and the life of a county clerk
Uh-huh: Frog/Mouse Courtship. One of my daughter's favorite songs goes approximately as follows:
Froggie went a-courtin' and he did ride,
It goes on in this form for many verses. Stripped of the uh-huhs and repetition, the lyrics are as follows:
Froggie went a-courtin' and he did ride,
This is, I believe, a folk song which exists in many versions and variations, amended many times to match changes in tastes and technology.
Still, the version above is the one in Wee Sing's tape "Wee Sing in the Car". Those of you without young children may not be aware of Wee Sing, a firm which is plainly more concerned with Keeping The Old Songs Alive, often in stiffly formal original lyrics and pronunciation, than in maximizing profit. Since this is the version Wee Sing is vouching for, it undoubtedly has a distinguished lineage.
The story as presented seems highly ridiculous, even from a kindergarten perspective. A frog wanting to marry a mouse? Seen this way, the seven uh-huhs in every verse are a kind of skeptical mock agreement.
But the characters are so highly anthropomorphic that the story could better be understood as being about human characters with funny names. And no doubt real horses have been called Snail. Only the line about riding the snail "between the horns and tail" injects a teasing note of animal fantasy realism.
The politics and technology of the text, as given, locates it in a narrow band of time and place. The reference to "the President" puts it in the USA after 1790. Miss Mouse is sitting down to spin, presumably at a spinning wheel, a home activity which faded away in the early 19th century as cheap manufactured thread and yarn replaced "homespun". It was a time when swords and pistols coexisted as personal armaments, because the latter were not yet reliable enough alone.
This is not to say that the text necessarily dates from that time — it could be much earlier or later. Perhaps "the President" replaced a reference to royalty or some hero. And backward-looking song lyrics frequently contain howling anachronisms.... But I digress.
The dramatic tension of the story is the contradiction between Miss Mouse's willingness to entertain Froggie's visits (visits, plural, because he had "often been before", "vowed to come back another day", and has "been calling here") and her refusal to consider his marriage proposal. She invites him in, she sits on his knee (do frogs actually have knees?), but she disclaims authority to agree to what Froggie has in mind. What's going on here?
At the very end of the song, Uncle Rat appears in person. With a name like Rat, we're not supposed to like him, but all he really does is laugh.
Left unanswered is the nature of the relationship between Uncle Rat and Miss Mouse — and why specifically Uncle Rat is laughing.
One assumes that Uncle Rat is her foster father, replacing deceased parents, and taking on the traditional parental role of approving suitors. Since Miss Mouse has specified that only suitors approved by Uncle Rat are acceptable, and Uncle Rat is so amused at the notion of his niece as a bride, apparently he plans to withhold that consent indefinitely.
He may be playing the role of the overprotective father. Or, perhaps he benefits too much from having Miss Mouse doing household chores (like spinning) that he is reluctant to give her up.
Yet the image of the selfish, restrictive father figure doesn't really fit. For one thing, he has been away from home so much that he has completely missed Froggie's series of courting visits. And Froggie, we are told in the first verse, is well armed. Presumably, if Miss Mouse chose to elope with him, he could protect her from Uncle Rat.
Another possibility, since this is after all a child's song, is that Froggie and Miss Mouse are young children, not of marrying age. But this doesn't really work either, since Miss Mouse (with a title!) has been left in charge of Uncle Rat's household, and runs a spinning wheel by herself. Certainly in the social environment of 150 years ago, marriage would not be seen as laughably far off.
Moreover, Uncle Rat does not hide his amusement; he "laughed and shook his sides," openly before his niece. He does not pretend to take offers of marriage seriously; Miss Mouse must see this, and perhaps she doesn't mind. In other words, perhaps Miss Mouse doesn't take suitors seriously either. Though she apparently enjoys Froggie's attention, she has no intention of giving up her place in Uncle Rat's household.
Seen this way, her invocation of Uncle Rat's authority is an excuse rather than a barrier. And note how she expresses it: without his consent, she wouldn't even marry a head of state. She is announcing unwillingness to disregard her uncle's consent, even in the case of the most powerful suitor she can imagine. She isn't saying that she is bound by her uncle's word in every possible case. Rather, she is saying that, contrary to what Froggie or the listener may think, she won't circumvent the approval process no matter how good the suitor. Of course, that implies that she could.
Hence, Froggie is the ridiculous figure here: trying doggedly to get Miss Mouse to marry him, while she and her uncle laugh behind his back.
Okay, a wildly whimsical post, but it's my birthday, so I'm allowed.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum — Comments
Voting Against. On an election-related mailing list, one Bush supporter, rebutting another writer's anybody-but-Bush posting, wrote:
It is not what you are against that counts. It is what you are FOR.
My response to that was inexplicably blocked by the moderator, so I'll post it here:
No. The problem is that the Bush Administration has been governing through secrecy and lies and destructively short-term priorities, and silencing critics through aggressive defamation. These things have not been unknown in the past, of course, but the current administration has brought them to a new level.
