Saturday, November 1, 2008
He has long been one of my favorite authors. I discovered his books quite by accident one lonely day prowling the Oshkosh Public Library more than 20 years ago. I read Scumbler first and then went on to read Birdy, Dad, A Midnight Clear, Pride, Tidings, and Franky Furbo. Birdy, Dad, and A Midnight Clear were later made into movies but did not quite capture the magic of the books, perhaps because only words could fully convey his fantastic versions of reality.
Scumbler gave me light and color and hope in the midst of a deep depression. Birdy, A Midnight Clear, and Dad are perhaps the best of the lot, but all conveyed the author's indomitable spirit, keen eye, and deep love and compassion, especially for his wife and children.
Although Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson and everyone involved in making the movie of Dad tried hard to capture the book, one really has to read the book to have the lines between fantasy and reality blurred in the way the story was meant to be told. For anyone who has dealt with an aging parent, it illustrates beautifully all the mixed up emotions, memories, and fantasies that seize the mind and grip the heart.
I do not know how William Wharton spent his final years. I know he suffered a heartbreaking loss in 1988 when his daughter, Kate, his son-in-law, Bert, and their two children, two-year-old Dayiel and eight-month-old Mia, were killed in a horrific 23-car motor vehicle accident in Oregon. A very private person, he finally agreed to television and radio interviews to advocate against the field-burning that caused the smoke that led to the accident. He also wrote two books about it, Ever After: A Father's True Story and Wrongful Deaths.
William Wharton was the pen name that Albert adopted when he was persuaded to publish some of his writing. He was, however, primarily a painter, as was the principal character in Scumbler. Some of his works can be seen here. Clicking on the thumbnails allows a larger view of these marvelous paintings.
Albert, may you rest in peace, along with your beloved Kate and her family.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Studs died today at his home at the age of 96. It is hard to believe that he will no longer be with us, and so sad that he had to see the tenor of McCarthyism returning to public life. Just goes to show what kind of associations one might make hanging out in Chicago -- folks like Saul Alinksy, the founder of community organizing.
Growing up with Studs Terkel on the radio was extraordinary. I can't recall the number of times when I'd tune in WFMT and find that remarkable mind and voice. I never knew what I'd hear or learn from those marvelous rambling-with-a-purpose conversations.
NPR has some recordings of Studs' interviews with Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan as well as an interview with Studs here. Amy Goodman did an interview with him in 1997 available here. Today's article from the Chicago Tribune here, with its own video.
First there were the duties of the Vice-President, now we have the First Amendment. This woman is truly frightening. See "Palin - First Amendment Rights Threatened by Criticism" and "Sarah Palin Speaks on the First Amendment."
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I find a recent entry fascinating, not so much for its predictable defense of capitalism and the free market economy, but for what Posner identifies as the causes of the current financial crisis. In his essay, "Has the Market Economy Failed?", Posner writes:
....What is less obvious is why so many people think that the financial crisis is proof that a market economy does not work and thus we need fundamental change rather than merely incremental regulatory reform.
The answer lies in what conservative economists used to call the "Nirvana fallacy." This is the idea that any failure of the economy to attain optimality is a "market failure" that warrants government intervention. Conservative economists pointed out that the proper comparison is never between the operations of the actual market and an unattainable theoretical perfection, but between market-directed and government-directed or -regulated allocations of resources in particular economic settings. Market failures are ubiquitous, as the current crisis demonstrates. The crisis is not primarily a result of government actions. The quasi-governmental status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the pressures exerted on them by Congress to facilitate home ownership by insuring risky mortgages were contributing factors to the crisis, but the basic causes were misassessment by the industry of the risks associated with extremely high levels of borrowing, misunderstanding of risk by home buyers encouraged by real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, and banks, conflicts of interest by rating agencies, corporate compensation policies that truncated downside but not upside risk, and the private costs of disinvesting in an industry undergoing a bubble (the housing industry) before the bubble bursts, since until that moment the profits from riding with the bubble will be increasing. An additional factor was government inaction, but the failure of government to intervene in a market that is failing obviously presupposes rather than illustrates market failure. In contrast, gratuitous government intervention when there is no market failure is a genuine example of government failure.So a confluence of market failures has created an economic crisis, and the challenge is to develop regulatory responses that reduce the cost (net of the direct and indirect costs of the regulations themselves) of such failures. Complacency on the part of some economists and politicians about the efficiency of the market system, and specifically an exaggerated belief in the robustness of financial markets, have created the impression that the current crisis is a crisis of capitalism rather than just another demonstration of the radical imperfection of human institutions--including the market....
