A man after our own hearts, and Suddenly, this summer is getting a little too sad to bear.. See the obits everywhere but I thought this was nice little nugget embedded in one.

But he was widely admired as an independent thinker — in the tradition of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken — about literature, culture, politics and, as he liked to call it, “the birds and the bees.” He picked apart politicians, living and dead; mocked religion and prudery; opposed wars from Vietnam to Iraq and insulted his peers like no other, once observing that the three saddest words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates.” (The happiest words: “I told you so”).

Love it. The Search for the King continues.

Material Deprivation

Have we written about this before? Are we reading about anything else? Chait at NY Mag sets the context for the healthcare debate – you know, the one we’re going to have, again.

Opponents of the law have endlessly invoked “socialism.” Nothing in the Affordable Care Act or any part of President Obama’s challenges the basic dynamics of market capitalism. All sides accept that some of us should continue to enjoy vastly greater comforts and pleasures than others. If you don’t work as hard as Mitt Romney has, or were born less smart, or to worse parents, or enjoyed worse schools, or invested your skills in an industry that collapsed, or suffered any other misfortune, then you will be punished for this. Your television may be low-definition, or you might not be able to heat or cool your home as comfortably as you would like; you may clothe your children in discarded garments from the Salvation Army.

This is not in dispute. What is being disputed is whether the punishments to the losers in the market system should include, in addition to these other things, a denial of access to non-emergency medical treatment. The Republican position is that it should. They may not want a woman to have to suffer an untreated broken ankle for lack of affordable treatment. Likewise, I don’t want people to be denied nice televisions or other luxuries. I just don’t think high-definition television or nice clothing are goods that society owes to one and all. That is how Republicans think about health care.

This is why it’s vital to bring yourself face-to face with the implications of mass uninsurance — not as emotional manipulation, but to force you to decide what forms of material deprivation ought to be morally acceptable.

Can this Supreme Court case be about anything else? No, it can’t. These are the terms. This is the reason there was an Affordable Care Act, and an individual mandate. And the reason there will have to be another debate and another law if this one is indeed struck down. Republicans will try to elide this debate, but there isn’t any other debate. The other aspects of the situation are beyond question. This is what they’re holding out on. Damn, green makes some people really mean.


Wild Things

There’s one less today, though the many he released into the world and the imaginations he unlocked dwarf even his own demise.

Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 83 and lived in Ridgefield, Conn.

He was one artist who had the keys – to the till, to the store, to the mind, however you want to think about it. RIP, Maurice.

meat vs. a planet

As in yours. As in birthing it, feeding, slaughtering it, shipping it and cooking it in order to eat it in the quantity that we do spells certain, not probable but certain, disaster for planet, people and profit as you understand each of these things.

We say all the time how the planet would not survive China developing to levels commensurate with first-world consumption. It goes triple for meat eating. I’m just saying, I do it, too, and we should at least reckon with its consequences and be aware of them, acting accordingly if the spirit moves you. Otherwise you are ignoring this purposefully.


Bonus: Stephen King on taxes (plus a well-placed f-word or two). Word.

Easy to Miss

Linda Greenhouse is one of the top journalists who cover the Supreme Court – so many of the other few are also women, why is that? Anyway, there is much you just cannot explain to yourself or others without knowing (sounds axiomatic, I swear I wish it was), and Greenhouse brings some light to recent heat in this column:

You remember Lilly Ledbetter, the poised grandmother who addressed the 2008 Democratic National Convention. A native of Possum Trot, Ala. And a former overnight-shift manager at a Goodyear tire factory, where she was the only woman in her job category. Ms. Ledbetter learned only as she neared retirement that despite promotions and regular raises, she was being paid much less than any of the men. The Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 5 to 4 that she should have figured that out years earlier, and threw out her sex-discrimination lawsuit because she was too late in filing a formal complaint.

Two women, a generation apart: one disrespected by the three-day rant of a thuggish talk show host, the other dissed by five members of the Supreme Court. Each is an accidental heroine (as was Anita Hill, more than 20 years ago) whose plight touched a nerve already inflamed by deeper concerns roiling the public sphere.

In Lilly Ledbetter’s case, it was a mix of old and new: the old concern about equal opportunity and fairness in the workplace given new urgency within the Democratic base by distress at the Supreme Court’s abrupt rightward shift following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement and her replacement by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. It was Justice Alito who wrote the majority opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber.

The decision interpreted the 180-day statute of limitations in the country’s basic law against job discrimination, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court held that the 180-day clock for reporting incidents of discrimination starts running with the initial discriminatory act – in this case, the long-ago decision to pay Ms. Ledbetter less than her male peers. The majority rejected her lawyers’ argument that the clock should be deemed re-set with every subsequent paycheck that reflects and carries forward the original discrimination.

Sandra Fluke didn’t ask to become a cipher for contraception, so it’s important to know that more than a woman’s personality stands behind the significance (and durability) of this issue. Same with Lilly Ledbetter; why do you need to understand what the above court case is about? Tell me again, what does green mean?

Vaclav Havel, 1936-2011

There are many dates within those two that you could use to conflate the influence and importance of any individual who witnessed them. With many, they might well be a coincidence. Not so with Vaclav Havel.

When Mrs. G and were living in France the first time, neighbors in the next farmhouse up the chemin became great friends with us over the months – in part because of common interests but also because the painter-wife was also a transplant and non-native speaker, and therefore showed great sympathy and care for us, second-language-wise. She is a bit older and a native of what is now the Czech Republic. Though I had read some Kundera and seen Unbearable Lightness, it was not until our time with her that I began to gain some basic understanding of the Prague Spring. Near the center of events during that tumultuous year in a far away capital, was Havel.

