In line with my rant earlier today about history books, and loving David McCullough, here is Rachel Lucas, on the cancellation of a 2-part miniseries about Hitler's early years. The station cancelled it because they were concerned about the few people out there crazy enough to think Hitler is a role model. They would rather punish the normal people in this society who would like to LEARN stuff, because some wackos might mis-understand. And so who suffers? The normal people. Anyway, read Rachel's rant. It's good stuff.
God. Just read this. I knew there was a reason why I loved David McCullough as an author. In this interview, he takes on the way history books are written today. He attacks the lack of knowledge kids today have of the birth of the nation.
Something must be done. Something must be done. I feel quite frantic about it, and have actually felt this way for quite some time.
My public school education in the 1970s gave me a very good basis of American history. My parents, too, also loved the history of the American revolution, so we grew up hearing the stories of the Boston tea party. Longfellow's poem about Paul Revere's ride was a common bedtime story. We come from a Boston Irish family, so all of those events were very real to us.
Will the stranglehold multiculturalism and the PC-police have over education today EVER END? Is it a phase? Please God, let it pass. It is killing intellectual inquiry in this country.
The whole U-Mass thing wanting to get rid of their Minuteman mascot because it's a "violent image of a white male" makes me CRAZY. CRAZY. These kids are STUPID and uninformed. They're also missing out on so much. An actual education, for one thing.
Notable quotes from Mr. McCullough:
-- "Something's eating away at the national memory, and a nation or a community or a society can suffer as much from the adverse effects of amnesia as can an individual."
-- "History is a story, cause and effect. And if you're going to teach just segments of history - women's issues - these youngsters have almost no sense of cause and effect. They have no sense of what followed what and why, that everything has antecedents and everything has consequences. And they might begin to think that's true of life, too."
-- "And so many of the blessings and advantages we have, so many of the reasons why our civilization, our culture, has flourished aren't understood; they're not appreciated. And if you don't have any appreciation of what people went through to get, to achieve, to build what you are benefiting from, then these things don't mean very much to you. You just think, well, that's the way it is. That's our birthright. That just happened. [But] it didn't just happen. And at what price? What grief? What disappointment? What suffering went on? I mean this. I think that to be ignorant or indifferent to history isn't just to be uneducated or stupid. It's to be rude, ungrateful. And ingratitude is an ugly failing in human beings."
And then there's Moodlighting. Unfortunately, his permalinks aren't working. His first post is very interesting, about the anti-war stance. "How do you deal with the fact that defending an anti-war stance is essentially defending a corrupt regime?" The post I like best on this page though is his description of meeting his friend at the clock at Grand Central. You have to scroll down a bit, to Tuesday, May 13. First of all: I did not know that the constellations painted on the ceiling of the main terminal at Grand Central were painted backwards, so it is actually painted from the perspective of God. I love that!!! Also: I do love the fact that when they restored the ceiling, they did leave one tiny spot un-restored, so that you could see the difference. Anyway: he really captures what it feels like in that magical space. My writing group meets in the big echoey food court at Grand Central every other week; I love that building being part of my every day life.
Paul Frankenstein. The mere fact that he announces tonight's bash with the walrus poem from Alice in Wonderland is enough for me! I love that. Also: "cheap cold beer" is one of my favorite things.
Stephen Silver. Another cool discovery. I also want to thank him in person for bringing the following Jon Stewart quote to my attention: "As a fake newsman myself, it’s always encouraging to see the profession catching on...If I can inspire one guy to make up all his sources, well then I’ve done my job." -Jon Stewart, complimenting Jayson Blair. I love Jon Stewart more and more every day.
zeebahtronic What immediately jumped off the page for me? Under "Currently reading", she lists Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn. I read that book years ago and I am haunted by it to this day.
Lady Crumpet's Armoire. The first post alone (the 40 top books written by women, Brits polled) has made me a fan. Jane Eyre came in second? How can that be? Also, why the hell are the Harry Potter books on there? They're a good romp those books, surely, but it looks odd: Middlemarch. To the Lighthouse. Frankenstein. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Uh ... what?
The famous Alex at Broken Type. Everyone has a blog-crush on Alex. I met him at the last bash. We drank our cocktails beside a precarious stairway.
Ursula, the NY Yoga Girl. I met her at the last bash. She is absolutely fabulous, and that's all I have to say.
Dollhaus. The text is in a column which is so thin that it barely fits two words across. The references to ultimate frisbee make me long for college days on the quadrangle.
Jahna D'Lish. First of all, if you have a headline "Tea and Cake, or Death" (a quote from the brilliant and HILARIOUS Eddie Izzard), you have my loyalty forever. "Thank you for flying Church of England. Cake or death?" Trust me: in context, it is one of the funniest things you will ever see.
Hands Free. I feel, in looking thru this blog, that I have discovered a gold-mine. Pardon the cliche. Photographs, NYC-street photographs, interesting commentary, rich rich rich.
Pia Wilson. I like the idea of trying to merge two lives together ... the two lives she has within herself.
In the fall of 1999 I had a brief relationship with a guy who I will call "The Deli Guy". He worked at the deli counter at A&P, and my friends kept saying, "So … how's Deli Guy?" and it just stuck. The story of the relationship is long and absolutely insane. But that's for another day. At the time of this entry, I didn't really know him at all, we had gone out maybe twice … and he invited me to his brother's wedding. It would be our third date. I went primarily because I wanted to see his family, I knew I would get a lot of clues into Deli Guy's personality from seeing who they were.
I ended up having a cosmic experience that had nothing to do with him, which I clearly have a very difficult time articulating to myself in the journal.
September, 1999 "You wanna go to a wedding on Sunday?"
"Yeah, sure, your brother?"
"Yeah, how did you know?"
"You told me."
"Well, so you want to come?"
"I think you'd look good in a dress."
"Yeah. Although when I last saw you at the A&P, I loved what you were wearing?"
"You did??" (I had looked like such a slug.)
"Oh yeah. The overalls? I LOVED those."
"Well … I do have dresses."
"Yeah, so I'll squeeze you in."
"Into the dress?"
"No, into the wedding."
Jen was listening to my end of this conversation as she was unloading her groceries and cracking up over the "squeeze you in" confusion. I was like: "I can squeeze into my own dress, thank you very much …"
Then he started rhapsodizing about my eyes in conjunction with my baseball cap and overalls, and then stopped himself. "Okay, I'm gonna go now. I'm getting' goofy."
Then there came the wedding – the weird experience at the wedding – which really forced me to accept the reality in front of me instead of attaching myself to what I wanted to be happening. I had a couple of self-pitying moments but then – they seemed futile and silly. What was going on was what was supposed to be going on. (It all goes back to what Kimber always used to say when we were rehearsing a play and it wasn't going as well as planned: It may not be the play you want, but it's the play you got.)
I hadn't gone into this wedding-date with any hyper-specific expectations (although I did have some). Mostly I just wanted to stay as aware as possible, pick up on everything I could, take pictures, and LEARN. Be as relaxed as I could be, so I could receive as much information about him as I possibly could.
Which is what happened.
And then I realized some of my other expectations, only because they did not manifest: like slow dancing with him. Etc. etc. And I realized at one point that a part of me was wishing that he was a different person. Which is ridiculous. And unfair.
I am who I am, and he is who he is.
I don't want to start any kind of editing process, or self-consciousness. I am into him precisely for the reasons that were (are) driving me crazy … And that's that. If nothing else, the guy is honest.
Once I relaxed, I felt no more self-pity. I felt ACUTE self-awareness, awareness of "the pattern" – or I should say "my pattern" – But it wasn't accompanied by the self-destructive whining of "Poor me", or "Look what always happens to me." I had more distance. I became curious about my own life. I sat there at the table, watching everyone slow-dance, knowing NO ONE, feeling so separate from everyone, and so connected to myself – at the same time. And I was so interested in my own life – in a kind of ironic detached way. I could see it. For what it was. There it was. All in front of me. And it just seemed so interesting.
Interesting not in terms of dramaturgy, or "Oh, this would make a good play", not like that. It was interesting in terms of thematics – (I know I sound like such a cerebral asshole, but that was my experience). The themes of a life – the recurring themes – the pattern, still discernible in the chaos (The Goldberg Variations) … You never lose the pattern, but you need to have clarity of thought and good ears to pick up the theme at times. The pattern is always there.
