Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Writing Free and Brave

I had a bout with bronchial pneumonia this week, which left me breathless enough to now be able to cross "ambulance ride" off of my bucket list.  I spent two days in the hospital and, while I feel almost human again, a strange thing has happened.  When I sit down to write, I'm finding that the last thing I want to write about is the current political situation.

How could that be?  Eleven days before the election and this political junky can't think of a thing to write about concerning the upcoming presidential election.  It's not that I don't care.  You know I care.  It's that I think I've probably said all I can ever say about it.  (Don't hold me to this; I'm on antibiotics and steroids and tomorrow is another day.)

I realized, as I lay in my moveable bed reading and watching old movies, that I had become so immersed in that Obama/Romney thing I almost forgot what it was to just relax and enjoy something of the world I used to know before the year 2001, when suddenly the nation's fault line erupted into a full-blown earthquake.

I had my Kindle Fire with me, but instead of logging onto the web, I read portions of books I had ordered but hadn't gotten around to reading:  The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham (Funny and a comfort), and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (Never can get enough of Eudora.)

It strikes me that these books, each in their own way, are studies in bravery. (But then all writing for publication is rooted in bravery.  As anyone knows who's tried it, It's not for wimps.)

Kenneth Graham's stories in Wind in the Willows were based on stories he made up to calm his own son, Alastair, a sickly child prone to tantrums who eventually committed suicide at age 20. (The reckless, thoughtless Toad was said to be patterned after Alastair.)  Graham had dreams of the university life but couldn't come up with the money for it, even though it was clear he was smart and capable.  He ended up taking a boring, meaningless job in a bank, writing his imaginative stories after hours.  When he was forced to retire for health reasons he moved his family to the countryside where he was able to write full time.  His stories seem lighthearted and full of clever fun, as if the cares of the world had never entered his realm.  And we know that was not so. 

Eudora Welty grew up a sheltered, adored child with no fears, no worries, in an idyllic southern town.  She could have stayed in Jackson (MS) and been a true southern belle, but she was born Eudora; smart, clever and wickedly funny.  She would have withered on the magnolia vine had she stayed--which, of course, was out of the question.

She went to Wisconsin for her BA and then on to Columbia for graduate studies.  While she was in New York, she wrote a letter to the editor at the New Yorker, asking for a job.  She was 23 years old. The letter is pure Eudora, and since nobody yet knew who Eudora Welty was, they whiffed her off.

(H/T to Krista at Linkedin for steering me to it:)

March 15, 1933
I suppose you’d be more interested in even a sleight-o’-hand trick than you’d be in an application for a position with your magazine, but as usual you can’t have the thing you want most.
I am 23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y. However, I was a New Yorker for a whole year in 1930-31 while attending advertising classes in Columbia’s School of Business. Actually I am a southerner, from Mississippi, the nation’s most backward state. Ramifications include Walter H. Page, who, unluckily for me, is no longer connected with Doubleday-Page, which is no longer Doubleday-Page, even. I have a B.A. (’29) from the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in English without a care in the world. For the last eighteen months I was languishing in my own office in a radio station in Jackson, Miss., writing continuities, dramas, mule feed advertisements, santa claus talks, and life insurance playlets; now I have given that up.
As to what I might do for you — I have seen an untoward amount of picture galleries and 15¢ movies lately, and could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works — quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.
Since I have bought an India print, and a large number of phonograph records from a Mr. Nussbaum who picks them up, and a Cezanne Bathers one inch long (that shows you I read e. e. cummings I hope), I am anxious to have an apartment, not to mention a small portable phonograph. How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning — a little paragraph each night, if you can’t hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.
There is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down; I realize this will not phase you, but consider my other alternative: the U of N.C. offers for $12.00 to let me dance in Vachel Lindsay’s Congo. I congo on. I rest my case, repeating that I am a hard worker.
Truly yours,
Eudora Welty

(Sounds like something I would do--not nearly as well but with the same results.)  But there is bravery in that letter--even in the misuse of "phase", without thought to correction.  She could have followed the orders of the day and presented herself in a more formal manner, much like everyone else, letting her writing speak for itself, but everything she wrote she wrote as Eudora.  This is who she was.

