Opinion


I’m not one for celebrity autobiographies. They have a tendency to be to self-gratifying and in most cases boring. Most that are published (e.g., any Osmond sibling’s tell-all, or any book with the subtitle “In Their Own Words”) are usually written by some poor ghostwriter who would rather write anything but some stupid book about some stupid person’s stupid past. I pass by the hardcovers in the bookstore, hating that some moronic, drug-addled, washed-out child star can get a book in stores and my book sits on a shelf collecting dust. (Actually, it’s sitting on my computer’s hard drive, but thinking of it on the shelf sounds more romantic.)

Why We Suck, by Dennis Leary

I always receive books for Christmas, and this year one of them happened to be a celebrity autobiography: Why We Suck by Denis Leary. It’s not in the vein of a just-out-of-rehab story, or the ever favorite, sorry-I-cheated-on-my-wife/embezzled money-still-vote-for-me-in-the-next-election book. Why We Suck is a detailed account of…well, why we as a people suck so bad. These affirmations, mixed with the childhood stories of Denis Leary growing up in a working-class, Irish-American family in Massachusetts, will make many people reexamine their technology-riddled existence, raise their kids differently, treat their wife/husband better, stop worshipping shallow celebutards who do nothing to further humanity, and realize that “of course everyone else in the world hates us.”

Just as a quick example: I feel like an idiot sitting here blogging. I could be doing anything right now—learning to cook better, finally learning Spanish, helping old ladies across the street, petting a dog, kissing a baby. I could be reading a book for Christ’s sake! I mean, that’s what we do, right? You, the one reading this right now. Stop it! Shut off your damn computer and read a book!

So, if you’re still with me—and I wouldn’t blame you if you’re not—just know that we’re all pretty stupid and this doesn’t exclude you, and it sure as hell doesn’t exclude me.

Denis Leary has proven himself as a premiere actor/writer, and Why We Suck is his opus. I think the book should be required reading for every new American about to take the oath of citizenship. Most important, if you are tired of sucking so bad, read this book. It might not rid you of your suckitude, but it will definitely help you live with it.

I recently received a gift from a friend in the form of an e-book. 

E-books are electronic versions of print books displayed either on a computer or an e-book device, which is about the size of a normal paperback book but more closely resembles a giant palm pilot complete with giant stylus used for scrolling through the pages.

In the beginning, e-books were generally used for technical and mechanical training manuals, but in the last few years they have intruded into the literary arena.

Of course there are advantages to an e-book. For example, you can store thousands of books on the same device, you don’t need a reading light because the screen is back lit, and you don’t have to hold open a book and turn its pages, which, depending on where you’re reading (e.g., bed, airplane, bus, solitary confinement), can be a big plus. And, of course, the biggest advantage to the e-book is it doesn’t waste paper, which saves trees. 

But isn’t it somewhat comforting owning your favorite books and packing your shelves full of them? And imagine (God forbid) that e-books become the norm and you never have the opportunity to buy a book ever again, or peruse a bookstore for hours on end?

Now here’s the kicker. Last summer, e-books started coming in text-message format for certain youth-lit publications. Some genius figured it would be easier for kids to read only 10 or so words at a time, and these e-books are even equipped with text language! Imagine Holden Caulfield LOLing all over Manhattan, or Sal Paradise telling Dean Moriarty that he’ll BRB. AHHHHHHH!!! It makes me want to smack a kid.

I, for one, love being able to open a book and turn its pages. And when I’m not busy with life, I’m usually in a bookstore—and I’m not talking about some dumb Internet store.

E-books are incredibly new, and the technology will need more time on the market to prove its worth, if it even has any. Will e-books replace traditional books, or will they go the way of the pet rock and the eight-track player?

ebook

I read in The New York Times yesterday that Joe the Plumber has penned a book.  The news was in an op-ed piece written by Timothy Egan, in which he takes publishers to task on allocating what little money they have to giving voice to people who perhaps don’t deserve it.

Egan also writes of a possible book deal for Sarah Palin, projected to be worth $7 million—a lot of money for a would-be author who we have all seen possesses a tenuous relationship with the English language. And as these books come to our shelves, what great works of literature remain dormant in the desks of real writers?