And the wedding, for me, was one of those times. One of those times where my mind cleared, and where my ears picked up the pattern of my own life. Like that night I walked home from the Gingerman, passing Wrigley Field, at 2 a.m.
Amazing moments – a life revealed.
Deli Guy slept upstairs through the whole reception. I talked with Garrett and Polly, who were wonderful to me. I can't even say how much. I liked them both so much. I liked them separately and I loved them as a couple. He is a fireman, she is a physical therapist. They really seemed to get a kick out of each other. One of those couples with a great couple-vibe. Watching them dance together, I started to feel unbelievably wistful.
No, that's not right.
I didn't feel – I guess I did feel wistful – but I was more separated than that. I was just watching the dancing, mostly watching the two of them. They made such a nice couple. And I wished I was out there, too. I love to dance. But that was not my situation. I had some time of feeling so far outside everything that it was almost out-of-body.
I am so not describing this.
Basically, I was having a cosmic moment. Sitting on the side of the dance floor, watching all the couples dance. Feeling MY LIFE. Seeing it. MY LIFE. Almost as though it were separate from me. And my self-pity and wistfulness went away a little bit once I got all cosmic. And it felt like what was happening was clearly supposed to be happening.
Yeah, I would have loved to dance with him, out there with Garrett and Polly – but that wasn't the reality in front of me. Why invest in a fantasy? Everything seemed so clear to me. The moment seemed so real, so vital: It felt like my life. The whole thing was so me. I have had that experience (sitting on the sidelines, watching all the couples) countless times in my life. And here it was again, only this time, I was actually on a date. The theme still exists, regardless of the changing circumstances.
It wasn't a moment of "Woah! Look at what always happens to me! I am always alone! Even when I have a date, I'm not out there on the dance floor!" No. Maybe because I'm finding my way back to God … I felt like something from outside of me was trying to give me a message. It was like I finally was open enough to listen for God. He was trying to speak to me. Or – he was speaking to me – only not in any human language – It was more like he was showing me my life – with love. There was this chorus of "Accept accept accept" – over and over, pulsing through me. God is not a punishing God. He is love.
Something like that.
The theme of being alone watching all the couples happens too much to me for me to go the victim route. Clearly, God has a plan – Something's going on here that has nothing to do with a self-pitying stance. Whatever's happening is way deeper than that.
I went up and checked on Deli Guy. He was so fast asleep that his behavior didn't actually seem like it belonged to the sleep category. It was like he was under hypnosis or his body was there but his self was out on the astral plane somewhere. He was not there.
Which was what he needed to do. He needed to step off this plane. He was taking care of himself. He completely abandoned me, but he needed to take care of himself. He was lying on the couch in his tuxedo. Or, at least, his body was. I sat down beside his head, squeezing in on the couch. I was still in my cosmic place. (I sound so hysterical. I never talk like this. Astral planes, cosmic places … ) Receptors alive … I felt very mellow, even though I knew no one at this wedding – including Deli Guy, really, and he left me at the reception – awkward, lonely, etc…but I felt really mellow, once the self-pity left. I got out of myself. I was not "replete with very thee". I accepted the moment in front of me. It really relaxed me.
And, I got this sense, this feeling, as I sat next to him, that his brain was on fire. That somewhere within him he was burning up. And I suddenly felt so cool – cool temperature-wise, I just knew my hands would cool him down, so I put my palm on his forehead, and left it there, letting the coolness go down into his hot brain. He never woke up, but I kept pouring coolness into him.
Then I left him and went outside to be with myself. I had no idea where I was. Out in NJ somewhere. No clue.
The reception place was surrounded by trees. We were way out in nature, big empty parking lot, woods all around, night-time, lots of stars, and a great moon. Way high up, clouds rolling over it, big tall dark pine trees, and I wandered thru the parking lot, staring up at the moon, watching it disappear behind the trees, and then the clouds, and then re-appear again. Cricket sounds. I stood there, closed my eyes, soaked it in. Nature.
Cool night – darkness – clouds – stars – trees – crickets – woods –
The night then became about that for me. Me and the Night itself. Which was not what I expected either.
I was standing in the gravel lot, taking it all in, looking around me, with this major party going on behind me inside. But all sound was muffled outside.
On the other side of the lot (which was surrounded by woods), I suddenly saw this beautiful tranquil smooth "path" of grass, leading up into the darkness of the woods beyond. I felt like it was beckoning to me.
And it's funny: I saw it, and I heard it call to me, and I had a moment of thinking about it, like: "Wow. That path just called to me. Hm! Cool moment." I was distanced from it in a way, and then in the next moment came the thought: Why don't I just answer the call?
So I did.
It took me a couple of seconds to come to the decision: "Let me follow that path." – which is interesting to me. What else do I have to do? Why do I feel obligated to go back into that reception? Because I'm "supposed" to? Why? And, when I decided to follow the path, I felt like I was experiencing what it was like to be Jen, a lot of the time. When nature calls, she answers unquestioningly. At least it seems so to me.
I teetered on my high heels over the gravel to the path. It was an upward slope of clear grass going up into the woods. Everywhere else around the lot was thick with trees, no way in. (It was all very Blair Witch.) So this swoop of grass was like the yellow brick road. The grass was thick and beautiful, and the second I got into the woods, it was like I was in another world. The reception was a million miles away. My LIFE was a million miles away. But I was so there.
I will cherish my time in the woods forever.
I felt a one-ness. I felt close to everything, and also like I was soaring above everything. The reception really disappeared for me then. I was in the woods – the moon peeking thru the trees – me in my strappy heels. I came to a clearing in the trees. It was a pretty big space – dark and mysterious – grass underfoot – not dirt –
Jersey had been having intense floods that day. The National Guard was everywhere, the phones still weren't working. People missed the wedding because of roadblocks. And I really wanted to lie down in the grass, but I assumed it would be muddy and wet. I squatted to feel it, and it wasn't wet at all. It was lush thick grass, but not wet.
Everything was unexpected and perfect.
I lay on my back in the tall grass (wearing my little spaghetti-strap dress) – in the woods – with dark trees all around me – crickets high up – close – far – the moon playing peek-a-boo with the clouds – and the sounds – the sounds of the night were coming up thru the earth into me. It was also like I fell up into the sky. I fell up there with the moon.
The whole thing was RICH.
I have no idea how long I was out there.
And I wasn't missed when I finally went back in…Of course I wasn't! Deli Guy was still sleeping and no one else knew who I was.
It was BEAUTIFUL. To not be missed.
Lying in the grass in my little dress – with that soaring moon – and the Blair Witch trees all around me –
In looking back on it (that, and also my time sitting on the side, watching all the couples dance) – I felt something profound going on within me. I felt like if my life could be boiled down to its essence – if you could strip away the ballast, the non-essentials – and you looked into the pot to see what was left, what had survived the alchemical turbulence – those two moments would remain. Those two moments would be there. They say: SHEILA.
They are me. They say ME.
And – because I got that sense – as it was happening, which is so rare – because I got that sense that these moments contain my essence, I stopped judging. I stopped thinking that something else should be happening. I accepted.
I don't know what it all means, beyond what I just said. But it has stayed with me.
Later in the night, sitting at the table with Garrett, he said, "Where's *****? Smoking a cigarette?" (Judging.)
I said, "No. He's upstairs sleeping."
5,000 things went over Garrett's face. Confusion – alarm – annoyance – also concern for me. He was a sweetie, this guy. He said again, like he hadn't heard right, "He's sleeping?"
I said calmly, "Yeah."
I didn't judge Deli Guy. I felt disappointed, and also slightly embarrassed about being ditched so publicly, but it didn't manifest in me wanting to wake him up so that I could have a slow-dance with him. He needed to sleep. He got overwhelmed. Too many people. Family issues. His father shot himself a month ago. A month ago. Deli Guy checked out of the situation. Self-preservation.
Garrett took it all in. Then said, "And how are you doing with all of this?"
"Oh, I'm okay. I just took a really cool walk in the woods. It's okay."
He just STARED at me. He did not know what to say. (This guy really made an impression on me. Beautiful person.) Then he said, "You are so brave."
I burst out laughing. "I am?"
"Jesus CHRIST. Yes! You don't know anybody here, you don't even know him … and he goes and falls asleep … and you're just … you're just hanging out … I have to tell you. I could not do what you are doing tonight."
