Category Archives: Opinion

Something to be Thankful For : Struggles, Seeds … and Surprises

A longtime friend, teacher and respected activist, Joe Ramsey, out of Boston sent this article to us to view.  Its published by the magazine Counterpunch and we have the privilege of his permission to republish it here.  When we think about our own efforts at activism which entails a lot of work on persuasion please consider Mr. Ramsey’s thoughts, especially when round the table with folks who possibly may strongly disagree with your points.  Sometimes forcing an agreement at the time, from those who disagree may not always be the best strategy:

Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises

In a world that often feels like its spiraling towards chaos, here’s something I’m thankful for. Something that gives me–dare I say it–hope.

A former student from two years back stops by during my office hours, unannounced. He’s now a junior, thinking of a senior honors thesis, maybe grad school. I’m not surprised by this part; he was one of the sharpest students in that seminar (“Literature and Society” it was called).  A *very* smart reader, and a good writer, too.

I *am* surprised to see him in my office though.  He often seemed frustrated in our class, annoyed at others for not being as up to speed as he was–like they were holding him back.  (And like maybe I, too, as teacher, was complicit in this.)  At times, he came off to me as conservative and skeptical and maybe even narrowly out for himself, as if he were approaching our course more as a demanding customer, rather than as part of a community.  Like he just wanted his “A” so he could move on.

When the topic of economic inequality came up one day in class, he was that white guy who argued passionately against the idea of raising the minimum wage to fifteen $/hour, because as a trained and devoted EMT *he* hardly made that much…and should fast food workers really get the same pay that a medical professional earns? Wouldn’t giving these lowly service-workers a raise negate all the effort that *he* had put in to bettering himself?

Needless to say, we had us some struggles.

Seeing him at my door, my first thought was that maybe he was hard up for a letter of recommendation.  Some application deadline forcing him my way. I had, after all, given him his “A.”

But now here we are sitting in my office, and he’s leading us into a discussion about critical theory, literature, and marxism, about Jameson and Lukacs, Taylorism and totality. (He’s skeptical; totality seems too seamless and pessimistic). It’s clear that he has been reading whatever he can get his hands on.  And now we’re talking about capitalism and the limited semi-autonomy of the public sphere and cultural works within neoliberalism, and suddenly he turns to me and says:

“Man, that discussion we had in class about the minimum wage, and the way you pushed me to rethink my position…that really had an impact on me…That was really important.”*

And then we go on discussing, about how it’s possible for people to become psychologically invested in positions and identities that actually are not in their own best economic interest–not to mention being ethically problematic–and how this relates to race and to gender and nationalism as well as class…and how maybe it might just be possible for literature, for culture, for classrooms, for people to resist individualism and the cold cash nexus, to carve out spaces for human connection and solidarity.  How maybe the possibility of a fundamentally different kind of world can be glimpsed through the cracks in this one…if we learn how to look for it.

We shook hands goodbye, but I wanted to hug him.seed sprouting sepia

*

And this is why I’m thankful:  Because principled struggles with people plant seeds and sometimes these seeds find soil to sprout, even when you don’t expect it.

Because sometimes our assumptions about other people’s social views can prove to be one-sided, or even flat out wrong.*

Because situations change, and surprises happen.

And it hits me: this is why I don’t give up on people who say backwards shit.

And this is why we must defend the humanities.

And this is why we must support and defend public education.

And this is why we shouldn’t reduce people to the flat floor of their weakness: they might just vault from their greatest strength.

***

Not just in classrooms, but in our broader social movement, it seems a crucial point to bear in mind.

Our impatient and cynical times encourage us to give up on those who express confused, antisocial, or backward views.  The Twitter-verse entices us to score points at the expense of the problematic and the privileged. Indeed, with so much work to be done, nothing that anyone says seems quite good enough.

And certainly, as events in Minneapolis and elsewhere make clear, there are genuine enemies of the struggle out there, people who cannot be reasoned with, who have declared war on the movement for social justice, who must simply be defeated.  Forces against whom the people must be defended.

Yet it remains crucial to resist the urge to lump those who express bad ideas in with the ‘Enemy’ camp. The temptation to give up on everyday people is a suicidal urge for any moment that seeks truly radical and emancipatory change.  Instead, it behooves us to be patient with those who still might be reached, including even those who argue most vociferously against us.

We must continue to struggle, to be sure–there is no facile optimism here–but patiently and humbly, having faith in the basic decency of people.

If we can work to unite with strengths to overcome weaknesses, rather than focusing on weaknesses to undercut strengths, we all might discover something surprising to be thankful for.

