"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Redneck Redneck Redneck Redneck

During this US election cycle we are hearing a lot from the pundits and candidates about "heartland voters," and "white working class voters."

What they are talking about are rednecks. But in their political correctness, media types cannot bring themselves to utter the word "redneck." So I'll say it for them: redneck-redneck-redneck-redneck.

We come in one size: extra large. We are sometimes insolent and often quick to fight. We love competitive spectacle such as NASCAR and paintball, and believe gun ownership is the eleventh commandment.

We fry things nobody ever considered friable - things like cupcakes, banana sandwiches and batter dipped artificial cheese…even pickles.

Joe Bageant, at the BBC website. Joe is the author of Deerhunting with Jesus, a look at the white working class' politics and Scots-Irish values.

Although, I vote for "fryable" as a spelling for things that can be fried.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another God That Failed

As markets tumble and prices soar, and especially as the wages of ordinary workers lag inflation, the free-market dogmas that have governed the country over the last generation are increasingly under fire. If markets are so good, how come we’re paying almost $4 for gas? If private enterprise does the work of the angels, what happened to all the good jobs?

NY Times review of The Predator State, by James K. Galbraith.

...Galbraith argues that the Reagan revolution and all that followed was essentially a fraud. What remains of it? Nothing. Who still believes in it? Outside academia: no one.

Galbraith says Reaganism was founded on three policies: deregulation, monetarism and low taxes. He declares that the first was an artifice so that lobbyists could extract “more money from those who can afford to pay — and sometimes from those who cannot.”

Monetarism (the tactic used, successfully, by the Federal Reserve in the 1980s to nip inflation) he depicts as a tool to kill off labor unions and elevate the power of Wall Street. And low taxes failed to achieve their supposed purpose — encouraging saving. They were merely a sop to the wealthy.

I'm happy to see a book like this get reviewed in the NY Times. Even if it's saying what many people knew all along, that Reagan economics, and certainly the policies of the Bush administrations, favor the rich and ignore the long-term effects on the working people who provide the economy's foundation. Rhetoric still influences many people. Reagan's did -- his senile optimism and pure fantasy view of the economy is still "trickling" down, along with standards of living, although I think it would be simplistic to say that that is all there is to it. The world is a different, more crowded place now, but the false optimism and willful selfishness of our leaders in those years kept us from being prepared as a country for the problems we have now. And it's not over yet. I live in the expensive Northeast. I'm wondering just how many of my neighbors can afford their fuel bills this winter, or if I can.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Burger That Wouldn't Die

One of these McDonald's burgers is twelve years old. Can you tell which one? Me neither.

Thanks to Boing Boing and Karen Hanrahan.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stealing Is Not Nice

On my way home today, I stopped at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY. There was a sign in the poetry shelf, "Stealing is Not Nice." Why there of all places? Do people steal poetry?

Oh, to live in such a world.

Where poetry is stolen, rather than ignored. Oblong has two entire poetry bookcases.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Cannot Even Properly Speak For Myself

Why do editors say no, anyway? Well, I cannot, of course, speak for All Editors, and I cannot even properly speak for myself, because I reject some pieces from a murky inarticulate intuitive conviction that they’re just not our speed, but there are some general truths to note. We say no because we don’t print that sort of material. We say no because the topic is too far afield. We say no because we have printed eleven pieces of just that sort in the past year alone. We say no because the writing is poor, muddled, shallow, shrill, incoherent, solipsistic, or insane. We say no because we have once before dealt with the writer and still shiver to remember the agony which we swore to high heaven on stacks of squirrel skulls never to experience again come hell or high water. We say no sometimes because we have said yes too much and there are more than twenty pieces in the hopper and none of them will see the light of day for months and the last of the ones waiting may be in the hopper for more than two years, which will lead to wailing and the gnashing of teeth. We say no because if we published it we would be sued by half our advertisers. We say no because we know full well that this is one of the publisher’s two howling bugabears, the other one being restoring American currency to the silver standard. We say no because we are grumpy and have not slept properly and are having dense and complex bladder problems. We say no because our daughters came home yesterday with Mohawk haircuts and boyfriends named Slash. We say no because Britney Spears has sold more records worldwide than Bruce Springsteen. We say no for more reasons than we know.

Why Editors Say No, at the Kenyon Review.
Thanks to Book Ninja.

Let us not forget this shining example.

“We have read your manuscript with boundless delight, and if we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And, as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”

Our Gal

This from George Saunders in the New Yorker.

Explaining how she felt when John McCain offered her the Vice-Presidential spot, my Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin, said something very profound: “I answered him ‘Yes’ because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

Isn’t that so true? I know that many times, in my life, while living it, someone would come up and, because of I had good readiness, in terms of how I was wired, when they asked that—whatever they asked—I would just not blink, because, knowing that, if I did blink, or even wink, that is weakness, therefore you can’t, you just don’t. You could, but no—you aren’t.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The End of Books

In NY Magazine.
It was a good article. Kindles, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Salman Rushdie and the biggest flops of recent years.

