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CSotD: Weeping in the Hall of the Phaeacians

Sousa and Machado set the scene today, as I try to reconcile history remembered with history in the making.

History itself is a slippery thing, and Stephen Dedalus never quite explained his aphorism about history being a nightmare from which he was trying to awake, but, then again, he lived in Ireland, of which Chesterson said “The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad, For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.”

To which I would add that most of their history is either self-aggrandizing bullshit or self-pitying bullshit, and, while that doesn’t set them apart from anyone else, steeping yourself in any ethnic culture should give you both respect for, a healthy skepticism about, history.

Which was why I once wrote a piece that began “Odysseus wept in the hall of the Phaeacians,” about the history of the Sixties but starting out with the notion that perhaps, when Odysseus burst into tears as the harper recalled the story of Troy, it was because he had not yet reached home and was already hearing his story turned into romanticized nonsense.

But I have to remember that, furious as I get today, hearing people who weren’t there explain our lives, we had Time magazine and others distorting events while they were still happening.

Which, getting back to that cartoon, brings to mind that the bashing down of the Berlin Wall — or, as it was called in East Berlin, “the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” — was not simply a cheerful media event.

It marked the end of 28 years of mortal, repressive separation, as part of the end of over 40 years of deadly Iron Curtain politics.

People were machine-gunned for attempting to cross that wall, and the world was held under the threat of nuclear holocaust throughout the period of the Iron Curtain.

Compared to which Trump’s porous, Anti-Brown-People Protection Rampart is absurd.

Though not if those are your children being caged. Not if you are being sent back to be killed.

History often begins with absurdities as it progresses to nightmares and tragedy.

Meanwhile, a brilliant, readable essay on the Berlin Wall by Christopher Dickey, who was there at the fall, includes this observation:

Slightly more than half of the world’s population today was not yet born in November 1989, and even those who were 10 or 15 years old at the time have no idea, really, what the Cold War was like for people on both sides of that great divide.


I mentioned the other day Arlo’s observation that the fall of the Wall and other milestones of that era made it a good time to be young, there and then, while our own dynamic time had been some 20 years earlier.

And for all its greater impact on history, one of my memories of the moment is of a young Berlinner who had come to the US for a year as an au pair, which was fun and gave him a chance to see America but suddenly meant that he watched the Wall come down on television, instead of in person.

Poor bastard!

In any case, as Dickey notes, half the people alive today weren’t alive then, while a good portion of those who were, were too young to take it in.

So what is nostalgia for some is history for most, and, as noted, history is pretty squishy stuff.

Though if it motivates people to pick up their Skil Saws and slash through that wall and to show up at the polls next November, I don’t much care if later there’s a gap between what happened and what they think happened.

So as much as I may bury my face in my cloak over the distortions that masquerade as the history of my era, it doesn’t much matter what anyone thinks happened then, either, as long as they move forward intelligently.

Good history would help, but Ted Rall captures some basic truths that are a lot more important than who did what and with which and to whom, a half century ago.

One of the eternal themes of history is “Guns or Butter,” but it was a more lively debate back when we felt the need to at least somewhat balance spending and revenues, if not ethics and realpolitik.

For instance, whether or not Elizabeth Warren’s actual plan is fiscally workable, the priority is valid and the actual legislation would pass through the sausage grinder anyway, so the question is whether she is electable.

I have my doubts, but I am sure that we need a change in the way we prioritize guns and butter.

While, however history happens, it doesn’t wait forever.

Nor does science.

Nor do facts.


Americans are still bullshitting each other on the topic of climate change, but over in the Irish Times, Martyn Turner suggests we’d better focus a bit, because opinions are less and less part of the issue.


While in Australia, the wild fires that traditionally have kept firefighters away from Christmas dinner have started up more than a month earlier than normal.

Greta Thunberg posted a link to this impassioned plea in the Sydney Morning Herald, from a former New South Wales Fire and Rescue commissioner who is currently on the Climate Council, and notes:

If anyone tells you, “This is part of a normal cycle” or “We’ve had fires like this before”, smile politely and walk away, because they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Moreover, he said, it is important to ignore those who don’t want to talk politics while the fires are still burning.

In the past I have heard some federal politicians dodge the question of the influence of climate change on extreme weather and fires by saying, “It’s terrible that this matter is being raised while the fires are still burning.” But if not now, then when?

A point made with furious wit in the Australian cartoon “First Dog on the Moon”

There is a valid time to study history, but here’s to those who know when it’s time to make it.


Community Comments

#1 David Reaves
@ 8:29 am

First Dog on the Moon

Wow, I have to admit that my news scope is extremely Amerocentric… I had no idea that there was anywhere else in the world that was exhibiting the same sort of rabid, anti-science, fact-avoiding, climate-change denial that we are seeing in the USA– specifically in the Republican party.

It actually makes me even more fearful for our children’s children. There was actually some hope when I thought there was only one swamp of ignorance to drain. (My ignorance is showing, too.) Add Russia and China to the “western” countries that have their heads buried in the sand and the endpoint seems fairly certain…

#2 Lester
@ 3:58 pm

Sousa and Machado? So it took two people to confuse a wall that divided a city from a wall that divides two nations.

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