Redheaded Ramblings: Sheila A-stray  

"This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am." -- James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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I will bear witness, 1942 - 1945 The Diaries of Victor Klemperer


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From An Empire Wilderness by Robert Kaplan. Kaplan, foreign policy renegade and global pessimist, drives around western America in this book. He stops in Missoula, Montana and interviews Daniel Kemmis, a former mayor :

Along with a cup of coffee, Kemmis handed me a map entitled 'Federal Government Lands in the West'. The map, he told me, would explain much about militias, environmentalists, and "the new federalism", something in which he believed.

The map used different color codes to mark eighteen kinds of federal land: Forest Service Lad, Bureau of Reclamation Land, Department of Defense and Department of Energy Land, Fish and Wildlife Service Land, national parks and so on. The area from the Front Range of the Rockies westward to the Cascades was rich in color; it was largely "public land", while the Great Plains and Pacific Coast were overwhelmingly under private ownership. As for federal land east of the Mississippi River, Kemmis told me that there is so little of it that it wasn't worth putting on the mp.

"For example, 90% of Nevada is public land, controlled mainly from Washington DC. Nobody can buy it, build on it, or do anything with it," Kemmis began. "50% of Montana is public land. The figure for the entire Rocky Mountains [from the Mexican to the Canadian border] is over 50%. So there is a strong sense in the West of being owned and colonized. Out here, Washington DC seems very much an imperial power. Conservatives want this land for development; they want to free up these vast federal acreages and subdivide them. It drives conservatives crazy that environmentalists want to prevent that, which accounts for much of the enmity between environmentalists and developers, and logging firms, too. Land may appear limitless in the West, but because so much of it is out of bounds and water is so scarce, the part that is actually available is at a premium, and therefore property is relatively expensive. This feeds class resentment. Gentrification of towns like Missoula and Bozeman and the consequent upward effect on real estate values make it worse for the blue-collar poor. Add to that the big in-migration of wealthy telecommuters and second-home owners from the two coasts, and you have a real conflict. When militia crazies say they want independence from the federal government, what they often mean is that they want an end to Washington's control of public lands.

"Therefore, I believe that for the West, the two hot-button concepts in the next century will be water and Thomas Jefferson. Increasingly scarce water will make the kind of development that conservatives demand that much more impractical, and they will wrap their rage in the cloak of Thomas Jefferson, who stood for a weak federal government. In the West, the city has always been the root of all evil, even if most of the West is urban. Still, this Jeffersonian ideal of rural purity runs strong."

Kemmis continued in his crisp western accent: "The liberals and environmentalists have latched onto the federal government, defending federal lands and so forth, while the conservatives have latched onto the sanctity of the states. But that, too, will lead to disaster because the states out here are no less impersonal and sometimes more irrelevant than the federal government. Boise, Idaho's capital, for instance, is becoming a world-class software city, but it has no control over Coeur d'Alene in the northern part of Idaho, which is an economic extension of Spokane, Washington. John Wesley Powell [the great surveyor of the arid West, who explored the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon] warned federal bureaucrats not to draw straight lines in setting political boundaries here; instead, he said, the lines should follow river valleys, drainage basins, and mountain ranges. Well, we ignored Powell, but the emerging economic reality is that of Billings and the Yellowstone drainage, Missoula and the Clark Fork drainage…It is neither Washington DC, nor the state capitals that are determining reality here; rather, it is these urban areas that are spreading along the river drainages. Neither the state nor the federal government can make things work; it can only be the civic culture in each locale.

"Imperial pressure was imposed by Lincoln when Rocky Mountain settlement began during the Civil War, but that concept of nation building is antiquated, and Lincoln's model of one power dominating the east-west continent needs to be taken on. Yes, even Lincoln himself needs to be challenged, as Jefferson is being challenged now. The state system into which the Republicans have put so much faith is impeding the natural conglomeration of new urban units, whose borders will be geographical and not political."

During the period of western expansion we were an American empire long before we were a unified Atlantic-to-Pacific country. What Kemmis is suggesting, it seemed to me, is that we might eventually revert to being an empire once more: a subtle, ambiguous one of geographically determined, loosely connected posturban forms; a dry-land version of city-state Greece, in which ruthless economic competition replaces ancient wars. The phrase "an empire wilderness," from Hart Crane's poem of 1930 "The Bridge", occurred to me as a way of describing this new political arrangement. Rather than rule these urban units, Washington DC, would, in effect, provide a protective shield against such hazards as global terrorism and computer hackers and supply aid such as specialized military units for floods and earthquakes. And as this transformation toward a system of mere imperial oversight proceeds, late-twentieth-century debates between liberals and conservatives regarding the balance of power between Washington and the fifty states will become increasingly irrelevant.

James Madison, in The Federalist, considered a comparable situation. Madison envisioned the settlement of the whole continental United States, but he did not foresee a modern transportation network that would allow Americans to inhabit one national community psychologically. His vision of our political future was of an enormous geographic space with governance but without patriotism, in which the federal government would be a mere "umpire', refereeing competing interests. The concept went untested because a uniquely American identity and culture did take root. But as Americans enter a global community driven, in part, by gigantic corporations, many of which are based in – but not necessarily loyal to – America, and as class and racial divisions within our borders prove intractable, Madison's concept may become relevant. America, ironically, will spread its material and mass cultural influence abroad through American-based corporations, even as federal and state governments become hollower here at home.

Kemmis did not go as far as I in speculating about the future, but he did say that, ultimately, disputes such as those between environmentalists and developers will be settled at the local level as urban regions become far more important in people's lives and as the federal-state superstructure diminishes.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/10/2003 08:02:00 AM

Saturday, May 10, 2003  

Again, I'm a bit too busy at the moment. My heart is racing.

Lots of fun last night at Puck Fair. Saw my great old friend from grad school behind the bar ... Love that man. We talked and whooped it up, catching up on our lives, laughing hysterically about our classmates. He is a kind soul. He is from Texas. He would wear Stetson hats to our voice class. He was awesome. An awesome friend.

Hung out with Aedin and her friend Dierdre, in from Ireland. Much laughter.

I have a lot on my mind these days. A ton of things I am worrying about. Aedin said I am "dwelling" on things, and she is right. I am like a dog with a bone, when I'm worried about something. So it was good to forget my troubles for a while, have some beer, eat a burger, see an old friend, hang out with a new friend, and not worry about anything.

Stumbled home at 1 in the morning, and had a restless sleep, with a bunch of nightmares. Anxiety-dreams. I have GOT to chill the hell out.

Today is a grey, cool day. My kind of weather.

I need a vacation. I need a couple weeks off where I do nothing but relax. This is ridiculous.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/09/2003 03:16:00 PM

Friday, May 09, 2003  



Today's diary excerpt is from December 1996. My second year of grad school.

Dec. 30 1:50 a.m.

Odd. Sort of creepy evening. Alone. Sitting in my black velvet-covered armchair. Drinking ice water. Flannels on. Sammy purring. Sketching.

Had a -- creepy -- uneasy -- and totally STILL out of body experience -- out of nowhere -- and just for a split second -- where my mind/spirit detached from my flesh and looked on --

It was not pleasant. My arms looked like sticks, my posture in the chair, the silence of this apartment, the flickering candle flame --

And then -- click. I clicked back into my body. Chilled. Uneasy. Didn't like what I perceived/felt/sensed. Couldn't put it into words.

Reread Wrinkle in Time today. My heart bursting. The love! The love that will save the universe from the dark forces out there. Never stop loving.

Last night. Lying on Brooke and Jim's hardwood kitchen floor, with Brooke and Mackenzie. Jim cleaning up from dinner, Mackenzie clambering all over us. Warm. Cozy. The rest of the apartment was dimly lit -- the kitchen was full of a golden light -- a small Xmas tree in the living room glittered with white lights.

Honest open talk at dinner. I loved sitting, eating with them, talking. Jim's serious angry face. Mackenzie cooing in her high chair with peas squashed all over her face. Her smile! Her jack o'lantern smile!

"I hate the salad, Jim. But I love you." said Brooke.

We moseyed into the dark living room. Brooke gave Mackenzie her bottle. Mackenzie was in her yellow feetie pajamas. Her legs were all squirmy. She looked like Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Then we watched "Before and After". It's been a long time since I've seen a movie with Brooke. She has a very specific way of watching a movie. It's very interactive, very concerned, lots of whispered comments and questions:

"What's going on?" she'll hiss urgently.
"Wait ... what did he say?"
"What does THAT mean?"
"She must feel terrible!"
"I could never have sex at that moment! I'd have too much on my mind

It's so cute. It may be annoying to somebody else, but to me: she's like a child, tossing herself eagerly into the movie's world.

Then, because of the subject-matter of the movie, some hysteria erupted in our post-movie discussion. Jim got all riled up about how a parent should handle their kid growing up, becoming a teenager. He was getting murderous, talking to Mackenzie's imaginary future boyfriend whose name was Chet. (Jim doesn't trust Chet, obviously. "What about Jeff?" I asked. "Jeff? He's okay. He's a good kid," Jim immediately replied.)

Jim talked directly TO Chet: "Chet --- if you drink and drive -- with Mackenzie in the car -- I will kill you. And that's not a threat."

Brooke and I simultaneously burst out laughing. Brooke gasped, "That's not a threat?"