Between Egan’s op-ed and Adrián’s post here last week, I’ve been sitting at my laptop today feeling pretty depressed. But the pieces also got me thinking about the validity of publishing one book over another, and the ways that we document the world around us. Would a book about the phenomenon of Joe the Plumber written, perhaps, by George Packer be more valid? Or were Joe’s 15 minutes of fame a mere anecdote in American history and worthy of only a few paragraphs in some political science book about elections? And in giving Mr. Plumber a public voice, are publishers defining history and validating that Joe is more than a simple anecdote?

Can we qualify the ways in which our world gets written about? I personally do not keep a journal. I have dozens of notebooks lying around my apartment, all filled with ideas, observations, and sentence fragments, but I don’t record my daily existence. However, I think about journaling all the time, and question the fact that I don’t.  And the fact that I don’t has something to do with my belief that I don’t find the day-to-day worthy of recording.

Now, I understand I am revealing my own ambiguous relationship with my ego, but what makes something worthy of being written about publicly versus privately? Should different measures of value exist when publishing and money are involved? I’d love to hear how others wrestle with these issues, and if you have a second read Egan’s piece; it’s not often I find something so equally disheartening and engaging. 

pile-of-books1“Books have particular qualities that are lost in translation into code. A book isn’t just its text, it’s also a material object with a particular history, written in stains and stamps and underlining.…The body of the book is part of what it says.”

—Shelley Jackson, from her interview in the first issue of 12th Street

 

I’ve been getting hand cramps from reading. Sometimes I read sitting at a table, sometimes in a comfortable chair, other times I read lying down in bed, waiting for sleep to overtake me. No matter the position, the cramps in my hands continue. A part of my struggle can be blamed on the book that I am reading. 2666, by Roberto Bolaño, is an immense book, at 898 pages. It weighs three pounds, which is not a weight I would normally struggle with, but when holding the pages open in my lap or above my head, those three pounds begin to feel more like 30, and after a few hours of reading, 300. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The pain in holding a book open is a part of the delight of reading—the weight, the feeling of the gentle pages, the smell of fresh ink, watching as, with time, the pages move from one side to the other as you drift your way through the story. The physical act of reading, of holding a book, is just as much a part of the act as the words on the page.

Can electronic media replace the pages of a book? As a reader, in the romantic sense of the word, I do not believe that there will ever be a time without books. There will always be shelves in my house for books to sit on display, waiting to be lifted and held. As Jorge Luis Borges said, “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.” In fact, I have an odd habit of collecting books in bed with me, falling asleep with five or six books hidden under the sheets, held close, hoping their characters will invade my dreams.

I must admit that in recent months I have taken to reading magazines and newspapers online more often than the actual paper copy. The ease with which the Internet allows one to find information is hard to argue against. In my own writing, I find search engines are an invaluable tool for research. How did I ever write without Google?

I don’t know what the answer is, and, frighteningly, neither does the publishing industry. On November 25, The New York Times reported that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has suspended acquisitions of new manuscripts.  This is scary news for any writer, but the reality is that publishing has become too expensive and every part of the industry is reeling. Is electronic media the answer? The cost of posting a piece on line is far less than printing one on the page. But lower costs also mean lower profits, and posting all books online could mean the end of the middle-class author.

I have more worries than I have answers. The best advice I have for any writer is to buy more books. Support the industry you want to be a part of. Call it writer’s karma. If you want your book to someday be sold, buy a book today. Buy as many new books as you can afford. Carry them around with you, feel the weight of the book as it pulls on your shoulders from the inside of your bag. Enjoy that feeling while you can, because soon the only weight that you may be carrying is your computer. 

 

Interesting post a couple of days ago at the Ploughshares blog about benefactors. I have mixed feelings about the idea of patronage, especially the support of a single artist by a single wealthy benefactor. Sure, I ask my own blog readers if anyone would like to buy me a mansion, but I’m kidding, and an important facet of my long-term goals for myself as a writer is financial sustainability. There’s no money to be made in poetry. You’ll never have your “big break” as a poet. And I don’t think anyone would argue with me on this point. So why do some poets complain about the days of yore, the days when writers had patrons, when they could compose sonnets all day without having to worry about the cost of bread? Sure, the world needs art. But if the non-artists of the world are forced to find employment in order to support themselves and their habits and families, shouldn’t artists be held to the same standard? Are we so special that someone should just give us money to do what we love? Or are we responsible for finding our own ways to support our passions?

