Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Reading

Strange Times — Leonard Pitts, Jr., on change some people can’t deal with.

These are strange times. They call to mind what historian Henry Adams said in the mid-1800s: ”There are grave doubts at the hugeness of the land and whether one government can comprehend the whole.”

Adams spoke in geographical terms of a nation rapidly expanding toward the Pacific. Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual, less a question of the distance between Honolulu and New York than between you and the person right next to you.

Such as when you look at a guy who thought it a good idea to bring a gun to a presidential speech and find yourself stunned by incomprehension. On paper, he is your fellow American, but you absolutely do not know him, recognize nothing of yourself in him. You keep asking yourself: Who is this guy?

We frame the differences in terms of ”conservative” and ”liberal,” but these are tired old markers that with overuse and misuse have largely lost whatever meaning they used to have and with it, any ability to explain us to us. This isn’t liberal vs. conservative, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were.

And change, almost by definition, always comes too fast, always brings a sense of stark dislocation. As in the woman who cried to a reporter, ”I want my country back!” Probably the country she meant still had Beaver Cleaver on TV and Doris Day on Your Hit Parade.

Round and round we go and where we stop, nobody knows. And it is an open question, as it was for Henry Adams, what kind of country we’ll have when it’s done. Can one government comprehend the whole? It may be harder to answer now than it was then.

The distances that divide us cannot be measured in miles.

Continued below the fold.

Frank Rich on the same topic:

Those on the right who defend the reckless radicals inevitably argue “The left does it too!” It’s certainly true that both the left and the right traffic in bogus, Holocaust-trivializing Hitler analogies, and, yes, the protesters of the antiwar group Code Pink have disrupted Congressional hearings. But this is a false equivalence. Code Pink doesn’t show up on Capitol Hill with firearms. And, as the 1960s historian Rick Perlstein pointed out on the Washington Post Web site last week, not a single Democratic politician endorsed the Weathermen in the Vietnam era.

This week the journalist Ronald Kessler’s new behind-the-scenes account of presidential security, “In the President’s Secret Service,” rose to No. 3 on The Times nonfiction best-seller list. No wonder there’s a lot of interest in the subject. We have no reason to believe that these hugely dedicated agents will fail us this time, even as threats against Obama, according to Kessler, are up 400 percent from those against his White House predecessor.

Blogging from Cuba — Yoani Sánchez writes frankly about life in Havana.

With her skinny frame and dark hair, she looks a tad like Olive Oyl. But that’s where the comparison to Popeye’s weak-kneed girlfriend ends. Sánchez is a much tougher figure, a tech-savvy representative of a growing youth-oriented Cuban counterculture who tells it like it is — about having to feed her family rice with bouillon cubes when there is nothing else, about the surging number of women on the island who deny their realities by popping black-market Valium, about the cops who are assigned to tail her.

From her blog — desdecuba.com/generationy/ — translated into more than a dozen languages, she once asked those ”selfless companions who monitor the entrance to my building” to give her neighbors a break. Their presence inhibited illegal activity in the building, which meant residents could not get anyone to sell them anything on the black market.

”I feel I’m to blame for the commercial strangulation in which the other 143 apartments are plunged, and I have to do something to relieve them,” Sánchez wrote. ”So, I ask them . . . look the other way when it comes to food.”

”After speaking your mind, you can’t one fine day return to silence,” Sánchez says.

Doonesbury — Pull the plug on granny.