Scott Horton has written extensively about this in "The New McCarthyism" in Harper's Magazine. Focusing on the role that the National Review has played (and lamenting the loss of the magazine that, in former times, "was home base for a certain rigorous, philosophically based conservatism that valued the classics"), Horton writes:
In the current issue of National Review, Andrew McCarthy continues his campaign to link the Democratic nominee to various and sundry Hyde Park radicals. This time it is “PLO advisor turned University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi,” who now heads the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia University. Khalidi, we learn, makes a habit of justifying and supporting the work of terrorists and is “a former mouthpiece for master terrorist Yasser Arafat.” And then we learn that this same Khalidi knows Obama and that his children even babysat for Obama’s kids!Read the rest here.
This doesn’t sound much like the Rashid Khalidi I know. I’ve followed his career for many years, read his articles and books, listened to his presentations, and engaged him in discussions of politics, the arts, and history. In fact, as McCarthy’s piece ran, I was midway through an advance copy of Khalidi’s new book Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East. (I’ll be reviewing it next month–stay tuned.) Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights. He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies. In a sense, Khalidi’s formula for solving the Middle East crisis has not been radically different from George W. Bush’s: both believe in American values and approaches. However, whereas Bush believes these values can be introduced in the wake of bombs and at the barrel of a gun, Khalidi disagrees. He sees education and civic activism as the path to success, and he argues that pervasive military interventionism has historically undermined the Middle East and will continue to do so. Khalidi has also been one of the most articulate critics of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority—calling them repeatedly on their anti-democratic tendencies and their betrayals of their own principles. Khalidi is also a Palestinian American. There is no doubt in my mind that it is solely that last fact that informs McCarthy’s ignorant and malicious rants.
What I also liked was this bit at the end:
I have a suggestion for Andy McCarthy and his Hyde Park project. If he really digs down deep enough, he will come up with a Hyde Park figure who stood in constant close contact with Barack Obama and who, unlike Ayers and Khalidi, really did influence Obama’s thinking about law, government, and policy. He is to my way of thinking a genuine radical. His name is Richard Posner, and he appears to be the most frequently and positively cited judge and legal academic in… National Review.Referring to Judge Richard A. Posner, Circuit Judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, renowned scholar, economist, and legal philosopher, founder of the Law and Economics movement in legal studies during his days as law professor at the U. of Chicago, and still an active member of the Hyde Park (U. of Chicago) intellectual community.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
In this strange new pro-woman tableau, feminism -- a word that is being used all over the country with regard to Palin's potential power -- means voting for someone who would limit reproductive control, access to healthcare and funding for places like Covenant House Alaska, an organization that helps unwed teen mothers. It means cheering someone who allowed women to be charged for their rape kits while she was mayor of Wasilla, who supports the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, who has inquired locally about the possibility of using her position to ban children's books from the public library, who does not support the teaching of sex education.Do read it all at Salon.
In this "Handmaid's Tale"-inflected universe, in which femininity is worshipped but females will be denied rights, CNBC pundit Donny Deutsch tells us that we're witnessing "a new creation ... of the feminist ideal," the feminism being so ideal because instead of being voiced by hairy old bats with unattractive ideas about intellect and economy and politics and power, it's now embodied by a woman who, according to Deutsch, does what Hillary Clinton did not: "put a skirt on." "I want her watching my kids," says Deutsch. "I want her laying next to me in bed."
