Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Stool Hits the Fan

A couple of things I've been thinking about:

Firstly, hooray for Obama. I really never intended for this blog to have political content when it first began, what with my entire political adult consciousness being dominated by 8 years of a man whom I could outcount and outspell by the time I was a third trimester fetus. In those eight years we've become embroiled in a mismanaged,  neverending war, and we've gone from having a surplus to basically becoming a subsidiary of China. Forgive me for preferring to do the crossword than trying to puzzle out what new, horrifically cavalier, authoritarian atrocity the front page might have in store.

Secondly, let's take a look at that word 'cavalier...' Bear with me for a sec. Now that we're on the other side of election night, I can begin to reflect on the message of the Obama campaign without having to overload my brain with images of singing puppies pooping rainbows in order to counteract the bleak scenario that a woman who doesn't know that Africa is a continent might end up in the most influential position in the world. Fhew. Onto cavalier. 

It originated as  the Latin caballarius (horseman,) and was later adopted as a negative title for royalists during the Engish Civil War. The royal in question is Charles I, who decided that despite economic turmoil, his real focus should be cutting off the ears of people who spoke out against required attendance policies for his super awesome High Anglican church. The protestants weren't pleased. Parliament wasn't pleased. The Scots were especially displeased. Apparently King Charles never saw Braveheart, because otherwise he might have kept his nose out of the badass, kilt-wearing, mofo north.

The Scottish rebellion  set the stage for the English Civil War, which paved the way for a constitutional  monarchy, whose parliament did not include representation for a handfull of pissed-off passionate patriots, and now a few centuries later here we stand in the USA instead of "West Britain" with absolutely no monarchy and a pretty nifty constitution. And I tell you this for two reasons. Firstly, legend has it that the first riot began in St Giles Cathedral when a minster who was reading from Charles's fancy new required-prayer-book for the first time was lobbed in the head by a stool. This stool was thrown by a merchant woman named Jenny Henry.  She is reported to have thrown it while shouting "Deil colic the wame o’ ye, fause thief" which, for those of us who don't speak angry Scot, means "Devil cause you severe pain and flatulent distention of your abdomen, false thief..." Severe pain and flatulent distention? Geesh...see? I knew you you shouldn't mess with the Scottish.

This brings me to an interesting comment my good friend Michael made recently about a nasty case of gout. This gout incapacitated British parliamentarian William Pitt so much he was not able to protest the fateful Stamp Act which helped catalyze the Revolutionary War.

Now, of course we can trace back from all world-changing events to a million other small catalysts which each played integral roles because everything is connected. And you can't choose to get  assassinated by the Black Hand or to get gout. But you can choose to throw a stool at someone cavalierly trying to take away your rights. Which is to say...

"Yes we can" is an exciting message of hope after what feels like endless unchecked tyranny. But when you think about it, the only reason this country exists in the first place is that "yes, we did." We did in 1775 and we've been doing ever since: emancipation proclamation, suffrage, civil rights... a whole bunch of Americans doing a whole bunch of good. And I don't point this out to diminish Obama's win, but rather to point out that despite the fact my generation has not lived through a major ideological revolution, despite the completely jaded cynicism adopted by many woebegone anti-Bushies, revolution is in our blood, and although we can't control a lot about the universe, we always have the power of taking a stand. (Or throwing a stool.)

Or, for that matter, performing a devastatingly satirical blow to a political candidate on national television. My father posits that comedienne extraordinaire Tina Fey played a key yet under-acknowledged role in bringing down Palin, and I think he's probably right. Just goes to show how far a little free speech can go.

For me, after experiencing many  "holy, really?"  moments over the past two days, all of these ideas have helped to make the whole Obama thing seem less surreal, to put it into context, to restore some of my theoretical confidence in the idea of freedom, freedom to write and believe and to make a difference, all without getting your ear cut off.



  1. Have you seen

    Worth a gander.

  2. Hi Hannah

    Yours is the first blog I'e come across with adult content warnings!

    That aside, I liked your musings on the stool incident at St Giles. This and many other stories are related in the Edinburgh Walk Talk Tours.

    They are available in London, York, Edinburgh, Manchester and can be downloaded from Take a look.

  3. Hannah, invitations have been extended via email.

  4. This is great!
    But I'm still wondering which sort of stool it was. The type you sit on or the type you definitely don't want to sit on or even step in...?
    Anyway, good luck with the book, from a fellow writer.

  5. Hi, it's "Me" again, didn't hear back from you, hope we're still friends?

    Anyway, nice observations about the present, now I have a Q for ya:

    If the neocons and right-wing bloggers are justified in their fear of Mr. O'Bama re-instituting a Fairness Doctrine with more teeth to muzzle the right, is it possible it (FD) could be extended to the blogosphere?? I mean, there are a lot more anti-lib blogs than there are Bill O'Reillys and Sean Ins-Hannitys. Yes? How could this play out?