We count on our leaders to step outside the politician mindset and help us think about the future. We count on presidents and governors and mayors to set budgets and exert leadership to restrain the spending of Congress and legislatures and city councils. The Bush Administration has defaulted on these critical responsibilities.
If George W. Bush is re-elected, he will have proven that his irresponsible approach is acceptable and successful. All future presidents, regardless of party, will copy the Bush style in arrogant secrecy, disinformation, and disregard for the future of America and the world. Governors and mayors will learn from his example, too. And when democratic leaders fail to govern responsibly, eventually the lesson will be that democracy is a failure.
The balance wheel of our democracy is the two-party system. Indeed, the winner-take-all presidency pretty much mandates the emergence of two grand coalitions. If one party fails, voters can turn readily to the other.
This year, many voters, normally Republican, people with no love for the Democratic Party, are planning to vote for Kerry as a rejection for the way George W. Bush is leading the country.
Voting against (rather than for) is a perfectly legitimate and intellectually defensible approach to making political choices in a system where the choices are necessarily limited to A or B.
Some time after I wrote that, I came across a collection of essays at the Washington Monthly's web site, exploring what a Bush win in 2004 would mean, by people ranging from Paul Begala to Grover Norquist. A varied and interesting set of ideas and predictions.
The first essay listed — The Triumph of Anything Goes, by David Greenberg — takes a point of view very much along the lines of what I wrote above, and expresses it far better than I could have:
[A] Bush victory in November would change the fundamental practice of democracy in Washington. If the public were to award Bush a vote of confidence on the basis of his first-term record, it would amount to a ratification of the ruthless style and philosophy that have underpinned Bush's presidency--what Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention called "the politics of anything goes."
An oft-quoted quip of Bush's--"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator"--certainly doesn't reflect any plan of his to abolish democratic procedures or principles. But it does reveal his impatience with those procedures and principles. Bush and his team have shown contempt for many of the bedrock elements of liberal democracy, including public access to information; a press that interrogates its leaders; a give-and-take between parties that represent different interests; a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches; the preference for reason over the use of force; and the support of legal safeguards to prevent the arbitrary exercise of power by the executive. They have routinely violated the bounds of acceptable political behavior in a democracy....
Should Bush win a second term, the politics of anything-goes would only intensify--because it would no longer be seen as controversial. It would no longer be noteworthy that an administration declassifies documents to embarrass opponents, as when John Ashcroft released a memo by former Clinton administration official and 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick. It would become more or less acceptable to threaten the jobs of bureaucrats who won't play ball in misleading Congress, as happened with chief actuary Richard Foster, who wanted to answer congressional questions about the price tag of the administration's Medicare plan. Or to toss aside legal and constitutional rights of the accused, as at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Or to interfere with the public's right to know, as the administration did in ordering federal agencies to provide fewer records under the Freedom of Information Act.
Fifteen years ago, conservatives put forth the "broken windows" theory of crime. If small street crimes are tolerated, the theory went, neighborhoods begin to accept them as normal and the result is more lawlessness. The same thing will happen if a democracy tolerates Bush's ruthless behavior as business as usual. If voters validate this modus operandi, it won't just accelerate; it will cease to draw even the modest level of scrutiny and outrage that the administration's transgressions have attracted so far. Failing to protest these breaches of the norms that govern political conduct will encourage more such violations.
The broken windows theory comes from James Q. Wilson, a conservative who has greatly influenced (and enhanced) my own thinking on crime and justice issues. Application of "broken windows" to the George W. Bush presidency is highly apropos.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum — Comments
My clinical evaluation. I don't know if Bush is going to lose the election. But I think he thinks he's going to lose. His eyes were lifeless, devoid of spark. His smiles were forced, his expressions of gratitude for the audience applause more of a mechanical pause than a transference of energy from him to the crowd and back again. When the camera cut to the audience they were doing their orchestrated bit, holding up those dopey signs, but there wasn't the ebullience you saw among the Democrats. Bush seemed to know this speech simply didn't have it, and he didn't have it in him to put it over.
The[n] when it was over the family trooped out. More fascinating repressed psychodrama it would be harder to imagine. The Bush twins came out and embraced their dad, but it was an affectionless embrace, like those brief pats the American girl gymnasts gave each other after one of them after a routine, and immediately broken. Was he upset with their ditzy embarrassing performance?—there was none of the warmth and giddiness one saw with the Kerry and Edwards clans. His hugs of his father and mother were equally perfunctory. Everyone looked ill at ease, and yet when I tuned to PBS and switched on the sound they were blathering about the confetti and the balloon drop, ignoring the stilted pageant below.
Yet for all that, the convention seemed to play well with voters, giving GWB an unexpectedly large bounce in the polls.
Now I hear about what may have been worrying him. Kitty Kelly, a decidedly unauthorized biographer, a kind of private-sector Ken Starr to celebrities, is coming out with a new book: The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty. It comes out September 14, and its Amazon sales rank is already #12.
No doubt the book will be controversial.
Discussion of libel law as it relates to public figures deferred to another time.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum — Comments
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