American Hamlet

He was just a sickly kid who loved heroes” –  Jackie Kennedy, with Theodore White, 1964.

He had a “rigid and physically distant mother”, and a domineering and  demanding father – “We want winners, we don’t want losers around here.”  Jack Kennedy, Barabara Leaming, pg. 61, 2006.

Joseph P. Kennedy, in 1962, was worth of $500,000,000.  The Kennedy’s were not just rich, they were super-rich.

It is so natural for the wealthy to be self-centered.  They are more valuable. They do have more to lose.

John F. Kennedy was self centered, and witty, engaging, charming, and a war veteran. He was famous from the start, his entire life stage-managed by his father. And he was haunted by losses – his older brother, his favorite sister, war comrades, and his own health.  He was very uncomfortable with emotional intimacy.

I once asked him why he was doing it, why he was acting like his father, why he was avoiding real relationships, why he was taking a chance on a scandal at the same time he was trying to make his career take off.  “I don’t know, really.  I guess I just can’t help it”.  He had this sad expression on his face.  He looked like a little boy about to cry.”  Dallek,  An Unfinished Life, pg. 152.

Kennedy had a sense of history, but he also had an administrative technique that made the gathering of history extremely difficult.  He hated organized meetings of the Cabinet or the National Security Council, and therefore he chose to decide policy after private meetings, usually with a single person.”  James Reston, November 22, 1963, New York Times.

That single person was almost always his brother.  In the Berlin crisis, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile crisis, and Vietnam, he was a tentative, and secretive, a reluctant leader.  The most powerful government in the world had great difficulty knowing its commander’s direction.

And the stakes were getting very high. The window of ‘opportunity’ for a ‘successful’ nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union would close. . . in November of 1963.

Mr President, you certainly can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you!” . . . And then the plaza rang with the first gunshot. . . The first bullet tore through Kennedy’s throat, and his arms went up as if to block himself from further injury.  His wife turned to him, and just as she did, another bullet shattered his head. . . .She remembered the strange elegance of his demeanor.  “His expression was so neat: he had his hand out, I could see a piece of his skull coming off; it was flesh-colored not white.  He was holding out his hand – and I can see this perfectly clean piece detaching itself from this head. . .He had such a wonderful expression on his face.  You know that wonderful expression he had when they’d ask him a question about one of the ten million gadgets they’d have in a rocket?  Just before he’d answer, he’d look puzzled; . . .and then he slumped forward.”  Jackie Kennedy, Four days in Dallas, Bugliosis, 2009.

 

Chicxulub

Across the land, turbulent air flowing from the chilly north encounters the breezes of the hot south.  As the two fight it out over the plains, tornadoes are spawned.  Ninety percent of the worlds tornadoes occur in North America.”   The Eternal Frontier,  Tim Flannery,  2001.

Long before it became the first global human empire, North America was a climatic dynamo affecting the entire earth.

Unlike any other continent, it is a giant “inverted wedge”, 4000 miles across the in the sub-arctic north, sixty miles across in the south,  with the Appalachian Mountains to the east and the Rockies Mountains to the west.  This wedge is a giant. . . carburetor. . . funneling super-chilled Canadian air southward in winter, and warm Gulf air northward in summer, generating explosive storms, torrential rains, giant lakes, thunderous rivers, and intense seasons that have fueled an evolutionary combustion of plants, reptiles and mammals.  This includes the great forests of deciduous trees that shed their nutrient-drained colorful leaves in winter , when the sunlight is low, and reabsorb their fertilizer energy in the spring when the sun is bright.  And not only leaves, seedlings too, including nutritious, soft-shelled nuts that entice small mammals to carry them away and bury them.  North America invented squirrels.  Native american societies, too, thrived on the gathering and storing of nuts. Only in North America did inland complex societies arise that were not based on farming.

Sixty five million years ago, North America was  two continents separated by a shallow sea, the BearPaw Sea, covering what is now the great plains.