Every writer needs to be who he or she is.  I've been writing almost exclusively as a political blogger for nearly four years now, and at times I get pretty passionate about it--obsessed, even.  But that stay-a-bed with other reading sources opened my eyes to the world I eventually want to get back to.

I'm writing a book. It has nothing to do with politics and I'm having great fun with it, but it has taken a back seat because of the election.  I want desperately to give it my full attention and get it done, but at the same time, I love my blog and the places it takes me.  I'm trying to do both, and now I think I can.

What changed?  I couldn't breathe and I was scared.  Now I can and I'm not afraid anymore.  It did something.  It told me to get going.  To be free and brave.  Because life has never been known to wait.

The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him.
He saw clearly how plain and simple — how narrow, even — it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.

Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hey, Liberals: Now is the Time to Panic

WARNING:  Cheers for Obama here, at least until Tuesday, November 6.  Don't come looking for relief from Obama luv.  You won't find it on these pages. I'm getting ready to panic and, if past history is any indication, it's not going to be pretty.

Romney/Ryan have a chance to win this thing.  That revelation is so shocking we should be calling for a congressional investigation into how right wing billionaires and clueless teapartiers were able to pull that off. (Right. . .that'll happen)

There's no way someone like Mitt Romney (businessman to the core, anti-government advocate today but not yesterday, job destroyer and giddy out-sourcer, liar, liar, liar) could actually be considered American presidential material.

There's no way someone like Paul Ryan (Old Testament advocate of female-body ownership by non-females, mathematics-deficient "policy wonk", fair-to-middlin' mountain-climber and marathon-runner, liar, liar, liar) can be taken seriously for that all-important second slot.

There are many who want to blame one person--Barack Obama--for what's been happening, but you won't find them here.  I don't want them here.  I want people who know a right wing ambush when they see one and are willing to work their asses off to defeat the real enemy--the Republicans.

There are no saints among politicians but there are plenty of sinners.  If Academy Awards were given for vicious, humanity-chewing, dishonest performances, the Republicans would win, hands down.  They're out to destroy us and half the country thinks it's nothing more than a stinkin' horror movie. (Nothing to fear, it's only pretend. Get your popcorn here.)

But some of us don't, thank God:

  • My Michigan pal Flowerchild has had enough, too.  She brings some badasses to dagblog to help us understand.
  • Reagan's money guy, David Stockman, slices and dices Romney's claim as job creator.

I'll remind us once again that Mitt Romney wants to be president of the United States and there's a strong chance he could become one.  He has no use for us.  He admits he has no use for us. We don't want a president who has no use for  us.  We've fallen pretty low but not so low we would give away our vote to a man who has made it that clear that we are not worthy of his attention.

There is no reason on earth that a man like Mitt Romney should be considered for the highest job in the land. We can stop it.  We can work to get out the vote, we can continue pulling up facts that prove Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans don't deserve this chance, and we can declare a moratorium on bashing Democrats, other liberals, and Obama (especially Obama) until after November 6.

We have seen the enemy and it isn't us.

(Addendum, 10/18:  This is big:  Daniel Ellsberg, no admirer of Obama, to say the least, calls for an Obama win.  Because, contrary to the opinion of some on the Left, the Republicans are much, much worse,)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fall Comes to the U.P

At the easternmost edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where I live, the land is low.  In the deep south it would be called the low country.  Here it's called the cedar swamp.  Where there isn't swamp there is rock, where thin sheaths of earth allow only the shallow-rooted trees to thrive--the quaking aspen, white birch and the Michigan cottonwood known as Balm-of-Gilead.  The weed trees.

Cedar and birch
As beautiful as these trees are in the fall, it's the maple and oak that thrill us with their gaudy, exuberant colors.  It's the views from lofty heights of miles of patchwork quilt, the breathtaking drives through golden tunnels, the blue and gold of our Great Lakes, that draw millions of tourists each year to northern Michigan and across the Mackinac Bridge into the upper peninsula.

