Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

Some writing that struck me as remarkable for some reason or other follows here, and I quote (The Civil War, Bruce Catton, American Heritage Press, 1960): The statesmen and the diplomats did their best to control and direct the war, but the real load was carried from first to last by the ordinary soldier. Poorly trained and cared for, often very poorly led, he was unmilitary but exceedingly warlike. A citizen in arms, incurably individualistic even under the rod of discipline, combining frontier irreverence with the devout piety of an unsophisticated society, he was the arrant sentimentalist with an inner core as tough as the heart of a hickory stump. He had to learn the business of war as he went along because there was hardly anyone on hand qualified to teach him, and he had to pay for the education of his generals, some of whom were all but totally ineducable. In many ways he was just like the G.I. Joe of modern days, but he lived in a simpler era, and when he went off to war he had more illusions to lose. He lost them with all proper speed, and when the faint hearts and weaklings had been winnowed out, he became one of the stoutest fighting men the world has ever seen. In his own person he finally embodied what the war was all about. What has any of this to do with us? It has nothing to do with us, not in any direct sense, at any rate. Mr Catton goes on to say that the soldiers enlisted with great enthusiasm. They had no understanding of what war was actually like, as the previous wars (like the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812) were things of the past, as much so as the Social Wars or the Crusades—In the early part of the war the camps which received these recruits were strikingly unlike the grimly efficient training camps of the twentieth century. There were militia regiments which hired civilian cooks and raised mess funds to buy better foods than the government provided. In the South a young aristocrat would as likely as not enlist as a private and enter the army with a body servant and a full trunk of spare clothing; and in the North there were volunteer regiments which were organized somewhat like private clubs – a recruit could be admitted only if the men who were already in voted to accept him. In both sections the early regiments were loaded down with baggage as well as with many strange notions. These sons of rawboned democracy considered it degrading to give immediate and unquestioning obedience to orders, and they had a way of wanting to debate things, or at least to have them explained, before they acted. In the South a hot-blooded young private might challenge a company officer to a duel if he felt that such acourse was called for, and if the Northern regiments saw no duels, they at least saw plenty of fist fights between officers and men. The whole concept of taut, impersonal discipline was foreign to the recruits of 1861, and many of them never did get the idea—Yes, I do not knowwhat has gotten into me. But make of it what you will. Or this, from a chapter of the same book entitled ‘The Politics of War’: On each side there was one man who stood at storm center, trying to lead a people who would follow no leader for long unless they felt in him some final embodiment of the deep passions and misty insights that moved them. This man was the President, given power and responsibility beyond all other men, hemmed in by insistent crowds yet always profoundly alone – Abraham Lincoln, in Washington, and Jefferson Davis, in Richmond. / They were very different, these two, alike only in their origins and in the crushing weight of the burdens they carried. On each rested an impossible imperative – to adjust himself to fate and yet at the same time somehow control it. Miracles were expected of them by an age which had lost its belief in the miraculous—A whiff of Washington gridlock?Something of the past whispering at the present? Make of it what you will. New-Old Neighbour did. He dropped in for the SOTUS speech. Even so, I had trouble making out what Current President had to say as my guest was jeering so emphatically at every turn of phrase, at every opportunity for the man in behalf of his administration to garner a bragging right or two. Health care. Minimum wage. Winding down this and that war. For all the jeers, it did seem that the man at his bully pulpit was according his recalcitrant Republicans the back of his hand now and then and it was oddly satisfying, though New-Old Neighbour remained unconvinced by this demonstration of prowess. It was a movie he had seen before and had no great desire to see again. In any case, why the US? Why should he care that their civil war produced an economic boom for the northern states such as put them on a world-class footing for the exercise of world-wide clout, not to mention making them rich in social problems that still obtain to this day? Here we have Mr Harper tearing the country apart and selling it out to corporate machinations, and otherwise hastening the fact that the middle classes are headed for the same dust heap as the schmucks who roil underneath them; that the whole lot of it is good only for the providing of extras when the need for a new touchy-feely movie arises or a bank ad. Moreover, there is the fact of the NSA. Their mandate is written in stone for anyone anywhere who does Tinkerbelle on a keyboard and who still thinks there is a brave, new world out there ripe for the making. So where does outrage go to die? The Syrian regime has its barrel bombs; we have our improvisatory devices, but of a kind that blows the limbs off the ineffable constituents of our so-called culture and turns minds to shimmering jellies, interesting to observe for bizarre light-effects but otherwise of no account. And if Bush was not ultimately responsible for the debacles that feed that great maw of world news hourly, he certainly opened the box that let so many little gremlins out to cavort and lark about—Like so my conversation with New-Old Neighbour took its inevitable course: from dire to dire and back around again. Pasolini. Now there was a guy who saw what idiots we would all eventually come to be, Italy a paradigmatic joke, our morning’s spate of Virgin Radio of more pertinence than any paragraph out of Tolstoy or Proust or Old Testament noodlings – if it can be said that the bible does paragraphs. Myself, I read some online screed, or attempted to get a handle on a screed that purported to deliver the skinny on hydra-headed finance capitalism, only the language in which it was couched, if not permanently billeted, was theoretical. I could only shake my head and marvel at my inherent stupidity. Why not just say they’re greedy bastards whose only use for us is that we fry up and serve them their burgers, and attend to them in a thousand other ways and have done with it, whatever the accuracy of the statement? Then a woman getting on past middle-age wrote to tell me that guys are not guys anymore; they are boy-men, and they give every indication of no longer caring. Period. That is to say they know that women have little need of them, so why bother, eh? I could not determine if this woman was alarmed; if she was pleased or bemused or simply stating cases. A leap forward for the humanity of humanity? An out and out collapse of the same? If anything, Viagra only compounds the parody in her estimation. Forget the bodies, she would love men for their minds, if only they had some minds. What, was she doing an Atwood on me? For all that, MH reports that she was much moved by Clarke Blaise’s Lunar Attractions, The Porcupine’s Quill, 1990. She shamed me in light of the fact that I still have not got around to reading it. And seeing as I have had the same sort of disgust directed at my person by one of the Literary Thugs of my rolodex for just that reason, I had best shape up. Resolved: must clear the decks of all obtrusive reading material, and, indeed, I have had the honour of being told to f—k off by one of this fair nation-state’s more illustrious writers. Ah well. Life goes on. Now, hurriedly: La Grande Bellezza. Or The Great Beauty. Italian cinema. Homage to Fellini and Co. A very worthy film. Yes, how was that scene with the flamingos shot?