Jim was sincerely getting pissed, even just imagining some jerk being reckless with Mackenzie's life.

"No. It's not a threat. It's simple cause and effect. All actions have consequences, Chet." Chet was very real to Jim.

Brooke finally started pleading for Mackenzie's dating freedom, whispering up at her furious husband, "She just wants to go to the movies!"

Too funny. Mackenzie and her Purple Crayon sleeping in her onesies in the next room, not even one year old yet, and Brooke is standing up for her adolescent rights. "She just wants to go to the movies, Jim!"

As Jim rambled on, Brooke picked up a clear blue glass, put it up to her eye like a telescope and stared at the Xmas tree through it. "Wow, that's so cool!" she said to me after a minute.

I said, "Let me look."

(Meanwhile, Jim is still raging -- in a whisper -- at an imaginary Chet. "Chet -- I'm not kidding here, buddy. You do not be careless with her life ... HEY. Wipe that smirk off your face.")

Brooke gave the glass to me and I looked through it at the tree. Very cool blue kaleidoscope effect.

Poor Jim had clearly lost our attention, and when he realized this, he paused for a second. He HATES it when people's attentions wander during one of his monologues. He paused, looked down at us on the couch, one of us with our eye glued to a blue glass -- took it all in, silently, and then he said, "You guys, can I see?"

Why did that charm me so much? He didn't want to be left out even though we were clearly leaving him out.

So I handed the glass up to him, and he looked at the Xmas tree through it, turning his head side to side, like Brooke and I did. Brooke and I sat on the couch, looking up at him, waiting for his response.

I mean, how classic is that?

I had to just burst into laughter. Such LOVE, such AWE at how much we all have been thru -- how long we all have known each other -- our shared history. It all seemed encapsulated for me in the moment of watching Jim and the blue glass.

Actually, the whole night had that flavor to it. The awareness of many levels of reality. Consciousness.

I love to take a couple of seconds and jot down the whimsical things I remember about an "uneventful night" like last night, because it was RICH. And years from now, when I reread the entry, it all will come flooding back and I will burst into laughter and call Brooke, wherever she is, and read the whole thing to her.

A gift to the future Me.

Memory is such an important thing. If we don't forget stuff, then we have so many more opportunities to grow, and to also recognize growth that has occurred. Recognize how much has gone on between A and B. Important.

Picture of T,C, and S on Brooke and Jim's fridge. All three of them (to me) have this sort of stunned frozen look. Almost smiling, but too stunned physically to really go for it. Yes -- all three of them.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/09/2003 09:56:00 AM



From A History of the American People by Paul Johnson:

[Thomas] Jefferson was in some ways the archetypal figure of the entire Enlightenment...In terms of all-round learning, gifts, sensibilities, and accomplishments, there has never been an American like him, and generations of educated Americans have rated him higher than Washington and Lincoln...

We know a great deal about this remarkable man, or think we do. His Writings, on a bewildering array of subjects, have been published in twenty volumes...In some ways he was a mass of contradictions. He thought slavery an evil institution, which corrupted the master even more than it opposed the chattel. But he owned, bought, sold, and bred slaves all his adult life. He was a deist, possibly even a skeptic; yet he was also a "closet theologian', who read daily from a multilingual edition of the new Testament. He was an elitist in education -- "By this means twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually" -- but he also complained bitterly of elites, "those who, rising above the swinish multitude, always contrive to nestle themselves into places of power and profit". He was a democrat, who said he would "always have a jealous care of the right of election by the people." Yet he opposed direct election of the Senate on the ground that "a choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for its wisdom." He could be an extremist, glorying in the violence of revolution: "What country before ever existed a century and a half without rebellion?...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." Yet he said of Washington: "The moderation and virtue of a single character has probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."

No one did more than he did to create the United States of America. Yet he referred to Virginia as "my country" and to the Congress as "a foreign legislature". His favorite books were Don Quixote and Tristam Shandy. Yet he lacked a sense of humor. After the early death of his wife, he kept-- it was alleged -- a black mistress. Yet he was priggish, censorious of bawdy jokes and bad language, and cultivated a we-are-not-amused expression. He could use the most inflammatory language. Yet he always spoke with a quiet, low voice and despised oratory as such. His lifelong passion was books. He collected them in enormous quantity, beyond his means, and then had to sell them all to Congress to raise money. He kept as detailed daily accounts as it is possible to conceive but failed to realize that he was running deeply and irreversibly into debt. He was a man of hyperbole. But he loved exactitude -- he noted all figures, weights, distances, and quantities in minute detail; his carriage had a device to record the revolution of its wheels; his house was crowded with barometers, rain-gauges, thermometers and anemometers. The motto of his seal-ring, chosen by himself, was "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." Yet he shrank from violence and did not believe God existed...

His first hero was his fellow-Virginian Patrick Henry (1736-99), who seemed to be everything Jefferson was not: a firebrand, a man of extremes, a rabble-rouser, and an unreflective man of action...Jefferson was seventeen when he met him and he was present in 1765 when Henry acquired instant fame for his flamboyant denunciation of the Stamp Act. Jefferson admired him no doubt for possessing the one gift he himself lacked -- the power to rouse men's emotions by the spoken word.

Jefferson had a more important quality, however: the power to analyze a historic situation in depth, to propose a course of conduct, and present it in such a way as to shape the minds of a deliberative assembly. In the decade between the Stamp Act agitation and the Boston Tea Party, many able pens had set out constitutional solutions for America's dilemma. But it was Jefferson, in 1774, who encapsulated the entire debate in one brilliant treatise -- Summary View of the Rights of British America. Like the works of his predecessors in the march to independence ... Jefferson relied heavily on Chapter Five of John Locke's Second Treatise on Government, which set out the virtues of a meritocracy, in which men rise by virtue, talent, and industry. Locke argued that the acquisition of wealth, even on a large scale, was neither unjust nor morally wrong, provided it was fairly acquired. So, he said, society is necessarily stratified, but by merit, not by birth. This doctrine of industry as opposed to idleness as the determining factor in a just society militated strongly against kings, against governments of nobles and their placemen, and in favor of representative republicanism.

Jefferson's achievement, in his tract, was to graft onto Locke's meritocratic structure two themes which became the dominant leitmotifs of the Revolutionary struggle. The first was the primacy of individual rights: 'The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." Equally important was the placing of these rights within the context of Jefferson's deep and in a sense more fundamental commitment to popular sovereignty: "From the nature of things, every society must at all times possess within itself the sovereign powers of legislation." It was Jefferson's linking of popular sovereignty with liberty, both rooted in a divine plan, and further legitimized by ancient practice and the English tradition, which gave the American colonists such a strong, clear, and plausible conceptual basis for their action. Neither the British government nor the American loyalists produced arguments which had a fraction of this power. They could appeal to the law as it stood, and duty as they saw it, but that was all. Just as the rebels won the media battle (in America) from the start, so they rapidly won the ideological battle too.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/09/2003 09:10:00 AM

Light blogging today. Busy on so many fronts that my head is actually buzzing at the moment.

It's the kind of busy where I feel harassed even by positive things. Like: "Oh, DAMMIT, my brother called, now I have to call him back!" I hate it when I get like that. This, too, shall pass.

This evening: dinner at a great bar downtown called Puck Fair. With Aedin. An old and dear friend is one of the bartenders there. I went to grad school with him, and we were two very messed-up peas in a pod. So it should be a nice night.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/08/2003 04:30:00 PM

Thursday, May 08, 2003  


The body in the East River has been identified as the woman missing since March 3.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/08/2003 11:03:00 AM


I watched "The Bachelor" last night. I am so completely hooked on the show that I fear for my own sanity. There is one more episode, and I literally CANNOT WAIT to see what happens. I have intense opinions about it, too, which I do not mind sharing with anyone who asks. (No one ever does.) I think that he CLEARLY should choose Jen. He needs to stay away from Kirsten. She's a snake. She's the kind of woman who makes other women look bad. Despite her good looks. Jen seems true-blue. There also seems to be chemistry between the two of them. And Tina Fabulous was just in it to compete. Once she realized she might lose and not get a rose, then suddenly she starts babbling at him, "I'm falling for you and I'm really scared." It came off very false, she didn't mean a word of it. She just didn't want to lose.

I have cleared my schedule next Wednesday night so I can see the finale.

I'm pathetic because of all of this, yes, but what I am about to reveal next is even more embarrassing.

I CRIED last night watching "Extreme Makeover". I SHED TEARS. Realizing how ridiculous it was the entire time the tears were falling. I've never seen the show before, and I will never watch it again. Truth be told, it turned my stomach. It turned my stomach on a gut level (surgery, blood, stitches), but it turned my stomach on an emotional level too. "After I got my nose done, and my eyes lifted, and my boobs enlarged and my hair colored and my wardrobe redone, I now feel that I have the time to re-commit to my marriage." WHAT? (This is not an exaggeration. This is the kind of monologue the producers get the participants to make). The show is a commercial for the great-ness of plastic surgery. It's disgusting. And yes, yes, I KNOW all this, I can SEE how manipulative it is, how awful it is, and yet there I was, in my pajamas, CRYING because that girl got her teeth whitened and her nose redone, and she called her father, weeping tears of happiness.