There are small areas here in the eastern edge of the peninsula that are high enough and have built up enough forest humus to support the hardwoods that give us the most color, but to truly appreciate the spectacle, one has to go west.  Which is what we did last week.

Maple stand in Eastern U.P

Grand Island and Munising Bay
Munising Falls
Lower Tahquamenon Falls

 But back at home or nearer to it, fall means clear air and a golden light and new discoveries every day.  A few weeks ago we were driving the back roads near Rudyard when we came upon a field full of sand hill cranes.  It's  been a few years since we've seen them gathering, and it's about time for their migration.  Michigan is one of many flyways as they move from the far north to the places where they winter.

A family of cranes has nested across the bay, within sight with binoculars, but this is the first year we've seen them on our shore.

Yesterday as we walked our circular mile, we kept hearing the cranes but couldn't see them.  Finally, as we came to a clearing, I looked up and saw them by the dozens high in the sky.   They're leaving now and I'm not ready to say goodbye.

Sand Hill Cranes heading South
In our part of the country, fall is not just a season, it's an event.  We never take it for granted, and we never miss a chance to revel in it. And, of course, I never miss a chance to photograph it.  We live near several nature preserves and walk their trails often, but in fall their free access is a glorious gift.

Young trees in fall
A carpet of leaves
The tamaracks are the last to turn.  They signal the end of the fall colors; when they're done it's all over.  Tamarack needles fall off, leaving the branches bare, and a stand of winter tamaracks looks like dead trees in a dismal swamp.  Then, in spring, their needles come back mint green, then turn forest green, and they're back to looking like conifers again.

Tamaracks in fall
Northern Michigan is pretty special any time of the year, but in the fall it rises to spectacular.  I love that about my state.

(Photos are the property of Ramona's Voices.  Please ask permission before using.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Shut your Enthusiasm Gap and get out there and DO something -- two years later

NOTE:  This is a repeat of a blog post from October, 2010, the year the Democrats lost the edge by losing the House to the Tea Party and the Right Wing.  If it looks like I'm nagging, what you're reading is pure desperation.  If the lines in bold-face look like I'm gloating because I was right, look more closely.  They're covered in bitter tears.

I'm repeating this because we're at that place again and if we couldn't afford to lose in 2010 we really, truly can't afford to lose in 2012.
We all know that certain people who make it a practice to depreciate the accomplishments of labor - who even attack labor as unpatriotic - they keep this up usually for three years and six months in a row. But then, for some strange reason they change their tune- every four years- just before election day. When votes are at stake, they suddenly discover that they really love labor and that they are anxious to protect labor from its old friends.
I got quite a laugh, for example - and I am sure that you did - when I read this plank in the Republican platform adopted at their National Convention in Chicago last July: "The Republican Party accepts the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, the Wage and Hour Act, the Social Security Act and all other Federal statutes designed to promote and protect the welfare of American working men and women, and we promise a fair and just administration of these laws."
You know, many of the Republican leaders and Congressmen and candidates, who shouted enthusiastic approval of that plank in that Convention Hall would not even recognize these progressive laws if they met them in broad daylight. Indeed, they have personally spent years of effort and energy - and much money - in fighting every one of those laws in the Congress, and in the press, and in the courts, ever since this Administration began to advocate them and enact them into legislation. That is a fair example of their insincerity and of their inconsistency. 

The whole purpose of Republican oratory these days seems to be to switch labels. The object is to persuade the American people that the Democratic Party was responsible for the 1929 crash and the depression, and that the Republican Party was responsible for all social progress under the New Deal.

Now, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery - but I am afraid that in this case it is the most obvious common or garden variety of fraud.

FDR, September 23, 1944

Okay, I feel like the mother hen here--the dotty old mother hen who keeps repeating herself, even when it's clear that nobody wants to listen.  We mother hens do this, not because we're so keen on being royal pains-in-the-ass, but because we're keen on looking at the big picture and keeping it real.

So, yes, I've said this before and I'll say it again:  We Dems/Libs/Progs need to do everything we can to keep the Democrats in control.  If we don't, the Republicans win and their gloating will take the form of locking us in towers and throwing away the keys.  They haven't even won yet, but on the strength of polls and pundits telling them they will, they're already planning ways to kill the few puny safety nets we've been able to jimmy into place.

