The Death of Alireza Palhlavi
The death of 44-year-old Alireza Pahlavi, the former Shah of Iran’s youngest son at his home in Boston yesterday, is another sharp reminder of how elusive a return to normalcy continues to be for Iran today. Although the younger Pahlavi was not involved in the Iranian emigre opposition in the United States and had played a very minor role in his older brother’s campaign to restore the Iranian Peacock Throne, his death symbolizes the frustration so many emigres have experienced over the past three decades as they have watched their country’s descent into fascism.
Perhaps even more significant, the suicide has opened a window on the splintered and severely divided ex-patriate Iranian community in the United States. Pahlavi’s brother, Reza Pahlavi, the Shah’s oldest son and the pretender to the Peacock throne, is not taken seriously by many – although with his name and prestige he could be supported as a likely leader of a future Iranian constitutional democracy. Now with over 25 Iranian opposition groups in existence, bereft of a central leader or focus, the Iranian opposition, which if united could marital substantial financial and diplomatic resources for democracy advocates within the forlorn Iranian Green Movement, is instead a rather useless weapon with which to assault the Iranian regime. Alireza may have played no significant role in any of this. But his name alone bore weight. The sad ebbing of Iranian hopes parallels the tragedy of this young man’s own passing.
Mark Twain’s Problem with the ” N” word.
The New York Times offers a sensible editorial this morning on the suggestions of how to clean up Mark Twain’s language in his classics The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The editorial is a response to the announced release of a combined volume of the two classics in which the word ” nigger” is replaced by ” slave'” and “Injun” converted to “Indian.”
The editorial astutely argues that: “What makes Huckleberry Finn so important in American literature isn’t just the story, it’s the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language. Substituting the word “slave” makes it sound as though all the offense lies in the “n-word” and has nothing to do with the institution of slavery. Worse, it suggests that understanding the truth of the past corrupts modern readers, when, in fact, this new edition is busy corrupting the past.”
I couldn’t agree more. It is ludicrous to project modern sensibilities on to works of art dating from more than a century ago. It reminds me of my participation in a book group that I was leading in the early 90s. The book we had chosen for a particular month was The Picture of Dorian Gray, the sole novel by Oscar Wilde. A young woman who had participated in the group for a few months called me to explain that she could not attend that month’s reading because Wilde’s message was so anti-feminist. I asked her whether she would refuse to read Scott’s Ivanhoe because it promoted imperialism or why she had failed to object to the choice of Nabokov’s Lolita since it deals with pedophilia.
The novels and art of previous generations reflects the temper and temperament of their times. We can’t change the past; we can only observe and understand it. By editing the masterpieces of our literary forbears so as to make them comply with our own politically correct notions, we run the risk of denuding them of all authenticity. With so little of it in our own world, we should steer well clear of that kind of tampering.
The Fourth Turning
Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Neil Howe, co-author of The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with History. You can listen to the full one hour interview here. Howe wrote his book in 1997 in attempt to understand where the United States stands in the cycles of history. He and his co-author, William Strauss conclude that this country is fast approaching a crisis, or a fourth turning, replicating other eras in human history in which a civilization passes through a process of education, awakening and corrosion before encountering a frightening denouement. Previous American cycles had ended in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II. The book was remarkably prescient in predicting our financial meltdown of September, 2008 and gave a good indication that we are in for rough waters ahead.
But Howe (and his book for that matter) was surprisingly optimistic about the American future=, stating that if this fourth turning conforms with previous turnings in the nation’s history, then a winnowing out of destructive moral, cultural and social ills will be forthcoming to be followed by a reversion to fundamental American ideals and values
For those who hang their heads in despair at the rampage of political correctness in our society and its domination by alien ideals, this is an impressive and joyful read. I highly recommend it.