I laughed again. "I don't know what else to do! I guess he needed to sleep, y'know?"
From that point forward, Garrett (and then Garrett and Polly) never left my side. They took me out onto the dance floor with them, so the three of us danced together … we went to get drinks together, we took breaks and sat at the table together … we talked … books we were reading, what we do for a living … They completely took care of me. I wish I knew where they lived. I'd like to send them a card. I felt like, when I was with them, "People are good."
Deli Guy's cousin Joey (who could be cast as an extra on "The Sopranos") drove us back to Hoboken after the wedding. Joey's a fireman. Tough guy, also sweet sweet SWEET. Sweet with Deli Guy. Everyone was sweet with Deli Guy. Clearly a family concerned.
"If you should ever need anything…"
Joey has a tiny red convertible. A hot-shot car. I sat in the back. He put the top down. He drove like an absolutely MANIAC. It was glorious. Nighttime – that huge moon – and the wind blowing on us so hard we had to scream at each other. I sat in the back, hair going nuts, screaming out loud in joy. "WOOOOOOH!" Deli Guy grinning over his shoulder at me.
We were having such a great time driving that we lost the car we were following. We probably, actually, sped right by them – They must have been like: "Guys! You're supposed to be following us!" Waving frantically at us as we careened off into the night.
Then there was Deli Guy's clothes chaos … left his bag of clothes somewhere – We had to stop by the church first – but we got lost – random – running into National Guard roadblocks everyhere – soldiers and humvees. Weird.
I eavesdropped on the conversation going on in the front seat. It was killing me. Cousins. That long history. Joey's dad is Deli Guy's godfather.
Joey: "I'm not an educated man, but I'm a very lucky man. I have the best job in the world and I feel lucky. I thank God every day for my life."
Joey talking about spoiling his niece – who's one year old – buying her sneakers, buying her everything – and ignoring his nephews. He has to remind himself to get them gifts, too. "There's just something about a little baby girl, y'know? You just want to give her everything!"
Joey was asking Deli Guy what was up in his life. Deli Guy gave him the details. Living in Bayonne, wrote a book, broke. "I'm f***in' broke, man."
Joey: "Yeah, but you're doin' what you gotta do, man. That's all that matters. And you got your girl –"
Sweet. "You got your girl –"
Deli Guy talks like that, too. "So are you my girl now?" Joking: "If you get a car, then I will definitely make you my girl."
So we got hopelessly lost, but then suddenly I thought I recognized a 711 – and then I saw a roadblock which looked familiar – called out over the shrieking wind: "Joey! The church is a couple blocks down this street –"
We get to the church. No one there but the National Guard. The church parking lot is full of army jeeps.
So we didn't get Deli Guy's clothes back. We moved on. I leaned over the back of the front seat: "You guys – can we just take a moment to revel in how amazing it is that we actually found the church? Even though it came to nothing – let's just take a moment."
Joey loved that. It made him giggle.
Then Joey dropped us off … and something weird happened. Deli Guy had this strutting moose-at-Yellowstone confrontation with a random kid on the opposite sidewalk. "What are you lookin' at, man? You wanna get into it with me? HUH?"
I was so pissed. I saw red.
He got all sheepish with me, but still defending himself. "He was looking at me!"
That's a big deal to him. Being looked at. He feels like people can see inside his head.
I flipped out. "So what? What are you, 8 years old? So the man looked at you! So what? It's one o'clock in the morning and you're wearing a tuxedo! Maybe he was looking at that. And even if he wasn't – who cares? So he looked at you! Big deal."
Deli Guy said, "You sound just like my brother. He's always saying that to me – Just walk away. Just walk away."
"You should listen to your brother. That was just so bullshit right now. You f***ing freak me out. What are you gonna do – get into a huge fight with someone, with me standing right there? You would put me at such a risk? You are out of control, dude." I was pissed off and completely freaked. Adrenaline racing.
Finally he said, "I'm really sorry. It won't happen again."
"It better not. It better not."
Despite that one glitch, the evening was fascinating. Not because of Deli Guy, although he is very interesting. It was fascinating because of what was revealed to me about my life. Watching the couples dance, sitting on the side, and lying in the grass out in the woods.
I don't think Mickey Mouse should be on there, alongside events like Hitler's beer hall putsch and Black Tuesday. Mickey Mouse changed the world?? Changed the world? Uh. I don't think so.
The Stonewall riots? Prozac?
But still, there's some good stuff. Tet Offensive, Sputnik, Chinese Cultural Revolution...
TO MY LOYAL READERS Look through CNN's special. What did they miss? Any event which, in your mind, clearly should be included? If we booted out Mickey Mouse, I Love Lucy, and Princess Diana's death (among other events): what could be added? I know we're missing things.
A RAMBLING DISCOURSE ON STEREOTYPES:
JAYSON BLAIR, OJ SIMPSON, "THE BACHELOR" BITCHES, MALE BASHING
There should be no need for every black person to hang his head in shame because of Jayson Blair's behavior. If you see everything through the filter of race, then you cannot see anything clearly.
I remember those awful pictures of black people jumping up and down for joy when OJ was declared "not guilty"... It seemed to me that the revelers were not gleeful because OJ was acquitted. Not really. They jumped up and down because they themselves had probably received unfair treatment from the LAPD (or wherever they lived) and felt vindicated. A wrong had been righted. That logic seems completely insane to me, but whatever: that was what was operating, because everything had been turned into a racial issue, as opposed to a criminal question: "did he or did he not" kill his wife?
Yes, the LAPD cops have a terribly racist reputation. Black people can be unfairly targeted by racist ignorant cops. However: REALITY CHECK: I am guessing that none of the blacks complaining about racial profiling had ever experienced a white cop planting a bloody glove in their backyard. Vincent Bugliosi, famous prosecutor of the Manson murders, commented on the miscarriage of justice that occurred in the OJ case, and wrote (and I'm paraphrasing): "I've spoken to all of my black friends and colleagues about this, and asked them what they thought. They have all spoken about being pulled over unnecessarily by the LAPD. I always reply: 'Yes. Perhaps you have been harassed and pulled over unfairly. But FRAMED? Have any of you been FRAMED by the cops?" Of course, the answer was always No to that.)
Blacks saw the OJ trial through their own filter of race, their own filter of bad experiencees they have had, and felt that OJ's acquittal was their vindication.
"OJ could not be allowed to pay for that murder, because if he was found to be guilty... then our entire race house of cards would come crumbling down. We cannot bear to have a member of our race pilloried, because it reflects on all of us."
The closer I look at that, the less sense it makes.
All black people are not OJ. OJ is not indicative of all black people. I do not look at OJ's behavior and have any opinion about black people as a whole.
Don't hang your head in shame because Jayson Blair is a bad egg!!!
I watched "The Bachelor" last night. There was a scene at the end where the absolute worst side of women (in general) was on display. They all looked like catty back-stabbing passive-aggressive bitches. Some of them would be bitchy when on camera privately - cutting each other down, mean mean mean, and then be simperingly sweet to each other in person.
The final scene was like an anthropological study. "Watch the female of the species. Notice how her bitchiness grows as each day goes on. Interesting, too: the oldest girl in this flock of females, Christina, who is 30, appears to be the least mature, and most bitchy of them all. Must make a note of that, and look into it further."
I am many things I am not proud of (I can be arrogant, and righteous, I can be way-moody, I can be scared of stupid things, I have a pretty hot temper), but I am not a back-stabber. And I am not petty. I am also not passive-aggressive. If I have a problem with you, you will hear about it. And not 5 months later. I do not give someone the silent treatment. It is not in my nature. I also have many great women friends. There are women who don't like other women, women who secretly do not want other women to do well, women who say "You look gorgeous, Susie" one moment and "Doesn't Susie look awful?" the second poor Susie leaves the room.
I watched last night, cringing at times, taking it personally, feeling like the worst of my sex was on display.
However: just because they're a bunch of back-stabbing straight-haired tank-top-and-tight-jeans-and-highheeled-boots-wearing bitches ... doesn't mean anything about ME, personally. They all look TERRIBLE in terms of their personalities, and also the general lack of self-awareness (well, except for Tina Fabulous who came out of the whole debacle smelling like a rose.) I am sure many men watched the show last night and had their worst thoughts about women confirmed. "Yup. Look at that. All women are back-stabbing money-hungry bitches." I've met guys like that, I've been on a couple of dates with guys like that (it never goes past one date, obviously) ... men who have terrible opinions of women, for whatever reason. Mommy didn't love them enough, whatever. I have no interest in playing psychologist.