Obama 2008I cannot tell a lie: I was not always a supporter of Barack Obama, our new president elect. Early on in what has proven to be one of the longest presidential campaigns in American history, I didn’t think a candidate could run on a platform of hope. I argued that “hope” contained little content; it was simply a word attempting to capture a feeling.

Well, as I watched our nation elect Barack Obama last night, I was awed by the efficacy of his words. I would be remiss to not mention that as his campaign wore on, Obama added content to round out his platforms of “change” and “hope.” He put forward ideas that are substantive and responsive to the crises of the American people.

Obama has a remarkable ability to use words to encapsulate a swell of emotion. Just think of his inspirational rallying call, “Yes We Can.” Is the populace hungry for words, or are they hungry for passion? And can those two desires run concurrently and successfully?

Other words were tossed around during this campaign: elite, terrorist, socialist, Marxist, communist. Watching Barack Obama become our president elect gives me hope that the populace actually listened to what was being said. Our nation takes its citizenship and civic duty seriously, and that, to me, seems like change. 

Within the Riggio: Writing and Democracy Program, we are confronted with varying interpretations of the word democracy, and it is often said that writing in itself is a political act. It has been said that today, half of the country will wake up disappointed. But I would argue that as Americans, we can find common ground in the execution of choice that took place yesterday. The American people listened, processed, and exercised their freedom, and that is an edifying end to this election. It’s a success for everyone, and even those who today find themselves disappointed, can attempt to find hope in that.

women_vote_ny_19172
We are children of our era;
our era is political.

Wislawa Szymborska

Four years ago, I was old enough to vote in my first presidential election. I was living with my parents. I had to brave the terrors of going back to my old high school to cast my ballot. I wore my “I VOTED” sticker all day and into the night, waiting for the results that would validate my efforts and prove that I had made a difference. And then I was crushed. (more…)

Some of you may know that my title comes from the 1976 film Network. The movie exposes the media’s failure to report how Americans really feel during times of war and upheaval and what they did about it: They got honest. In that spirit, this piece is about honesty.

Like Campbell Brown, I too have had it. I have had it with people like Elizabeth Hasselbeck telling me that questioning Sarah Palin is “deliberately sexist.” Recently, at a Republican rally in Tampa, Florida, Hasselbeck said, “The questioning of Governor Palin’s shopping spree was deliberately sexist.” I disagree.

In fact, I challenge Hasselbeck. When a presidential candidate is running on a ticket advocating reform of government spending, yet approves $150,000 to clothe and paint his VP nominee, how can we trust him? What does reporting a $150k shopping spree have to do with sexism, anyway? Wasn’t Senator John Edwards called out for spending $400 on haircuts? Was that sexist?

Why is it every time a pundit or reporter questions Sarah Palin’s designer clothes or anything, it’s suddenly sexist? Even Elaine Lafferty, the former editor in chief of Ms. magazine, and a faithful Democrat (she claims)—who’s now consulting for the McCain campaign—blogged on Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast that she is tired of the Democratic Party taking women for granted. I suppose Lafferty hasn’t met the thousands of Democrats that I know who support, appreciate and approve of a woman as a leader, but not just any woman. Rather, an intelligent woman.

So I question Palin’s intelligence. If she claims to be in touch with the international community, even if only through reading newspapers and magazines, then why does she foolishly say “I can see Russia from my house” when asked about international affairs? Can one honestly say that’s an intelligent answer? If so, then what is intelligent? I don’t know.

No matter how intelligent Palin may or may not be—and let’s have a healthy debate here at 12th Street on intelligence—I am skeptical of her ability, and as mad as hell about it.

My post last week, “Plumbing the Issues,” has raised what I think is a very welcome discussion because it is an important one.

Two readers commented. The first discussed my remarks about people who I refer to as uninformed voters: those from low-income, white, rural areas who vote for conservative moral issues over political issues. I myself am from a rural area (central Kansas) and know people who fit into this uninformed category. I do not believe that voting for moral issues alone will do anything to help this country. One sentence from his comment read, “It might be more important to ‘safeguard the morals of the country’ by prohibiting gay marriage than to have health care that will pay for orthodontics.” Though it is the reader’s right to vote this way, I think it’s unbelievable that people would rather prohibit someone else from having rights rather than cast a vote that could help themselves and their families live better lives.