* Note: In a follow-up email, my student clarified the situation further: “I was all for raising the minimum wage,” he tells me, “I think there was just some general anxiety about a) losing my privilege and b) the move away from the emphasis placed on the individual, one in which I felt that my individual accomplishments and “value” might be compromised.” As he added, “I think there’s a weird sort of internal conflict in more typical liberals who still hold individualism as an ideal in society, which is really difficult to reconcile with the desire for significant social change.” Well said. 

Joseph G. Ramsey is an activist and writer living in Boston. He is a contributing editor at Red Wedge, a co-editor at Cultural Logic: an electronic journal of Marxist theory and practice, and a contributing board member at Socialism and Democracy.

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Bernie Sanders is no Eugene Debs

From the Socialist Worker, May 26

by Howie Hawkins

Howie Hawkins is a veteran activist, working Teamster and leader of the Green Party nationally and in his home state of New York. Last November, his campaign for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo won 200,000 votes, nearly 5 percent of the total–the most successful left-wing independent campaign in New York in more than 50 years.

Here, Hawkins contributes to the discussion on the left about the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Bernie Sanders is no Eugene V. Debs

BERNIE SANDERS’ entry into the Democratic presidential primaries should be seen as his final decisive step away from the democratic socialism he professes to support. He will raise some progressive demands in the primaries and then endorse the corporate Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Nothing changes.

Sanders is violating the first principle of socialist politics: class independence. The socialist movement learned that principle long ago when the business classes sold out the workers in the democratic revolutions of 1848 that swept across Europe and parts of Latin America.

Drawing out the lesson from these failed revolutions that the middle-class proprietors and professionals could not be trusted as allies of the workers in the battle for democracy and workers rights, Karl Marx told exiled German revolutionaries in London in 1850 that the workers needed to form their own party to look out for their own interests:

Even where there is no prospect whatsoever of them being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces and to bring before the public their own revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection, they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the Democratic Party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is infinitely more important than the disadvantages that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body.

The Democratic Party that Marx was referring to in his 1850 speech was the most pro-democracy of the German parties based in the business and professional classes, which were fighting for universal suffrage against the ruling feudal landed aristocracy, but stopped fighting for workers’ rights once propertied men had the vote. But the argument applies just as well to the Democratic Party in the U.S. today–a party that poses as the champion of working people, but serves business interests.

Sanders has now gone into coalition with the billionaire class he professes to oppose and that finances the Democratic party. Sanders won’t see the billionaire’s money. But he has made it crystal clear that he will support their candidates by promising to support the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination.

Continue reading at: Bernie Sanders is No Eugene Debs

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So Lab Rats are Smarter Than Libertarians

Lab rat works to free captive where no obvious capital incentive exists.

Empathy: the one human emotion that makes Ayn Rand roll in her grave and gives all Free Staters and other Libertarians the willies — except when their own necks are on the line and they could use a hand.  It is well known that Ayn Rand had no problem living off the empathy of those who came before her and struggled for her right to receive social security and Medicare benefits in her old age.  Regardless though, Libertarians continue to preach that the way to peace is just to be a self centered prick and not bother to worry about the consequences of your actions on others, or to stop and help others.

Of course, according to this study, proof exists that lab rats are smarter than Libertarians, since they’ve apparently figured out that helping out your friends and neighbors and even sharing your booty is a good thing for your own future welfare; we all need each other and more than likely sometime down the line you will need others to give a damn about you when you and be willing to work to make your life — and in turn their life, better.  What a concept! Sounds like socialism!

Let’s take that thought a little further down the road of Logic and Plain Simple Thinking (deserves capitalization since its so under-rated these days), cut a little with Occam’s Razor and viola! We come across this excellent animation from Upworthy, made by Roman Krznaric on the power of empathy as a force for human change.  A very good animation and talk on the power of human empathy; what it means and how has a natural human emotion, we all have the ability to harness this to make positive social change and work toward peace, locally and globally.

Enjoy:

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Are the Takers Our Enemy?

by Nick Vazzana:

Since the election, Mr. Romney has been making statements that he lost because “certain special-interest groups” who voted for the Democrats were given “big gifts.”  He went on to call them “takers” who got financial gifts that included Pell Grant Loans for college students, Obamacare, Medicare, and food stamps.

There is nothing new about Romney’s libertarian ideas. Anyone who watched the “The Dust Bowl” by Ken Burns on PBS saw an example of the Federal Government trying to help a segment of its citizens survive at a time of unspeakable natural disaster. Through the AAA or Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, President Roosevelt attempted to balance supply and demand for farm commodities so that prices would support a decent purchasing power for farmers.

