A Girl After My Own (Bleeding) Heart
Pardon me while I record two of Maddie's priceless utterances for posterity. Please bear in mind that she won't be four until October.
+ Maddie was telling me about watching Julie play "The Sims" on our computer, and she said that "the lady in the red dress was kissing the lady that cleans the house," which I thought was memorable in its own right. But then she topped it by adding, "They are definitely married."
+ Last night while we were picking up dinner, she was sitting in her car seat doing her usual made-up monologue while looking through a book (she's only pretending to read right now, but she'll be reading on her own before too much longer), when I heard her suddenly exclaim, "There's a good Washington and a bad Washington. The bad Washington is the one with George Bush."
I swear on my grandmother's grave that both of these incidents are true. Makes a papa proud.
You Know, I Just Might Do That...
The Tribune gets all literary on us today and publishes some poetry--poetry!--from native sons Stuart Dybek and Kevin Coval. Here's Dybek's:
Twenty Feet Above the Street
Workmen in coveralls are painting miles
of kinetic geometry, the electrified back-alley
Silhouetted twenty feet above the street.
Color doesn't matter where light
is the shade of girders sunk in recollection.
(I see el stations and I want them painted black.)
At Monroe, the accordion can't make change.
It's a day for snatches of free music: bells,
sirens, a saxophone echoing the spheres,
industrial-strength percussion from a tribe
of project kids, the techno beat
of sprockets as trains reel overhead
like runaway strips of film. But despite
the public soundtrack for the private movie
of reflections gliding shop windows along Wabash,
the buildings insist on telling their own stories.
For a modest fare, you get to hear
the voice-over of a digital conductor;
you get to see a northbound Ravenswood
releasing pigeons like blackbirds from a pie
A roller coaster on the straight and narrow
is how you get from here to there
while you further your secret degree
in Daily Ecstasy, eight miles high,
twenty feet above the street.
Admittedly the poems are mostly there to merely complement Alex Garcia's fine series of Loop photographs (which, sadly, aren't online), and probably wouldn't appear otherwise. But we literary junkies have to take such little victories wherever we can.
Photo of the Week, Vol. 4
By Icelandic photographer Nokkvi Eliasson. I hadn't seen his site for several years but just found it again today. Eliasson's photos of abandoned farms in Iceland are just gorgeous, and ominous at the same time. Browsing these photos makes an excellent complement to my current reading of Halldor Laxness' Iceland's Bell. The eras are different, but the destitution is timeless.
My, this story is disturbing.
Belief in Hell Boosts Growth: Fed Report
By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Economists searching for reasons why some nations are richer than others have found that those with a wide belief in hell are less corrupt and more prosperous, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Researchers at the regional Federal Reserve bank acknowledged the importance of productivity and investment in the economic process but looked at some recent unconventional efforts to explain differences in national prosperity.
The St Louis Fed drew on work by outside economists who studied 35 countries, including the United States, European nations, Japan, India and Turkey and found that religion shed some useful light.
"In countries where large percentages of the population believe in hell, there seems to be less corruption and a higher standard of living," the St. Louis Fed said in its July quarterly review.
The conceptual leap that the study takes in reaching this dubious conclusion is breathtaking and appalling at the same time. Though I haven't reviewed the study in detail, just on the surface it appears to abuse the transitive property (any undergrad enrolled in a statistics class can tell you that A=B and B=C does not necessarily mean that A=C), improperly equates correlation with causation, and includes the classic economist cop-out "All other things being equal" (contrary to the economist utopia, all other things are never equal).
It's bad enough that the architects of the monetary policy that is the backbone of our economic system can manipulate data so blatantly. But what is even more disturbing is that taxpayer dollars are being spent to promote religious belief on pseudo-economic grounds.
Bush's Undergrad Intelligence Service
George Bush is now branching out, and is no longer distorting the truth simply to justify unprovoked, unilateral wars. Buoyed by his past success, he's now expanding his method to encompass diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Per an article by foreign correspondent Gary Marx in the Chicago Tribune--which, I must point out, has not historically been a bastion of liberal sentiment--in 1992 Fidel Castro addressed the Cuban National Assembly. He acknowledged that while prostitution did indeed exist in Cuba, the practice "is not allowed in our country." According to a BBC translation, he continued:
"There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist. Those who do so do it on their own, voluntarily and without any need for it. We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy, because we are a country with the lowest number of AIDS cases."
