Thursday, November 17, 2011

Myths and their propogation

The following is from a piece in September when a Republican, Bob Turner, won the Congressional seat vacated by Anthony Weiner.  Since the seat is in a heavily Democratic district, it was viewed as a stunner.  One of the issues that  mattered was Israel.

Ehud Barak was on Charlie Rose a couple of nights ago.  Barak currently is the Israeli Defense Minister.  He had previously been Prime Minister.  After the beginning of the conversation which dealt with Iran, eventually (at around the 13:00 minute mark) the discussion turns to Israeli-Palestinian issues.  Barak makes a point of offering very strong support for the Obama administration on security issues.  How can that be, given the perception that Obama is soft on Israel?  A couple of weeks after that Congressional election Ed Koch changes his mind and supports Obama.  But the myth of Obama being soft on Israel persists.  Gossip travels fast.  Presidential candidates from the other party benefit from the myth being believed.  Here's a comment about this from Mitt Romney and one from Rick Perry
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I suppose because Penn State has been in the news so much it occurred to me to watch That Championship Season, a Pulitzer Prize winning play that I saw in New York in the 1970s, but where much of the specifics of the story I had forgotten.   I downloaded the 1999 made for TV version.  Paul Sorvino plays the retired coach who is dying from cancer.  He also directed the movie.  Apparently, he has quite a connection to the play, having been in the original stage version as well as an earlier movie version where Robert Mitchum played the coach.  The other main characters are four out of the starting five that won the Pennsylvania High School Basketball Championship twenty years earlier.  The fifth starter, who is mentioned in name only, has made none of the reunions since.  The viewer finds out why only near the end of the movie.

The movie is not uplifting but it makes a powerful point.  Clinging to myth when one knows it to be untrue is destructive.  Each of the main characters lives in a world of denial, misperceiveing reality, filled with emotional pain, trying to pretend things are better than they actually are.  They are strangely dependent on each other, the basketball championship supposedly form a deep and everlasting bond.  But they are also antagonistic to each other.  Scranton is a small enough town that three of the four former players continue to have ongoing business and social relationships that are a source of tension.  Much of the truth comes out as they betray each other during the reunion at the coaches house.  The fourth player is a brother of one of the other three and a lush, presumably drink the only refuge he could take given the truth of the past.  It his cynicism and demand that myth not triumph by which we ultimately learn that they won the Championship over the much favored team by deliberately injuring their best player.  Unlike in the Karate Kid, where Daniel Larusso ultimately wins the tournament even after he has been severely injured because one of his nemeses has "swept his leg," in a deliberate attempt to hurt Daniel, in That Championship Season the cheaters prosper insofar as they win the championship.  They suffer, however, for the rest of their lives. 

I wonder if it would be helpful for the Penn State faithful to watch this movie.  When one believes in myth very strongly and for a long period of time and then one is confronted with facts that put the lie to those beliefs, there is a tendency to ignore the facts.  It is painful to have to change one's world view to accommodate the truth.  But it is more painful to live a lie, particularly when it is not possible to bury the issue.  Today the Times has a long piece about a possible coverup and CNN also has long piece, this one focusing on the mother of one of the alleged victims, who fears that Sandusky may get off.  This story won't go away for quite a while.

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There is a huge myth about big government and high taxes being a block to economic growth.  Tom Friedman's column earlier this week, which is mainly about the situation in India, and the insufficient degree of public works and infrastructure, is meant as an object lesson for our own economy.  Yet the Tea Party types live in their own universe and choose to cling to their myth.  In today's Washington Post, there is a tragic-comic piece about millionaires lobbying Congress to raise the taxes of anyone making over $1 million, finding it difficult to get an audience for this message but ultimately having several such conversations, including one with Grover Norquist.

As a result of this myth we can't get to a sensible place by negotiating our way there.  E.J. Dionne argues today that the best we can hope for now is to do nothing - have the automatic spending cuts triggered by the August agreement and then next year let the Bush Tax Cuts expire on their.  His analysis may be correct.  But it is disheartening how we are blocked from doing better than that by so many who cling to their myth.   

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