Furthermore, you cannot weigh these issues—gay marriage and health care—against each other, which is exactly my point. In a time when economics, health care, the educational system, and foreign affairs have reached a low point, people are voting for a person, in this case John McCain, just because he is against gay rights. If they listened more closely to McCain, they’d find out he is going to raise their taxes and endanger their jobs instead of helping their children to get better medical care, funding public education, and giving Americans some much-needed tax relief. Incidentally, the uninformed population does not include every single person that lives in a low-income, predominately white rural area; being uninformed just happens to be a growing statistic in these parts of the country.

Secondly, the comments about Joe the Plumber need clarification. According to a scan of the greater Toledo area phone book, no plumbing company exists in Holland, Ohio, that employs a Samuel (“Joe the Plumber”) Wurzelbacher as a plumber or is currently for sale for $250,000–$280,000. I did, however, call a Kansas friend who is indeed a plumber. He said if that’s how much the Ohio company is worth, then “it’s probably just one master plumber and an apprentice, and that’s still a pretty good take for whoever the master is.” According to Associated Press writer John Seewer, good ol’ Joe isn’t even a licensed plumber—and, in fact, he owes back taxes—so I doubt he’ll even be able to buy a plumbing company, no matter who gets elected. Of course, if Wurzelbacher stands to collect fees for all the talk shows he’s getting ready to appear on, he might be able to buy every plumbing company in the Toledo area. If that was his plan all along, he is a genius. There’s nothing like manipulating the media to get what you want.

Lastly, I need to retract the statement I said about the editors of our journal being intellectuals. The term doesn’t mean the same thing for all of us and I did not mean to wrongfully label anyone. I do not speak for all of us and I shouldn’t have last week. I am sorry.

Healthy discussion of the issues is a right not everyone in this world has. That we are able to post our views on the Internet and have them read by any number of people is indeed a privilege. Not all of my articles will be geared toward political issues; we just happen to be approaching a monumental election now that demands that people discuss these very important topics. I invite the discussion, and I’m hopeful everyone around the country will sit down with their kids, their parents or their co-workers and talk about what needs to happen. Be smart on November 4.

 

Friday, October 17, 2008

After my doctor’s appointment, I got on the train. (I had a biopsy done on my neck and now I must wait three days for the results.) I don’t want to get the call…find out I’ll have to get cut open.

Being open and exposed is a very difficult thing to handle.

“I can’t understand people who don’t help people. There is a moment when indifference turns into sheer psychosis,” says the woman, begging for change on the 6 train.

No one gave her anything.
I didn’t give her anything?
What did I not want to see?

I get off in Union Square.
The open market.
Bright sunflowers. Salvia in deep shades of velvet purple.
Organic tomatoes. Pumpkins and spotted gourds, like mini Pollock paintings.
The sun is soft, but still it’s a little cold. The weather is changing.

I think of my Brooklyn apartment. The Super has to control the monstrous heater in the basement. The heater that pumps out the heat, equally to all of us.

In Los Angeles I didn’t have to depend on someone else to turn on the heat.

No one wants to feel vulnerable.

I stop at a cider stand.
I wait. The line is long. Everyone wants a swallow of Fall.
A feeling of gold and red leaves. Apples and pumpkins in their bellies.
Do I want apple or pear?
I decide on apple.

Why didn’t I give the woman some money?
I don’t have a lot of money.
But I had something to give. Something to show I wasn’t sleeping.
A granola bar in my purse, at least.

A lady in a black lace dress plays the harp. Her arms are bare, exposed to the fragments of sunlight. The music is yellow and round. It captures and demands our attention.

People sip their cider while listening to the harp. I fish for a dollar in my purse, drop it in her velvet box. “Thank you,” she says.

I put my fingers on my neck,
feel the place where the needle went in.

No one wants to feel vulnerable.

The woman spit out her list:
Husband lost his job three months ago.
A horrible death in the family.
Dangerous nights in a shelter.

When was the last time she had cider?

What is reality?
What is Psychosis?

Obama and McCain debate macro issues,
while mothers with strollers lull their children, with the music of the harp.

No one wants to feel vulnerable.
Indifference leads to the denial of one’s own vulnerability.

I keep walking.
I see a Chasidic Jew with the lulav and etrog.
Four plant species you bundle together and shake in five directions for the holiday, Sukkot. A piece of palm. A piece of willow. A piece of myrtle. The etrog like an oblong lemon. They shake it to remind themselves that God is everywhere.