This is a rambling post. I haven't written all day.
What I am trying to say is that black journalists and black professionals do not need to hang their heads in shame because Jayson Blair is BLACK. They should hang their heads in shame because he is a dirty JOURNALIST. Or: don't even hang the head in shame! Please, let's stop it with the shame-filled confessional stuff. Just 'fess up that he sucks, that he should never have been allowed to advance, and make sure that your own work is beyond reproach. Do what you can, in your small corner of the profession, to insure that it doesn't happen again. His race is inconsequential. Do not over-identify yourself with your race, or with your gender. It's a stupid thing to do. There are way too many exceptions to every single stereotype to take any of it seriously.
Men who grumble, "Women only care about money" don't know women like me. Men who grumble about women who spend hours shopping, have not met me. I race into a store, try on a pair of pants, fall in love with them, race out, in half an hour's time. The stereotype does not fit. I also am the opposite of cling-y or need-y. I'm too fierce about my own independence to ever try to put boundaries on somebody else. I don't need to be with somebody at all times. I could give a rat's ass if the man I'm interested in needs a couple nights to go out with the boys and whoop it up and revel in testosterone. I don't care if he looks at other women while he is out with his guy friends. Or actually, even if he is with me. If I ever couple up with someone, I am not SUDDENLY not going to find other men attractive. I am not going to SUDDENLY not have a huge lustful crush on Jeff Bridges. I probably will still squeal with excitement when I see that "The Fisher King" is playing on TNT.
So yes, women can be small-minded, petty, and jealous ... but not all women are this way. So you cannot make a blanket statement like that.
At least if you're not interested in the truth.
I am very glad that journalists are going through soul-searching right now, and that the issue of race is being brought up, left and right. It's about time.
I do not make any assumptions about black people, in general, because of Jayson Blair. Jayson Blair was a smarmy conniving liar. And that's IT.
We need more common-sense applied to affirmative action. As it stands now, it sucks eggs.
Two possible conversations involving a hypothetical reporter: 1. Is [hypothetical reporter] good at what he does?
Good enough to deserve promotion?
Well, all righty- then.
2. Is [hypothetical reporter] good at what he does?
Well ... he's had some problems with accuracy ...
Really? Let me see some documentation of that ...
Here it is ...
Huh. Well, we probably shouldn't put him on the big national case, and we should keep a sharp eye on him.
The fact that that man is black is a big YAWN to me. Doesn't matter at all. And neither should it matter to you.
It's not just in the media. It is all around me. 10 minutes ago I received an email from a friend of mine, one of those joke emails, called "Men are like..." Here are some of the "jokes":
Men are like ... Laxatives ....They irritate the shit out of you.
Men are like .... Blenders .... You need One, but you're not quite sure why.
Men are like ... Commercials ... You can't believe a word they say.
Men are like ... Lava Lamps ..... Fun to look at, but not very bright.
Who finds this funny? Who would find this funny?
"Fun to look at, BUT NOT VERY BRIGHT"...
Sorry. The smugness of women sometimes is insufferable. I don't see men in that way. I just don't. I listen to the litany of complaints from women with husbands, the treating him like a child, like a buffoon, an idiot, etc. It's incessant. I think: "Jesus, why did you want to hook up with him if you have such contempt for men?"
I can't participate in male-bashing. I won't. I refuse. I know too many brilliant men. Brilliant sensitive stand-up guys. Who have their acts together. I think of my nephew Cashel. I don't want him to grow up feeling shame-faced about his gender. It's just not funny to me.
From the novel Mating by Norman Rush - an absolutely incredible read ... I highly recommend it ... For years, I looked at that book as an articulation of my philosophy of life and love ... I am not so sure about that now. I've been burned a ton more times since I first read it ... but still. A riveting story with absolutely unforgettable characters. It won the National Book Award in 1991.
It is a first-person narrative, told from the point of view of a disgruntled female anthropologist (who remains nameless throughout the entire novel), trying to finish her thesis about hunter-gatherers in Botswana. The only problem is: "I had to hunt for gatherers. Gathering was a dead issue in my part of the bush. Normal-type food seems to have percolated everywhere." Norman Rush, a male author, is completely convincing, creating a female voice. The novel begins with her hanging around in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, trying to figure out how to save her thesis. She has a couple of dilatory "relationships" ... which she cannot take seriously. Also, because she is an anthropologist, she sees everything in anthropological terms. Which is a challenge for any normal person trying to be intimate with her. She takes self-analysis and deductive reasoning and critical thinking to a whole new level. People who don't sympathize with that kind of thinking will be extremely irritated with the book. I, however, heard her very specific voice as an uncanny echo of my own.
She hears a rumor about a famous renegade anthropologist named Nelson Denoon, who has fallen off the face of the earth, and has apparently disappeared into the Kalahari desert, to create an ideal society. A utopia. A utopia where women hold all the power. This is all sounding rather corny, as I describe it. You just have to read it. So our un-named heroine becomes convinced that she must meet Nelson Denoon, that he will be the key to her finding her brilliance, her greatness ... she treks across the desert, uninvited, and arrives at his utopia. Events unfold from there.
Nelson Denoon, to my taste, is one of the most memorable fictional characters I have ever encountered. The book pained me at the end. I knew and loved someone like Nelson Denoon.
So today's excerpt is the chapter "Weep for me", from early on in the book, before Denoon enters into it. She has started dating a wildlife photographer, merely because he has an assignment at Victoria Falls, and she wants to tag along and see this wonder of the world. She feels kind of bad about using him, but not really bad. She has lost her moral compass. She is disappointed by life. She doesn't know what to do next. She and her lover arrive in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe ... and she pretty much blatantly ditches him the second they check into the hotel, to go see the falls by herself. She does not hide from him that she basically used him for the free plane ticket.
"Weep for me" is the chapter describing her solitary encounter with Victoria Falls.
Weep for Me
Well before you see water you find yourself walking through pure vapor. The roar penetrates you and you stop thinking without trying.
I took a branch of the path that led out onto the shoulder of the gorge the falls pour into. I could sit in long grass with my feet to the void, the falls immense straight in front of me. It was excessive in every dimension. The mist and spray rise up in a column that breaks off at the top into normal clouds while you watch. This is the last waterfall I need to see, I thought. Depending on the angle of the sun, there were rainbows and fractions of ranbows above and below the falls. The first main sensation is about physicality. The falls said something to me like You are flesh, in no uncertain terms. This phase lasted over an hour. I have never been so intent. Several times I started to get up but couldn't. It was injunctive. Something in me was being sated and I was paralyzed until that was done.
The next phase was emotional. Something was building up in me as I went back toward the hotel and got on the path that led to overlooks directly beside and above the east cataract. My solitude was eroding, which was oddly painful. I could vaguely make out darkly dressed people here and there on the Zambia side, and there seemed to be some local African boys upstream just recreationally manhandling a huge dead tree into the rapids, which they would later run along the bank following to its plunge, incidentally intruding on me in my crise or whatever it should be called. The dark clothing I was seeing was of course raingear, which anyone sensible would be wearing. I was drenched.
You know you're in Africa at Victoria Falls because there is nothing anyplace to keep you from stepping off into the cataract, not a handrail, not an inch of barbed wire. There are certain small trees growing out over the drop where obvious handholds on the limbs have been worn smooth by people clutching them to lean out bodily over white death. I did this myself. I leaned outward and stared down and said out loud something like Weep for me. At which point I was overcome with enormous sadness, from nowhere. I drew back into where it was safe, terrified.
I think the falls represented death for the taking, but a particular death, one that would be quick but also make you part of something magnificent and eternal, an eternal mechanism. This was not in the same league as throwing yourself under some filthy bus. I had no idea I was that sad. I began to ask myself why, out loud. I had permission to. It was safe to talk to yourself because of the roar you were subsumed in, besides being alone. I fragmented.
One sense I had was that I was going to die sometime anyway. Another was that the falls were something you could never apply the term fake or stupid to. This has to be animism, was another feeling. I was also bemused because suicide had never meant anything to me personally, except as an option it sometimes amazed me my mother had never taken, if her misery was as kosher as she made it seem. There was also an element of urgency underneath everything, an implication that the chance for this kind of death was not going to happen again and that if I passed it up I should stop complaining -- which was also baseless and from nowhere because I'm not a complainer, historically. I am the Platonic idea of a good sport.