Sometime afterward, an undergraduate at Dartmouth College wrote an essay in which Castro's comment was rather negligently paraphrased as "Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world."
This essay--just another misinformed writing effort from an over-eager undergrad, something that all of us college grads were guilty of at some point--should have had only a benign impact and been justifiably confined to the dustbin of academic history.
But earlier this month Bush directly quoted the Dartmouth paraphrase as being Castro's actual words. Bush did so in a campaign speech in Tampa, where, clearly pandering to the anti-Castro Cuban expatriate community, he claimed that Castro promoted prostitution and sex tourism to bring foreign capital into Cuba.
So this is where George Bush is getting his intelligence? Twelve-year old essays written by Ivy League undergrads? Using such an obviously unreliable source is bad enough, but it's inexplicable that Bush would present this as a direct quote of Castro's without double-checking the original citation for validity. But I suppose doing so wouldn't have served his preconceptions, and goodness knows that George Bush is not one to letting little things like the truth interfere with his deeply held convictions, especially when there are campaign contributions at stake.
Howard Zinn on "good war"
I usually don't like to just post links without adding extensive commentary--which seems pointless--I feel compelled to pass along this fine essay ("Dissent at the War Memorial") by the esteemed Howard Zinn. It ties in rather nicely with my previous post on Bush's militaristic tendencies.
What Bush Learned From the Military
In looking at the military records of George Bush and John Kerry, the extent of their service or their specific experiences aren't what matter. If they did, voters would be deciding between Wes Clark and Colin Powell in November, not Bush and Kerry. What matters is what Bush and Kerry's military experiences taught them, and how it impacts the type of leaders they are today.
Kerry made a very instructive comment on this in an interview in yesterday's Chicago Tribune:
I learned a lot personally about what happens when you're on the front lines carrying a gun, being asked to kill people for your country. Being shot at, you learn something, about risk, about states, about duty and obligations, and you learn about strategies and other kinds of things, and I think you learn a lot of questions to ask as a commander in chief before you put someone else in that predicament.
Meanwhile, Bush rode out the tail end of the Vietnam War in Texas and Alabama, playing fighter pilot before taking a self-authorized sabbatical to work on the election campaign of one of his father's political cronies. What Kerry learned from his military experience is neatly expressed in his above quote. And what did Bush learn from his own military service? First, that personal commitments don't need to be honored if one feels like doing something else, and second, that making personal sacrifices are for other people to worry about.
It's hard to envision anybody who has faced front-line combat being as eager to wage war on Iraq as was the Bush Administration. But the administration's minimal military experience--except Powell, whose moderate views clearly have little impact on Bush's policies--gave it the critical and intellectual distance necessary to wage a massive military campaign with little provocation or justification, to send thousands of low-level soldiers to serve as cannon fodder in support of an ill-informed political ideology.
Simply put, George Bush doesn't think the little guy--whether it's an infantryman or a blue-collar worker--really matters. John Kerry and John Edwards truly care, and will make this country better for all of us, not just the priviliged few that Bush favors.
Crossing California, Part 2
There's a new review of Adam Langer's Crossing California in the New York Times, by Mark Kamine. Kamine is considerably less laudatory of the novel than was James Atlas; although he does say it "hits high points of comic empathy", his summation is rather subdued:
Yet the novel often feels forced and slack -- Langer has an unsteady hand on the rudder. He thoroughly and elaborately exposes the narrow goals and narcissistic motivations of his middle-class Midwestern characters. He now needs to find a more fluent method of bringing them to life.
Letter to George Bush
The bullet points were cribbed almost verbatim from Human Rights Watch, but the rest of the narrative is mine. I strongly suggest that my tiny handful of readers get involved, too.
July 23, 2004
President George Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
The U.S. must do everything within its power to stop the genocide which is taking place in Sudan. I insist that you do the following:
*Speak out strongly on Darfur.
*Support a Chapter VII resolution in the U.N. Security Council that will reverse ethnic cleansing, protect civilians, permit the voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes in safety and dignity, and insure full humanitarian access.