I walk up to the man.
I need to remember that life is everywhere.
I repeat the prayers. Hold the lulav and etrog.

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

I like that I’m not afraid of doing this.
That I am not embarrassed in a crowd of difference.

As I continue walking, a man dressed in white hands me a Bhagavad-Gita. I smile and say, “Thank you.”

Back on the Subway, I let the orange seats fly by, close my eyes and breathe.

What If I had needed the biopsy when I first moved to New York?
When I had no health insurance.
What if the woman on the 6 train needs a biopsy?
Was the deceased family member that she spoke of insured?

Neglect increases vulnerability.
Indifference is the denial of one’s own vulnerability.

“The number of uninsured Americans reached 47 million in 2006, and it continues to rise. For many of the uninsured, the lack of health insurance has dire consequences. The uninsured face medical debt, often go without necessary care, and even die prematurely.” (Reports from Families USA, March – April 2008)

When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.
When people are absent they are not there.

Being open and exposed is a very difficult thing to handle.

My interview for this week fell through so I thought I would just touch on a few issues that have recently been making my hairline recede even more than it already had before this election process started.

Joe vs. His Own Ambition

On the final presidential debate on Wednesday, “Joe the Plumber” (Joe Wurzelbacher) dominated a lot of the conversation, and he unwittingly became the new symbol for the working-class American. Joe is getting ready to buy a business that could make him $250,000 to $280,000 a year. He straddles the fence that divides Obama’s economic plan and McCain’s, and depending on how he does in the future Joe could end up being taxed more under an Obama administration. But the same can also be said for McCain’s tax plan, too.

So I figured it out, Joe. If you plan on doing insanely well, and I mean becoming the next Roto-Rooter, then go ahead and vote for McCain, because you’ll get a sweet tax cut, and there’s nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. I believe you can plumb the hell out of America. But keep in mind that your hometown of Holland, Ohio, has a population of 1,306 and a median household income of $45,000, so when and if you do make over $250,000 this next coming fiscal year, remember that your neighbors might not be as fortunate and that “spreading the wealth” helps more than it hurts. Not spreading the wealth is what’s currently killing our economic livelihood. You’re actually fortunate if you stand to make that much money in the coming year. I’ve never even heard of a plumber making that much, so good for you, pal. And let’s say Barack Obama becomes president and Wurzelbacher Plumbing, or whatever you might call it, does well. Paying higher taxes isn’t going to put you in the poorhouse, buddy.

The Uninformed

The last two presidential elections have given rise to a new type of American voter. The Uninformed: People who vote against their economic self-interest and vote for moral and religious reasons rather than political issues. It’s been going on for years, but in this election a major issue with The Uninformed is, of course, race. In a recent article in The New Yorker, a retired state employee from eastern Kentucky was quoted as saying, “I really don’t want an African-American as president. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion.” And you are entitled to it, but disregarding your economic status and voting for someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind is just plain ignorant. It seems people in low-income, white, working-class sections of the rust belt would rather vote for Republicans, who according to the Tax Policy Center will make favorable tax cuts for people who make $112,000 and up. With how things stand currently, it doesn’t matter if they vote for John McCain because Barack Obama has a solid lead in the national polls, and hopefully they will see that his tax plan will actually help them. So to The Uninformed I say shake out a newspaper, crack a book, get on the damn Internet for Christ’s sake and inform yourselves. Consider it your MORAL obligation to SERVE YOUR COUNTRY by finding out whose ideas will benefit you and your family.

Intellectuals and The Elite

It seems in the last year or so, a term used to describe the kind of people who write for 12thstreetonline (and for the print version of 12th Street) has been turned into a bad word. Being an intellectual in today’s world has become somewhat of an epidemic that apparently is hurting America. It’s as if people who denounce intellectualism want to live a life of destitution in which they wander around stupid and drooling all day long. I think people would want someone running the country that is smarter then they are. Intellectualism is part of the American tradition. That’s why we have the best higher education institutions in the world. And the same could be said about elitism. The presidency is an elite office that used to take an elite person to hold it. John McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy—an extremely elite and highly competitive institution. According to U.S. News and World Report‘s America’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges list, it currently ranks 22nd in the nation out of four tiers consisting of 100 schools in each tier. John McCain is elite. Barack Obama went to Columbia and Harvard, ranked #9 and #1, respectively. He, too, is elite. Hell, even Sarah Palin is elitist: She’s a governor, a very elite position. People who are running for the highest offices in the land are elite. They’re not always intellectuals, but they are elite.