Welcome to 2008, the year a tough, wonky woman won a primary (lots of them, actually), an inspiring black man secured his party's nomination for the presidency, and a television talking head felt free to opine that a woman is qualified for executive office because he wants to bed her and have her watch his kids! Stop the election; I want to get off.
What Palin so seductively represents, not only to Donny Deutsch but to the general populace, is a form of feminine power that is utterly digestible to those who have no intellectual or political use for actual women. It's like some dystopian future ... feminism without any feminists.
I was reminded of a quote that I once heard from folk musician and activist Utah Phillips during a 2004 interview. In that interview Phillips said:
If I look at it [the world] from the top down, I get seriously depressed. The world’s going to hell in a wheelbarrow. But if I walk out the door, turn all that off, and go with the people, whatever town I’m in, who are doing the real work down at the street level, like I said, there’s too many good people doing too many good things for me to let myself be pessimistic about that. I’m hopeful, can’t live without hope. Can you?
As I was standing there today watching an elderly couple struggling to climb the stairs to get into the BOE, as I watched that little boy ask his mom questions about voting, as I watched a blind woman receive her ballot, I felt hope. I felt the hope of an active citizenry cut through all the sound bytes and negative ads and permeate through the racism and hatred of this campaign. I, like Utah Phillips, was forced to view things from the ground up and it gave me hope in what a unified people and in what an active citizenry can do. This hope and faith in people is important in times like these when we live in a world that bombards us with media sound bytes, sensational news stories, and views from the top; it is enough to make anyone pessimistic about the direction that we are headed. It is during those times, when the negativity is driving us to the point of insanity, that it is so important to take a step back and view the world from the bottom up. . . .
Read the rest at Common Dreams, an essay written for the Cincinnati Beacon.
Dole Ad Fabricates Audio of Opponent Yelling "There is No God"See updates to this story at the Huffington Post , including a video message and this press conference statement from Hagan:
Falling behind in her reelection race, Sen. Elizabeth Dole has uncorked one hell of a charge: The Democrat running against me is godless.
Dole's 30-second ad, which is running on television in North Carolina but has not (understandably) been promoted by the GOP, uses a September fundraiser co-hosted by 40 people, including a representative of the Godless America PAC, to falsely accuse Democrat Kay Hagan of being an atheist herself.
The end of the ad features a picture of Hagan with a female voice yelling "there is no God!" -- the clear implication is that the voice is Hagan's. In fact, the Democratic candidate is a Sunday School teacher and an elder at her Presbyterian church.
The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday morning that Hagan's campaign is seeking a "cease and desist" order against Dole's new attack.
"A leader of the Godless Americans PAC recently held a secret fundraiser in Kay Hagan's honor," the ad begins, showing some ominously blurred footage, ostensibly of the event in question. The ad then quotes the group's Ellen Johnson making atheist claims on two cable news shows. Summing up, the spot asks: "Godless Americans and Kay Hagan. She hid from cameras, took Godless money. What did Hagan promise in return?"
Two weeks ago, when the National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a similar attack, the Fayettville Observer described it as "the nastiest, most misleading, negative ad of the campaign."
State Senator and U.S. Senate Candidate Kay Hagan
Remarks as prepared
October 29, 2008 press conference
* Thank you for coming today. I know this was called at short notice, and I appreciate you being here for this.
* Let's get right to it. Elizabeth Dole should absolutely be ashamed of herself.
* I don't know what things were like when she grew up in North Carolina, but the North Carolina I was raised in would NEVER condone this kind of personal slander.
* I can't begin to tell you how upset I am that she has attacked my Christian faith.
* She's been in Washington for too long, gotten too close to George Bush and the special interests and this is what she's become.