So embarrassing. For me. Not for her.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/08/2003 10:33:00 AM



From Lives of the Poets by Michael Schmidt:

Ben Jonson -- another man described as "the first poet laureate" -- compares with any poet of his age and the next. He can almost out-Campion Campion and he fathers Robert Herrick's lyrics and those of other "Sons of Ben," Jonson's followers, who climb nearly to Campion's heights:

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's Nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.
I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honoring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon did'st only breathe,
And sent'st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.

He can set himself on a par with the satirists of the generations that followed his own, with a greater fluidity in his use of the couplet:

At court I met it, in clothes brave enough,
To be a courtier; and looks grave enough,
To seem a statesman; as I near it came,
It made me a great face, I asked its name,
A lord, it cried, buried in flesh and blood,
And such from whom let no man hope least good,
For I will do none: and as little ill,
For I will dare none. Good Lord, walk dead still.

Or he writes "On English Monsieur":

Would you believe, when you this Monsieur see,
That his whole body should speak French, not he?
That so much scarf of France, and hat, and feather,
And shoe, and tie, and garter should come hither,
And land on one, whose face durst never be
Toward the sea, farther than half-way tree?
That he, untravelled, should be French so much,
As French-men in his company should seem Dutch?
Or had his father, when he did him get,
The French disease, with which he labours yet?
Or hung some monsieur's picture on the wall,
By which his dam conceived him, clothes and all?

The common elements in these poems and the epistles, elegies and plays are balance, construction and proportion (except in flattery). Even at his most intemperate, his art brings disparate elements into tight control. The fireworks hang suspended in the air, a promise, a pleasure even at their harshest.

And since our dainty age
Cannot endure reproof,
Make not thyself a Page,
To that strumpet the Stage,
But sing high and aloof
Safe from the wolf's black jaw, and the dull
Ass's hoof.

His epitaph in Westminster Abbey reads: "O rare Benn Johnson." Cutting the stone, Aubrey tells us, cost 18d., paid by Jack Young, later Sir Jack. He also tells us that the living poet had a certain peculiarity of face: "Ben Jonson had one eie lower than t'other, and bigger, like Clun the Player; perhaps he begott Clun." If there is dirt to be dished, and even if there isn't, we can trust Aubrey to dish it.

Jonson suffers one irremediable disability: Shakespeare. Alexander Pope underlines the point in his Preface to the Works of Shakespeare (1725): "It is ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is so probable, as that because Ben Jonson had much the more learning, it was said on the other hand that Shakespeare had none at all; and because Shakespeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonson wanted both. Because Shakespeare borrowed nothing, it was said that Ben Jonson borrowed everything." In the plays the proximity of Shakespeare does Jonson the most harm, though he writes plays so different from his friend's that they seem distinct in kind and period. Part of that difference is Jonson's poetic balance, deliberate artistry: he knows what he wants to say and has the means of saying it, no more or less. He speaks for his age, while Shakespeare speaks for himself. Jonson's art is normative, Shakespeare's radical and exploratory. In Jonson there's structure and gauged variegation, in Shakespeare movement and warmth. Coleridge disliked the "rankness" of Jonson's realism and found no "goodness of heart". He condemned the "absurd rant and ventriloquism" in the tragedy Sejanus,staged by Shakespeare's company at the Globe. At times Jonson's words, unlike Shakespeare's, tend to separate out and stand single, rather than coalesce, as though he had attended to every single word. His mind is busy near the surface. He is thirsty at the lip, not at the throat.

It's true, but it is not the whole truth. Jonson's attitude to the very sound of language can seem casual. Except in songs from the plays ("Queen, and huntress, chaste and fair," for instance) and a few lyrics, words are chosen first for their sense and accent, second for their sound value: meaning is what Jonson is about -- not nuance but sense. So there are clumps of consonnts and a sometimes indiscriminate collocation of vowels. Swinburne called him "one of the singers who could not sing." Dryden pilloried him as "not only a professed imitator of Horace, but a learned plagiary of all others; you track him everywhere in their snow." It is the kind of poetry Jonson writes that irritates his critics: they disapprove of what he's doing. When he isn't singing, he speaks, an art Swinburne never learned. If his poetry is "of the surface", he has made his surfaces with a special kind of care, and to effect. If he borrowed from classical literature, he was no different from his contemporaries, except that he had a deeper knowledge of what he was quarrying than many did (and did not always acknowledge the debt --though this was not yet the custom). He translated Horace's Ars Poetica. He is of a stature with Martial and Juvenal: collaboration, not plagiarism, is the term for what he doese. Eliot concedes that Jonson and Chapman "incorporated their erudition into their sensibility". So, too, did Eliot.

Dryden's criticism is telling at one point: Jonson "weaved" the language "too closely and laboriously" and he "did a little too much Romanise our tongue, leaving the words he translated almost as much Latin as he found them." Dryden ends with the inevitable verdict: "I admire him, but I love Shakespeare."

  contact Sheila Link: 5/08/2003 07:41:00 AM


The last "Big Apple Blogger Bash" was so damn cool (once I got over my crippling shyness) ... and now it appears that there is going to be another one. At Siberia, a very cool bar on 9th Avenue. Rock on.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 04:41:00 PM

Wednesday, May 07, 2003  


Absolutely enjoyable photo-gallery of Salt Lake City, with very funny commentary by raspil. I can't describe why you have to check it out, but you really must. Great stuff.

(link via Tony Pierce)

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 03:02:00 PM


Kate Sullivan, in a memorable and incredibly moving post, talks, in detail, about Immaculate Heart, the high school she went to in Hollywood. It is one of the most interesting and fascinating (and mildly disturbing) portraits of high school I have ever read. (Permalink not working ... it's the first post, at the moment, starting with the words "Oh girlfriend".)

I found it randomly via Matt Welch, clicked on the link in a blase way, got sucked into her story, could not stop reading, and ended up with tears in my eyes at the end.

She writes with such humor and love of the nuns who taught her. Complex creatures, truly. I have a couple of former nuns in my family, real role model-type women ... Kate Sullivan hits the nail on the head:

The nuns always told us that they loved the Church. They believed it was a living body, and as such, it was changeable. They wanted to try and improve it, because they loved it. And maybe that's what they've done since rejoining the fold. That's certainly what they did before. They were visionaries, futurists who believed in a world that didn't yet exist except in their immaculate hearts.

And whether they liked it or not, they definitely taught me at an early age to be an independent thinker.

A post like Kate's makes me love human beings.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 02:40:00 PM


In my post earlier today about the now-defunct Lilith Fair, I just noticed a very funny mistake on my part.

I say, jokingly, "Okay, Joan Collins is doing her third encore..."

Uh ... JOAN Collins? The slut-cake of "Dynasty" fame? The queen of camp?

Joan Collins is so far from being JUDY Collins that the image of her strumming a guitar and singing soulfully to a bunch of swaying hippie girls in the audience is absolutely hilarious to me.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 01:49:00 PM


She disappeared off the face of the earth on March 3.


Now it looks like they might have found her.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 12:26:00 PM


Great extensive post by Pejman, on the myth of the "monolith" of conservatism. Reading it has helped me tremendously. No label is (or should be) a monolith. Humanity is too diverse. If you feel you must accept every single precept set down by any ideology, then you clearly are involved in a cult, and need to de-program your brain. One of the most important aspects of being human is our ability to use critical thinking. Too many ideologies (conservatism, liberalism, feminism, communism, whatever) demand that we give up this crucial aspect ... demand that we be obedient, that we stop using that critical-thinking side of our brain, and just submit. Accept the ideology unthinkingly.

"Here is what we believe."
"But ... well, this seems to make more sense to me..."
"Nope. Sorry. This is what we believe."

I hate the use of "we" in that context. It smacks of exclusivity, as in: excluding those who do not agree.

I do not accept any monolith. I am like Kipling's cat. You know, the one who "walked by himself". I memorized the closing sentences of Kipling's short story (I first read it when I was 17 or something like that) because it seems to so completely describe my personality. And not just my personality, but ... how I experience my journey through life. I feel like I could have written the lines myself; they seem to have come from me:

the Cat keeps his side of the bargain too. He will kill mice and he will be kind to Babies when he is in the house, as long as they do not pull his tail too hard. But when he has done that, and between times, he is the Cat that walks by himself and all places are alike to him, and if you look out at nights you can see him waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone---just the same as before.

I like to recite that last phrase ... it sings: "you can see him waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone" -- beautiful.

Kipling's Cat would not submit to any monolithic ideology, and neither will I.

Thanks, Pejman...

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 12:20:00 PM


Salam Pax is alive. For the first time since March 24, "Where is Raed" has been updated.

A fascinating read (pun intended).

But I am sounding now like the Taxi drivers I have fights with whenever I get into one.

Besides asking for outrageous fares (you can’t blame them gas prices have gone up 10 times, if you can get it) but they start grumbling and mumbling and at a point they would say something like “well it wasn’t like the mess it is now when we had saddam”. This is usually my cue for going into rage-mode. We Iraqis seem to have very short memories, or we simply block the bad times out. I ask them how long it took for us to get the electricity back again after he last war? 2 years until things got to what they are now, after 2 months of war. I ask them how was the water? Bad. Gas for car? None existent. Work? Lots of sitting in street tea shops. And how did everything get back? Hussain Kamel used to literally beat and whip people to do the impossible task of rebuilding. Then the question that would shut them up, so, dear Mr. Taxi driver would you like to have your saddam back? Aren’t we just really glad that we can now at least have hope for a new Iraq? Or are we Iraqis just a bunch of impatient fools who do nothing better than grumble and whine? Patience, you have waited for 35 years for days like these so get to working instead of whining. End of conversation.