  6. Way back in the 1960s, an American friend suggested I should write a book about you and call it "I'm Glad They Had a Revolution".

    But I'm not so sure. I aometimes think that if the quarrel had been patched up and the 13 Colonies bad stayed part of the British Commonwealth, the 20th century world would have been a less scary place.


  7. Ooh, another counterfactual. This could be fun. Okay, let's say William Pitt's doctor goes ahead and prescribes him the damn colchicine rather than recommending he control his gout with diet and warm baths. Pitt is thus able to appear in Parliament and delivers an impassioned speech against the passage of the Stamp Act, ultimately swaying the majority to side with him and block its passage. The colonists thus find the yoke of imperial rule somewhat less taxing, and idle talk of a revolution never gains sufficient momentum to really accomplish much of anything. Patrick Henry is accused of being overly melodramatic, and the colonies opt for the middle ground between liberty and death.

    Encouraged by Britain's success in holding American colonies, France and Spain never relinquish their own claims in North America. The sun never sets on imperial colonialism, and Western European influence holds sway the world over.

    I still can't see that the colonies don't eventually chafe at the idea of being under outside control. Sooner or later all peoples begin to dream of the right to self-determination. Historically that right was never permanently alienable because of practical considerations regarding the distribution of military might, and so empires collapsed when they expanded beyond what they could reasonably control.

    Nowadays, however, I'm not so sure those limits would apply. The spread of information technology has made the world a smaller place. When combined with the interdependence of the global economy and the advent of high-tech (read: non-manpower-dependent) warfare, I'm not so sure a global empire couldn't be sustained. So the real question would be, could everybody get along until the requisite technology came along to allow for the maintenance of a global empire? (And, as a corollary, how would the development of that technology be affected by this alternate history?)

    Of course, the other thing that we'd have to consider would be the possibility of fights among the superpowers. Granted, we would avoid WWI and WWII, at least in the form that they actually transpired. But is that more or less scary than the prospect of France, Spain, and Great Britain getting mad at each other and dissolving into a protracted war with fronts on every continent? If a war did break out, there would be no neutral parties. You wouldn't be safe anywhere. The effect of colonialism would be to make you guilty by association.

    Now there's a scary thought.

  8. Fantastic post. Very informative and insightful. Good luck with the book over the next few weeks. Looking forward to more posts (if you have time).

  9. Metlin posted about a few days ago, but I didn't find this page the first time I went there:

    My response upon seeing this was definitely along the lines of, "holy, really?" To me, this one simple gesture says more than any speech ever could. It validates the message of the "Yes, We Can" campaign, and all the hope we've placed in it.

    Now it doesn't matter if we lose an ear. Obama's lending us his.

  10. I think that webpage is a fantastic sentiment. And I think taking it just one step further is going to make the difference between a lot of talk and a lot of action.

    I've heard that politics is like highschool with more money and more power, and if anyone knows anything about a bunch of people sitting around whining about change and never actually changing anything, it's highschoolers in student government. Or, more specifically, me as class president for 4 annoying years. (Picture me with frizzier hair, an ax to grind, and a gavel... not pretty.) It's one thing to want change and another thing to organize a solid grassroots strategy, to give people a focused outlet, to facilitate the kind of ingenuity our communities are capable of producing, but often have no ability to produce unless someone lays the foundation.

    I hope soon has actual practical outlets for service, because it would be a shame to waste all of the public's election energy by not providing a structured suggestion for an outlet.

    Or maybe I'm being incredibly lazy, we should all stop waiting to have our hands held, and we should start making our own positive contributions wherever we can. hmm.

  11. Also, CICI!! Your blog is down so I couldn't write back but thanks so much for your kind words, I very much enjoyed the last post I read from you and I hope you'll send me your new blog if you write one.


  12. I'm still having holy shit moments. I wake up and peek at the headlines, waiting for the proverbial shoe to fall (like when Obama voted for FISA), and instead, I see that Obama is going to close Guantanamo. And he announces his intent before he goes to shake Bush's bloody hand at the White House. Now, that takes some balls. woohoo! My jaded, cynical significant other cried when he read the Guantanamo closure headline. That was what finally got to him. He said, "How can we be running a fucking gulag in broad daylight for years and nobody says a damn thing about it?" The world doesn't protest. And the American people say nary a word.

    If, as his campaign staff called him, "No Drama Obama" can run his administration like he ran his campaign, we're going to see some focused multi-tasking action and I am so freaking excited to be able to watch it happen.

  13. Absolutely brilliant post! Ambling through your blog, definitely a cut above the rest of the madding internet(s). Consider yourself bookmarked, dear Mme.!