* I am appalled at these tactics. This is politics of the worst kind, and it's been rejected by North Carolinians at every level. This is so unbecoming of the woman she claims to be.
* I have taught Sunday school. I'm an elder in this church, where the Hagan family has attended for over 100 years. I go on mission trips. I was raised going to Sunday school and church every week. And I raised my children that way.
* On Christmas Eve, we attend the 11:00 evening service, then early on Christmas mornings, my children and husband and I go to the Bell House and cook breakfast for the residents there. My family, my community and my church are the anchors of my life.
* If Senator Dole wants to pass judgment on my faith, that's her right - but it's not what my faith teaches.
* This is a fabricated, pathetic ad.
* I am outraged...That is not my voice at the end of the ad, and I do not share their beliefs.
* This was an event with nearly 40 hosts, including an ambassador and a sitting U.S. Senator (John Kerry).
* We have already contacted our lawyers and are proceeding with a cease and desist order sent to Elizabeth Dole.
* This kind of politics should not be tolerated.
* The politics of George Bush won't create one new job, lower the cost of health care, or do one lick of good for North Carolina.
* At their core, Americans aren't Democrat or Republican, red or blue - they're Americans, plain and simple. We ALL love our country, and we all value the role of faith in American life.
* Shame on anyone who says differently. . . .
Monday, October 27, 2008
Obama's interview with Chicago's WBEZ was specifically about the civil rights movement, and the best ways to remedy the conditions of black people after slavery and Jim Crow. When Obama talks about "redistributive change," it's in the context of what needed to be done for Americans who were slaves, who owned nothing; in fact, they were owned. Anyone who's honest knows that the legacy of African-American family poverty can be traced back to slavery and Jim Crow. Obama is not ranting wildly about income distribution in the interview; he's talking calmly and thoughtfully about the array of strategies needed to erase that legacy.Read the rest in Salon, including links to other essays discussing the points in more detail. Click below for Obama's actual words from the radio program.
The greatest irony is that Obama sounds conservative themes in the interview. He says the civil rights movement relied too much on the courts, and not enough on legislation, community organizing and political will. This is exactly what conservatives have said about the movements of the 1960s -- that they relied too much on judges, rather than the legislative system. But what's really remarkable about the interview is listening to Obama talk with nuance and insight and compassion about issues that have moral, legal and political ramifications. Listen to it, and imagine having a president who talks this way. I can't wait for next Tuesday.
Here's more about and from the show from Kris Broughton at Open Salon:
Now for some facts.
Barack Obama made appearances as a guest on Odyssey, a talk show produced by Chicago Public Radio. Obama, then a State Senator and Senior Lecturer at the Law School, was on the program 3 times between 1998 and 2002.
According to Josh Andrews, who produced the shows, "when he joined us, he was more than willing to set aside his political persona and put on his academic hat. Obama participated in discussions on the evolution of the right to vote, the politics of electoral redistricting, and the uneasy relationship between slavery and the constitution in early America."
The excerpts in the youtube video were taken from this hour long audio recording made January 18, 2001 from a program entitled "The Court and Civil Rights" hosted by Gretchen Helfrich. What did Obama really say on the air? See for yourself:
OBAMA: "You know, if you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples, so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order - as long as I could pay for it I’d be okay.
But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical.
It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, at least as it has been interpreted, and the Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.
And that hasn’t shifted, and one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still suffer from that."
HOST: "Let’s talk with Karen – good morning, Karen, you're on Chicago Public Radio."
CALLER: "The gentleman made the point that the Warren Court wasn’t terribly radical – my question is – with economic changes – my question is, is it too late for that kind of reparative work economically and is that the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place?"
HOST: "You mean the court?"
CALLER: "The court, or would it be legislation at this point?"
OBAMA: "You know, maybe I’m showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor. But I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.