Mr. Havel describes his playwriting in much the same terms – defending what is human against repressive social mechanisms. He openly identifies his work as theater of the absurd, unlike other writers (Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet) who disliked such generic descriptions. But the absurd for Mr. Havel is as much a political and philosophical concept as an esthetic one. He believes, along with the best 20th-century playwrights, that illusionistic theater is a sham, that realism is inadequate to the obscurity and unpredictability of modern life, that the role of the theater is not to be positive or instructive, soothing or explanatory, but rather to remind people that ”the time is getting late, that the situation is grave.”

This sounds like a civil-defense alarm, and Mr. Havel’s view of the absurd has a lot to do with a sense of social crisis, collapsing worlds, language abuse, robotic structures, entropic rule, metaphysical uncertainty – which is to say, with his experience of life in Czechoslovakia (no wonder he adds that if the theater of the absurd had not existed, he would have been forced to invent it). Still, Mr. Havel’s relationship to political theater is as ambiguous as that of Chekhov, who wrote, ”Writers must occupy themselves with politics only in order to put up a defense against politics.” The absurd for Mr. Havel is another form of artistic resistance.

Our mileage varies on some of those precepts, yet did he put his work where his heart and conscience thought best and fought hardest. Rest in Peace.

Jobs and the Mac


Green Boy came in last night before a game a ping pong. “Have you heard?”

I had not, and so he broke the news. He had just written an essay on the Steve Jobs last month for school, on someone you admire, and I could tell he was quite moved by the passing, though not enough to spare me any quarter at all in our ping pong match. But it was moving, refreshing in a way, to see him effected by this stranger’s passing. I see where today many millions feel the same. It’s a strange sort of collective response to individual experience. Here’s mine.

Just after Mrs. G and I tied the knot, as two writers with no money looking to quit our jobs and pursue something (else) absolutely foolhardy, one of the first things we did was to buy the Powerbook 165C, along with the Stylewriter II printer, which together cost an even fortune. Unbelievable. But our two other friends with laptops at that point swore by them, and so we dove in. I was oddly proud of the thing, though even then it really couldn’t do much. But I was getting it because of what I was convinced I could do. Hmm.

But on our subsequent move to New England to begin mostly unrelated though closely held literary pursuits, that thing was indispensable. A year later we moved to Europe with not a single thought of a backup or that the the pB would let us down in any way. And it didn’t. Always a Cadillac, in the kleenex sense of the word. I didn’t even know it was dual voltage and fretted needlessly over frying it. But never fear. Someone had thought of that. And if it wasn’t Jobs, it was somebody he saw at least once a month. I could go into the kids’ music/play room right now, pull the 165 out of its dusty bag under a desk and boot it up, and I’m sure it would turn on immediately. Offering (begging?) me the opportunity to contribute some further hewing to my oeuvre.

A couple of years later we upgraded with one of the limited edition graphite iBooks,which frankly looks hilarious but works like a charm. I could dig that one out and fire it up, as well. And it would work. Maybe that’s the point; I’ve kept these machines (not the printers) not because I still use them, but I’ve never really even thought of getting rid of them, which is maybe a nostalgic angle on sustainability, but… they still work and could if they were called into the ‘hot zone’ of my fiction haze. With a modem, I could even write this damn blog on ’em! Sure, we have MBpros and all now, desktops and fancy monitors. But the pattern was set back then with that use and, frankly, dependability of those machines not to let me down – even and especially if I didn’t (quite) know what I was doing (yet). I put five novels and a few plays into those things and gotten more than my share of joy/misery back out. And looking for more.

I can get as eye-rolly as anyone about their marketing techniques and Jobs’ amazing ability to create in us the need for something we did not know we needed. And I still don’t know what the iPad is for. BUT, the catch is that these tools – and they are only tools – are all quite amazing, and feel like they were developed by someone who loved them and loved to use them. As opposed to some entity that seemed to loathe the end-user (not mentiPoning any nCames). Of that, we can know Jobs was innocent. But I know his tools transformed my work life (carbons?) in ways that even I have seen change, and that were quite unimagined just a few decades previous. And for that I say Merci and R.I.P.

Green as a Test

Of you, and your ability not to believe that just because you are awesome at one thing, that you can do all things. This example is especially hurtful when it comes to art.

She has enough, more than enough, resources to underwrite her directorial forays, but… ouch.

She’s too inexperienced as a writer, from what it sounds like, to set aside her infatuations with the character and navigate the material. That’s the evil green – I know you thought… but no. That‘s simply misuse. It’s not money, but the love of money, etc. In this case, it’s the constraints that normally stop us from doing what we couldn’t or should do that the (abundant) resources nullify.

Plus, she had to deal with big-time Indies producers puffing her and the film for the ‘awards season’. Oh, God. Because she’s Madonna, right? An artiste of the highest bank account/order and the film’s great and everyone’s going to love it. Um… no. Again, people used to become famous because they were smart, now so many are considered to be smart because they’re…

This is not some kind of Schaden-pity. Not at all. As a writer of said scripts, and wishing none of these folks any pain or ill-will, I think she – and truly, many super rich people – could and do have crucial roles to play as executive producers. But it’s up to them to know that. And despite the high dollar amounts, that’s a humble role.



Off (via several modes of elitist mass transit) to an undisclosed, mostly non-blogging location.