Sunday, September 28, 2008


The death of Paul Newman is a real loss. In addition to being an outstanding artist whose performances in many memorable films, spanning five decades, have assured him a seat among the immortals at the eternal banquet of the Hollywood pantheon, Paul Newman was also an outstanding human being; a liberal activist who walked the talk and who made a real difference in the lives of those whom his fame, his money, and his exemplary sense of charity could help.

Newman was the son of a small businessman, and despite the fact that his acting had long since made him a rich man, he and his partner, the writer A. E. Hotchner, founded a successful business in the basement of his home, donating the more than $220 million that this business brought in entirely to charity. A significant part of this went to the founding and subsequent support of a series of camps for sick children.

Although he was a movie star (whom my mother assures me was gorgeous), a race car driver, a flaming liberal, and a rich man possessed of an endless supply of charisma, Paul Newman remained married to fellow actor, Joanne Woodward throughout his life. And perhaps best of all, although he was born in the State of Ohio, he did not attend “the” Ohio State University.

Despite his impeccable credentials as a “Hollywood Liberal,” even the most basalt-hearted, mean-spirited, conservative naysayer would be hard put to find anything negative to report about this truly great American. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Readings: Like, Nowhere, Man

Before I get on with the main topic of this post, I have a little aside for the guys. Any chicks who may have wandered in here (would that there were chicks!) may be excused for the nonce. Kick your shoes off, mosey out to the kitchen, and whip up a batch of chocolate chips, or something...

Now, guys… I’m sure that we’ve all had the experience of seeing a to-die-for, knock-out gorgeous woman across a room and, impelled by visions of hot monkey (but nevertheless oh-so-soigné) love, maneuvered ourselves like pawns on a chess board until we finally arrived, hearts knocking in syncopation with our knees, within the shining aura of that great beauty… And then she opens her mouth, speaks, and what had seemed like USDA-prime was instantly transformed into lowly chuck—pot roast—so much stew meat. Zut, alors!

Well, that’s what we’ve been going through for the last several days with the arrival on the scene of the Governor of Alaska. Man, she looked like a million bucks. But, all too soon—as soon as her acceptance speech, in fact—that million bucks was seen to be Confederate money. The guv was mere eye candy. Thus my blog has been heavy on graphics for the past few posts, and short on words.

While this political soap opera has been unfolding on cable, however, I have been occupied as well with finishing up a pretty good novel. I hadn’t planned to post about it. But when I booted up this morning, a Yahoo! News headline about the discovery of a mass grave in Bosnia changed my mind. The novel is Nowhere Man. The author is Aleksandar Hemon. Hemon is an interesting writer, due in no small part to his background. From Wikipedia:

Hemon graduated from the University of Sarajevo with a degree in literature in 1990. After moving to Chicago in 1992 knowing little English, and finding himself unable to write in his native Bosnian, he resolved to learn English within five years.

In 1995, he began to write in English, and his work soon appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. In 2000 Hemon published his first book, The Question of Bruno, which included short stories and a novella.

As an American who has studied French, Latin, and Japanese, but still speaks only English, this kind of facility with language blows my mind. The novel takes place in Bosnia, in Chicago, and elsewhere. But the main thing that struck me in reading it was how much like American kids are the Bosnian kids about whom Hemon writes.

Rather than making this post any longer, I will leave the synopsis of the novel to the link and simply urge anybody looking for a good read to consider Nowhere Man.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reflections: What Goes Around Comes Around



Friday, September 19, 2008

Reflections: You Ask Why They Hate Us?

Here is why they hate us:

A military statement says those killed Friday in the Sunni town of Adwar include four suspected insurgents and three women. It says a child has been pulled from the rubble and is being treated at a nearby U.S. base.

The military says the U.S. troops were targeting a man believed to be the leader of a bombing network in an area north of Baghdad.

Please note that the "collateral damage" involved in our attempt to kill (not to say "murder") four suspected (got that? suspected) insurgents adds up to a one-to-one ratio of suspects vs. innocent women and children. And we do it all risk-free, from the air. They haven't even got the ability to defend themselves.

I think that they don't so much hate, as despise, us.

Reflections: Geriatric Serenade


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reflections: OMG

It's official: John McCain is senile.

He thinks he can see Spain from his house.

(Which one?)

He can't remember.

Readings: There's No Bunny Like Snow Bunny

From the September 22, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, here is one of the funniest takes that I’ve seen on the bouffant Queen of Seward’s Folly:

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.

That is just how I am.

One can see immediately that Queen Sarah is, indeed, a natural-born first-runner-up in that Beauty Contest that is American politics. You can read George Saunders’ whole piece here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reflections: Just Like Abe Lincoln

Compare and contrast:

St. Ronnie the Teflon Lifeguard:

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!"

St. Sarah the Hillbilly Huntress:

"Poot'n--kiss mah grits!"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reflections: Too Much of a Good Thing

There is a massive irony lodged in the gut of the American political system. The political left, one of the chief characteristics of which is a constant, strident call for more democracy, has, in national elections over the past fifty years, been repeatedly defeated by the very democratic impulse that it strives to nurture.