So along with the satisfaction you get from gunning for the Democrats who in your view are either clueless or cowardly or in bed with the corporates, you might want to give a thought to how all that griping is fueling the other side.  They're loving these little internecine battles, because while all that spitting and hissing is going on, they can move on down that low road with nary a care in the world.
I'm not going to rehash the horrors that will be unleashed if the Republicans take over congress, because there are others who have done it much more thoroughly already.  It will be bad.  You know that.  It will be so bad, we'll wonder how we could have let it happen again. 

We'll pretend we didn't have anything to do with it--that the Big Money/Tea Party juggernaut was just too much for us.  But we'll be lying to ourselves, won't we?  All of this energy going toward attacking our own should be going toward attacking them. They are the enemy of the people, the destroyers of the universe (given half a chance), and we have an obligation to heal the wounds, not make them deeper.

The One Nation rally should be enough to convince us that we have the power if we'll only just use it.  It's a lie that we are a right-leaning country.  We couldn't have accomplished as much as we did if we had historically followed the dictates of the right.  We would never have had a healthy labor movement, a vibrant middle class, a claim to the title of greatest power on earth, without liberal pressure and sweat.  We built this country; they tore it down.  Now we're trying to rebuild and they're on the fast-track to tearing it down again.

 The press is profiting from the looniness of the Right Wing and spends almost all of their time mooning over them.  Meanwhile, the good folks with mountains of practical, beneficent ideas but no talent for hawking them sit around and wait their turn.  Still, I'm seeing encouraging signs of a momentum building.  The Huffington Post, for example, has a new page called "Third World America", where real people talk about real problems and real solutions.  Elizabeth Warren finally has the president's ear, and someone is actually quoting the irrepressibly sensible Bernie Sanders.   Al Franken's heart is a hit on the senate floor.  Rachel Maddow has become an unlikely and refreshingly brilliant star.  Lawrence O'Donnell--smart guy in his own right--has his own show.  Michael Moore gives the Dems five steps to a win and in his follow-up he sees some progress.  And President Obama is beginning to sound like his old self.

So what's it going to be?  The Republicans taking over congress and making sure none of our programs ever see the light of day?  Or the Democrats winning a clear majority, sending a message to the entire country about where our priorities must lie?

I'm declaring a moratorium on Democrat-bashing until the elections are over.  It's only another month.  If the Democrats win, we'll have a chance to hold their feet to the fire to get things done.  If they lose, we'll have no chance at all.

I'm going for that chance, whatever it takes, and I hope you will, too.


Monday, October 1, 2012

After all That, I can Still be Shocked. That's Shocking

So this is what it’s come to.
After four years of invective, four years during which the right has called President Obama a traitor, a communist, a fraud, an affirmative-action case, a terrorist-sympathizer, and a tyrant, its shrillest voices have been reduced to the most primal insult of all. They are calling Obama’s mother a whore.
Michelle Goldberg, The Daily Beast, 9/28/12
 I'll get right to it:  After reading Goldberg's piece, my stomach is churning; it's telling me if I don't stop thinking about this, I may just vomit.  I'll admit when it comes to the really ugly stuff, if there's any chance I can avoid it I will.  I'm chicken that way.  But I can't ignore this, because the last thing I want is for vicious lies borne of pure hate to become trivial or normal.  We're dangerously close to that point already.

There's nothing trivial or normal about mailing out millions (that's millions) of copies of "Dreams from my Father", an artlessly fabricated anti-Obama movie by a producer/director named Joel Gilbert.  The movie is narrated by an actor playing Barack Obama and depicts his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, as a loose slut who lied about who Obama's father really was. (According to the film, he wasn't a Kenyan, but an American poet and black activist named Frank Marshall Davis, who had ties to Communist/Socialist movements in Chicago and Hawaii, and whose genes the Communist/Socialist Obama apparently inherited.)