The truth is, if it weren’t for intervention this would never have happened. When we were watching the Saddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day during her lifetime.

He describes the horrors of having bombs dropped on your city. What it actually feels like to hear things exploding, knowing bombs are coming down on you from above.

Things are looking kind of OK, these days. Life has a way of moving on. Your senses are numbed, things stop shocking you. If there is one thing you should believe in, it is that life will find a way to push on, humans are adaptable, that is the only way to explain how such a foolish species has kept itself on this planet without wiping itself out. Humans are very adaptable, physically and emotionally.

I checked his blog randomly today and felt a jolt of excitement. For weeks now it has stopped at March 24. Suddenly ... today's date.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 11:40:00 AM


Better provide a sanitizing cloth for the keyboard. I wouldn't want to put my fingers on that on the 4th day of Lollapalooza or Lilith Fair.

I know Lilith Fair doesn't exist anymore. I'm just kidding around.

I was turned way off of Lilith Fair because it shifted from a cool festival created to give women musicians a huge platform to a middle-class white-womyn feminist extravaganza rife with indoctrination and classism, which hesitated to include some of the edgier angrier musicians in their shows. (Perhaps there never was a "shift". Perhaps it always was a sort of Smith-College crunch-granola local co-op kind of music festival) The idea was cool, when it began, but once rap and hip-hop started taking over the airwaves, Lilith Fair didn't want to open their arms to THOSE female artists. The festival wasn't about celebrating women, it was about celebrating a certain sound. A gentle folky sound. Could you imagine Joan Jett on the Lilith Fair stage? Or Courtney Love? Or Chrissie Hynde? Or Avril Lavigne, for that matter? I think not.

Read this for a great analysis on what went wrong with Lilith Fair.

Lilith Fair quickly became one of rock's highest-grossing concert events, featuring many of the best known female rock artists. But it's not been without its detractors, and many of those critics have been women performers. One of the main problems has been Lilith's focus on white singer-songwriters in the folk and rock traditions. Organizers have said that they have been turned down by edgier artists. Long a critic, Courtney Love and her band Hole signed on, then off again without explanation, and L7, an all-woman punk band, hired a plane trailing the banner "Bored? Try L7" to fly over one Lilith Fair venue.

Many of the attempts to bring more artists of color onto the bill have smacked of tokenism, and for female musicians who exist outside the mainstream, Lilith represents the triumph of the goody-goody girls, whose safe, somewhat ethereal music doesn't challenge the standard notions of how women players should present themselves.

I liked this quote, too:

...All three stages featured insipid folk-tinged music. The smaller stages were missed opportunities for risk taking -- this is where grrl rock bands like the Donnas or Sleater-Kinney could have created some much-needed variety. I longed for something unruly -- something that said it's okay to be hairy and witchy and mad. Even the "womyn's" fairs of the '70s, with their drum circles and cervical inspections, started to seem appealing ... Aswe were subjected to yet another song about angels during Sarah McLachlan's closing set, I wished we could invoke some of the spirit of Woodstock '99, and take all those Biore beauty products, tie-dye T-shirts and Camel cigarettes and light a huge bonfire. Then as the flames rose up, all the women would dance around it howling at the moon like crazed banshees. That's my kind of Lilith!

Right on, girlfriend.

I don't know why I'm writing about Lilith Fair right now. The picture of the port-a-potty with a laptop built into the wall brought up some bizarre images, that's all.

"Hey, girls, let me step out of this drum circle ... gotta go check my email."

"Okay, Joan Collins is singing her third encore. Time for a little dial-up."

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 11:08:00 AM


I think I might have to read this book. I don't remember the Stephen Glass affair (he was a journalist fired from The New Republic five years ago for fabricating stories). What especially fascinated and repelled me here is that Glass, in his "novel", equates his need to lie and fabricate stuff with a need to be loved. It was all about being loved. He was addicted to the love of his editors, and so he basically made shit up. Unbelievable.

Glass writes in The Fabulist, his newly published fictionalized account of what he did, "I wanted to be recognized as having written a great article, not just a good one but an exceptional one. I wanted it more than other people, perhaps, because I wanted it not venally or narcissistically but desperately, even pathetically."


  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 10:56:00 AM


Every day has a gift. Sometimes you have to really strain to see the gift ... on really black-mood days. The gift might be a very cool-looking pink cloud in the sky. Or the sound of the wind against your windows. The gift might be strolling thru the park on your way home, perhaps devastated from a broken heart or whatever, and you hear the hysterical laughter of a baby echoing through the air. The gift might be that, during your night of insomnia, channel-surfing like a bleak-hearted lunatic, you come across the movie "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", one of your favorite movies of all time, a movie you haven't seen since you were 16. You have to stop and take a moment and acknowledge the gift. "Okay. There is the gift of the day." I am not saying I am always able to do this. I have forgotten to incorporate gratitude into my daily experience for sometimes years at a time. My old friend Pat McCurdy used to point this out to me. Gently. Afraid that I would flip out and bite his head off. "I think, Sheila ... that you need to ... focus more on gratitude." Wincing as he said it, waiting for me to throw something at him.

But he was right.

Anyway. It's not even 10 a.m. and I have already received "the gift of the day". Here it is.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 09:54:00 AM



From Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery (who also wrote Anne of Green Gables:

A bit of story-background: It is the early 20th century, on Prince Edward Island. Emily, an orphan taken in by her upstanding rather intimidating relatives, has been sent away to high school, where she boards with her extremely unpleasant Aunt Ruth. Emily wants to be a writer. Ruth will not let her write stories. Ruth wants to break Emily's spirit, since Emily, after all, is only 15 years old. But Emily is pretty much a wild child and she refuses to break. One night, Emily misses her curfew, and finds that Ruth has locked all the doors of the house. Emily, in a rage, walks all the way back to New Moon, the family home -- a 7 mile walk -- determined that she will not go back to high school, she will never speak to Ruth again. Her Cousin Jimmy (a rather simple-minded old man who loves her to death) calms her down, talks some sense into her.

Okay, here we go:

When the doughnuts were finished Emily donned her old boots and ulster. It was a very shabby garment but her young-moon beauty shone over it like a star in the old, dim, candle-lighted room.

Cousin Jimmy looked up at her. He thought that she was a gifted, beautiful, joyous creature and that some things were a shame.

"Tall and stately -- tall and stately like all our women," he murmured dreamily. "Except Aunt Ruth," he added.

Emily laughed and 'made a face".

"Aunt Ruth will make the most of her inches in our forthcoming interview. This will last her the rest of the year. But don't worry, Cousin darling, I won't do any more foolish things for quite a long time now. This has cleared the air. Aunt Elizabeth will think it was dreadful of you to eat a whole crockful of doughuts yourself, you greedy Cousin Jimmy."

"Do you want another blank book?"

"Not yet. The last one you gave me is only half-full yet. A blank book lasts me quite a while when I can't write stories. Oh, I wish I could, Cousin Jimmy."

"The time will come -- the time will come," said Cousin Jimmy encouragingly. "Wait a while -- just wait a while. If we don't chase things -- sometimes the things following can catch up. 'Through wisdom is a house builded, and by understanding it is established. And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches' -- all precious and pleasant riches, Emily. Proverbs twenty-fourth, third and fifth."

He let Emily out and bolted the door. He put out all the candles but one. He glared at it for a few moments, then, satisfied that Elizabeth could not hear him, Cousin Jimmy said fervently,

"Ruth Dutton can go to -- to -- to --" Cousin Jimmy's courage failed him. "-- to heaven!"

Emily went back to Shrewsbury through the clear moonlight. She had expected the walk to be dreary and weary, robbed of the impetus anger and rebellion had given. But she found that it had become transmuted into a thing of beauty -- and Emily was one of "the eternal slaves of beauty," of which Carman sings, who are yet "masters of the world". She was tired, but her tiredness showed itself in certin exaltation of feeling and imagination such as she often experienced when over-fatigued. Thought was quick and active. She had a series of brilliant imaginary conversations and thought out so many epigrams that she was agreeably surprised at herself. It was good to feel vivid and interesting and all-alive once more. She was alone but not lonely.

As she walked along she dramatised the night. There was about it a wild, lawless charm that appealed to a certain wild, lawless strain hidden deep in Emily's nature -- a strain that wished to walk where it would with no guidance but its own -- the strain of the gypsy and the poet, the genius and the fool.

The big fir trees, released from their burden of snow, were tossing their arms freely and wildly and gladly across the moonlit fields. Was ever anything so beautiful as the shadows of those grey, clean-limbed maples on the road at her feet? The houses she passed were full of intriguing mystery. She liked to think of the people who lay there dreaming and saw in sleep what waking life denied them -- of little children's dear hands folded in exquisite slumber -- of hearts that, perhaps, kept sorrowful, wakeful vigils -- of lonely arms that reached out in the emptiness of the night -- all while she, Emily, flitted by like a shadowy wraith of the small hours.