“I’m not a Washington insider.” —Every Politician Who Ran for President in the Last 20 Years

Both candidates claim they are Washington outsiders who will reform the corruption inside the Beltway. Both are also United States senators who, in order to do their jobs, have to be Washington insiders. So in this instance they are both wrong. The only person in this whole political rigamarole who isn’t a Washington insider is Sarah Palin, and she is considered an extreme outsider, having no experience in Washington—or really anywhere else, for that matter.

I’m not an expert by any means, so please feel free to disregard everything I have said. It’s your right as an American to tell me shove it, but I feel its our duty within the democratic process to inform ourselves on the issues. Be smart on November 4.

What Would Palin Think?

What Would Palin Think?

Last week 12th Street was considering its public stance.

We did an interview with an author who is no stranger to controversy. John Reed, author of Snowball’s Chance and organizer of next year’s 9/11 Toga Party, was delighting us with snippets of his upcoming book, Tales of Woe.

We’ve got to wait until 2009 for MTV Books to release that one, but if you like tales of “suffering, suffering, suffering,” of the kind normally reserved for your worst imaginings, then this will be the book for you. A man who had sex with his bicycle is caught (on the saddle?) by the hotel’s maids, then convicted and put on the sex-offenders list. This is “one of the few light stories” in the book, Reed said.

What he told us next, however, demanded a little more debate.

I asked John if we were ready for Woe. This was his answer:

Tales of Woe, MTV 2009

Tales of Woe, MTV 2009

“Uh, I thought I was prepared, and I certainly wasn’t. The stories in this book are sicker and more upsetting than anything anyone can possibly imagine. And, by the way, anything you can imagine, any horrible thing you can imagine happening to a person—it’s happened. Some people are not going to be happy about it. There’s a double dog rapist (a guy who raped two dogs) that scares me. There’s no law against raping dogs in Alaska, which is of course yet another reason to get behind Palin. We should decriminalize dog rape nationwide. And then, who knows … the world.”

At first glance, you might think this is funny. A natural thought after reading this might be, “I wonder whether they make the dogs pay for the rape kits in Alaska.” Several people I spoke to about this paragraph actually asked that question immediately, including one of the editors here. This is good, risky satire [note: this link isn’t PG], the type of controversy that—coming from England, where our tabloids are ruthless—I’m very fond of. (See here, here, and here. And here).

But give it a second read, and ask yourself: is he referring to the pitbull/lipstick comment? Is he saying it would be alright to rape Palin?

No. Or at least not intentionally. But that’s what it could be taken to mean. And if someone out there might read a pro-rape-of-Palin sentiment in this paragraph, is that something we want to risk?

Well, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is fairly clear on this issue. If you go through their Bloggers’ FAQ to their post on Online Defamation Law, it’s spelled out pretty clearly; libel is a “false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to someone’s reputation, and published ‘with fault,’ meaning as a result of negligence or malice.”

Further down the post is the following:

“Libelous (when false):

  • Charging someone with being a communist (in 1959)
  • Calling an attorney a ‘crook’
  • Describing a woman as a call girl
  • Accusing a minister of unethical conduct
  • Accusing a father of violating the confidence of son

Not-libelous:

  • Calling a political foe a ‘thief’ and ‘liar’ in chance encounter (because hyperbole in context)
  • Calling a TV show participant a ‘local loser,’ ‘chicken butt’ and ‘big skank’
  • Calling someone a ‘bitch’ or a ‘son of a bitch’
  • Changing product code name from “Carl Sagan” to ‘Butt Head Astronomer'”

I like the EFF. Anyway, this is clearly not libel. However, should it be shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, that John was sanctioning rape of Alaska’s governor (which, I might repeat, he certainly was not—although I wouldn’t say he’d be too afraid of a comment like that), perhaps that would attract attention that we would otherwise avoid. We all know what that’s like. What would Palin think of this post? I bet she’d understand the power of words used creatively.

Anyway, I welcome your comments on this matter. And you can read the rest of the interview here. In the W&D Program, learning how to give a close analysis of a text is the cornerstone of our classes. They’re training us to be aware of this stuff, and to understand its impact. I think this harks back to the controversy over Nirvana’s song, Rape Me. Kurt was attacked by some feminists for its lyrics, and accused of taking a jab at the media for abusing his celebrity status, but he said it meant “You can hurt me, but I’ll survive,” and was, in fact, an “anti-rape” song.