*Support the deployment of U.N. human rights monitoring team to Sudan.
*Demand accountability for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in Sudan, including collecting evidence for future trials against individuals implicated in war crimes and human rights abuses.
If we truly believe in basic human rights--a claim which your administration cited repeatedly to justify invading Iraq, deposing Saddam Hussein and ending decades of repression--then we can't ignore Sudan. The situation in Darfur is at least as serious as the suffering of Shiites and Kurds under Saddam. The fact that it's taking place in a lower-profile region with less oil-producing capacity should have no bearing on the U.S. response.
Photo of the Week, Vol. 3
Once again, it's not mine, but this time by Yvette Marie Dostatni at the intriguing Chicago arts site, Site of Big Shoulders. Definitely worth checking out.
Robert Olen Butler
This week The Village Voice profiles Butler and his new story collection Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards, in which each story is inspired by a vintage postcard from Butler's personal collection. ("The One In White" appeared in the July issue of The Atlantic, which I read and enjoyed quite a bit; "The Grotto" was in the Spring 2004 issue of Ploughshares. Neither story has found its way online yet.)
Perhaps great minds do think alike. I'm currently working on a similar concept--a collection of stories based on classic photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration during the Depression. (Photographers included Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, among many others.) I have four stories finished so far, with a goal of twenty. I'm not sure if this will ever see the light of day, due not only to the usual artistic and publisher roadblocks, but also that there might be copyright issues involved in reproducing the photos for the prospective book. But I'm getting way ahead of myself in worrying about copyrights. Let's get the thing written first.
The ever thoughtful Mike Watt (the Minutemen, fIREHOSE) has an all-too-brief interview with Scott Thill at AlterNet, weighing in on Dante as a creative influence, the hopeful state of today's youth and the media's collective swoon over Ronald Reagan's passing:
Yeah, the Big Revision. Both Boon and I were very conscious of Reagan's handiwork; in fact, he's opened the doors for some of the clowns we've got in there now. It's just cronyism, which is what I remember most about the Reagan era. No one is talking about how Rumsfeld was chilling on Saddam's couch back in 1983, selling him the WMDs we're so worried about. Or the Contras and drugs-for-money, Ollie North and his secret government. Everyone wanted smaller government, but ended up with bigger deficits and breaches of the Constitution. If you want a fairy tale without too many complications, turn on the TV. But I know I won't be fooled; I was there when it all happened.
Bush Still Not Exonerated
Steve Chapman has a fine column ("Shifting the blame for the debacle in the Iraq war"; registration required--sorry, as always) on the Senate Intelligence Committee's recently released report on the intelligence used by the Bush Administration as justification for invading Iraq. Conservatives, in particular their leading cheerleader The Wall Street Journal ("A few apologies would seem to be in order"), are appallingly claiming that the report somehow exonerates Bush & Company from any fault.
The committee's report does no such thing. Yes, the CIA's intelligence was lousy. But what is most important is how the administration used this information. It's clear that Bush et al cherry-picked the data that supported their preconceptions while ignoring the rest, and where not even faulty intelligence could be found to support their position, they indulged in gross exaggeration to justify their actions. As Chapman points out, Democratic Senators Rockefeller, Levin and Durbin added this dissenting statement:
"Administration officials undertook a relentless public campaign which repeatedly characterized the Iraq weapons of mass destruction program in more ominous and threatening terms than the intelligence community analysis substantiated. Similarly, public statements of senior officials on Iraqi links to terrorism generally and Al Qaeda specifically were often based on a selective release of intelligence information that implied a cooperative, operational relationship that the intelligence community did not believe existed."
Chapman also cites Kenneth Pollack's recent article in The Atlantic which reported repeated complaints from the intelligence community that "administration officials reacted strongly, negatively and aggressively when presented with information or analysis that contradicted what they believed about Iraq."
But the most important thing to remember about the committee's report is that it represents only half of its investigation, and is limited to evaluation of the quality of intelligence provided. The second half is to be devoted to an assessment of exactly how the Bush Administration used that information.
