Archive for January, 2010

During the State of the Union tonight, Obama said a most bizarre thing:

“You abide by the law, you should be protected by it.”

That statement sounded good at that moment, but it also immediately suggests a corollary to me… And if you don’t, you shouldn’t be? Am I wrong for feeling that under the surface? Is it crazy to feel this way? Is this just years and years of seeing abuse and torture being validated and the prison population explode? Is it just me? Is that the strangest thing to slip in to the most important speech of the year? Or is that just par for the course these days? Should I not think anything of it? Personally, I can’t help but help but feel it was  a Wonderlandish comment which a whole but-on-the-other-side-of-the-mirror-thing, a departure from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights… I could go on and on, but I won’t. I simply feel that there is a potential threat in that sort of sentence, an unnecessary one, with democracy-threatening implications before it.

I feel this whole thing, delivery included, came across as a high school speech, a wee bit cheesy and corny. I could have written this (without the policy shit) in tenth grade. And I would have wagged my finger far more at the Republicans. Some people find this successful and likable and just what we needed, but I disagree. It’s not seizing the narrative. At it’s very best, it’s pretty pandering, it’s high-minded superior righteousness (which I’m more than prone to myself).  The tough stuff is too little, too late in the game, and not enough to be memorable or change the way we see things. People may watch this and say ‘yes’, but tomorrow they go back to reality, and no new narrative has been forged. I think there is no bite to this bark, and we are in need of a forcefully justified bite on those whose wealth and comfort is based on the exploitation and misery of their fellow countrymen and fellow human beings, wherever they are. With corporate ghouls looming in all of our shadows, I think we need quite a bit more of real FDR-style rhetoric, and less happy-go-lucky (‘blithe’ as Chris Matthews has it) “I’m-bipartisan-why-aren’t-you?” pop-isms.

P.S. Rachel Maddow, I love you. Plus, you said ‘feistyness’. Woo!

P.P.S. Bob McDonnell: We are blessed with resources and we should use all of them. Excellent. Soylent Green, here we come! We got the resources in ourselves. Or, as Matt Yglesias said on his Twitter (I have no idea how to link to those things or cite them ugh): What happens the day after McDonnell uses all our natural resources as promised? 3 minutes ago from TweetDeck. Where should we draw the line?! You are terrifying me. You are dry, but a far more effective speaker than Bobby Jindal, and that is the most frightening thing of all.


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Our President gives a speech tonight, blah blah blah. I’m watching it right now, and I gotta say, sorry Mr. President, but you have a real scene-stealer behind you.

I love this guy. I can’t even pay attention to what Obama is saying. I’ve heard it all before, but nothing changes. But there’s one thing that can still make me smile: Joe Biden. Watching him grin, clap, smirk, preen, swoon… I mean, really. He should have been the winker in that VP debate in ’08. Oh look, he winks too…

I think I should go back to paying attention… as in, adoring Joe, and wanting to pat Nancy on the head. She’s so earnest. I feel like she needs a little chirpy hug. Or one of Joe’s winks.

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Our Man Zinn

Howard Zinn died today.

There will be so many eloquent, insightful things written about him. I’m also sure there will be some inane things as well. Personally, Howard Zinn exemplified in my eyes what it means to be a historian.  A People’s History was like a sacred text growing up, his name mentioned with reverence and passion by my father. Zinn wrote about other perspectives unlike anyone else; he was responsible for keeping alive that voice which challenges the dominant and biased media-driven cultural narratives. Just as important, he didn’t just study and analyze history. He didn’t sit on the sidelines. He risked himself and spoke up wherever he saw wrong and injustice. I fervently believe one of the most admirable thing human beings can do is empathize with others, imagine things from their perspective, and do what they can for them. He did all these things beautifully and brilliantly, and was an exemplary human being: one individual who lived and worked for the people.

I will sincerely miss picking up books and seeing his recommendation on the jacket and then running to the cashier with it. I will miss a world without his voice.

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Okay, to be upfront about this, The Dud Avocado is a title that presents a lot of opportunities for witticism, but I’m not into it. I think it’d be rather a dud (see?).

Now, for my next insight which has little to do with the actual story: every single review I’ve seen includes something along the lines of “…and I had never even heard of Elaine Dundy but I was just enchanted by this book and Elaine Dundy was such a rebel and this book is actually something of a cult classic and I love avocados blah blah blah”.

Well, I guess all of  that is somehow relevant to the whole The Dud Avocado experience. It’s disgusting, but I have to be honest. I had never fucking heard of Elaine Dundy, I have a sickening obsession with avocados, it was really fucking cold while I was on a weekend excursion to New York and ohmygod I was standing in my favorite used book store on the Lower East Side and I saw this thing and bought it even though it was hideously over-priced and I am now a converted Elaine Dundy lover and who the fuck cares if its been said: this is a fantastic, charming novel, and if it’s good enough for Groucho Marx it’s goddamn good enough for me.