You know, you just look at very rare examples where, in during the desegregation era the court was willing to, for example, order, you know, changes that cost money to a local school district – and, the court was very uncomfortable with it, it was very hard to manage, it was hard to figure out, you start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, you know, in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time."
OBAMA: "You know, the court’s just not very good at it, and politically, it’s just its very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So I mean I think that, although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally, you know, I think any three of us sitting here could, could come up with a rationale for bringing economic change through the courts."
What seemed to be the more interesting excerpt, at least to me, in this program was a comment by Obama about the seemingly contradictory relationship between liberal political ideology and the traditional African American approach to religion and politics.
HOST: "Let’s talk with Joe (I guess this must be "Joe the Liberal") – good morning, Joe, you're on Chicago Public Radio."
CALLER: "Good morning. What I'd like to know is, considering that the civil rights movement was fought very much on moral grounds as much as legal grounds, and therefore religious grounds - I mean, Martin Luther King was a reverend, after all - what impact is that having now on the Supreme Court, and perhaps, with Ashcroft being nominated, in the future."
OBAMA: "Well, you know, I think its an interesting question, you may be pointing out, sir, what has been a longstanding contradiction, not just in the Warren Court or liberal lawyers, but, sir, the liberal community generally, and that is the contradiction between on the one hand basing many of its claims for justice on moral and ethical grounds, and at the same time being suspicious of church encroachment into the political sphere.
That's been less of a contradiction traditionally in the African American community, and for whatever reason psychologically, the country has always been more comfortable with the African American community's marriage of spiritual and, and political institutions. But I think that is a genuine contradiction that exists, you know, I think in the ideological makeup of the left in this country that hasn't been entirely resolved."
My father has always maintained that integration was doomed to have limited success because "they didn't integrate the money". Neither he nor Obama were calling for any kind of reparations. They were simply acknowledging out loud what a lot of black Americans knew all along - that without adequate access to capital for investment, our community was guaranteed to struggle along.
Its not like we were asking for 700 billion dollars - just some real access to capital to go along with all that freedom we had.
But even more ironic than that is the frenzied hate over this latest "finding" that will be harbored by people who have nothing to redistribute but negligible equity in their homes, credit card debt, and virtually empty 401(k) accounts.
This has to be the greatest Jedi Mind Trick of all time - rich elites have the broke "Joe SixPacks" who comprise their base of supporters championing their cause. For people who love to call the Democrats socialists, it is the most collective ownership ideology out there. "If you tack a picture of my big house and nice cars on the wall of the house you can barely pay for, you can call yourself a capitalist. Just don't be late to work, cause I need you to make me some more money, Joe."
Racial equality without economic equality is like having a car with no gas - at that point, it just becomes something to look at and polish once in awhile so you can remember what it used to look like when back when you first got it.
The even funnier thing about all of this is, "Joe the Plumber" has more in common with "Jamal the Plumber" than he realizes. But you can't tell Joe that.
All I know is, if I run into some Joe SixPack or Joe the Plumber who starts sputtering about how Obama is going to "redistribute" wealth he probably will never have to "African Americans", I am liable to tell him the same thing Cuba Gooding said to Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire when he told Cruise his future depended on Cuba staying with him - "all he's got to do is 'show me the money, baby!'"
It was not so much what we accomplished for the campaign -- precious little, I'm afraid, mostly leaving literature on porches where people were not home or not willing to come to the door, although part of our job was to encourage supporters to make sure to vote and to mark down others who may not have been contacted before. But like so many things in life, I think we received so much more than we were able to give.
Of those people who did come to their doors, not only were virtually all of them strong Obama supporters, but there was not a one who said in a bored or irritated manner something like, uh, yea, I'm voting for him, goodbye. Everyone, young, old, white, black, Hispanic, stopped and smiled and had a gleam in their eyes when they said, yes, they were definitely voting for Obama and so were their friends or family. While I haven't done a lot of canvassing in my lifetime, I've never seen or heard people talk that way about a political candidate.