Not surprisingly, Senate Republicans have been sandbagging that critical portion of the committee's investigation, more than likely until after the November election. The conservatives are hoping any further damning evidence of the administration's deceptions aren't revealed until after Bush has been safely returned to office.
Though we probably can't do much about expediting the remainder of the committee's investigation, there's always the next best thing: Vote Kerry.
I just submitted a micro fiction piece ("Big Question") to the intriguing journal Little Elegy. Getting my point across in just a hundred words was a bit of a challenge. I thought my first draft went pretty well, only to find out it came to over 200 words. Delivering the same message with less than half as many words required quite a bit of tinkering, but the end product turned out ten times better than the first draft. Saying a lot with a few words is a rare skill--hopefully this process will teach me something.
Last First Impression
"I'm an actor," he said, his eyes staring much too intently into hers. So much so that she looked away, into the smoky darkness.
"Really," she said without turning back to him, her monotone clearly meant to not encourage him further.
She had heard all of this before, in varying forms, and each time it became more unnerving. Another frustrated artist, desperately seeking someone who believed in him, thinking she was the answer to the world's cruel indifference.
He was here for redemption, like all the others. She was just here for a drink. This, she silently vowed, would be the last time.
Pete, A to Z
Late once again to the meme party. (Via Max.)
A - Age: 38
B - Band listening to right now: The Outnumbered, Surveying the Damage
C - Career future: Same as "J", unless my writing finally gets published
D - Dad's name: John
E - Easiest person to talk to: Julie (for intelligent discourse); Maddie (for charming nonsense)
F - Favorite song: (as if I could choose just one!)
G - Gummy Bears or Gummy Worms: Neither. Yuck.
H - Hometown: Cary, Illinois
I - Instruments: Harmonica, trombone (not simulataneously)
J - Job: Senior Credit Analyst
K - Kids: Madeleine, age 3 2/3
L - Longest car ride ever: Champaign, Illinois to Boston (nonstop)
M - Mom's name: Dorothy
N - Number of people you slept with: Agree with Max ("a gentleman never tells....")
P - Phobia[s]: Four more years of Bush and Cheney
Q - Quote: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." --Satchel Paige
R - Reason to smile: Coming home
S - Song you sang last: Mountain Goats, "Palmcorder Yanja"
T - Time you wake up: 5:00 AM
U - Unknown fact about me: Once dropped trou on stage at a charity auction (actually, not so "unknown")
V - Vegetable you hate: Hate, none. Love, none. Neutral, most.
W - Worst habit: Chewing on side of tongue, like gum
X - X-rays you've had: nose (broken by muggers), left ring finger (broken by softball)
Y - Yummy food: BBQ pulled pork sandwich from Fat Terry's
Z - Zodiac sign: Virgo
Photo of the Week, Vol. 2
Not mine, but by Robert Sumner of the Joliet Herald-News. Caption as follows:
The sky over Will County turned eerie Tuesday afternoon as sagging, pouch-like clouds that looked like cows' udders or upside-down soup bowls moved in. They are known as mammatus clouds, and they are fairly rare in this area, said Casey Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville. "They're the only clouds that form from descending motion in the atmosphere," Sullivan said. Mammatus clouds are typically found on the undersides of very large thunderstorms known as supercells. A supercell moved southeast across Illinois on Tuesday, though the hail, high winds and heavy rains passed to the west and south of Will County.
Still More Submissions
Another effort for The First Line entitled "Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow", hopefully for their Fall 2004 issue. The story was required to begin with the first line "I was born Rosa Carlotta Silvana Grisanti, but in the mid-Eighties, I legally changed my name to Eve." I'm pretty pleased with the results, and Julie said she liked it too. As always, I publish it in Writings if and when it gets declined.
Also, I'm expecting final notification from Literal Latte this week on the results of their Fiction Awards--I entered "Mahalia" back in January. (The same story which was recently declined by Glimmer Train; yes, I did simultaneous submissions. Forgive me.) I'm really proud of this story and think I can get it published somewhere, so I probably won't ever web-publish it as I make the rounds of various journals. If you'd like to read it, let me know.
Looking for another writer's short story at The Atlantic, I stumbled across this encouraging interview with David Bezmozgis, whose debut story collection Natasha: And Other Stories is garnering rave reviews.