In the film, Obama's grandfather is supposed to have used his job as furniture salesman as a front for nefarious CIA duties.  Nude pictures, purportedly of Obama's mother (purportedly taken by Davis, who purportedly had a history of sending out nude pictures of women), grace the screen for long, lascivious seconds.  It leaves no scum-covered boulder unturned.

If this were just some juvenile video, it might not be worth noting, but, as Goldberg says:
What matters here is not that a lone crank made a vulgar conspiracy video, one that outdoes even birther propaganda in its lunacy and bad taste. It’s that the video is finding an audience on the right. Gilbert claims that more than a million copies of Dreams From My Real Father have been mailed to voters in Ohio, as well between 80,000 and 100,000 to voters in Nevada and 100,000 to voters in New Hampshire. “We’re putting plans in place, as of next week, to send out another 2 [million] or 3 million, just state by state,” he told me.
 While Goldberg admits she can't verify those numbers, she's finding evidence of some active distribution: 
But the fact is, people are reporting receiving the disc in the mail. Tea Party groups and conservative churches are screening it. It was shown at a right-wing film festival in Tampa during the Republican National Convention, and by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum Council in Missouri. Alabama GOP Chairman Bill Armistead recently recommended it during a speech, saying, “I’ve seen it. I verified that it is factual, all of it. People can determine.”
 In this year's campaign, the Republicans have found themselves with nothing to work with. They boxed themselves into a corner by going along with Mitch McConnell's promise to do whatever it takes to keep Obama from earning a second term.  Any good they might have done for the people they'd hurt over the previous eight years would have required Obama's signature as the final step.  It would have looked like they were working for him.  Or at least with him.  They couldn't do it.  So they did nothing,

So when this kind of thing happens they don't take steps to denounce it.  If anything, they encourage it.  It builds their case without their having to do a thing.

When Goldberg says, "They are calling Obama's mother a whore," unfortunately she isn't just talking about Gilbert's movie.  In this piece she talks also about Dinesh D'Souza's equally odious and deceitful book, Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream. (The follow-up to last year's whopper, The Roots of Obama's Rage and companion to his widely panned movie, 2016, Obama's America.)

The right wing loves D'Souza's seeming intellectual offerings, happily overlooking how riddled they are with provable lies:
Obama is not merely the presiding instrument of American decline, he is the architect of American decline. He wants America to be downsized. He wants Americans to consume less, and he would like to see our standard of living decline relative to that of other nations. He seeks a diminished footprint for America in the world. He detests America's traditional allies, like Britain and Israel, and seeks to weaken them; he is not very worried about radical Muslims acquiring a nuclear bomb or coming to power in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. He is quite willing to saddle future dollars toward this end and if he had been permitted, he would have spent trillions more. He has shown no inclination, and has no desire, to protect America's position as number one in the world; he would be content to see America as number 18, or number 67, just another country seated at the great dining table of nations.
When Mitt Romney was caught saying what he said about the 47% who make up Obama voters--that all 47% of us are lazy moochers who just want government handouts, so who needs us, anyway?--I thought that would be the end of it for Mitt.  It wasn't.

When Mitt assured 60 Minute's Scott Pelley that every American already has health care--it's called Their Nearest Emergency Room--and when Joe Scarborough dissolved into infantile blubbering on set after watching the clip the next morning, I thought maybe this was it; Mitt was cooked.  He wasn't. Not completely, anyway.

Even earlier, when Mitt chose as his running mate, Paul Ryan, a slavishly anti-social program guy even during what everybody agrees is a relentlessly tenacious depression/recession, it should have been a call to quit these guys.  It wasn't.

Plain old citizen Grover Norquist's success at exacting a mandatory anti-tax pledge from every Republican politician should have sent shuddery danger signals to the voting public.  It didn't.

Paul Ryan's OldTestamenty attacks on women, condemning both birth control and abortion, should have eliminated him from any chance at the vice presidency.  It didn't.

With the rise of ALEC and the revelations of the Koch brothers' relentless support and financing of anti-government members of congress, along with anti-democratic governors, red flags should have been waving frantically.  So far only half the country is seeing them.

With all that, I thought I might be shock-proof by now.  Turns out I'm not.