I really did not expect anything like that from the neighborhoods we visited. Maybe it was just the grey, rain-soaked Saturday afternoon that made the blocks of small, older homes look sad and discourgaged. But the people who opened their doors to us were not.
Earlier that day, our training session in downtown Scranton ended with a surprise visit from Rory Kennedy, youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, documentary film-maker on topics such as The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Pandemic: Facing AIDS, and American Hollow (the story of a struggling Appalachian family), and the mother of three young children. Rory gave a short pep talk, which I later discovered was a much condensed version of the speech she gave earlier in the primaries and her endorsement, "Two Fine Choices - One Clear Decision" published in the San Francisco Chronicle. I cannot recall her exact words, but they echoed these from her endorsement:
I don't know why -- I've never been smitten with the Kennedy mystique, as much as I have respected the tireless efforts of many family members to truly serve the public good -- but my eyes swelled up with tears when I heard her speak. At the time Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for President himself, I had questions about whether he had commanded the spotlight in the race after standing on the shoulders of others who had worked hard before him (namely Eugene McCarthy), but I, too, was struck by the way he genuinely seemed to "feel it" when he spoke to people and the uncanny ability he had to inspire people to think and feel differently, to see the larger picture, and to take action accordingly. At a time when many were devastated over the effects of the seemingly endless Vietnam war, and the horror of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he continued to give people a sense of hope and determination, to bring together black and white American, and to dare to dream of a better future for all -- until then he was killed as well.
In my years making documentaries, I have traveled to remote regions, from small villages in South America, to townships in South Africa, to the hollows of Appalachia. Every trip, every film, I meet people who still keep photographs of my family on their walls. They cry when they meet me, simply because they were touched by my father, Robert Kennedy. In part, this is because my father supported policies and legislation that helped the disenfranchised. But it is also, and perhaps more importantly, because they felt that my father understood their pain. Senator Obama has that quality too. He has an open heart and an energizing spirit.
Recently, my mother, Ethel Kennedy, said of Obama: "I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did. He has the passion in his heart. He's not selling you. It's just him."
I agree. Obama is a genuine leader. We Americans - women included - desperately need that kind of leader now. Not a president of a particular gender or a specific race, but a president with a different vision, one who inspires a sense of hope.
Rory, his last child (not born until December 12, 1968, after her father's death in June, the violent Democratic convention in August, and Richard Nixon's election in November), is herself a representative of her father's hope -- not just by name, family tradition or agenda. I knew nothing of her until I returned home and started reading, but she certainly has not given up when most would. In addition to her father's death, her own personal tragedies include holding her dying brother Michael in her arms in 1997 and then in 1998 having her own wedding postponed when her cousins, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, died in a plane crash en route to her wedding. Yet she married, had children, continued her work with her husband making an astonishing series of films, and now is doing what she can to support Obama's campaign. Such hope, faith, and tenacity cannot help but astonish me.
Maybe I'm just a sucker for words of inspiration and hope, whether they come from a politician, an activist, or a preacher. But I saw those words personified as I sloshed through the streets and alleys of North Scranton on Saturday. People are daring to hope, at a time and a place where there seems to be no reason to have much. Let us also hope that they will not be disappointed.
Now close your eyes, and imagine… After struggling through the world of Alaska political corruption, we suddenly find ourselves out in the fresh air, standing by a lamp post, in a strange new place. We see a sleigh silently moving across the snow. Everything is glittering, and we can see our breath. It’s been snowing for a long, long time. The sleigh is pulled by six pure white caribou, (or polar bears…take your pick). There is the silver tinkling of little bells as the sleigh approaches, and we see sitting there, wrapped in the furs, and clad in something fabulous from Nieman Marcus, is the White Witch. Stunningly beautiful, icy cold, smiling.Read the rest here and a good followup at Celtic Diva.