Cos honestly The Dud Avocado is enchanting. I’m a kinda overly-serious girl sometimes (this book came between Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Black Jacobins). Serious as in, (this is embarrassing), when I am delighting in the fictional revels of someone being a drunken disaster and drinking fifteen types of wine and being unemployed and wandering around doing nothing in particular, I feel shitty. Like, I’m being a self-hating middle-class brat with abundant disdain for people who actually don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck and rather just wishing I could be unemployed and have nowhere particular to be. But I mean, don’t we all?

And that’s sort of it. Our disastrous, sweetly cheeky and occasionally-flummoxed protagonist  Sally Jay Gorce was kind of bolting away from all that middle-class, go-to-college-and-get-yourself-a-career-in-a-nice-office-and-nice-house and all that. There are some glimpses into the smothering society of the 1950s, and I suspect Gorce/Dundy would be sympathetic to a reader wary and wondering if their delight comes from their own comfortable-middle-class-upright-young-citizen-laughing-at-the-late-night-messy-disasters-of-others. Gorce catches herself judging the mishaps of others,  labeling and categorizing all those brilliant young male artists of post-war Paris and their dowdy, bureaucratic counterparts back home; then she turns around and is hardest on herself. She hangs back after her revelries around the Champs Élysées and worries she might end up a librarian isolated from the passions and feelings of those daring to fail. She’s quite aware of all the middle-class people running from the middle-class, and then you forget all about it because who cares, this is about being young and alive.

So basically Elaine Dundy created a fantastic narrative voice in this novel, and I need to check out everything else she did. 1958, and this woman is describing young, unsupervised gals running amok in strange cities and getting in all sorts of dilemnas and she didn’t need to hear about feminism to simply to do what she wished. I really was astounded more than once, more than ten times, that this book was penned in the 1950s. Are you kidding me? I apparently have gotten the wrong impression of the times. Or at least, maybe some people were living one way… but Elaine Dundy seems to have been up to all sorts of fancy, unpredictable stuff.

And that’s about as interesting as the book. This woman! This woman came out of the 1950s scene, and all the years portraying that decade as a long exercise in dullness and oppressive sexism suddenly might not be quite as bleak as imagined. She wrote a book about Elvis… and his mom!! Her autobiography is entitled Life Itself! and she wrote some other novels after The Dud Avocado, which I now have to read. I’m not going to attempt to describe her or her work anymore though, because it’s so witty and joyful that I couldn’t do it justice, and I want to force everyone to go read her. Elaine Dundy! Gosh, why didn’t they give us this to read in English Lit, rather than Updike-Roth-Conrad-Heller-Hemingway blah blah blah? She was just as insightful, and far better able to have a laugh about it all.

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I am extremely upset about this. I am, with great difficulty, restraining my tongue from unleashing a torrent of obscenities and frustration.

What I will say is that on every mediocre proposal, at every step back, at every turn away from change, at every perpetuation of the status quo, I have hoped things might yet change. I didn’t support him in the primaries. I knew he was one of the worst candidates of the bunch. I have tried to hope, though, that he was something better than what we’d had. I tried to hope there was an agenda. I criticized his administration’s actions while retaining goodwill. A thing in isolation is bad, but it doesn’t ruin everything. I allowed myself to be persuaded by graphs and charts and arguments which suggested there was perhaps a rhyme and reason, that despite the rhetoric dismissing progressives, there have somehow been significant accomplishments.

No more. It’s not true, and I won’t deny my honest reactions anymore. His awful proposals, his terrible justifications of the way things are, his refusal to make any real changes: Obama is a Hoover, a Reaganite, a McCain actually (I mean, he’s using many of McCain’s proposals, after all!), and voting for him meant nothing at all, really. I’ve spent a young life working and donating to the Democrats. No more. They stand for nothing. You have accomplished not only little of real substance, but you have absorbed the rhetoric of the right-wing and have perpetuated many of their most horrible policies. You mock your base and turn around to say “I’m not a liberal, I’m a tough guy!” to the very people who despise and relentlessly lie and attack you. God, Republican “philosophy” is reprehensible, but at least they believe what they believe. You court me, and then shit on me. Fuck you. I won’t listen to another “It’s all Nader’s fault” argument again in my life. The problem was within. Blame everyone else but yourselves. Then blame yourselves and whore out to the Republicans! Cowards and quislings, all. Your legacy will be the speeding up of the descent of American’s lives into the over-worked, under-paid, under-educated, high-consuming, high-polluting, anti-depressant abusing vortex. That’s the “bi-partisan” legacy you wanted. The flagrant abuse of goodwill and support. I’m disgusted.