And it was easy to think, too, that other things were abroad -- things that were not mortal or human. She always lived on the edge of fairyland and now she stepped right over it. The Wind Woman was really whistling eerily in the reeds of the swamp -- she was sure she heard the dear, diabolical chuckles of owls in the spruce copses -- something frisked across her path -- it might be a rabbit or it might be a Little Grey Person: the trees put on half pleasing, half terrifying shapes they never wore by day. The dead thistles of last year were goblin groups along the fences: that shaggy, old yellow birch was some satyr of the woodland: the footsteps of the old gods echoed around her: those gnarled stumps on the hill field were surely Pan piping through moonlight and shadow with his troop of laughing fauns. It was delightful to believe they were.

"One loses so much when one becomes incredulous," said Emily -- and then thought that this was a rather clever remark and wished she had a Jimmy-book to write it down.

So, having washed her soul free from bitterness in the aerial bath of the spring night and tingling from head to foot with the wild, strange, sweet life of the spirit, she came to Aunt Ruth's when the faint, purplish hills east of the harbour were growing clear under a whitening sky. She had expected to finnd the door still locked; but the knob turned as she tried it and she went in.

Aunt Ruth was up and was lighting the kitchen fire.

On the way from New Moon Emily had thought over a dozen different ways of saying what she meant to say -- and now she used not one of them. At the last moment an impish inspiration came to her. Before Aunt Ruth could -- or would -- speak Emily said,

"Aunt Ruth, I've come back to tell you that I forgive you, but that this must not happen again."

To tell the truth, Mistress Dutton was considerably relieved that Emily had come back. She had been afraid of Elizabeth and Laura -- Murray family rows were bitter things -- and truly a little afraid of the results to Emily herself if she had really gone to New Moon in those thin shoes and that insufficient coat. For Ruth Dutton was not a fiend -- only a rather stupid, stubborn little barnyard fowl trying to train up a skylark. She was honestly afraid that Emily might catch a cold and go into consumption. And if Emily took it into her head not to come back to Shrewsbury -- well, that would "make talk" and Ruth Dutton hated "talk" when she or her doings were the subject. So, all things considered, she decided to ignore the impertinence of Emily's greeting.

"Did you spend the night on the streets?" she asked grimly.

"Oh, dear no -- I went out to New Moon -- had a chat with Cousin Jimmy and some lunch -- then walked back."

"Did Elizabeth see you? Or Laura?"

"No. They were asleep."

Mrs. Dutton reflected that this was just as well.

"Well," she said coldly, "you have been guilty of great ingratitude, Em'ly, but I'll forgive you this time" -- then stopped abruptly. Hadn't that been said already this morning? Before she could think of a substitute remark Emily had vanished upstairs. Mistress Ruth Dutto was left with the unpleasant sensation that, somehow or other, she had not come out of the affair quite as triumphantly as she should have.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/07/2003 06:57:00 AM


Stories like this make me lose my damn mind.

Very glad to see I am not alone.

These people who want to do away with recess and create "peace mazes" and lead the kids around from activity to activity THINK they are being sensitive, and think they are standing up for kids, and being childrens advocates, but what they are really doing is KILLING all that is good and fun about being a kid. I remember having hours of unsupervised play as child. With me and my friends. Creating worlds, having mud wars, making up games, running through the woods, having social intrigues on the playground. I remember crying a couple of times, because of certain 9 year old tragedies, people ganging up on me, being picked second to last for kickball, whatever. My playground was not always peaceful. Childhood is a jungle! Peaceful children? What??

God forbid that I should have been ROBBED of those half-hours of freedom, by adults who wanted to structure every damn minute of my short little life!

Can't people just have some sense??

I particularly like Joanne Jacobs' comment:

Increasingly, schools are designed for wusses who can't play tag without filing a lawsuit -- or do recess without a datebook.

(Found this entire string of links via Inappropriate Response.)

  contact Sheila Link: 5/06/2003 05:37:00 PM

Tuesday, May 06, 2003  


Jeff Jarvis has so many great things going on over at his site, I don't know where to begin. First of all, he follows the Iranian blogging scene very closely, which is terrific, and he also is on top of the story of thearrested Iranian blogger like nobody's business.

Then he has emotional exclamations such as this one.

And this one.

And this one: to sort out Iran, Iraq, racism, liberty ...

I like his blog a lot. Always have.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/06/2003 05:22:00 PM


I don't think I've ever read an interview with a greater moron than this one. I do not even know where to begin.

Does James Frey ("whose first book, A Million Little Pieces, will be published in April by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday") actually talk like this? Reading the interview in the New York Observer reminds me of the experiences I have had, usually at parties, where I meet someone, who is so intent on impressing me, and so intent on not seeming like he is trying to impress me, that the obviousness of the behavior is stunning. Vulnerability such as that is almost painful to witness. Like: "Ouch ... do you really want to show me that much at this early juncture in our non-existent relationship?" And the lack of self-awareness, the lack of realizing what exactly it is that he is doing, is astonishing. Cringe-worthy.

Is his book any good? I must track down reviews and see what people are saying. I am feeling a little bit of anticipatory "schaudenfraude".

Let me pick out some quotes from the Observer profile:

"The Eggers book pissed me off." [Frey is referring here to the smash-hit A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, a man not yet 30 when it was published to thunderous acclaim. Acclaim which was warranted, IMHO) "Because a book that I thought was mediocre was being hailed as the best book written by the best writer of my generation. F*** that. And f*** him and f*** anybody that says that. I don't give a f*** what they think of me. I'm going to try to write the best book of my generation and I'm going to try to be the best writer. And maybe I'll fall flat on my f***ing face, I'll fall flat on my f***ing face trying to do it."

(Uh ... what was that last part there? You might fall flat on your face, but at least you'll flat on your face while trying to fall flat on your face? Is your book as articulate as that?)

The following quote shows Mr. Frey's humility:

"[This one agent] went ballistic over [my manuscript], called and said, 'We're going to turn you into an industry.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' 'You know who Deepak Chopra is?' I was like, 'Yeah.' 'You're going to be the Deepak Chopra of recovery. We're going to start a whole line of self-help books with your name on it. We're going to publish your own version of the Tao. We're going to send you out on speaking tours. We're going to build a religion around you.' I was like, 'You must be f***ing kidding me!' I very much admired the enthusiasm, but it was bizarre."

I read that, and ... I know it's evil of me. But I yearn for this man to fail. I know this makes me a terrible person. So be it.

It gets more obnoxious as the piece goes on, if that is possible. He just sounds so pleased with himself. He radiates self-regard. Yuk.

"I guess I'm the poster boy for unconventional addiction thought. They were trying to lead me into saying certain things. They kept trying to get me to swear. Stossel was like, 'I heard you swear a lot. I heard you're feisty. Why won't you swear for me?' Because my mom and my wife asked me not to. 'Well forget about them, I need you to swear!' So I was like, 'O.K., f*** you!' I'm terrified of what they're going to do to me now. They're going to cut me up."

Dude, do you hear yourself? Your years of therapy and 12-stepping have not helped you see what you actually are doing. You are NOT terrified of what "they" are going to do to you now. You love it. You love being notorious, you love all the attention, you love being criticized, you love being the wild-card of the literature world ... So just admit it! I find him to be extremely ingenuous. I realize I have never been in his presence, so I can't say for sure, but what the hell. It's my blog and I'll judge if I want to, judge if I want to, judge if I want to. You would judge, too, if you read the damn piece in the Observer.

The pleased-with-oneself tone continues:

"My wife calls me a savage. Because I eat with my hands. Because my best friends are my dogs. And I like pit bulls. And N.W.A. And I love boxing. I think boxing is beautiful. The purity of fighting is a beautiful thing. Writers aren't like that anymore.all these guys who have f***ing masters' degrees and are so 'sophisticated' and 'educated' and ... well, I'm not a guy with a master's degree. I think I'm sophisticated. I can write big fat books. But I'm not an effete little guy."

What a complete and utter jackass. To add to the Frey-Is-A-Monolithic-Jackass evidence bin:

While he was in L.A., Mr. Frey acquired a number of tattoos, his own personal footnotes. "I've seen you glance at this one," he said, displaying a row of letters on the inside of his left wrist: S.P.C.D.H.C. "Simplicity, Patience, Compassion, Discipline, Honesty, Courage," he said. "Words to live by. When I see that, it reminds me that these things embody the person I want to be."

He pulled back his shirt to reveal others. "That's a symbol of birth and rebirth," he said, pointing to a small phoenix. "That is a Taoist symbol of life. I have my wife's initials on my chest. I very deliberately scar myself so that I remember these things. However twisted my logic may be, by scarring myself, I'm making a commitment to myself. I'm committed to the things on my wrist."

WHAT? What the hell are you talking about. "I very deliberately scar myself so that I remember these things." (As opposed to "sort of deliberately scarring yourself"?) "By scarring myself, I'm making a commitment to myself. I'm committed to the things on my wrist."


I apologize that my literary analysis is boiled down to that exclamation of disgust, but I have no other recourse. He's too gross. "I'm committed to the things on my wrist." My entire soul BALKS at even typing those words down. Twice.

Full disclosure: I have a small tattoo. I love my tattoo. It means a lot to me. But if you EVER EVER hear me say anything like: "I am committed to the thing on my shoulder", please just shoot me. Put me out of my misery. And save the people who have to listen to that shite.

Then he trashes the literary stars of the day (Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace), always a good ploy right before your first book comes out:

"I think they're full of bells and whistles and tricks and being cute and being ironic and being all this shit. To be honest, I don't understand it. It's not how I think or how I feel...Eggers and I are exactly the same age. If there's a guy out there who is 'The Guy' of my generation, it's Eggers. In that sense, I was honored by the comparison."