The Ken Burns documentary did not point it out, but many business leaders, and those who hated Roosevelt, contended that the Constitution did not give the Federal Government any power over agriculture. These “patriotic conservatives” thought it was up to the insolvent states of the Dust Bowl to solve their own problems. They were also against the idea of taxing the food processing industry to pay for farm subsidies. In the U.S. vs. Butler, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court agreed and declared the AAA unconstitutional. Fortunately, in 1938, the Congress re-wrote the legislation to overcome the court’s objections.

Many politicians, including some Republicans have distanced themselves from Romney’s comments. Unfortunately, no such criticism of these remarks has come from the Tea Party, the business community or right-wing media. This silence speaks volumes about an unpatriotic and dangerous political philosophy that has become ingrained in many of our citizens.

This reactionary view of labeling those who benefit from government as “takers” also fits into a larger condemnation of Federal efforts that help the poor, the retired, the ill, college students, women and even veterans. The voters were correct in choosing President Obama’s path to economic stability for 100% of the American people. He has been working, without much Republican help, to get this nation out of a world-wide slowdown that was caused by the financial meltdown of 2008-09.

Nick Vazzana
Sandwich, NH

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The Value of the Vote

An Answer to “What if They Held the Election and Nobody Came?”


Katie Talbert October 31, 2012 0

The following is a response to Joe Ramsey’s interview with Mark E. Smith and Terri Lee of the Boycott Election 2012 campaign, which will also appear in the November print edition of the Boston Occupier.

To imagine that all Americans will enmass sit out the national elections is akin to imagining that if one squints hard enough while saying magic words, a pink pony will appear at one’s door. There exist enough numbers of people in this country who, at least by belief, benefit in some way by the current system. They will participate in the electoral process and validate it for themselves.  Currently also enough people will vote in this coming election because they believe they have no other option.

We’ve never seen full voter turn-out, or full participation, because at some time in our history this country has had one group or another systematically removed from the voting process. Now, more of those roadblocks have been pushed aside. Yet people still will not participate; not because of some high-minded idea of a group election boycott, but because they have felt for years, possibly their whole lives, that their vote does not count.

Read more in The Boston Occupier Free Press

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Jersey Man Pulls Out Gun on Patrons Waiting for Rationed Gasoline

So by now everyone has heard of the long lines and the rationing of fuel in the Sandy-stricken New Jersey and Chris Christie’s mandate that everyone share and be nice and a few rules thrown in for the rubes that we must all suffer, to make things work as much as possible in the situation.

Then as always, we have this as reported by CBS News:

Sean Bailey, NY man, arrested after pulling gun in gas station line

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK – Authorities said a 35-year-old motorist was arrested early Thursday for cutting in line at a gas station in New York and pointing a pistol at another motorist who complained.

District Attorney Richard Brown said Sean Bailey was charged with menacing and criminal possession of a weapon for pulling a gun at a Queens gas station. If convicted, Bailey could face up to 15 years in prison.

Damage from the storm has forced many gas stations to close and has disrupted fuel deliveries, causing long lines at the gas stations that remained open.

But, if we take the Libertarian/pro gun, get what you can while can and yeah GUNS way of looking at things, the potential combination of desperation, selfishness and poor judgment seem to show that possibly allowing people to arm themselves whenever and where ever they like isn’t such a good idea.

Which of course is why we have such a concept as ‘gun control’ because the rational among us know that all of us humans, when under particularly stressors tend to not act too rationally.  Couple that with lethal fire power and things get pretty bad pretty quickly.

Now no one can doubt that this jerk pulling a gun not only in front of someone, but in an area where there exist large quantities of highly flammable liquid, obviously wasn’t firing on all cylinders.  But we also know that too many among us humans seem to permanently lack smoothly functional machinery in the cranium.  Hence, in a most simple way, one can say that packing heat anywhere you like, by anyone who bothers, maybe isn’t such a hot idea and really has very little to do with freedom or liberty.

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A Worker Looks In From the Outside of the ‘Labor Community’

With the latest focus on actions across the country by Wal-Mart workers, many middle class people who have the privilege of not having to work a low wage job announce their solidarity with the workers.  But their focus is narrow and their solidarity rings hollow.  Until a smaller more active union stepped up to support some of the workers who have had the courage to step up, Wal-Mart workers were and (still remain largely) the butt of classist jokes, derisive comments and dismissal by most Americans.