Why was I this sad? I needed to know. I was alarmed. I had no secret guilt that I was aware of, no betrayals or cruelty toward anyone. On the contrary, I have led a fairly generative life in the time I've had to spare from defending myself against the slings and arrows. Remorse wasn't it.
To get away from the boys and their log I had moved to a secluded rock below the brink of the falls. At this point I was weeping, which was disguised by the condensation already bathing my face. No bypasser would notice. This is not saying you could get away with outright sobbing, but in general it would not be embarrassing to be come upon in the degree of emotional dishevelment I seemed to be in.
What was it about? It was nothing sexual: I was not dealing on any level with uncleanness, say. My sex history was the essence of ordinary. So any notion that I was undergoing some naughtiness-based lustral seizure was worthless, especially since I have never been religious in the slightest. One of the better papers I had done was on lustral rites. Was something saying I should kill myself posthaste if the truth was that I was going to be mediocre? This was a thought with real pain behind it. To my wreck of a mother mediocre was a superlative -- an imputation I resisted with all my might once I realized it involved me. I grew up clinging to the idea that either I was original in an unappreciated way or that I could be original -- this later -- by incessant striving and reading and taking simple precautions like never watching television again in my life.
There must be such a thing as situational madness, because I verged on it. I know that schizophrenics hear people murmuring when the bedshhets rustle or when the vacuum cleaner is on. The falls were coming across to me as an utterance, but in more ways than just the roar. There seemed to be certain recurrent elongated forms in the falling masses of water, an architecture that I would be able to apprehend if only I got closer. The sound and the shapes I was seeing went together and meant something, something ethical or existential and hving to do with me henceforward in some way. I started to edge even closer, when the thought came to me If you had a companion you would stay where you are.
I stopped in my tracks. There was elation and desperation. Where was my companion? I had no companion, et cetera. I had no life companion, but why was that? What had I done that had made that the case, leaving me in danger? Each time I thought the word "companion" I felt pain collecting in my chest. I suddenly realized how precipitous the place I had chosen to sit and commune from was. The pain was like hot liquid, and I remember feeling hopeless because I knew it was something not amenable to vomiting. I wanted to expel it. Vomiting is my least favorite inevitable recurrent experience, but I would have been willing to drop to all fours and vomit for hours if that would access this burning material. It was no use saying mate or compadre instead of companion: the pain was the same. Also, that I genuinely deserved a companion was something included.
I wish I knew how long this went on. It was under ten minutes, I think.
Who can I tell this to, was the thought that seemed to end it. I may have been into the diminuendo already, because I had gotten back from the ledge, back even from the path and into the undergrowth. It all lifted. I sat in the brush, clutching myself. I had an optical feeling that the falls were receding. Then it was really over.
I hauled myself back to the hotel feeling like a hysteric, except for the sense that I had gotten something germane, whatever it was, out of my brush with chaos.
Alex, over at Broken Type, another Big Apple Blogger has a very enjoyable post up at the moment, entitled "New York Cocktail Party". He discusses Stinking Bishop, a cheese offered at the party. He discusses its hyperbolic stinkiness at some length, and with great eloquence. He uses the word "cthulu". Then he closes with some quotes (so FABULOUS) from the cookbook The Playboy Gourmet. Damn. They don't seem to write cook books like they used to. Mouth-watering quotes.
Benjamin Kepple takes the story of the Chinese couple naming their child Saddam Sars and runs with it. There is a lot that is very very funny in his post (not to mention a nice little link to me -- narcissism lives within this redhead).
But here's the couple of quotes that made me laugh:
I do know that if my parents had done such a thing when I was born, I would have been the object of ridicule and scorn throughout my childhood. Somehow, I don't think I would have enjoyed life as Whip Inflation Now Kepple, Gas Rationing Kepple, or Ford Administration Kepple.
And this one is my favorite:
As such, I thank God and all His Saints and Angels that my parents did not consider it a dy-no-MITE! idea to name me Disco Duck Kepple. But of course, they would not have ever considered doing that. My parents were responsible, level-headed people who were too busy working hard to spend hours thinking up cutesy names for their first-born child. Instead, they spent their time looking for open gas stations.
Yesterday was an election day here in the 'boken. City Council members.
Sunday was a rainy day. In the late grey afternoon, I was vacuuming my living room rug, while blasting 'The Eminem Show', when a knock came at my door. I live in a 5th floor walk-up and you can't get into the building unless someone buzzes you in, so needless to say, I thought, "Who the hell is that?" I opened the door and there was a woman, carrying a clipboard. She had short frosted blonde hair, and was wearing violently vivid majenta lipstick.
I am the kind of person who will hang up on telemarketers with nary an "I'm not interested." If you presume to intrude upon my 5th floor walk-up castle, then I have no problem telling you to take a hike. So the second I saw her, everything got very hard inside me.
"How did you get into this building?" I asked.
"Oh, somebody buzzed me in."
She told me that she was running for City Council.
I said, "Now is not a good time, actually."
But somehow, magically, 20 minutes later she was still standing there and I was saying things like: "If you're elected, will you fix the parking situation, because it is completely out of control."
THAT'S a good politician. I opened the door a prickly hermit-crab, and, eventually ... all of that dissolved, and when I closed the door on her, my hands were full of pamphlets, brochures, financial statements. And I have no idea when the shift occurred. I also said to her, as she left, "You know, I have collected all the brochures of all the candidates, and my roommate and I read all of them last night, to get informed. But you are the only one who has come by to see me personally. I will not forget that."
Warning: What follows may be offensive to some people
One of the candidates for City Council is a midget. He is very involved in the Hoboken community, I see him at every event, he knows everybody in town, everybody knows him.
He ran on a platform of "let's clean up City Hall". All of the posters for him showed him and his team standing there smiling, holding brooms.
As all the campaigning intensified in the last couple of weeks, with candidates roaming the streets of Hoboken, buttonholing strangers, nabbing them the second they got off the Path train ... Midget-man and his team would set up a table on Washington Street, with reading materials, buttons to buy (of Midget with a broom), etc. Typical campaigning stuff.
It's just unfortunate that the image of the midget with a broom, a broom 2 feet taller than he is, is not exactly designed to generate confidence. It basically just looks like a goof. The smiling candidate, being towered over by his own broom.
Jen, my roommate, staring at his brochure silently, finally stated, "Whose bright idea was this? Having a 3 foot tall man with a 9 foot tall mop??"
Reading it is like that moment in the movie "The Producers" when Gene Wilder is having a jittery nervous breakdown, spazzing out in the corner, and Zero Mostel tosses a glass of water in his face. Gene Wilder freezes. Stunned. Snapped out of it in a flash.
The essay is by Michael Fumento of the Hudson Institute.
Repeatedly, SARS is called "killer pneumonia," as if pneumonia normally causes hiccups. Yet 62,000 Americans died of pneumonia in 2001. The SARS stories often invoke the great flu pandemic of 1918-19, which probably killed 40 million people, according to WHO estimates. That's more than ten times as many people daily — among a global population a third the size of today's — as SARS has yet killed.
Blair was an accomplished liar and suckup, and the Times screwed up badly in not noticing earlier that something fishy was going on. (They didn't even notice that none of his expense accounts included plane tickets or hotel bills? Sheesh.) But when Glass did the same thing at the New Republic nobody ran stories suggesting that we ought to be more careful about hiring white guys in the future.
Why is it that when one — one! — black con artist scams the Times he's a black con artist, but when white con artists scam the New Republic, the LA Times, and the Salt Lake City Tribune, they're just — con artists? Funny how that works.
I had missed this distinction, in all of my ranting.
I still believe affirmative action, as it is now, needs to be tossed out the window. But as I said earlier today, Jayson Blair obviously is a weak nasty conniving personality. That's a matter of character, not race. Stephen Glass is not automatically described as "the white fabricater of stories at The New Republic".
Tracked down a piece in Slate by Jack Shafer about Stephen Glass, the hot-shot reporter at The New Republic fired for fabrications. His scandal is even more mind-boggling than Jayson Blair's, in my opinion. Stephen Glass made up entire companies, so that he could then write about completely made-up employees. He basically sat down and wrote fiction. He didn't steal stuff from other reporters, or plagiarize. HE MADE IT ALL UP.