Ah, now that sounds a bit like truth.You bitch and moan about Eggers, which seems transparently envious to me, yet you should be "honored by the comparison". We all should have such good fortune as Eggers!!

Another cringingly awful quote, which, although true to some degree, sounds like assholic nonsense coming out of this poseur's mouth:

All that matters is what the feelings are and what the events are. It's not about all this trickery. When I think about writing, I have a very simple formula: Where was I? Who was I with? What happened? And how did it make me feel? Those are the only important things. It doesn't matter if I can write a sentence that's a page long or if I have 30 pages of footnotes in the back or people chuckle at the introduction page. I want to move people and have them understand what I felt, what I went through and what I felt other people were feeling and going through.

And ... let me get this straight ... you are the first person to write in this manner? To "want to move people and have them understand"? No other writer has ever done this before? Ever? You sure?

He is making me tired.


"I don't give a f*** what Jonathan Safran whatever-his-name does or what David Foster Wallace does. I don't give a f*** what any of these people do. I don't hang out with them, I'm not friends with them, I'm not part of the literati. I think of myself as outside of this publishing culture. Kirkus called me pretentious. Am I pretentious in my self-regard because I'm serious about what I do? Because I'm moving against the trend of irony? I don't know. I hope I'm a bullet in the heart of that bullshit."

Frey, you are not a bullet through the heart of anything. You are a tiresome bore.

Neil Pollack has written a very funny send-up of Frey, and how Frey talks.

Mission accomplished. Ouch.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/06/2003 12:34:00 PM


I haven't been paying that much attention to the Bill Bennett "debacle". Mainly because I don't really care. I don't like him. He's way too conservative for me. Or, how should I put it: he is a moral conservative, a scolding conservative, and that is my least favorite kind of conservative. Andrew Sullivan wrote a great piece on moral scolds some years back. It's a very good read. Articulates exactly my problem with the "Nobody has any moral compass these days" brand of conservatives.

This moral obsessiveness was the creation of Kenneth Starr and something far larger than Kenneth Starr. It was the creation of a conservatism become puritanism, a conservatism that has long lost sight of the principles of privacy and restraint, modesty and constitutionalism, which used to be its hallmarks.

This scolding, moralizing conservatism is one with a lineage; it is the construction of a cadre of influential intellectuals who bear as much responsibility as anybody for the constitutional and cultural damage this moment may have already wrought. And they will bear an even greater responsibility if the ultimate victim of this spectacle is the reputation and future of conservatism itself.

I read Bennett's book The Death of Outrage (sorry Dad) when it first came out. I bought it because I was so embarrassed by Clinton at that time, I couldn't help but see the squirming human beneath the Presidency, and it was horrifying ... If the man bit his lip in regret one more time, I thought my head might spontaneously combust. So I thought Bennett's book might provide some "you are not alone" solace. Instead, I was treated to a diatribe about how our society has no more values anymore, how everything is going to hell, how nobody cares about the right things anymore. No, Bill, when you say "the death of outrage", you just mean that you don't feel that people are outraged by the things that outrage you anymore. PLENTY of people still are outraged about stuff ... but you disagree, and so they all must be idiots, and you are a wise sage on the mountaintop.

Also: don't wag your finger at me like that. Clinton wagged his finger because he was just trying to save his ass (I still cringe at the thought)...but Bill Bennett wags his finger to admonish me. He wants to REFORM me. Reform all of us. It's obnoxious.

I'm just one woman, but I know that the people I know, my friends, my family, all care about living a good life. A life of integrity. They want their kids to grow up to be productive, happy. Some of us even go to church regularly! So ... who the hell is Bennett talking about with such a blanket generalization?

I've never been a prissy girl. Or a prude. I have a free and independent lifestyle, I'm single, and have been so for longer than I care to admit. I am a bachelorette. I have friends from all different walks of life. I'm an artist. I see no difference between gay and straight. Or: I can see the difference, obviously, but it doesn't mean anything to me. You're gay, I'm straight, let's go have some Guinness and talk about politics, movies, and Thomas Mann, shall we? It's the "content of the character" that matters. (Hm. Sounds familiar)

So Bill Bennett is way too sanctimonious for me, he really thinks he's right about stuff, he makes way too many assumptions about the right way, the moral way, the right values to have, blah blah. I do believe that there is such a thing as morality, morality that is not subjective and not relative. I agree with him there. But yearning after the legendary good old days when children respected their parents and families ate dinner together and people went to church and had the "right" values seems foolhardy, ahistorical, and downright simple-minded. People in the 1940s had tormented family lives. You just never heard about it! Parents beat their kids. But nobody talked about it. Staring at the past thru rosy "those were the days" goggles seems like a waste of time to me.

Read Catcher in the Rye. Read Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Read The Great Gatsby. Read Anna Karenina. Read Oliver Twist. There is no utopian past. It does not exist.

A quote comes to mind, can't remember where it came from: "She had a nostalgia for a life she had never led."

The "What has happened to the youth of today" crowd are unwilling to admit that they just don't GET why everybody listens to Eminem and Britney Spears, that they no longer are cool, that they will never be cool again, and because they don't GET it, then they must criticize it, because they do not understand it.

There's no big mystery why "kids today" love Eminem and Britney Spears. Because they f***ing rock, okay? I hesitate to admit this, but what the hell: there are a couple of Britney Spears songs which, if you have any musical sense at all, will FORCE you to tap your feet, and if you're feeling really free, perhaps dance around the living room. I'm not admitting to doing this, EVER, I'm just saying that it's true. Also, young women relate to her wholesome image. Don't laugh. They DO. In interviews, she comes off as very sweet and down-to-earth, and young teenagers can see themselves in her. We, as adults, can be all cynical and above it all, but to a 15 or 16 year old girl, Britney Spears probably seems very cool.

And Eminem: fuggedaboutit!! I still have not recovered from the Eminem fever which took over my life starting last year. And if you listen to a song like "Till I Collapse", and you can't GET why teenagers listen to him, and lose their minds, and cry when they go to his concerts, then you have never ever been young. Or, if you have been young, then you have completely forgotten what it is like to be a lonely teenager, with an aching heart, trying to find your way in the world. Because THAT is who Eminem talks to. Directly. He skips the parents, and goes right down to the kids. And they KNOW that. They can HEAR that.

"Til I Collapse" starts with slow, rather melancholy orchestration. A sense of anticipation. Nothing happening with the song yet. It's just an introduction. Then Eminem speaks above the music, and his voice is weary, he's not rapping yet, he's just talking ... you can almost see him trudging through the streets of Detroit:

"Sometimes you feel tired, feel weak. When you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up. But you gotta search within you, find that inner strength, and just pull that shit out of you, and get that motivation to not give up, and not be a quitter no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face·and collapse."

And when the song begins it is an anthem of self-expression. (In my humble opinion.) An anthem specifically meant for adolescents. That is Eminem's genius.

So I get very impatient with people who scold me. Who take it upon themselves to scold the entire world. Whose reason for living is to scream at other people, "This world is going to hell in a handbasket!"

Dude, if you'd just stop screaming about that handbasket, then maybe your schedule would clear up a little bit, so that you could actually have some FUN. Why do you care so much about how other people live their lives? I basically care if people murder people, if people run a crackhouse on my block, I care if people break the law, I care if children are abandoned or abused. But I do not care what music they listen to. I do not care who they have sex with. I do not care if they are married or unmarried. I do not think that it's my business to teach the rest of the world the proper way to live. Because who am I to say? The whole thing is such a losing battle, first of all. And second of all: vive la difference, baby!!

People like William Bennett make me not want to say I'm a conservative. I want nothing to do with being on "his" side.

The part of me that loves a good joke can definitely find the humor in Bill Bennett penning The Death of Outrage by day, pontificating on the evils of our morally bankrupt society, and by night...gambling MILLIONS of dollars.


"What is this world coming to? Does nobody have any sense of outrage about anything anymore?"
( "Can I have 300 dollars in change, please?")
"There are no more values. All anybody cares about anymore is material possessions."
(Ka-ching, ka-ching ...)
"Bill, honey, time to go to prayer meeting!"
"Hang on a second....have to finish up this chapter."
("Yes, hi, 500 dollars in change, when you get a second...")

It's a strange image, is it not? Baflling.

Again, I don't really care what Bill Bennett does, and I don't care whether you gamble or not ... although Michele, over at A small victory, has a very good essay about gambling, and the effect it has on family members. It opened my eyes a bit. I haven't known any real gamblers. This is very illuminating:

Gambling is not merely a sin. For something to be a sin, you have to subscribe to the religion that holds it as such. For some people, gambling is simply a vice. And for others, gambling is a disease, a home wrecker, a short trip off of a long pier in which the person who drowns is usually someone other than the gambler.

See, it's not about the millions Bennett poured into the casino slot machines. Bennett is a man who preaches the sanctity of family. A person with a gambling problem cannot possibly practice that preachiness.

Gambling consumes time the way a twister can consume a town. Gambling is an acid that eats away at the very core of your family, destroying it from the inside out.