And. . .then. . . a renegade Manhattan-sized meteor from a broken asteroid escaped the gravity of the asteroid belt, and found its way toward Earth.  It lunged in from the southeast and across the equator and crashed into what is now the town of Chicxulub, on the Yucatan peninsula. It struck with a glancing blow “like a giant golf chip shot“, at a speed of 54,000 miles per hour, digging a celestial divot straight up into the BearPaw seaway, with a collision blast of a 100 million megatons of TNT, 2 million times greater than the largest nuclear bomb ever made, exploding a hole 3 miles deep and 100 miles wide, and creating a tsunami wave . . . one-half mile high. . . that smashed the whole world.  With heat one thousand times that of the surface of the sun, the entire North American forest was ‘carbonized’ – incinerated – all the way to the Red Deer River valley in northern  Canada, and even across the Pacific Ocean to Hokkaido island of northern Japan. Fourteen genera of dinosaurs immediately became extinct. The Age of Giant Reptiles cataclysmally ended.  The lee of the mountain ranges of the Appalachians and of the Sierra Nevada and inside the Arctic Circle were the only areas of sanctuary for life.

For many, many years, debri, dust, and smoke blocked out the sun, freezing the land, and poisoning the atmosphere with sulfur and acid rain.  This was “Impact winter”,  the long “polar night”. . .that starved planetary life.

It would be centuries before the charred North America would turn green again, slowly rejuvenated by a. . . fern, Stenochlaena.

 

Natural Civilization

Fourteen thousand years ago, Siberian and Mongolian people crossed the Bering land bridge into North America. Following the ice-free coastline, they eventually found the Andes mountains, the longest linear stretch of mountains in the world.  There, unaffected by Rome or Greece, or Moses, or Plato, or Aristotle, or by any of the rest of world history, they . . . naturally . . . became the Inca civilization, the largest, most sophisticated civilization of the New World.   One hundred thousand elites controlled 10 million peasants, unified by a religion of sun worship, ruled by an emperor who was “the king, the pope, and Jesus Christ all rolled into one.” All land was state owned, peasants were granted rights to till communal lands. Taxes were paid with labor, which created surpluses of food, tools, and weapons, which were stored along the Inca road network, and which were used for times of want, for war, and for patronage.  The few ruled the many.  Natural civilization.

In 1528, Francisco Pizarro found a Bronze Age society, 2,500 years back in time. The Incas did not have writing, or money, but they had deadly slingshots, and clubs, and vast armies. The Spaniards, though, had steel swords, armor, and horses, and like tank warfare against foot soldiers, 168 Spanish horsemen conquered 10 million Incan foot soldiers.

History has been the story of men killing other men, and so also in the New World.  The Incas had been fighting a gruesome civil war for many years, ever since their great Inca chief was killed by another old world weapon – small pox.  His sons fought to the death for the throne. Atahualpa had just conquered brother Huascar and executed his entire family, and was on his victory trip to Cuzco, to be crowned Sun King, when strange boats appeared off the coast. At Cajamarca, Atahualpa crossed Pizarro’s path. He promptly executed any of his men that showed any fear of the strange horse beasts.

The Incas, it seems, did not know the plight of Montezuma and the Aztecs. They were self-sufficient mountain people, not traders with the larger world. Pizarro had been with Cortes. He enticed Atahualpa into a courtyard, and in a bloody ambush, captured him.

For ransom, Atahualpa filled the Cajamarca courtyard with gold.  Pizarro executed him anyway.  His wife became Pizarro’s mistress, and bore him two sons.

To subdue a civilization, dethrone its religion.

The last Inca Emperor, Tupac Amaru, in Cuzco before his execution, tells his people that their religion has been false.

Lords, . . . Let it be known that I am a Christian, and they have baptized me and I wish to die under the law of God – and I have to die.  And that everything that my ancestors, the Incas, and I have told you up until now – that you should worship the sun god, Punchao, the shrines, idols, stones, rivers, mountains, and sacred things – is a lie and completely false.  When we used to tell you that we were entering [a temple] to speak to the sun, when we told you what it said and that it spoke – this was a lie.

The Last Days of the Incas,  Kim MacQuarrie, 2007.

Sir Paul

Across the way from his childhood row-house home, across Strawberry Fields, Paul McCartney met one John Lennon. Both of their mothers died while they were teenagers, both of their fathers were musicians. Lennon-McCartney wrote and performed songs, and the whole world went . . .crazy . . .over their music,  and still does.