I find this piece interesting, because it is written from the perspective of "Wow. He really had me fooled."
In the days to come, more and more Jayson Blair revelations will come out, the story will unfold. More and more people will share their experiences with Blair, their doubts, whatever.
I'm embarrassed to confess that every Glass story passed my stink test when first published in the New Republic. Now, plowing through the big Nexis dump, my hindsight is golden. Glass moved monumental piles of bullshit past me, a vain skeptic.
Colleagues describe Glass as an extraordinarily hard-working and personable 25-year-old who gladly pulled all-nighters to improve his pieces whenever his editors asked him to. He was completely open to criticism. He regularly entertained the staff at editorial meetings with previews of the dish to come in his next piece. It's a testimony to his energy that when editors questioned his hacker piece, he erected a Web site to prove the existence of a nonexistent software company. A layabout would simply have written a true story. When you like somebody, you tend to trust him. (Let this be a lesson to us all.)
If you have never encountered the Disaffected Muslim, then it is high time you should. "Fatimah" descrbies her blog as "The natterings of an unhappy American Muslim." Pretty much everything she writes is a must-read.
First off, there was her piece a couple of months ago which brought her blog to my attention: "The Distance of Allah From his Creatures." Her archives appear to be disappearing (just like mine ... grrrr), otherwise I would like to it. She's a wonderful writer. I also sense that beneath her articulation of the issues facing Muslims today, there is deep pain.
The first one is called Muslim PR, and is the first post on the page. She speaks from the inside of the religion, which gives her voice so much more authority. The first paragraph of the post starts us off:
Muslims sometimes say that doing something or other (such as commit terrorist acts) will give Islam "a bad image" (the way some say it, it seems as if there is no other reason to do or not do something!) For example, the 9/11 attacks gave Islam a "bad image" (to put it lightly). Suicide bombers blowing up buses in Tel Aviv and yelling "Allahu Akbar" give Islam a "bad image" (it's not so much that they're slaughtering women and children, they're "defaming Islam!" and putting the Palestinian cause in disrepute).
Fatimah has had it with this monolithic approach. She has some suggestions.
Here are a couple of them excerpted, but really, you should go read her whole post.
*Stop playing the "victim," which only breeds resentment and distrust among other Americans, especially when Muslims screaming jihad were in fact involved in horrific acts against Americans.
*Fully accept American notions of democracy, separation of religion and state, freedom of religion (no death sentences for apostates!) and the secular law as the law to be followed (instead of claiming that since it's "man-made" law, Muslims are not bound to follow it--a sure recipie to have Muslims considered traitors). Also, the first loyalty of American Muslims must be to America, not the "ummah" (the worldwide "nation" of all Muslims), which means no more asking of Imams if it is OK for American Muslim soldiers to fight other Muslims.
She also suggests:
*Instead of whining about "racial profiling" and "discrimination" in the wake of 9/11 and other terrorist acts, offer wholehearted cooperation to ferret out the terrorists and their organizations.
She says what people are afraid to say.
The second post you have to read, the one right below it, is called Double Standards, and I read it with mounting exhilaration. Why exhilaration? I guess because it was exhilarating to read such a clear-eyed analysis of Muslim demands for special treatment, of Muslim demands that we be tolerant of them, while they make absolutely no headway in being tolerant of us, etc. The power of Fatimah's analysis is undeniable.
She lists some of the double standards by which Muslims expect to live, here in America:
*While religious beliefs of Christians (and often Jews) are looked down on and considered to be a mark of unsophistication by some elites, Muslim religious belief is often not seen in this way, instead as a positive expression of their culture.
*Prayer in schools by Christians and Jews is an absolute no-no in US public schools, yet some schools give Muslims special prayer rooms and/or let them off for prayer.
Grrrrr. This stuff makes me lose my mind.
*Any criticism of Islam is attacked as "Islamophobia" or "racism" (even though Muslims are in no way a race) by Muslims, while their own publications criticize, denigrate, and ridicule other religions (such as Christianity and Judaism; Hinduism is also a target).
*One-way "dialogues" in which Christians and Jews are told they must be more accepting and tolerant of Islamic beliefs and practices, while Muslims are NOT told they must accept and tolerate other beliefs, instead they are more likely to be told, or claim, that they are "victims" of the West and Western imperialism (cf. John Esposito's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University).
During college, my friend Luisa, was having a bad day, many problems: papers due, her dog was sick, her love life tempestuous. My friend Mitchell and I had spent the night at Luisa's house, and in the morning, she woke up in a bleak mood, completely overwhelmed, weeping as she made the coffee. She wandered off to her room to get ready to go to school, muttering like a Middle Ages martyr, "It's my bear to cross. It's my bear to cross."
It's awful, I know, but witnessing this spectacle of tragedy put Mitchell and I in a rather riotous mood. We were NOT feeling like Middle Ages martyrs, and so there we sat, watching poor Luisa, serious A student, fabulous gourmet cook, brilliant woman, stagger around like a lunatic, trying to face her day, saying, "It's my BEAR to CROSS". Luisa who is a literate articulate woman. Mitchell and I were desperately holding back shrieks of laughter, as we drank our coffee.
Mitchell murmured to me, barely controlling the hysteria, "Uh ... bear to cross?"
Luisa was in such a dark mood, however, that we were afraid to point this mistake out to her. We feared she might kill us. Later that evening, when she came home, feeling much better, we all made dinner, we drank some wine, we let off some steam. It was then that Mitchell and I launched into imitations of Luisa's "mea culpa" performance-art-piece early that morning. Mitchell shuffled by like a lunatic, moaning, "It's my bear to cross. It's my bear to cross."
Poor Luisa! She refused to believe for a while that she had said "bear to cross", but finally had to accept the fact. She was absolutely helpless with laughter, rolling around on the floor. Begging us to imitate her again. "Do it again! Do it again!"
From that day forward, in my group of friends, none of us EVER says "it's my cross to bear". We always say, "It's my bear to cross."
Speaking of screwing things up inadvertently, check out the memo sent out to the staff of The New York Times from Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Howell Raines, and Gerald Boyd. Looks like the memo "bares" a second look. It also "bares" a spell-check, for God's sake.
Dean Esmay is hosting a fascinating conversation over on his blog about "women in combat". He opened up his comments area, and asked that only women respond to the question: Women in Combat, yes or no?
I am sure there is some good reason that politicians and public figures uniformly refer to acts of terrorism as "cowardly", but I have to say I don't understand it. It just doesn't seem like the right word. I would never choose that word. I would say "horrific", "terrible", "dastardly", "evil", whatever. But "cowardly"? That seems to let the monsters off way too easily. Again, it seems like it must be in a "Politicians Handbook" somewhere.
"If people are killed through terrorism, if a bomb explodes, we have found that the most effective word to describe such a horror is 'cowardly'."
Do they think that calling the terrorists the name "cowardly" will really insult them? Like: "Ooooh, you're think you're such a big brave terrorist, but y'know what? You're just a coward."
Driving a car into a building and blowing yourself up is a lot of things, I would call it a lot of things, but I would not call it cowardly.
If anyone out there reading this can enlighten me on WHY our public officials insist on that word, I would greatly appreciate it.
I came across this short statement, from Roger Simon, via Instapundit, and it got me thinking. On a different level about this Jayson Blair nightmare. Roger Simon gets above it, takes an uber-perspective. He thinks that, in the long run, it is probably a good thing that this has happened.
Something akin to that had been going through my mind last night, as I watched the news, and as I talked with my mom about the Jayson-Blair thing. Perhaps this is just what The New York Times has needed. EVERYBODY needs to keep a watch over their integrity. You can never be too complacent. Individuals cannot, and neither can institutions. Look at Enron. Dishonesty will lose in the end. And you have to be vigilantly honest with yourself.
