Friday, January 29, 2010


Thanks, JD

Much is being written about the passing of the author of the Catcher in the Rye. When I was in high school and wanted to do a book report on it, I had to get a note from Mom, saying that it was OK with her. It was that controversial.

Now it's required reading in many a high school English curriculum.

I loved that novel. But like any true author-fan, I loped right along to Salinger's other books, Nine Stories, Franny & Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters, and Seymour, an Introduction. It was Franny and Zooey that sealed my lifelong connection to his writing.

I loved Salinger's wit, the verbal stunt-pilot that he was. The beaverboard full of quotations in Zooey turned me on to everybody from Ring Lardner to Kafka to Epictetus to Issa. I faithfully tracked down Zen koans and the Bhagavad-Gita on Salinger's say-so. I even nicknamed my mother Bessie after Bessie Glass, the chicken-soup serving matriarch of the Glass Family.

When I moved to Vermont, I learned that I lived about 15 minutes from Salinger's home, the exact whereabouts of which were carefully guarded by his fellow residents in Cornish, New Hampshire. Much has been made of his reclusive nature, as if he'd morphed into a literary Howard Hughes--paranoid, miserly, and wizened, with long and filthy fingernails.

Not true. He simply didn't want to strut around like the literary lion he could have been. He lived in harmony with his neighbors, went to local church suppers, and married a very nice lady who taught quilting at the senior center till JD became quite old and needed more of her care. His fellow townspeople enjoyed helping him with his need for privacy and sent people seeking an audience with The Great Man at his home on many a wild goose chase. He continued to write, but not for publication... simply for the joy of writing itself.

So here's to you, JD. Thanks for introducing me to the wisdom of the East, the intersection between philosophy and humor, and the joys of living authentically in the self. You saved my adolescent bacon and prepared me for further reading as an adult.

Not a bad legacy... if you want to know the truth.

p.s. Lillian Ross, a good friend of his for 50 years, remembers him in the latest New Yorker.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Obama's Fallen in Among Thieves: How He Can Extricate Himself

Let's face it. Obama's fallen in with the Wrong Crowd.

I wasn't surprised when he began to address the unfinished business in Afghanistan that was so rudely interrupted by Dubya's rush to war in Iraq. He had said as much during the campaign, and as the father of daughters, I had hoped that much of his motivation sprang from a desire to advocate for girls whose very futures, safety, and sense of selves remain vulnerable to the resuscitation of the Taliban.

Unfortunately, Obama's answer is a military solution in the wake of the first term of a corrupt Karzai
administration, now extended by an even more farcical election. All this American military power, like the drone attacks in Pakistan, do nothing more than to show that American hasn't any ideas that don't involve the use of force. Worse, that America will prop up a sleaze like Karzai. To villagers in the path of bombs, might can't possibly make right. We are simply the true terrorists with bigger budgets.

I can understand the President consulting with military advisors. It would be foolish, even dangerous to do otherwise. But military advisors exist to provide military solutions. The exclusive use of them for approaching the problems of Afghanistan created a truly cringe-worthy Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, not to mention a ghastly, premature assignment of the prize to the new head of state. The prize committee was clearly star-struck, and to no one's advantage, not even Obama's.

The Prez needs to widen his circle. It's taken him no time at all to set up shop in the bubble that he castigated during the campaign. Like many CEOs who don't understand economics --and I'm sure that he doesn't, despite his good-boy embrace of the free market in The Audacity of Hope, he's come to rely on the very authors of the economy's destruction. Similarly, in Afghanistan, Obama seeks to employ a single tool.

When your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Once he gets his head out of his ass on the economic mess, Obama should spend a weekend at Camp David with Greg Mortenson. If you haven't stumbled upon him before, he's the man who has been setting up schools in Afghanistan, one at a time. He's the Pennies for Peace guy. Two books have been written about his untiring campaign for peace through the people's philanthropy: Three Cups of Tea and more recently, Stones Into Schools. To defend the schools he's set up, Mortenson has learned a lot about working with the local warlords. Once he's gotten them to send their daughters to his schools, they become vigilant about defending them from attacks by the Taliban--and they have the tools and personnel to do that job.

After decrying the Same Old Politics in the campaign, Obama relied on the Same Old Politicians and to help him get the job done, albeit the ones across the aisle. They greeted his overtures with all the graciousness of a piranha.

Obama possesses incredible tools for teaching, and still he manages to avoid their use. He needs some new inspiration. If he fears using populist anger to any great degree, he is at his best in an motivational mode. Let him avail himself of the opportunity for that refreshment
of the spirit.

Let him tap into the inspirational qualities of those who do that work, and communicate the lessons learned to the American people. Let him show the Good Offense of people like Mortenson which trumps the lousy, missile-based Defense of crumb-bums like Karzai.

And let him remind us why we elected him in the first place: that activism for the perpetuation of the projects that could save us and the principles that uplift us are the raw materials of hope.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Know-Nothings Redux

The elevation of Miss Sarah to analyst at Faux News has me thinking about the old Know-Nothing party of the 19th Century. An anti-immigrant, nativist movement, it raised questions about who was (the descendants of English immigrants) and wasn't (Irish and German immigrants) a Real American.

Such movements play best to the most ignorant Americans. Identify them as the real thing, cast aspersions on everybody else, and you have the worst of the grass roots movements.

Faux News has been created on the mass consumption model, the Twinkie version of the
truth. You remember Twinkies: they were used as the keystone of the defense of the late San Francisco supervisor Dan White, who murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in the late 70s. White had been consuming vast amounts of junk food, and therefore was not responsible for his actions when he gunned the two down in City Hall. He got off with involuntary manslaughter, only to commit suicide after getting out of prison, since his problems weren't eliminated with the death of his rivals.

So junk food and the culture it symbolizes functions in the political arena today, and Faux News is its greatest disseminator. Masked as a news organization, its Fair and Balanced: You Decide motto (you could never accurately call it a mission statement) dishes up vast amounts of untruth by showmen and bimbos masked as analysts who work under the adage, say something often enough and it becomes the truth.

The satanic spawn of Karl Rove.

As a retired schoolmarm, I can't help but wish that education were the answer to Faux News. There are many states that don't require knowledge of the Constitution as a high school graduation requirement. That's why it's so easy for LaSarah to pretend that her Rogue campaign is in its defense. I've seen Sarah-fans mouth their enthusiasm for her in terms of Getting Back to the Constitution, and I know full well that they haven't the faintest idea of what's in that venerable document. And I know that even some of the students who did squeak through a civics class didn't emerge with a strong foundation in the daily ins and outs of what the Constitution means.

One of my frustrations with the current political scene is that the liars seem to be the only ones who have adopted an education function, or in their case, a mis-education role. What Democrats need to do is to stop cowering in the halls of Congress and to get out and work with the young who were so inspired by Obama's candidacy. They showed up to vote; now they need to be given information and access to the ideals for which their candidate stood.

I could criticize Obama for not stepping further into his professorial role, but his plate does seem full, both with what Bush&Co. left behind and what he has both wisely and foolishly appropriated for himself.

Till somebody hears the call and picks up the task, the Twinkie-Winkies have the floor.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Palin Battles Stewart for Fake News Dominance

Sarah on Fox! Fair and balanced!


I can only hope that she'll settle for being filthy rich, accent on the filthy.

Too bad she can't tell the difference between fake news, which has great Photoshops and a punchline, and Faux News, which is simply lies.

I am more grateful than ever not to have cable.

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