Paul is charming, kind, a devoted father, a faithful husband, a very successful businessman, and a Brit who honors his queen. He has always loved his Liverpool past.

“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes, there beneath the blue suburban skies”

He has lived 50 years of magic – wealth, fame, exhilarating creativity, and bittersweet pain and loss.

He still can’t read music.

What ever is the gift for songwriting and singing, Paul has it.  He gives commanding concert performances, like a gifted athlete.   He sings his solo career songs, yes, but with Beatle songs – which he is careful to do as they were originally done, . . . he brings down the house. . . . still.  It is the Beatles music that carries gloriously on, ever ecstatically received.

Paul McCartney is reticent with personal feelings, and superficial in person.  He barely seems to know Paul McCartney.  “Maybe I’m amazed” . . . . maybe?  He just never wants to get deep.

“the fool on the hill sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round.

Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say”.  ‘Was I harking back to my mum? he asks.  Who would know?  Few realize that his song ‘Blackbird’ was written to console african-americans after the death of Martin Luther King.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly“.

He can’t explain his creativity – or doesn’t want to. “I’m very lucky with my voice, I have no idea how it happens“.  Songs just come to him.  He dreamed the melody for his greatest song, ‘Yesterday’, the most recorded song in history. He spent months sure that he had heard it somewhere before, trying to find out where.

Paul has this mastery of melody, how it forms and carries a song. His best songs feel already known, like they could be no other way.  The words, by themselves, have almost nothing there.

there is an unmistakeable sadness in McCartney’s gaze and muted manner“.  John Colapinto,  The New Yorker,  June 2007

He was unable to reconcile with the bruising John Lennon, before his death.  And there is the losses of his mother and wife, both in the full of their lives,  to the same disease.

For well you know that its a fool who plays it cool, by making the world a little colder”  – Ironically, it was John Lennon who wanted this line kept in the song.

Above all the acrimony and nihilism of his times, he holds out, decent, and up beat.  The spirit of a 19 year old Beatle lives on.

I’m never going to believe I’m 70.  I don’t care what you say.  There’s a little cell in my brain that’s never going to believe that“, Rolling Stone, March 2012

Driver

In the movie Drive, the central character has a special talent. Driving, yes, but more compelling, he can stay calm and focused during intense moments, like driving fast and escaping the police, or like when someone is trying to kill him.  It is a gift, his ability to stay cool, it helps him get by.  But it may have helped him get involved with the wrong people.

Behind the wheel, his eyes centered on the road, he is ever wary, a taut spring. His smile is soft, his eyes rarely blink.  He says pretty much only what is necessary to say. He seems satisfied staying in the background. Somehow he has ended up half way between good people and bad.

He meets a girl from down the hall, an innocent, vulnerable mother to a young son.  He helps her out. Watching television, the boy says you can always tell who the bad guys are. Driver asks: ‘How do you know?’

The girl’s husband has been away, in prison, for what we don’t know.  He eventually comes home, and has problems he can’t handle.  He is roughed up to pay escalating demands for protection payments he may or may not have ‘purchased’ while in prison. This threatens the mother and boy. Driver decides to help get the money, in a robbery he has been asked to drive for, but things go awry.

Bad guys show up for the same money.  They kill the husband. In a sinister luxury SUV, they give chase. Driver races away. He manages to get bumper to bumper – in front of them – going very fast, backward, in control.  They think they have him, but just near the end of the road, an end they don’t see because they are looking at him, he spins around to the side, and they go on to crash.

But he gets found, and almost killed.  He acts fast, and survives.

Somehow, he knows how to deal with creeps, how you have to speak to them, how you cannot trust them, how they only respond to threat and force, how you sometimes have to kill them.

But they keep coming, like insects.  He has to stomp one to death, in front of her, in an elevator, to protect her.  He has no choice.  She watches. Maybe she thinks he is one of them. She leaves. What can he say?

They kill his friend.

He must have thought he was one of them, at one time, but with her he seems to realize he isn’t.  He is not going to go back.

He phones her:  “I just want you to know that you and the boy are the best thing that has ever happened to me”.

Then he goes to settle things, to ensure her safety. He gives the ring leader a chance to honor an honest deal. The guy doesn’t, of course, and Driver, nearly killed,  has to do what he has to do.

He leaves the money with the body.

 

 

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