But even higher up than that, on an even more macro level: I think it is good that this happened (even though it is a nightmare for all involved) because suddenly people are really talking about affirmative action. The taboo-subject is out in the open. All voices are being heard (judging from the parade of talking-heads across cable news last night). There are people for whom affirmative action is an 11th commandment. "Thou shalt not kill." "Thou shalt have diversity in the workplace." And there are those who are calling it into question. I myself believe completely in a meritocratic system. I do not care about diversity in the workplace. At least not as an 11th commandment. What I do care about is effectiveness, competency, and being good at what you do. Race does not matter to me one bit. This goes to what I was talking about yesterday: that this is a matter of character. Stephen Glass, the disgraced reporter at the New Republic was white, and he was a charlatan, a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel. There are some people who cannot help but take the short-cuts to success. It is what they are made of. Black people do not corner this market, and neither do white people. Some people are praised early on for doing the minimum amount of work, or they are praised because they play the shmooze game well ... and from then on, they prefer to project the FACADE of competency. But make no mistake: it is a facade. And because everyone around them buys into that facade, and applauds the facade, they begin to believe their own lies. Jayson Blair probably really believed that he was a hard-working hard-hitting reporter from The New York Times. O.J. probably really believes he is innocent. The human mind is a fascinating thing. Truth is ever-flexible. There is absolutely no deeps a person is unable to plumb ... Self-deception can become a way of life.
But here I'm just talking about the personalities involved. The personality of Jayson Blair. The personality of Stephen Glass. (Why some people do such things ... while other people would NEVER do such a thing... I believe, with all my heart, in a moral compass. And I also believe, with all my heart, that some people do not have such a compass. Ted Bundy comes to mind. And now Jayson Blair.) This situation is WAY bigger than Jayson Blair.
Institutions can also be run on self-deception. Not even "run on self-deception". That's not the right way to put it. LIES are the air that some businesses breathe. Everything is a lie. A self-congratulatory lie. During the Enron scandal, I remember seeing clips from recent company meetings at Enron, a couple of months before the spectacular collapse ... and it was stunning. A room packed full of people, cheering and applauding themselves, puffed up with confidence ... unaware that the wheels of disaster were already well in motion. A company that had become so used to lying, lying to itself, lying to its employees, its shareholders, the public, its accountants ... Lies that grow to that magnitude no longer become lies. It's a life-style. It's bigger than one person. It is the air, the atmosphere. You cannot imagine a way out. You cannot IMAGINE coming clean, because it is too big. Too unweildy. There is NOTHING you can do to stop the deception ... you are helpless in the face of such gargantuan dishonesty.
Jayson Blair created his own personal Enron.
And The New York Times has to come clean. The conversations I have heard over the last couple of days ... batting around in the blog-world, on op-ed columns, on CNN, Fox, MSNBC ... these conversations are almost exhilarating to listen to. Because you know what I feel I am in the presence of? Even with all the disagreeing viewpoints? I feel like finally TRUTH has come into the damn room.
And truth is messy. Truth sometimes don't feel all that good, y'know what I'm saying? Truth means being able to say, "Wow. I have so screwed up here. I am so sorry." Like: taking the fall. Taking your punches. Owning up. That's what's happening here for The New York Times, and I think it's fantastic.
Benjamin Kepple has a very funny piece up today about Wal-Mart's decision to ban magazines with racy covers, like "Maxim". (Permalink is leading to the wrong thing ... so go to the post entitled: "Kids! It's time for MORE cultural diversity!")
As stressed out as I am at this moment, as much as I have on my mind, I do take comfort in the indisputable fact that I am not as stressed out as Jayson Blair right now.
Whatever my stress level might be, it is a damn cakewalk compared to what he must be going through! Every time I try to picture him, I see a sweaty scared wreck of a human, balled up in a corner of his apartment, smashing his cell phones to bits, weeping hysterically. Stamping on his scrapbook of clippings from the New York Times. Jolting with panic every time the phone rings. Screaming out like King Lear: "JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!!" Jolting awake in the middle of the night, panicked, the swirling conviction that everyone hates him, that the entire endless Alice-in-Wonderland corridor of doors have all slammed shut specifically to him, in the course of 5 days. And he can blame no one but himself. He writhes about in his sweaty sheets, moaning.
Just imagining the contrast makes me feel like I am doing GREAT, I am the picture of relaxation, I am sinking into a hot bath. Ahhhh. At least I'm not him right now!
This made for absolutely riveting reading. What must life be like for Jayson Blair right now? It must be a shrieking nightmare! Yuk. Like a bad dream you wish you could wake up from. But it's real. I think he deserves all of the bad waking-up-in-a-cold-sweat moments he gets, by the way, but it doesn't stop me from imagining what it would be like to BE him right now. To be so publicly disgraced.
The image of him hiding out in his Brooklyn apartment, with his laptop, filing dispatches pretending he was in Virginia, his cell phone turned resolutely off ... is ... it makes me a little bit sick to my stomach. The man is clearly a pathological SOMETHING. That behavior is completely and ragingly out of control. Lies upon lies upon lies. How in the world did he think he would get away with it??
It seems to me to come down to a question of character. I don't believe that every single person, when put under extreme pressure, would crack in the same way. (This came to mind when I watched Diane Sawyer's interview with Manson-murderess Leslie Van Houten who kept saying, lucidly, "You weren't there. You don't know what you'd do if you were in that situation.") I think that's a load of crap, to some degree.
Some people, in Jayson Blair's position, work their asses off, openly make mistakes, try to correct them ... try to be the best that they can be. He lied, he cheated, he deceived everybody.
Then there's this quote from the Times piece:
What haunts Mr. Roberts now, he says, is one particular moment when editor and reporter were facing each other in a showdown over the core aim of their profession: truth.
"Look me in the eye and tell me you did what you say you did," Mr. Roberts demanded. Mr. Blair returned his gaze and said he had.
Mickey Kaus, over at Slate, has some great commentary on this debacle.
NPR's Melissa Block unearths Howell Raines boasting about the New York Times' affirmative action program to the National Association of Black Journalists two years ago, after specifically mentioning Jayson Blair as an example of the Times' successful recruiting efforts. According to Block, Raines said:
'This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.'
"Better"? More importantly, "more importantly"? ...
It appears that On the Waterfront was actually released in 1954 (not 1953, like I assumed) ... so either next year is the 50th anniversary, or there will be a celebration for the year it was completed, which was 1953. Regardless. I want to continue my celebration of it. (It's sort of the polar-opposite of celebrating the bomb that was Battlefield Earth.)
Roger Ebert, on On the Waterfront:
-- And look at the famous scene between Terry and his brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), in the back seat of a taxi. This is the ``I coulda been a contender'' scene, and it has been parodied endlessly (most memorably by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull). But it still has its power to make us feel Terry's pain, and even the pain of Charley, who has been forced to pull a gun on his brother. Here is Kazan on Brando:
" ... what was extraordinary about his performance, I feel, is the contrast of the tough-guy front and the extreme delicacy and gentle cast of his behavior. What other actor, when his brother draws a pistol to force him to do something shameful, would put his hand on the gun and push it away with the gentleness of a caress? Who else could read 'Oh, Charley!' in a tone of reproach that is so loving and so melancholy and suggests the terrific depth of pain?''
-- Steiger is invaluable to the film, and in the famous taxi conversation, he brings a gentleness to match Brando's: The two brothers are in mourning for the lost love between them.
Schulberg's screenplay straddles two styles--the emerging realism and the stylized gangster picture. To the latter tradition belong lines like "He could sing, but he couldn't fly,'' when the squealer is thrown off the roof. To the former: "You know how the union works? You go to a meeting, you make a motion, the lights go out, then you go out.''
Brando's "contender'' speech is so famous it's hard to see anew, but watch the film again and you feel the reality of the sadness between the two men, and the simple words that express it.
-- On the Waterfront was nominated for 11 Oscars and won eight. Ironically, the other three nominations were all for best supporting actor, where Cobb, Malden and Steiger split the vote. Today the story no longer seems as fresh; both the fight against corruption and the romance fall well within ancient movie conventions. But the acting and the best dialogue passages have an impact that has not dimmed; it is still possible to feel the power of the film and of Brando and Kazan, who changed American movie acting forever.
James Berardinelli's review
-- Over the years, many critics have praised On the Waterfront for having what has been called a nearly perfect screenplay. Written by Budd Schulberg (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles by Malcolm Johnson that originally appeared in The New York Sun), the script has the unmistakable ring of truth (despite the altered, upbeat ending). For the most part, it neither proselytizes nor preaches, and deals with its central subject with a candor that many movies of the era lacked. Watching the film today, some fifty years after its initial release, it requires little effort to span the half-century between now and then; Schulberg's screenplay makes it easy to understand the situation, even though the entire political climate has undergone a major upheaval since then.