So who knows what is to become of Bennett, now that it appears he's just another moral-scold who is also a raging hypocrite. There's something fascinating, on a psychological level, about it all. I guess I would like to know what was going on in his head, all this time. Out of pure curiosity. (This is the actress-side of me ... I need to know why, I want to know what it feels like ... I want to understand: Why is it that certain people behave the way they do?)

Update: I like Jonah Goldberg's piece on Bill Bennett, too. He focuses on the current obsession with "hypocrisy", and makes some excellent points, the following of which is my favorite:

But the biggest reason I find these Bennett articles so troublesome is what they reveal about the kind of society we're building. Hypocrisy is bad, but it's not the worst vice in the world. If I declared "murder is wrong" and then killed somebody, I would hope that the top count against me would be homicide, not hypocrisy.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/06/2003 10:26:00 AM



From the book Lewis Carroll: A Biography, by Morton N. Cohen:

The most telling example of Charles' [Carroll's real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodson] willingness to reconcile himself to the demands of an illustrator occurred just after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland appeared. The Clarendon Press printed two thousand copies of what has come to be known as the first edition. On June 27, 1865, Charles noted that the press had sent its first copies to Macmillan, and on July 15 he went to London to inscribe "20 or more copies of Alice to go as presents to various friends." Four days later, on July 19, came the shock: "Heard from Tenniel, who is dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures." Charles himself expressed no dissatisfaction with Tenniel's drawings or with the printing. The next day he called on Macmillan and showed him Tenniel's letter: "I suppose we shall have to do it all again," he recorded. Less than a fortnight after that (August 2), Charles wrote: "Finally decided on the re-print of Alice, and that the first 2000 shall be sold as waste paper. Wrote about it to Macmillan, Combe, and Tenniel."

Charles immediately tried to recall the copies already distributed to friends, promising replacements from the new printing ... Because his arrangements with Macmillan called for him to pay all costs -- printing, engraving, even advertising -- and for the publisher, Macmillan, to receive a fixed commission on sales, Charles bore the entire loss. It cost him six hundred pounds to reprint the book, as he calculated it, "6s. a copy of the 2000. If I make 500 pounds by sale," he added, "this will be a loss of 100 pounds, and the loss of the first 2000 will probably be 100 pounds, leaving me 200 pounds out of pocket." For a thirty-three year old Oxford lecturer with a modest income, these figures make the head reel. But Charles, who himself refused to compromise on the quality of his books, respected Tenniel's objection and was determined to satisfy him. "If a second 2000 could be sold," he wrote in his diary, "it would cost 300 pounds, and bring in 500 pounds, thus squaring accounts: any other further sale would be a gain. But that I can hardly hope for," he concluded, unaware that he had on his hands one of the most lucrative children's books ever to come to market.

Some commentators have too hastily concluded that Charles, dissatisfied with the printing, scrapped the first edition, but it was entirely Tenniel's doing. Tenniel himself boasted to the brothers Dalziel, his engravers: "I protested so strongly against the disgraceful printing that ... [Dodgson] cancelled the edition."

Both Charles and Tenniel would be stunned to learn that a single copy of that "inferior" first edition today commands a king's ransom when it comes up for sale. Collectors would trade whole segments of their libraries for a single copy of the "first" Alice; bibliographers dream of uncovering an unrecorded copy; and literary chroniclers are at a loss to explain how, even in the heyday of Victorian publishing, such extravagant decisions could have been made over a single children's book.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/06/2003 06:52:00 AM


So probably everybody knows that Gary Hart has joined the blog-sphere. (I don't like the term "blogosphere", although I have used it on occasion ... I can't quite figure out why I don't like it. I suppose I should have a good reason, but it just makes me feel ... icky. Like the word "pleather". Even just typing the word gives me the creeps. Taking out the "o" in the middle of "blogosphere" inexplicably makes me feel better about the whole thing.)

So back to Gary Hart and his boring blog. It's yawningly boring. I read the posts and begin to feel my eyes automatically roll back into my head. I dare you to try to get through one post without succumbing to instant narcolepsy.

Chuck Karczag questioned my proposal for an international peace-making force. Under the UN or a future UN Plus, this force, composed of contributing forces from participating nations, would stop hostilities in volatile regions or act to protect civilians in conflict environments. Diplomats and peace-keepers could then move in to adjudicate resolution of the conflict. Without some democratically-controlled international capability of this sort, the US will continue to be tempted to go it alone, as in Panama, or with "coalitions of the willing" as in Iraq, or do nothing as in Rwanda. I welcome a dialogue with Chuck and others on this, since it needs to be further thought through. I understand the complexity of the proposal and can think of a number of questions myself, but let me know a better alternative.


But not just the "zzzz" factor: I feel I may completely lose my mind if I have to hear the word "dialogue" again. It has become my least favorite word in the English language. After "pleather". Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue ... Oh, people, just SHUT UP. STOP TALKING. STOP IT WITH THE DIALOGUE. I love a good rap-session with the friends as much as the next person, but this is not what "dialogue", used in this context, means. The word needs to be retired.

A couple more bitchy observations and then I'll shut up:

-- "Wars alter history" opines Mr. Hart. Really?? I am shocked that I have never realized this concept before now.

-- The Scare Quote Epidemic
There are the usual suspects:
* "liberate"
* "coalitions of the willing"
* the Bush "team" (I find this one particularly NASTY - schoolboy bitchiness)
* But serious foreign policy thinkers have pointed out that "democracy" is not necessarily liberality.

About that last one there: do you want the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES to put scare quotes around the word DEMOCRACY???

-- And finally, after an interminably long series of questions (Why is the administration doing this? Why aren't the Democrats doing this? Where are the blah blahs? Why are we yadda yadda? Where have all the flowers gone? Do you know the way to San Jose?), Mr. Hart says: Sadly, I have been unable to find an answer to give.

Uh ... if you want my vote, you're gonna have to do a little bit better than that.

"But Mr. Hart, what are we to DO?"

"Hell if I know."

"Then ... uh ... why should I vote for you?"

"Because I really really want it, and also because I am smarter than just about anyone who has ever lived on the face of this earth."

(Only in his mind it would look like this: I am "smarter" than just "about anyone" who has "ever" lived on the "face" of this "earth".)

But this post on Mean Mr. Mustard about Gary Hart's bland blog is really funny. He starts by saying: "I have to admit I'm a little puzzled by certain people's complaints about Gary Hart and his 'dull' blog.' " Just go read the whole thing.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 05:57:00 PM

Monday, May 05, 2003  


Here's an email, describing exactly what it is like to land a plane on an air carrier.

Those guys have always blown me away, anyway. Landing planes on a small runway, bobbing up and down, sometimes pitching wildly up and down in the middle of the ocean.

Again: like I said earlier today about firemen: ICE WATER in the veins. Incredible.

(via Cold Fury)

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 04:47:00 PM


These Iranian bloggers are killing me! Many of them are setting up mirror-blogs in English, so they cannot be as easily traced by the government who keep arresting their comrades, who blog solely in Persian. It's stunning.

I support these people wholeheartedly.

Tim Robbins, the Dixie Chicks, et al, should remember that they STILL are walking FREE through this country ... They are being criticized but they are not being ARRESTED.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 02:29:00 PM


I'm sure you've all read it, but I have to link to it. It requires registration. Dennis Miller crucifies Normal Mailer's most recent op-ed piece, where Mailer declares that Bush created the war in Iraq solely because the "white American male" was losing his dominance.

Why does ANYONE give this man a platform anymore?

I like his novels, I read The Executioner's Song, yadda yadda, but Norman: it's over. PUT. THE PEN. DOWN.

Dennis Miller attacks him far better than I ever could.

Other than a vague recollection that Mr. Mailer once played Boswell to Jack Henry Abbott's Samuel Johnson, I really only remember one other pertinent fact about him. But, what the heck, if you're going to take a stab at something new, why not take a stab at it with Norman Mailer.


But this paragraph might be my favorite, it made me laugh out loud:

A guy like Mailer hates a guy like Bush because Mailer thinks of himself as infinitely smarter than Bush and yet President Bush is the most powerful man on the planet and old Normy's connecting through Atlanta and flying on prop planes to a community college that's so far out in the sticks the mail rider has yet to arrive with the message that The Great Mailer is currently more out of the loupe than a jeweler with conjunctivitis. All so he can scoop up a submicroscopic honorarium and the accolades of star-struck locals and 18-year-olds who mistakenly think Mr. Mailer wrote "Gravity's Rainbow."

I'm still laughing.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 02:09:00 PM


I will continue to share enjoyable snippets from bad movie reviews, as they come along.

Here is a quote from Roger Ebert's review of the just-released Lizzie McGuire Movie:

"The Lizzie McGuire Movie" celebrates popularity, beauty, great hair, lip gloss and overnight stardom, those universal obsessions of pop teenage culture. Lizzie herself obviously has never had a real idea in her silly little head, and in the real world, her sunny naivete is going to lead to crushing disappointments. She'll be the sad and silent one in the corner at the 2023 class reunion.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 01:58:00 PM


Damn, how in the world did Jayson Blair, the reporter just fired from The New York Times for plagiarism ever think he could get away with it? Read the story, and it'll take your breath away. Dude, EVERYBODY reads The New York Times: the little lady down the street, the politicians, the schoolteachers, the baker, the butcher, the candlestick-maker, and also, the editor of the San Antonio Express-News, from whose paper you stole stuff almost word for word.

What the hell??