Bezmozgis' backstory is fascinating: he worked in documentary film production, having attended film school at USC while deliberately avoiding creative writing classes; wrote short stories on the side with no deliberate intention of getting published (and in fact never submitted a single piece for publication); sent a story to a friend, who liked it so much as to forward it to an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which signed him to a book contract; meanwhile, he had stories published in The New Yorker, Harper's and Zoetrope. And his life has been a whirlwind ever since.
The big emotional thing was when Lorin (Stein) offered to publish the book. That was probably the happiest and most intense moment of my life. How did I feel? I felt that the story I wanted told would now get told. I felt that I had actually achieved something with my life: that my life wouldn't be a complete and total failure. That if I do nothing else, then that's okay.
Adam Langer, Crossing California
Adam Langer's new novel Crossing California was reviewed by James Atlas in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune (not posted online). To say that Atlas reviews it lavishly is putting it rather mildly:
"Crossing California" is the most vivid novel about Chicago since Saul Bellow's "Herzog" and the most ambitious debut set in Chicago since Philip Roth's "Letting Go."
Atlas' enthusiasm is at least partly (and perhaps primarily) due to the fact that he grew up in the same neighborhood as Langer and where the novel is set, Chicago's West Rogers Park. Despite the bold statement quoted above, Atlas also notes:
At times, Langer is too detailed. Faced with still another discourse on Rogers Park geography...I had the implulse to cry out "Enough already!"
...Toward the end, thinking the novel needs a plot, Langer loses his otherwise firm grip...the events he contrives...are awkward and unnecessary.
Atlas' basic premise is that the novel's greatness is in "the way it visualizes the physical landscape its characters occupy" and the "rich, place-ridden portraiture" of the sharply-drawn characters. And what may be a bit more hyberole, Atlas praises its "exuberant verve and an ethnic humor unmatched since 'Portnoy's Complaint.'"
Admittedly, I have not yet read the book, which may very well be as great as Atlas claims. But the fact that he also cites problems with the plot and the conclusion makes me wonder. It's understandable for a reviewer or reader to get caught up reading well-written fiction which is set in the neighborhood one grew up in--I myself would become positively giddy in the unlikely event that somebody wrote a novel set in Cary, Illinois during the 1970s--but the reviewer's nostalgia may very well be clouding his overall judgement of the book's merits.
In lamenting Langer's decision to contrive a plot to bring about a conclusion, Atlas says "It's not a book where anything needs to happen." Maybe, if you're a reader who happened to have grown up in West Rogers Park. For the rest of us I'm not so sure.
In 1997 I was sitting at my drawing table when a phrase popped into my head: the time traveler's wife. I wrote it down on the sheet of Kraft paper that covered the table, along with all the other ideas and song titles and lists of Things to Do. It was a generous phrase. It assured me that there were two characters, a husband and a wife, and that the husband was a time traveler. I started to think about the wife. It would be hard to be the wife, I thought; you'd spend a lot of time waiting for your man, and he would be the one having all the adventures. I felt sorry for her; I could see her, sitting at a table, drinking tea, waiting. Why does he leave her alone? I wondered. Another idea plopped down: time travel is a disease, it's a genetic disorder. By now this little cluster of ideas had my full attention. I wasn't interested in anything else now, and I began to build and ponder and worry them into being.
All of us, writers and non-writers, have such random thoughts pop into our minds. The difference between writers and non-writers is that a writer will obsess on that thought and see where it takes them, while the latter shifts their attention to something else (and probably maintaining their mental hygiene in the process). The difference between good writers and bad writers is that a good writer can translate that escalating line of thought into entertaining and intelligent prose, while the latter...sorry, I could easily jab some dubious bestselling author here, but I'm trying my best to be polite.
Kerry made a fine choice for a running mate in John Edwards. Edwards is optimistic, energetic and passionate, three qualities which Kerry himself often fails to exhibit. (Not that he doesn't possess them at all, mind you; he just seems to have trouble presenting them to the average voter.) I'm increasingly optimistic that the current regime will be successfully overthrown in December.
Arianna Huffington has a fine piece on Edwards on AlterNet that is worth a read. Her sharpest line:
George Bush wants to define this campaign in terms of right and left. John Edwards will help make sure that it comes down to a discussion of right and wrong.