Over and over again, Democratic candidates, their surrogates and supporters, as well as liberal elements of the media, have pointed out to the American public that the men being put forward as presidential candidates by the Republican Party were just not bright enough for the job. Those same candidates have responded with Aw, shucks--just plain folks campaigns that have largely been successful. Candidates such as Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush 43, have all worked this gimmick successfully, even though the results of their presidencies have shown the liberal message to have been both truthful and predictive. And now (amazingly enough) even McCain, the multimillionaire consort of a beer distributorship heiress and the son and grandson of Navy Admirals, seems to be utilizing this tactic successfully against the true “man of the people,” Barack Obama.

Obama’s sin is to have--against all odds--succeeded. By accomplishing more than could ever have been predicted for the mixed-race son of a single mom, Obama has left Joe Sixpack, Joe Lunchbucket, and Billy Joe McShmoe behind, trapped in their addictions and their entertainments, their consequentially meaningless lives, and their unrewarding series of dead-end jobs; has left them--yes--clinging to their guns and their flat-earth version of religion. Ah’m jist as good as you are, they drawl—knowing full well, deep down inside, where that last bucket of KFC is lodged, generating suet and bowel gas, that they ain’t. Not really. But, by Gawd, they can vote for the man (or babe) who tells them that they are.

The problem, ironically, is too much democracy. The Founding Fathers knew the danger. We have clearly forgotten it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reflections: from Darkest Bubbastan

Back in the day of the so-called Gingrich Revolution, one of the right-wing foot soldiers who seemed to be appearing most often on the cable talk shows, and whom I found to be one of the least appealing of all the neo-Republican ideologues, was Rep. Dick Armey. I would not have predicted that I would ever be putting up a post in which I was agreeing with a controversial assertion made by Armey. Nevertheless… I am.

On Meet the Press this morning, Tom Brokaw twice brought up what Dick Armey recently stated about the “Bubba vote.” He brought it up first while interviewing Rudy Giuliani and then later in the show while talking with political analyst, Chuck Todd. What Armey has said is:

"The Bubba vote is there, and it's very real, and it is everywhere," Armey told USA TODAY and Gannett News Service. "There's an awful lot of people in America, bless their heart, who simply are not emotionally prepared to vote for a black man.” (The article from which this excerpt is clipped can be read here.)

Living as I do in the heart of darkest Bubbastan, experience tells me that Armey is, most unfortunately, correct. Since Obama emerged as a candidate, I have from time to time said much the same in comment boxes on other blogs. But I haven’t had the heart to speak about the issue directly here. Armey and Brokaw have forced my hand.

Having been a Republican pol and thus, of necessity, a rabble-rouser and a player-to-the-cheap-seats, Armey obviously knows what he is talking about. When one calls his constituent “Bubba” it is not in order to compliment his high intelligence and cultural attainment. Republicans win national elections by herding the Bubbas—those whom I prefer to call the “bleating merinos”—toward their candidate using “hot button issues” as prods.

Obama’s blackness, his negritude—to use a now archaic word to describe a mostly submerged, but, anachronistically, still potent factor—is a built-in “hot button issue.” McCain can’t—but won’t need to—campaign on it. Nonetheless, it will cost Obama votes among people who, were it not for their bigotry, would stand to gain the most by his success—and whose votes Obama needs in order to win several key states. These states include two (Indiana and Ohio) that I have lived in, and another (Michigan ) where I was born and mostly raised. Like Armey, I know what I am talking about.

America’s tragic flaw, our collective Achilles heel—racism—is very likely about to turn around and bite us in our collective ass, one more time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Quote du Jour

Let me give you some advice: You're in deep shit.

~ Woody Allen, Deconstructing Harry

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Readings: And Here's to You, Marilynne Robinson

I was pleased to find in the September 8, 2008 issue of The New Yorker Magazine, this review by James Wood of a new novel by Marilynne Robinson. I discovered and read Robinson's first two novels, Housekeeping and Gilead, prior to launching this blog. I subsequently also read with great pleasure a collection of her essays, entitled The Death of Adam.

Reviewer Wood seems to be less enthusiastic about Robinson's oeuvre than I am, but I encourage all bibliophiles to read the entire review and not just the lengthy excerpt below.

Robinson is a religious writer and a Calvinist. She pulls no punches in her exposition of the fallen nature of man as manifested in contemporary society, and the lukewarm approach taken to organized religion by many "mainstream" congregants. Wood, I believe, fairly states Robinson's positions in the following:

