made, to shoot and kill their own citizens; the ruling mullahs, no longer legitimate in the eyes of citizens, desperately cling to power. The will of God must be served even if thousands are murdered. The universities will be closed for a long time, and when they're re-opened the curriculum will be entirely Islamic-based. Suppression works when the opposition has no guns.
But, despite a foreboding sense that this will end in terrible bloodshed, Mr. Gripes marvels at the irrepressible human soul. Exploited, beaten, humiliated, and treated often as nothing more than lumps of animal flesh, the arc of history demonstrates that human beings just don't give up; their instinctive yearning for lives of free will and free thought inexorably compel them to act, in the face of impossible odds and likely imprisonment or death. That's courage. History tells us over and over this spirit can never be vanquished for long.

NY Postscript - A month ago, Mr. Gripes described the inconceivable catastrophe that's befallen New York citizens: I was referring to our New York State government, a quagmire of immense proportions. I'm sorry [actually not so sorry: it's grist for Mr. Gripes' mill] to say it's gotten even more farcical.
Let me describe the current scene: the NY Senate, comprised of 62 individuals, as of two weeks ago was split 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans. A majority leader, who guides the activities of the body, was a Democrat, obviously. Everything changed about 10 days ago, when 2 Democrats moved over to the Republican side, giving the Republicans control of the Senate; they naturally voted in a Republican as the new majority leader. Not so fast: the Democrats, boiling mad, asserted the majority leader election was bogus, and refused to enter the chamber to conduct business. In fact, they locked the doors to the Senate, and no one could get in. Unbelievable.

Governor David Paterson, a non-comprehending boob constantly stumbling over himself, not because he's blind, but because of his bumbling incompetence, initially says and does nothing, but then, astoundingly, insists the delay in Senate business is preventing lobbyists [??] from carrying out their occupational duties. It only gets worse. One of the Democrats-turned-Republican reneges on his new party, and returns to the Democratic fold. Now, it is 31-31, a deadlock. [Let me make a stab at the inducement that compelled this man to come back to the party: he's promised funding for his son-in-law's non-profit 'community' program, of which exactly $11.31 will actually go to the community, and $432,000 will be his son-in-law's annual salary for 'running' the one-desk, no-phone operation.]

Let's go on: It's 31-31. Nothing's happening as of this writing, and hasn't for a week. No sessions, no legislation, no meetings, nothing. Each one of these clowns goes before the TV cameras, and says we must get on "with the people's business," but it's the other party's fault. During this period, it's gotten so ridiculous that one senator, who would be the new Republican leader, wanted a judge to permit him to cast TWO votes in any legislative vote: one as a regular senator, and one as majority leader. This action, he claimed, is necessary to break a deadlocked vote. A legislator asking for a judicial OK so he could vote two times: that's got to be a first in the history of the glorious, 'one-man-one-vote' republic.

Back to the business of the 'people'. Mr. Gripes is a 'people' in this great commonwealth, and he'd like to proffer a people's resolution to fix all of this: let's borrow from France two guillotines, refurbish and lubricate them, restoring the blades to their razor-sharp calibration of, say, 1793. Place them outside on the Albany public plaza, in plain view of Senators peering down from the large French windows of their chamber. Relate to the Senators that they'd better get to work, or citizens, amassing in large numbers on the square, will be permitted to enter the Senate, and conduct less parliamentary but far more purposeful business of their own, perhaps replicating the actions of a vigilante mob. Surely that, as the cliché goes, "will focus the minds" of our august senators, who might even extract their thumbs out of their rear ends and take up the "business of the people."

The 'Perfect' Game - This year is the 50th anniversary of the greatest pitching performance in baseball history: a 5'7" lefthander of middling ability named, in alliterative fashion, Harvey Haddix, threw twelve innings of perfect baseball - facing 36 batters - and got them all out, not one runner reaching first base. Sometimes, though, a man who has achieved his dream is humbled by sudden reversals in life. Mr. Haddix, who for this one game outpitched Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Koufax, Cleveland, Feller, Maddox, all of the greats, never did complete his perfection, and in fact lost the game. After 12 innings, the score was 0-0. In the 13th inning, the opponent, the Milwaukee Braves, got their first base runners on base, and scored a couple of runs on a Joe Adcock [remember him?] home run - later changed to a double due to a Hank Aaron running mistake -- and won the game. I distinctly recall reading about this the following morning, and simply thinking, "Wow... this'll never happen again." 36 up and 36 down. And he got beat.

Chat rooms - Here's a statistic I saw the other day in the Wall Street Journal: out of the 300,000,000 Chinese citizens who have access to the Internet, 100,000,000 use chat rooms. Consider that. China's a country with a tightly controlled press, no right to assemble in a public gathering, and an educational system that extols a mass-murderer like Mao Tse-tung, run by a decrepit, corrupt Communist government -- yet chat rooms thrive. Mr. Gripes observes the on-going atomization of American society, as family and social ties continually diminish in importance, and can only conclude that when - not if - China evolves into a more democratic, fair-minded social system, we are cooked. The Chinese ethos of collective will and massive cooperative effort - witness the phenomenon of the chat room - with the backing of a future government that citizens believe in -- will simply roll over the world.

Elvis - An eight-year-old neighbor of mine some 25 years ago, Amanda, was asked for her opinion of Elvis Presley. Her answer: "Presley? I didn't know Elvis had a last name." You're right, Amanda, there'll always be just one Elvis. As summertime commences, I'd just like to offer a couple of tiny biographical tidbits about the monumental Mr. Presley:

* He never appeared in a public performance, other than playing his guitar on his apartment stoop for a couple of friends, before his incandescent discovery. Not at high school, not at church, nowhere.
* Mariah Carey was recently awarded a well-earned plaque for selling her 150-millionth album. In order to catch Elvis, Ms. Carey would have to sell another 850,000,000 records: Elvis is over one billion, and counting.
* A couple of months before his first song was played on the radio [it debuted after midnight one Saturday night, by a bored D.J. who decided to play something new], Elvis and his buddies were arrested for vagrancy in a Memphis park, and escorted out by policemen. Six months after that airing, a park concert was scheduled, and Mr. Presley had to be shielded from thousands of screaming fans, so he was escorted into the identical park by the very same cops. Ah, the vicissitudes of life. Incidentally, Tim McCarver, the TV baseball announcer, grew up in Memphis and was at that concert. Mr. McCarver, a macho ex-major-league catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, later declared, "Elvis was the most beautiful man I ever saw."

Chantilly Lace - Today's the first day of summer. Summertime, the beach and rock 'n roll are interwoven. In its honor, I'd like to present as the final piece in today's column the pure essence of rock 'n roll, millions of miles from the elaborate dross rock 'n roll has become. The Who, Pink Floyd, U-2, Jewel, Madonna, and Coldplay: some of these performers are excellent, but they're so removed from the essence of early rock 'n roll. The Big Bopper in Chantilly Lace joyously brings it back:

Hello Baby, yeah, this is the Big Bopper speaking,
Ha, Ha, you sweet thing,
Do I what? Will I what? Oh, baby, you know what I like...
Chantilly Lace and a pretty face and a pony tail hangin' down
A wiggle and a walk and a giggle and a talk made the world go round
There ain't nothing in the world like a big-eyed girl to make me act so
Funny, make me spend my money, make me fool so loose like a long-
Necked goose,
Roll over, Chaucer, and tell Shelley the news. Early rock 'n roll always speaks the truth.

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June 20, 2009