Photo of the Week
(Entire Madeleine gallery starts here.)
Every now and then he became painfully aware of the inexorable passage of time. For the most part he was able to ignore it, but today was not one of those days. For tomorrow would be July 1.
July. Already approaching the midpoint of summer. Once summer meant so much, as the final bell around Memorial Day clanged for the last time and he shot out of the school squealing with joy, a champagne cork firing skyward with the release of months of pent-up pressure. He fled school the same way each spring, with little or no thought as to how soon he’d be back.
The calendar said twelve weeks, but calendars meant little to him while the air was hot, the days long and the Sno-Cones so magically frigid.
The euphoria would never last. Euphoria rarely does.
“If you’re bored, you can always go outside and pull weeds,” came his mother’s more-than-daily reply, flat and unhopeful.
“I don’t wanna pull weeds.”
“Suit yourself. I’m not here to keep you entertained.”
Lethargy would come unfailingly during the second week of July, after the last of the fireworks from the Fourth had been exploded away and the Omaha heat, so welcomed at the start of the summer, turned oppressive, withering, pressing the energy out of even the most hyper of kids like juice out of an orange.
He was no exception. During the worst of the heat, worst being seemingly all of the time, he would do little more than recline limply on the family room couch, the curtains drawn tight against the sun, silently resenting his parents’ refusal to buy central air, and watching an endless series of re-runs. Insipidities like “Family Affair” and “Courtship of Eddie’s Father”, so innocuous and devoid of humor, seemed interesting compared to anything else he might have been doing.
He had the highs of early summer and lows of the sweltering rest. But at least summer meant something to him back then, whether good or bad.
Today, working year-round in climate-controlled constancy, summer was only a bit of heat on his face on his way to the car, or light sweat on the inside of his starched dress shirt.
Time passed, almost imperceptibly. July 1.
Reading to Dogs
This certainly is a novel approach to youth literacy. Though I wish it was the parents who had the time and patience to listen to their kids read, I guess you have to make do with whatever's available. From today's Joliet Herald-News:
LITERARY PET PROJECT
Dogs visit school: New program aims to boost reading skills
By Ted Slowik
JOLIET — Second-graders boning up on their reading skills this summer are getting some help from an unlikely tutor: man's best friend.
Volunteers from a Chicago-based organization brought dogs to Lynne Thigpen Elementary School on Wednesday, and students took turns reading aloud to an animal one-on-one.
Studies show that reading to animals can improve a child's skills.
"We find that it builds their interest and love of reading because they're not intimidated by reading in front of a class," said Sarah Murphy of Chicago, co-founder of Sit, Stay, Read.
The year-old organization targets public-school children in Chicago and elsewhere who are at risk of falling behind their peers.
"Reading is like anything else. If something is difficult for you, you tend not to do it as much," said Kay Donahue, a Joliet reading teacher.
The Joliet Grade School District invited Sit, Stay, Read volunteers for a demonstration this summer, and may develop a similar program of its own for the upcoming school year, said Penny Greenwood, a special education resource specialist.
"We wanted to do something for those kids for whom reading is a struggle," Greenwood said.
Dogs selected for the program are carefully chosen and trained. They are various breeds, but they all have a calm, even temperament and are good with children.
After reading a story to one of the dogs, students wrote a paper about the experience.
"I'm going to read this to my dog," 8-year-old Sam Limbach said about her paper.
Michelle Conley, 7, said her favorite book is "The Color of Us" by Karen Katz, a book about diversity.
"I have a whole library at home," Michelle said.
Teachers and the volunteers from Sit, Stay, Read believe the program encourages children to read more often by making the experience fun and memorable.
"It gives them an incentive to learn," Greenwood said. "If they know the dog is coming back, they'll practice reading the story."
Another Onslaught of Zines
This time around, I couldn't resist revisiting Burn Collector and Duplex Planet after enjoying the last ones so much, and I'm introducing myself to Found (seemingly everybody's zine darling these days), Optic Nerve (Adrian Tomine's renowned comic), Show Me The Money (described as "a less high-brow Baffler, or a less anarchism [or other ism]-based Match") and Caboose (by Quimby's very own Liz Mason).