Robinson describes herself as a liberal Protestant believer and churchgoer, but her religious sensibility is really far more uncompromising and archaic than this allows. … In a way that many Americans, and certainly her liberal readers, would find palatable, her Protestantism seems born of a love of religious silence—the mystic, quietly at prayer in an unadorned place, indifferent to ecclesiastical mediation. But Robinson is illiberal and unfashionably fierce in her devotion to this Protestant tradition; she is voluble in defense of silence. She loathes the complacent idleness whereby contemporary Americans dismiss Puritanism and turn John Calvin, its great proponent, into an obscure, moralizing bigot: “We are forever drawing up indictments against the past, then refusing to let it testify in its own behalf—it is so very guilty, after all. Such attention as we give to it is usually vindictive and incurious and therefore incompetent.” We flinch from Puritanism because it placed sin at the center of life, but then, as she tartly reminds us, “Americans never think of themselves as sharing fully in the human condition, and therefore beset as all humankind is beset.” Calvin believed in our “total depravity,” our utter fallenness, but this was not necessarily a cruel condemnation. “The belief that we are all sinners gives us excellent grounds for forgiveness and self-forgiveness, and is kindlier than any expectation that we might be saints, even while it affirms the standards all of us fail to attain,” Robinson writes in her essay “Puritans and Prigs.” Nowadays, she argues, educated Americans are prigs, not Puritans, quick to pour judgment on anyone who fails to toe the right political line. Soft moralizing has replaced hard moralizing, but at least those old hard moralists admitted to being moralists.

Prigs, not Puritans. Ain't that a bitch? I'm pretty sure that all of this has something relevant to say about the current presidential election campaign, the role of religion in it, and perhaps even the anointing of Sarah Palin as a kind of political saint.

Robinson's new novel is entitled Home. It reintroduces and makes protagonists of characters from her previous and, in my estimation, great, novel Gilead. I look forward to the opportunity of reading it.

Reflections: Sarah's a-Palin' Fast

It's Sunday morning, and instead of having booked Sarah Palin on the Sunday morning talk shows, so she could meet the press to demonstrate the appropriateness of McCain's choice, we are rather being subjected to the smoke screen of a faux-controversy about Oprah's failure to book Palin on her show. "Show" is the operative word here, boyz and grrrls: It becomes increasingly obvious that Ms. Palin is 90% show-biz. The remainder may be substance. Who knows? She won't say.

The name of Ms. Palin's act is:

How Johnny Mac Got His Mojo Back

It becomes increasingly obvious that exposing her knowledge base to the serious press would be a disqualifier. Clearly, she was chosen to cement the GOP base as a bonafide Holier-than-thou paleo-conservative Bible-babe. This translates in the vernacular as:


May I have your attention, please: The Straight Talk Express will be making a scheduled stop at Jo'nestown, where the herd may enjoy a kool liquid refreshment, while the driver stretches his new-found legs, and the shepherds replace the batteries in their prods/crooks. Sweets fo' my peeps!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Robert Giroux - R.I.P

I pause to note the passing of a giant in the field of literature -- editor and publisher, Robert Giroux. The list of authors provided in the New York Times obituary to which I have linked is a list of authors all of whom I have read over the years, and all of whom I can heartily recommend.

Strangely enough, only yesterday morning I came across an entry in Jack Kerouac's Buddhist notebooks, collected as Some of the Dharma, that Knopf had just rejected On the Road (referred to here by Kerouac's working title The Beat Generation) :

JAN.11'55---I just found out that BEAT GENERATION was rejected by Knopf. As to writing stories that the publishers approve of, it would no longer be free writing. I write the Dharma freely and unsystematically for the purpose of teaching others and keeping myself mindful of the teaching.

Giroux also rejected On the Road, while working at Harcourt, Brace; one that got away.

But, please -- read the Times obit and note the authors listed whose careers Giroux facilitated and whose books Giroux promoted. Take a look at any of them with whom you're not familiar; there's not a clunker on the list.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reflections: Sarah Palin - A Very Brief Review

The G.O.Proletariat had been conditioned to believe that they would see and hear an epochal performance by Sarah Palin on Wednesday night. And, by God, they "saw" and "heard" one. If they had been told that they would cluck like a chicken when Palin said the word "organizer" they would have done everything but lay eggs.

BTW, she sounds just like Roseanne Barr.

When Palin steps up to a mic, her big hair seductively a-jiggle, seemingly defying gravity, there is a moment of uncertainty as to whether she will deliver a speech, or belt out a chorus of "Harper Valley P.T.A."

If she who looks "presidential" to the American people could pass just as easily for the winner of a hog calling contest, there may be a problem.

That said...John who?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #19: Of Silk Purses and the Ears of Sows

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

It has been some weeks since I've directed your attention to the ravings of our would-be masters over at What's Wrong With the World. But since we're on the fascinating topic of Gov. Sarah Palin and the wisdom of her selection as the vice presidential candidate of the GOP, I thought you might find it amusing to see the lengths to which the crypto-fascist/politico-religious right is forced to go to defend that selection. Here they even bring the Obamamomma into it. Tsk.
It should be noted, by anyone who is buying the constant refrain wafting from the camp of the forces of reaction, that our colleges and universities have been ruined by leftists, that the core authorial cabal of WWWtW are academics; academics, and manifestly not so very bright...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Quote du Jour: Sarah Git Yer Gun

Maureen Dowd muses upon what it might be like, if Sarah Palin were to have greatness thrust upon her:

Putting away her breast pump, [Palin] points her rifle and informs [Putin] frostily that she has some expertise in Russia because it’s close to Alaska. “Back off, Commie dude,” she says. “I’m a much better shot than Cheney.”

Maybe Putin has offered to sell her certain negatives?