I think I'm not going to get a Kindle or e-reader or any of those, on principle.

I think all we need to turn things around is another Harry Potter-type book...did you see the article about the 21 best-selling books of all time? The Harry Potter books were all there.

I think it's going to suck for publishing when Oprah goes off the air, although I haven't always liked her picks.

And, can I just say, I don't care in the least what Michael Phelps eats, who he sleeps with or what he thinks, if at all, and see no reason for his $1.6 million advance. He's a swimmer, people, and he looks nice in a Speedo, and that's about that. Although eating 12,000 calories, none of which is a vegetable, is scary.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I Love Email II - featuring Sarah Palin

This in yesterday:

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....
* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."
* Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

* If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
* Name your kids Bristol, Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.
* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.
* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

* If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
* If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.

* If your wife is a Harvard graduate laywer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.
* If your husband is nicknamed "First Dude," with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

OK, much clearer now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace: Learning How to Think

“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about, quote, the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

“This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.”

At the Chicago Tribune. And here.

Here's the full text of the commencement address from which the quote above is taken.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Coolest Osmond

From the party that brought you 9/11, unexpected, undefended, clueless.

Sarah Vowell in the NY Times. "Despite his consistent party-line voting record, some independents and Democrats still think of Senator McCain as the most palatable, independent-minded Republican. But this is the sort of empty compliment a friend of mine once compared to being called 'the coolest Osmond.'"

Authors on 9/11 at the Guardian.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

He's Just Not That Into Writing

Kafka, that is, er, was. Review of new bio at Powell's.

The book: It is rare that writers of fiction sit behind their desks, actually writing, for more than a few hours a day. Had Kafka been able to use his time efficiently, the work schedule at the Institute would have left him with enough free time for writing. As he recognized, the truth was that he wasted time.

The review: The truth was that he wasted time! The writer's equivalent of the dater's revelation: He's just not that into you. "Having the Institute and the conditions at his parents' apartment to blame for the long fallow periods when he couldn't write gave Kafka cover: it enabled him to preserve some of his self-esteem."

It's a lighthearted review. The book is The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay by Louis Begley. The book also addresses Kafka's contradictions and neuroses, about writing, about women, about being Jewish.

How interesting that the man who wrote The Metamorphosis also wrote:

Life is merely terrible; I feel it as few others do. Often -- and in my inmost self perhaps all the time -- I doubt that I am a human being.

Isn't it natural to leave a place where one is so hated?... The heroism of staying is nonetheless merely the heroism of cockroaches which cannot be exterminated, even from the bathroom.

Or maybe the title of this post should have been The Cockroach and the Jewish Question. When I read The Metamorphosis in high school, as a shiksa, it didn't occur to me that the metaphor of turning into a bug had anything to do with Jewishness -- it was never even brought up that Kafka was a Jew living in an anti-Semitic culture. Obviously, he had a little self-image problem, but quite a lot of pimply, late adolescent males of my acquaintance had that, and could be expected to mine it for their literary ambitions, if any.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stop Futzing; Get Writing

"Published authors have a lot more on their plates than simply writing a book. A published author is charged with writing a book while often editing the previous book and thinking about the next book. When Book B is complete it’s immediately time to get down to publicizing Book A, editing Book A, and writing Book C, and for that reason the futzing has to stop, whether the author wants it to or not. Unpublished authors should really start thinking of working in much the same way."

Thanks to Editorial Ass for pointing me to Book Ends.

Of futzing, there is no end. This is one of my issues, how futzable writing projects are. The post at Book Ends points out that writing projects are consecutive, not all floating in a timeless, infinite, futzy sea.

Anyone want to comment with further futz formations, be my guest.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Giovanni's Room

I felt lucky to find yet another great book last month, this one, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. It's the story of a closeted American man's affair with and betrayal of an Italian bartender, Giovanni.

Here is an excerpt, from the scene where they meet in the gay bar, where David, the American, hangs out even though he believes he is not gay and has been contemptuous of the men there.

"And he took his round metal tray and moved out into the crowd. I watched him as he moved. And then I watched their faces, watching him. And then I was afraid. I knew that they were watching, had been watching both of us. They knew that they had witnessed a beginning and now they would not cease to watch until they saw the end. It had taken some time, but the tables had been turned; now I was in the zoo, and they were watching."

And later, though David admits to "the ferocious excitement which had burst in me like a storm,"

"I wished, nevertheless, standing there at the bar, that I had been able to find in myself the force to turn and walk out -- to have gone over to Montparnasse perhaps and picked up a girl. Any girl. I could not do it. I told myself all sorts of lies, standing there at the bar, but I could not move. And this was partly because I knew that it did not matter anymore; it did not even matter if I never spoke to Giovanni again; for they had become visible, as visible as the wafers on the shirt of the flaming princess, they stormed all over me, my awakening, my insistent possibilities."