Freedom of Speech
Sunday's Chicago Tribune published the results of extensive surveys over American attitudes towards freedom of speech. While the majority unsurprisingly supports free speech, a disturbingly high percentage of respondents still wanted restrictions on shock jocks, cable TV and criticism of the government during wartime, none of which came as a surprise. The Trib refreshingly went behind the hard numbers to interview a handful of the respondents and let them further elaborate on their views. My personal favorite was 71-year-old Charlie Reno.
"I use rough language myself"
Charlie Reno spent 31 years working as an auditor for the First National Bank of Chicago, and in his time, he has heard lots of rough talk.
"I love freedom of speech," said Reno, 71 and retired, who lives in Berwyn, Ill.
"You take it for granted, you know? I use rough language myself. My mother told me once I had the foulest mouth she ever heard."
"Some young punk was calling her up and talking dirty to her and she handed me the phone. I knew this guy and I called him every name in the book. My mother said she couldn't believe she raised someone with such a foul mouth."
He doesn't believe the media are too critical and recognizes that "everyone is entitled to an opinion."
Radio and television, no matter how provocative the language or images, don't bother him.
At work, he recalls, he worked with nine other auditors.
"We were all men and we did a lot of swearing. When we got out of the service, they had to tell us to watch our mouths," he said.
"Freedom of speech works pretty well for me."
For me too, Charlie. A belated Happy Birthday, America. While we're busy congratulating ourselves on our greatness, let's not forget what it is that makes us great. Guaranteed freedom of expression--which, let's not forget, doesn't just mean views you agree with, but also unpopular dissent--is pretty high up on the list.
David Sedaris, a writer so successful that he needs absolutely no promotion here or at any other website, had a nice abbreviated interview in yesterday's Chicago Tribune.
You've said you detected a lot of phoniness in the writing of your students at the School of the Art Institute.
They were no phonier than I was at their age. I just thought it was interesting that they were ashamed of being middle and upper-middle class. They acted like they came from the streets and you'd think their parents were all in prison or something. It seemed sad to me that they knew about stuff, they just didn't feel it was important, that it counted, that their lives were valid.
David Ritz has a fine tribute to Ray Charles in the current Rolling Stone. (Oh, man. I'm linking to a story in Rolling Stone. Can you say sellout? Actually...a) it's a free subscription I won't be renewing; and b) for once they devoted ample space to writing about a true musical genius, as opposed to the here today/gone tomorrow pop stars they usually wallow in so shamelessly.)
Ritz was a longtime Charles confidante (he ghost-wrote Ray's 1975 autobiography) and brought up this exchange in the article. The two of them were talking about the sudden death of Ray's mother when he was fifteen and away at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. Ray's response is an interesting comment on religion versus self-reliance.
I wondered if the experience made him more religious.
"Made me realize I had to depend on me," he shot back. "No one was going to do shit for me. You hear me? No one. I could praise Jesus till I'm blue in the face. Pray till the cows come home. But Mama ain't coming back. So if Mama gave me religion, the religion said, 'Believe in yourself.' "
Aleksandar Hemon's "Szmura's Room"
I'm seemingly the very last lit blogger to either link to or read this story, which is inexcusable given my strong fondness for Hemon's writing. But I'm finally rectifying my errors. The story is classic Hemon, excellent and well worth anyone's time. Once again, Hemon has created an unforgettable character, this time a Ukrainian hustler named Mike Szmura--loan shark, aspiring FBI agent, caddish Don Juan and slumlord to the recent immigrant Bogdan:
As small as the room was, it echoed with emptiness. Bogdan parked his suitcases flat in the windowless corner, took a sheet and a blanket out of the unroped one, and spread them under the murky window—unequipped with mattress or duvet, this was where he would sleep. The room resembled an installation in a vacuous art gallery: the reflection of the ceiling bulb on the wood floor signifying the false surface of existence, the felled suitcases embodying the transitory nature of life—or, more specifically, the life of the subject, shrimped up in the corner against a bare, mispainted wall.
It's been nearly two years since Nowhere Man came out, and I'm itching for a new novel from Hemon, one of contemporary literature's most distinctive voices.