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Fuck the five right-wing corporate quislings on the Supreme Court, fuck the Democratic party leadership (sometimes), fuck bankers, fuck greedy, elitist, power-hungry old men everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shocked. Being quite liberal and giving support to the Democratic party is a Hamlet-esque experience. To be a Democrat, or just to acknowledge that I am consistently voting for people who will over-think and betray all of our core principles? It was tragicomically plain in those last weeks that Ms. Coakley would lose. I’m not proud of being aware of that or anything. It’s depressing. I don’t have a PhD; why do the people who do fail to have any grasp of reality? I think back to the primaries. Obama and Clinton, two pretty conservative Democrats who had different rhetorical styles. Obama is elected, and many people are shocked and disappointed that the progressive agenda is not being enacted.  But why? It was depressingly obvious. Neither of the presidential candidates was going to really enact a progressive agenda. I mean, they didn’t even really get specific about that. They said “Change” and criticized Republicans which, unfortunately, was actually shocking. Shocking because Democrats don’t like to actually point out who got us into all these disasters. We have to “move forward”. Which is probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. You take quizzes and study in school and take a test at the end of term to prove you’ve learned something. You don’t just “move forward” at the end of every class and try to put it behind you. You hold onto it! You absorb it! That’s what, you know, fucking life is all about. You have a memory. Use it. Jesus Christ.

And of course the present make-up of the Supreme Court made it clear they would go into a grotesque swoon as they crooned about how like, wealthy concepts are people or something. I know, I don’t get it. When I read about it as a young(er) lass in the Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, I was like: Oh, well, that’s stupid, um, ideas and institutions only have power because people imbue them with meaning, and if we don’t, oh, they fall apart. They have no reality except that which we bestow upon them. But the Supreme Court has been right-wing for a long time. And this decision will have all kinds of horribly disastrous results that I’m in no mood to even consider.

What I don’t understand, in the midst of all my “fucks” and “I could run the DNC better than Tim Kaine (though not as well as Howard Dean, that’s for sure!)” is: why? I don’t get it. Are they just technocrats at the end of the day? Are they really just thoughtless, lacking in imagination, overly cautious and unable to see outside their bubble? Are they mad, are they power-hungry? Just to make clear, I’m talking about the Democrats. The Republicans, I have no fucking idea what they are doing.*(aside below!)

I really don’t understand it. I can predict what consequences will come from certain actions, but I really am unable to understand what motivates some people. Is power, is greed really so alluring? Why is a few million dollars never enough? What creates an emptiness in people that they are willing to step all over everyone else? Fear of death? Original sin? A biologically built-in impulse to struggle and succeed? Then why isn’t everyone like that? I finished Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem today. I’ve been reading about it at length for so many years, I figured it was high time to read the thing itself. And what I got out of it is that there are just some questions so big, and the answers too paltry and meager. Evil can be banal. Massive, enormous crimes are committed by “sheer thoughtlessness”. It’s mind-blowing. We’ll sacrifice our Earth to the economy. We’ll sacrifice our democracy to an outrageous, deliberate misinterpretation of the Bill of Rights. Reprehensible. Atrocious. Or, as I said before: Fuck.

*As an aside (Aside!), a friend told me about some enormous changes they were undergoing. I was doing my best to be very supportive, when deep into it I started getting a little nervous. Very gently I said: “I don’t want to be rude, and I want to be completely supportive, but a quick question… are you going to become a Republican?” To be fair I (mostly) said this because I love my friend, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings by ranting about politics. My friend burst into laughter and cried, “No way, now that would be crazy!” And we had a good, long laugh. Because some things are too insane to contemplate.

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Un Conte de Noël

I love winter. Yes, the mid-Atlantic currently seems to bear more in common with Scandinavia right now… but I am loving it. Of course, I wouldn’t tell that to anyone’s face, and I have my empathetic “I know, right?” face ready whenever some poor schmuck is complaining about the cold to me.

But enough! If we don’t have to sleep on the streets, if we have someplace warm to go at night, then we really shouldn’t complain. Winter might sort of be the perfect time for gratitude, actually. To stay inside, roast tomatoes in the oven, open a bottle of red wine, and watch and re-watch Arnaud Desplechin’s lovely, rich, wintery Un Conte de Noël.

This is the kind of movie that I just put on and walk around the house doing stuff. Yeah, they’re speaking french, and yeah, I can’t really understand it. Who cares! It’s seriously the most pleasant movie to just have on in the background, and then I remember “Oh! Someone is going to get all feisty and french!” and I run over and laugh and laugh. Then I decide to stop reading or cooking and we open a bottle of wine and sit down and that’s it, we have to watch the whole thing.

Un Conte de Noël is like a holiday (ha!) from the world. I’m wary of upper middle-class people sitting around bitching about their problems. So I don’t really know why I like this, but I cannot stop watching it. Maybe it’s because it’s beautiful. Maybe because Catherine Deneuve is not the kind of person who lets you turn a movie off. Maybe it’s because I’m strangely sympathetic to some of the characters, especially the real bastards among them. Maybe it’s because when they get feisty and bitchy, it’s endearingly neurotic and sweet. That all probably has something to do with it. But really, it’s like an excellent novel: just overflowing with life, with people, with vignettes thrown in all over the place that give it that brimming feeling. I keep going back to it because it’s impossible not to go back to something so life-affirming and enchanting and strange and warm in the middle of winter.

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