Haven't you learned? CHEATERS ALWAYS GET CAUGHT. They always do. Maybe not the first time, but eventually. You cannot get away with that shite forever.

Now I learn that over Blair's tenure at the Times, the editors had to issue 50 corrections to stories he wrote. 50. FIFTY. I mean, what the hell do I know, maybe that's not a large number ... maybe other reporters have HUNDREDS of corrections to their various stories, and he was on the lower end of the spectrum, but I highly doubt it. We are talking about The New York Times here, after all.

Did anyone ever stop by Blair's desk, on his rampaging road to 50 corrections and say, "Hey there, friend, what's up with the unnamed sources?" or "Okay, Jayson, today we have to issue correction #38 ... we should probably talk about what's going on with your reporting, bub."

Well, I'm glad they fired his ass.

(via Dean Esmay)

More on Blair ... his history of controversy

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 01:40:00 PM


I've seen these photos around, and they never cease to amaze. What is truly amazing is that ... it's really not all that big a deal. It's just the way we are here, it is what we expect.

(via The Greatest Jeneration)

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 01:28:00 PM


Beautiful bleat today by James Lileks. I can't really write about it at this moment because my heart is in my throat. Strange: writing like I did this morning about the dusty fireman and September 11 has brought it all back very close to me, today, on May 5, 2003. And then I read Lileks today, where one of his sentences is:

Many of us have a small burned corner of our hearts where it’s always 9/11; it’s where we keep the stories forged in that foundry of evil and pain.

You should read the whole thing.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 01:16:00 PM


I realize I'm kind of a lunatic, but I don't care. As long as the lunacy continues to manifest itself in relatively benign ways (like spending half an hour on Google looking for a theatre review from two years ago).

Anyway: my search has paid off. I have found Ben Brantley's review of Noises Off, which I talk about in my post earlier today. One of the two shows which opened in the wake of September 11, and which became massive hits. What I loved about Brantley's review, as I remembered it, was how he acknowledged that humans need catharsis ... and laughter, at that time, was the best catharsis possible. It was an affirmation of life. Of possibility. The shows in question may be imperfect, but at that particular time, none of that mattered.

For your enjoyment, if you care, here are some quotes from that well-written review Here is how it opens:

Breathlessness, vertigo and that scary-sweet exhilaration of being out of control: there are few highs to equal the experience of floating in the upper altitudes of comedy. In the spectacularly funny new revival of ''Noises Off,'' Michael Frayn's peerless backstage farce, there are moments when everyone -- onstage and in the audience -- seems to be riding the same runaway roller coaster.

This can be unsettling. After all, what's being portrayed is a group of perfectly likable people falling apart. And then on every side of you are theatergoers barking, howling, hooting -- well, choose your zoological verb; it'll fit. If someone had thought to replace screams with laughter in the days of primal therapy, this is probably what it would have sounded like.

A paragraph later, Brantley hits the nail on the proverbial head:

For theatergoers in New York, the brave and beleaguered world capital of control freaks on the verge, this disciplined rendering of chaos starts to feel like an exorcism. There was a reason, you realize, that the meticulously frantic ''I Love Lucy'' was so beloved in the atomic age.

That is IT. Yes.

He goes on:

Catharsis comes in surprising packages these days. Who would ever have thought three months ago that the most emotionally stirring shows in Manhattan would be a sincerely kitschy musical set to the songs of Abba (''Mamma Mia!''), an earnest story-theater rendering of Greco-Roman myths (''Metamorphoses'') and a dizzy, well-known romp like ''Noises Off''?

...''Noises Off'' -- well, it allows you to laugh, loudly and wantonly, at a world in which everything seems out of joint.

Brantley ends the review with:

''Noises Off'' multiplies the Feydeauvian use of doors for complications and disorder. Every time one swings open, or fails to, this production ups the catastrophe quotient. And for whatever reasons, this artificial depiction of everything going wrong -- of disaster lurking behind and leaping from every doorway -- provides you with a tremendous feeling of release. This may not be what Aristotle meant by catharsis. But whatever you call it, it feels good.

Damn straight.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 12:07:00 PM



From Seamus Heaney's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

So it was that I found myself in the mid-nineteen seventies in another small house, this time in Co. Wicklow, south of Dublin, with a young family of my own and a slightly less imposing radio set, listening to the rain in the trees and to the news of bombings closer to home -- not only those by the Provisional IRA in Belfast but equally atrocious assaults in Dublin by loyalist paramilitaries from the north. Feeling puny in my predicaments as I read about the tragic logic of Osip Mandelstam's fate in the 1930s, feeling challenged yet steadfast in my noncombatant status when I heard, for example, that one particularly sweetnatured school friend had been interned without trial because he was suspected of having been involved in a political killing. What I was longing for was not quite stability but an active escape from the quicksand of relativism, a way of crediting poetry without anxiety or apology ...

In one of the poems best known to students in my generation, a poem which could be said to have taken the nutrients of the symbolist movement and made them available in capsule form, the American poet Archibald MacLeish affirmed that "A poem should be equal to/not true." As a defiant statement of poetry's gift for telling truth but telling it slant, this is both cogent and corrective. Yet there are times when a deeper need enters, when we want the poem to be not only pleasurably right but compellingly wise, not only a surprising variation played upon the world, but a re-tuning of the world itself. We want the surprise to be transitive like the impatient thump which unexpectedly restores the picture to the television set, or the electric shock which sets the fibrillating heart back to its proper rhythm.

We want what the woman wanted in the prison queue in Leningrad, standing there blue with cold and whispering for fear, enduring the terror of Stalin's regime and asking the poet Anna Akhmatova if she could describe it all, if her art could be equal to it. And this is the want I too was experiencing in those far more protected circumstances in Co. Wicklow ... a need for poetry that would merit the definition of it I gave a few moments ago, as an order "true to the impact of external reality and ... sensitive to the inner law of the poet's being."

The external reality and inner dynamic of happenings in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1974 were symptomatic of change, violent change admittedly, but change nonetheless, and for the minority living there, change that had been long overdue. It should have come early, as the result of the ferment of protest on the streets in the late 60s, but that was not to be and the eggs of danger which were always incubating got hatched out very quickly. While the Christian moralist in oneself was impelled to deplore the atrocious nature of the IRA's campaign of bombings and killings, and the "mere Irish" in oneself was appalled by the ruthlessness of the British Army on occasions like Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, the minority citizen in oneself, the one who had grown up conscious that his group was distrusted and discriminated against in all kinds of official and unofficial ways, this citizen's perception was at one with the poetic truth of the situation in recognizing that if life in Northern Ireland were ever really to flourish, change had to take place. But that citizen's perception was also at one with the truth in recognizing that the very brutality of the means by which the IRA were pursuing change was destructive of the trust upon which new possibilities would have to be based.

Nevertheless, until the British government caved in to the strong-arm tactics of the Ulster loyalist workers after the Sunningdale Conference in 1974, a well-disposed mind could still hope to make sense of the circumstances, to balance what was promising with what was destructive and do what W.B. Yeats had tried to do half a century before, namely, "to hold in a single thought reality and justice". After 1974, however, for the twenty long years between them and the ceasefires of August 1994, such a hope proved impossible. The violence from below was then productive of nothing but a retaliatory violence from above, the dream of justice being subsumed into the callousness of reality, and people settled in to a quarter century of life-waste and spirit-waste, of hardening attitudes and narrowing possibilities that were the natural result of political solidarity, traumatic suffering, and sheer emotional self-protectiveness.

One of the most harrowing moments in the whole history of the harrowing of the heart in Northern Ireland came when a minibus full of workers being driven home one January evening in 1976 was held up by armed and masked men and the occupants of the van ordered at gunpoint to line up at the side of the road. Then one of the masked executioners said to them, "Any Catholics among you, step out here." As it happened, this particular group, with one exception, were all Protestants, so the presumption must have been that the masked men were Protestant paramilitaries about to carry out a tit-for-tat sectarian killing of the Catholic as the odd man out, the one who would have been presumed to be in sympathy with the IRA and all its actions. It was a terrible moment for him, caught between dread and witness, but he did make a motion to step forward. Then, the story goes, in that split second of decision, and in the relative cover of the winter evening darkness, he felt the hand of the Protestant worker next to him take his hand and squeeze it in a signal that said no, don't move, we'll not betray you, nobody need know what faith or party you belong to. All in vain, however, for the man stepped out of the line; but instead of finding a gun at his temple, he was thrown backward and away as the gunmen opened fire on those remaining in the line, for these were not Protestant terrorists, but members, presumably, of the Provisional IRA.

It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir; that Tacitus was right and that peace is merely the desolation left behind after the decisive operations of merciless power. I remember, for example, shocking myself with a thought I had about that friend who was imprisoned in the 70s upon suspicion of having been involved with a political murder: I shocked myself by thinking that even if he were guilty, he might still perhaps be helping the future be born, breaking the repressive forms and liberating new potential in the only way that worked, that is to say the violent way --- which therefore became, by extension, the right way. It was like a moment of exposure to interstellar cold, a reminder of the scary element, both inner and outer, in which human beings must envisage and conduct their lives. But it was only a moment. The birth of the future we desire is surely in the contraction which that terrified Catholic felt on the roadside when another hand gripped his hand, not in the gunfire that followed, so absolute and so desolate, if also so much a part of the music of what happens.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/05/2003 09:41:00 AM

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