In the end, after a long debate, we didn’t run the Alaska stuff, but I ask you: Did we make the right decision? I’m undecided. Convince me.

If you comment, please keep it decent. Thanks.

Perhaps you saw the clip of the angry old man addressing John McCain at a Republican rally in Wisconsin this week. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ykBr3SO6sg) “I’m mad!” he growled into the microphone, posturing with one hand firmly on his hip. “I’m really mad! And…it’s not about the economy—it’s the socialists taking over our country!” The crowd stood up and roared, but he said, “Sit down, I’m not done.” McCain started to answer him, but the old man continued, “Let me finish, please.” He was not going to stop until he made his point: “When you have an Obama, Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there, gonna run this country, we gotta have our heads examined!”

It wasn’t exactly a warm invitation to political dialogue.

The old man’s grandstanding reminded me of a woman I met at a cocktail party shortly after the vice-presidential debate. No more than 10 seconds after I sat next to her on a couch, she threw up her hands and howled: “I can’t believe McCain picked that idiot as a running mate! It’s just so damn scary. If the Republicans win, it’s over. Ov—er.” Then she glared at me. “You’re not a Republican are you?” I shook my head. “Good,” she said. I didn’t take the time to explain that while I’m currently registered Republican, I change my party affiliation each primary season to give myself the widest possible choice of candidates. But I don’t think she would have listened.

In fact, these days I find most of us don’t want to listen when it comes to politics—or much else. The idea of having a healthy discussion in which we weigh different points of view seems as idealistic as a politician telling the unvarnished truth. Instead, we come to the table with predetermined opinions or shadowy motives. We load our speech with subtle barbs, irony, or faux cynicism to pre-empt the adversary. It’s as if entertaining an opposing viewpoint is to give away what little power we have, so we spout off to show our strength and chutzpah. And, of course, the other person doesn’t give a damn; she’s either doing the same thing or has shut down completely, thinking about the tennis match or what she has to buy at the supermarket later that day.

Yet in spite of our posturing, most of us want to be heard. We’re aching for acknowledgment, for acceptance. And the fear that we’re not going to get it drives us to act out at political rallies, shouting, “I’m mad!” But until we can let down our defenses and unstop our ears, we’ll never work out our problems. This isn’t a philosophical issue; it’s why families are broken—and Washington, too. Eight years of “you’re either with us or against us” has polarized the nation. We seem to be on the precipice of…who knows what? There’s a shrillness to this election cycle not heard since the late ’60s; everyone’s shouting and no one’s listening, which is one of the hardest things to do because it means we have to get over ourselves. Of course we’re going to disagree, but it’s one thing to do it with respect and another to strong-arm our way toward victory, which is often no victory at all.

James Madison recognized the danger of not listening in times of crisis back in 1788, when the original 13 states were debating whether to ratify the Constitution. In Federalist No. 37, he wrote:

“It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good; and that this spirit is more apt to be diminished than promoted, by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it.…The truth is, that these papers…solicit the attention of those only, who add to a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country, a temper favorable to a just estimate of the means of promoting it. Persons of this character will proceed to an examination of the plan submitted by the convention, not only without a disposition to find or to magnify faults; but will see the propriety of reflecting, that a faultless plan was not to be expected. Nor will they barely make allowances for the errors which may be chargeable on the fallibility to which the convention, as a body of men, were liable; but will keep in mind, that they themselves also are but men, and ought not to assume an infallibility in rejudging the fallible opinions of others.”

The legacy of these people who had “a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country” is our Constitution—imperfect, amended, often vague, but the foundation of our freedoms. What will our legacy be? Self righteousness, bickering, and finger-pointing, or cooperation in fixing the mess in which we now find ourselves? We have critical issues to solve: health care, the war in Iraq, our response to terrorism, the credit crisis, global warming. Surely one party doesn’t hold all the answers to these issues. Whether McCain or Obama wins in November—or, dare I say, Ralph Nader or Ron Paul?—we’re still all in it together. Shouldn’t we stop yelling and start listening to each other? Maybe, just maybe, the person who we never thought we’d agree with has an insight or two.

A song and video close reading of the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s comments to the press. (Performance by Matthew Brookshire. Song by M. Brookshire and L. Jaramillo)