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Roger’s Rules

Annals of Intolerance, Tulane Edition

August 27th, 2013 - 8:27 am

When it comes to Hobbits and the rest of J.R.R. Tolkein’s bestiary, I am pretty much at one with the critic Edmund Wilson. In “Oo, Those Awful Orcs!,” Wilson expressed astonishment, and not a little distaste, at the wild popularity of Tolkien’s kiddie books. “Juvenile trash,” I recall, was one phrase he employed about the whole Lord of the Rings cycle.

I wouldn’t go that far, but I, too, recoil at the cloying and airless tweeness of the Tolkien universe. Still, it would never occur to me to employ “Hobbit” as a term of abuse.  I had to wait for Jim Letten, a former U.S. attorney, now an assistant dean at Tulane University, for that rhetorical innovation.

Perhaps “Hobbit” is prosecutors’ code for “low life” in Louisiana. That’s  where Letten plied his trade for nearly three decades, until forced to resign last year because some of his top assistants were revealed to have been making anonymous “provocative, even pugnacious comments about active criminal matters” on a public web site. Or maybe it is just part of Letten’s personal lexicon of imprecation, which also, for reasons that baffle me, includes the word “spud,” a term I’d always regarded with affection as a familiar diminutive for “potato,” a tuber I hold in high regard.

These are deep semantic waters.

What is not at all mysterious, however, is the fact that Jim Letten believes that in calling someone a “Hobbit” or a “Spud” he is saying something deeply opprobrious. You can tell this partly by the tone he adopts when uttering the words, partly by the close proximity of other, more familiar terms of abuse — “scum,” for instance, or the ever popular “asshole” — in a video (embedded at the end of the article) of Jim Letten excoriating some reporters. As I say, I happen to like spuds. But there is no denying that when someone calls you “a nasty, little, cowardly spud,” he is not troweling on the praise.

Among the recipients of Jim Letten’s ire was James O’Keefe, the brash young journalist who shot to fame when, posing as a pimp, he and an accomplice exposed various ACORN employees colluding in tax evasion, underage prostitution, drug dealing, and other torts. It was a delicious moment, at least I thought so, but there is no caviling with the fact that James O’Keefe is not popular with establishment politicians. Left or Right, it doesn’t matter: in a corrupt system, as ours has become, the establishment itself is the problem. And James O’Keefe has made a gigantic nuisance of himself by doing battle with the establishment. He is fearless. He is clever. He is relentless and indefatigable. Through the activities of his organization Project Veritas, he asks embarrassing questions. He finds things out.  He exposes wrongdoing and corruption to public scrutiny. He speaks truth to power. The wielders of that power hate him for it.

The back story: In 2010, O’Keefe and three accomplices were arrested in Senator Mary Landrieu’s office for entering the building under false pretenses. They pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Jim Letten was initially involved in prosecuting O’Keefe and his accomplices but recused himself when it was revealed that the father of one of the men involved was a federal prosecutor whom Letten knew.

Here’s what happened at Tulane.  O’Keefe went to Jim Letten’s house with his film crew. He rang the doorbell. Letten’s wife answered and O’Keefe politely asked if her husband was at home. She said no. He asked, again politely, if he could leave a copy of his book Breakthrough: Our Guerilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy, which describes the Landrieu case.  She said no and closed the door. End of encounter.

This was what Jim Letten described as “terrorizing” his wife.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
It is always disappointing see writers I admire like Kimball make gross errors of judgement. The off-handed dismissal of Tolkien falls into this category. There is nothing cloying or saccharine about Tolkien. LoR is a about the complex struggle between good and evil and seduction of power. The ring represents pure power and it especially seduces those who wish do correct the wrongs of world and as such was highly prescient about modern liberalism. Tolkien was an expert linguist and even helped translate the Bible. His prose resonates on a very deep level due his understanding of the deep structure and history of the English language. Kimball's work has helped me better appreciate that contemporary art is more than vomit on canvas but does have some aesthetic value and potential. Maybe his modernism blinds him to Tolkien's prose or perhaps he has read the weak imitators or the modernist critics instead of the actual books.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hobbits are small middle class people who usually mind their own business. They are also good and decent. It was these qualities and their steadiness, that allowed them to defeat the great dark powers of the Middle Earth. Remember Saruman who was once one of the good wizards but sold out and became a corrupt servant of darkness? He reminds me of Letten and John McCain. No wonder they use "Hobbit" as a term of abuse.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obviously, you've never read The Lord of the Rings, Kimball, and neither has Letten.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (45)
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46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Com'on LOTR defenders. Stay OT. Why would you care what Kimball or anyone else thinks about your treasured little tomes? You're behaving like The Thought Police - everyone has to love what you love or they are contemptible. Save the rage for something that matters. As near as I can tell, that saccharine cloying drivel is NEVER going OP so you're safe - no one is going to take your lolly away from you.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
I guess that means the Tulane U. speech code will be revised to allow abuse of political ops. O'Keefe knew what was coming. He's no innocent. It's hard to get riled up about how guerilla journalists are abused when that's exactly what they seek. They have a legitimate point that the journalists their confronting are not objective, but rather serve their Lib/Prog masters.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'd say the Veritas team might want to cross target's homes and families off the list. It looks bad and even watching the tape, it looks bad. We're trying, in KS, to raise hell about a busload of union thugs tresspassing on Chris Kobach's(?) home property. This cuts the ground out from under us.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
To say that LOTR is juvenile trash is to admit being blind to beauty, truth and goodness.

Dark Cutter has spoken.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Please, I know it's both sarcastic and ironic but don't ever write "He speaks truth to power" again. I vomit a little my mouth every time I read it.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Way too much information Stan.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is there a surprise or deep mystery here?
Tulane lists on its faculty MSNBC's resident "feminist" & race-hustler Melissa Harris-Perry, who raises the art of demagoguery to a new level.
Case closed.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
The second wave of feminism took a wrong turn when it lauded female genitals as the non plus ultra of female solidarity. I wrote about that here: http://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” C.S. Lewis

I'll just leave this here for Mr. Kimball's edification.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
" I am pretty much at one with the critic Edmund Wilson. “

Well, Wilson was a Communist (“To the Finland Station!”) who no doubt hated humanism, Roman Catholicism, and moral fiction, but who, like all Communists, couldn’t simply say: this book is opposed to all that I find valuable in Communism: the mass murder, the hatred, the power worship, and so disguised his review with contemptuous dismissal of all that opposed him and his works.. With any luck, he burns in hell a couple of levels higher than Stalin.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Did Everyone of you posters decide in tandem to ignore the substance of this article? It's not about Tolkein or about your alma maters. It is about abuse of power and a young man who is doing the job that professional journos have refused to do since the sycophantic press crawled into bed with this president. Agree or disagree with him, but when O'Keefe ticks off both sides of the aisle, I want to listen to what he has to say. and FYI spud is a derogatory term about Irish people..and the young man's name is O'Keefe. And yes it is almost as old as calling him a hobbit. This man is an idiot, Tulane administrators are idiots for hiring him and his use of their security force needs to be looked at by the university.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
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