-- For director Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront represented an opportunity to exorcise, at least by proxy, some personal demons. In 1952, while at the height of his career (he had already made A Streetcar Named Desire and Viva Zapata!), Kazan agreed to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. By naming the names of colleagues associated with the Communist Party, Kazan gave himself a free pass, and was able to proceed unmolested with his own career. He also became one of the most high-profile witnesses to speak and avoid blacklisting. On the Waterfront, which came shortly after this period in Kazan's life, contains scenes in which a man stands before a government body and betrays his former friends and colleagues - because his conscience insists that he must do this thing, no matter how it makes him look to others. One would have to be naïve to ignore the obvious connection between the film's storyline and Kazan's personal life. Whether consciously or subconsciously, Kazan was making a statement in defense of his actions: conscience, not self-interest, motivated him to speak before the Committee. I leave it to each reader to determine whether to accept that argument.
-- During the course of his career (especially the early portion of it), Brando gave some amazing performances, but nothing he did before or after rivals his depiction of Terry Malloy. Two scenes in particular stand out as examples of the actor at his finest: the scene where Terry and Edie walk through a park and he toys with the glove she drops (eventually slipping it onto his own hand), and the powerful one-on-one between Terry and Charley where Brando gives his famous "I coulda been a contender" speech. That scene probably represents the best work ever done by either of its participants (Steiger and Brando).
-- Even with the sterling screenplay, this movie would not have had the same impact without such a capable cast. Steiger in particular deserves more credit than he is often given. He and Brando feed off one another in the film's most memorable scene. Would the delivery of the "contender" line have been as poignant with another actor in Steiger's place?
-- Today, parts of On the Waterfront don't work quite as well as they once did. Some scenes seem contrived or overly familiar. But the anger and passion come through. And the romance - gentle, tenuous, and fragile - works as well now as it always did, perhaps because love (unlike politics) never changes. But the real reason to see On the Waterfront is for Brando. It's only possible to understand his impact on American cinema by observing what he does in On the Waterfront ... The power of the "contender" scene isn't so much in the words as it is in the way they're delivered - the simple pain in Brando's voice is echoed in his eyes and mannerisms. Schulberg may have written the scene, but Brando makes it his own. On the Waterfront may have baggage, but that doesn't prevent it from being one of the great American productions of the mid-20th century.
From the original review for the film in The New York Times, July 29, 1954
-- Journalism may have made these ingredients familiar and certainly more inclusive and multi-dimension, but Mr. Kazan's direction, his outstanding cast and Mr. Schulberg's pithy and punchy dialogue given them distinction and terrific impact. Under the director's expert guidance, Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy is a shatteringly poignant portrait of an amoral, confused, illiterate citizen of the lower depths who is goaded into decency by love, hate and murder. His groping for words, use of the vernacular, care of his beloved pigeons, pugilist's walk and gestures and his discoveries of love and the immensity of the crimes surrounding him are highlights of a beautiful and moving portrayal.
-- Despite its happy ending; its preachments and a somewhat slick approach to some of the facets of dockside strife and tribulations, On the Waterfront is moviemaking of a rare and high order.
From Brian Webster's review at Apollo Guide
-- One scene from On the Waterfront is all you need to see to appreciate the magnificent talent of Marlon Brando – and to regret how he largely wasted his skills in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The scene – one of the most famous in the history of cinema – pairs Brando with Rod Steiger (no small talent on his own) in the back seat of a New York City taxicab. They’re playing brothers Terry (Brando) and Charley (Steiger) Malloy – both thugs in the employ of Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), a gangster who runs the port from his position as head of the longshoreman’s union. Charley – known to his gangster buddies as Charley the Gent – is more sophisticated and experienced than Terry, who is a failed boxer with limited intellect, but who at least shows signs of possessing a conscience. The scene takes place toward the end of the movie; Terry is guilt-ridden over his peripheral involvement in the arranged death of a respected dockworker who wasn’t co-operating sufficiently with Johnny Friendly. Having met and fallen for the dead man’s sister, Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint), Terry now is balking at further co-operation with the gangsters. Both brothers know that the consequence of this decision will be catastrophic, so Charley is trying to talk sense into Terry. But Terry will have none of it; in a stunningly powerful exchange, he mourns how his brother has let him down, and in a semi-articulate yet deeply moving speech, draws the line once and for all. His words – penned by Budd Schulberg – are brilliant in their simple power. But even more impressive is Brando’s delivery. He conveys Terry’s heartbreak and muted anger utterly convincingly. Terry has turned on his moral radar – perhaps for the first time – and he’s sick to death of what he sees. This scene includes Brando’s famous “I coulda bin a contenda” line, but more importantly, it crystallizes what Terry – and the film – are all about.
From the review at Film Freak Central, by Walter Chaw:
-- There is a moment in the middle of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront that stands for me as one of the defining in my love for the movies. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) confesses to his girlfriend Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) that he was involved in the Union execution of her brother, but rather than listen to Terry rehash events with which we're already familiar, a steam whistle drowns him out. The precise way that Terry moves his hands and the expression on Edie's face, growing from a gentle concern to horror, is among the most cinematic moments in the history of the medium. It's breathtaking in its simplicity and subtlety, revolutionary in its presentation and its eye, and exactly the right choice for the film at the right time.
-- Although one would think that time and repetition dulled the power of Brando's much-imitated "I coulda been a contender" speech, rest assured that the sheer weight of melancholy flavouring the pivotal conversation in which it occurs remains undimmed.
-- On the Waterfront represents so many things: the magic that occurs when a brilliant but troubled actor finds a director able to harness and refine his talents (see also Ullman and Bergman, De Niro and Scorsese, Kinski and Herzog); the passion of a personal project expressed with intelligence and passion; and the death knell for the affected progressions and performances favoured by the Hollywood studio system to that point. If the ending now plays a little optimistically, and if Malden's performance briefly crosses that thin line into theatricality a time or two, they are flaws too minor to grate, especially in considering the transcendence of the picture as a whole. On the Waterfront is requisite viewing for any student of the art; it is among the best American films.
From the review by Ted Prigge:
-- Watching Brando is one of the greatest experiences in all of film history, and his Terry Malloy is one of the best performances by an actor ever captured on celluloid.
What's left after On The Waterfront is not just the climactic "I coulda been a contender" scene, but the entire message and feel of the film. Who can forget Terry's cynical motto in the beginning? Or the sight of Brando caring for pigeons on the roof of his building? Or the pain in Rod Steiger's eyes when he pulls a gun on his brother? Or the finale, which is filled with so many emotions that we're not sure how to react to them right away? On the Waterfront is one of the best films I've ever seen, not because it's a complex execution in film surrealism like a Bergman film (which it isn't), but because it's one of those films that can inspire and touch an audience with a unviersal message, move people with an emotional and powerful dramatic storyline, and even get people to forgive anyone who is forced to rat on his friends.
Excerpts of the dialogue from the taxi cab scene:
Charley (Rod Steiger): You don't mean that you're thinkin' of testifyin' against some people that we might know?
Terry (Brando): I'm tellin' ya. I haven't made up my mind yet.
Then Charley tells him that if Terry hasn't made up his mind by the time they get to 437 River Street (which is a non-existent address in Hoboken ... Try to find 437 River Street and you will get very confused.) ... Anyway, so Charley basically says, "Make up your mind by 437 River Street, or there will be serious consequences."
Then Charley pulls a gun on his brother. If for no other reason, you must watch the film to see Brando's reaction to this. It can't be put into words. Suffice it to say, here are his lines (made up on the spot, by Brando, by the way):
Terry: Charley ... Charley ... Oh Charley. Wow.
Charley: How much you weigh, slugger? When you weighed 168 pounds, you were beautiful. You could have been another Billy Conn. That skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.
Terry blames Charley for his misfortunes. Not the manager. Terry was told to lose fights, while he was in his prime as a boxer. He looks back on "the night at the Garden", where he was told to lose the fight. The night where he basically lost all sense of being worth anything. Terry points out to Charley that it wasn't the manager who told him to throw the fight, it was Charley.
Terry: It wasn't him, Charley! It was you. You remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and said: 'Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.' You remember that? 'This ain't your night.' My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in the ball park - and whadda I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville. You was my brother, Charley. You should've looked out for me a little bit. You should've taken care of me - just a little bit - so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money.
Charley: I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.
Terry: You don't understand! I could've had class. I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let's face it ...... It was you, Charley.