In fact most low-wage work has the stigma in this country of being work occupied by lower educated, slower witted persons who by their lack of the exceptional talent of their middle class betters, have failed to advance economically.  This classist attitude rings hollow in the face of the fact that as the American job pool shrinks, more and more people are forced into working low-wage jobs.  Jobs traditionally shut-off from the traditional unions.  Like a self-serving circle of hell, low-wage workers get stuck in a system where their poverty and desperation feeds an inability and fear to agitate for better wages and working conditions.  Short working hours and low hourly pay that leads to poverty existence squeezes the reserves of workers who lack the flexibility to move to other, better paying work.  Armchair libertarians and the like love to argue ad infitnitum that all workers have mobility to “take their labor else where”.  Such fantasies serve only to blame the worker, leaving better paid workers, the employer and government policies that enable working poverty off the hook.

Sorely missing from the popular perception and focus of the Wal-Mart workers’ action is the acknowledgement that similar workers struggle everyday, unnoticed and unrepresented.  The theme in American politics reflects the tacit willingness of Americans to be separated by class distinctions with signage and slogans that cry out the lame theme, “Protecting the Middle Class”, as if there exists a fear of associating with the ‘unwashed’ and the invisible class — including day laborers and those who languish on unemployment that washes them into the fast growing river of workers struggling to make ends meet with barely crumbs.

Does the American ruling class consist of middle class workers? Are not all workers struggling the same? It appears that instead of seeking to embrace all workers, the traditional labor unions have made the strategic decision to “grow” their dwindling movement only among those that fit their aged and concrete-clad vision.  All workers share the same basic struggles.  As traditional unions beg and work hard to gain support in their struggles to defend collective bargaining rights, where are these unions to defend the millions of workers who don’t work for the most hated retail chain in America?

And also, when will the American “middle class” realize that their never-ending thirst for cheap goods, cheap services and ‘lower prices’ comes at the price of people’s livelihood and standard of living?  Is it necessary to have a Wal-Mart in every town in America? Or a K-Mart? Or a Home Depot?  Has the spread of the corporate conglomerate retail market led to better wages and increased living conditions, or has it created a silent, suppressed, isolated and ever-growing sub-class? While there is much to applaud in the efforts of the Wal-Mart workers those smaller unions that have come out in support of them and other workers, the focus needs to widen to all workers.  The time has come for realization that, as the I.W.W. adage coined nearly a century ago, an injury to one is an injury to all— all workers must come together, ready to represent themselves at the table of labor in solidarity with all labor as One Big Union, united in the fight against the scourge of corporate global capitalism.

From artist Mike Flugennak: http://sinkers.org/stage/

Unfortunately the labor unions presently making up less 12% of the population naturally, have continued their isolation from many workers.  Workers in low wage jobs that larger unions have decided long ago not to organize have suffer from the  lack of union representation.  Exploitation of low wage workers has increased as the economic depression increases the labor pool and emboldens employers.  Some union organizers claim that the old ways of organizing do not work as jobs in lower wage fields tend to have a large turn-over, tend to offer little incentive for workers to remain and thus such a fluid membership base leads to instability and inability to organize long term.

This is disputable when one considers that the largest proportion of the workforce with the most direct exposure to the public is the low wage worker, whether in service jobs, healthcare or retail.  They provide the opportunity to larger trade unions to increase support for and understanding of the struggle to keep legal protected rights such as collective bargaining and (although diminishing and very limited today), the right to strike.  In exchange, formerly neglected workers should justly expect some support for their cause, where such has been historically lacking.

Diminished representation has weakened support for the union movement nationally.  As workers feel further and further distant from what many perceive as weak, disaffected or out of touch union representation, frustration within the ranks increases. Many members complain bitterly of lack of rank and file participation in meetings, apathy among members and even many members who enjoy the benefits of their union job while supporting exactly the opposite in political ideology and public policy, hypocritically assisting those who wish to undo the union and keep more workers out while benefiting from union members themselves. Ironically, union leadership and members do nothing to stop this inside sabotage while more and more workers linger on the outside looking in, unable to find a slot in increasingly unavailable union work.

Also membership reduces as well as the cost of carrying a card and paying dues while unemployed becomes prohibitive.  Unions have shrunk not only due to assaults on worker’s rights to organize and act for their betterment, but also due to attrition as a result of the dwindling union protection. Started by Ronald Reagan, the Republican and ‘New Democrats’ have unraveled protection for worker expression with only barely audible squeaks from union leadership. Sold down the river on the idea that some kind of gentleman’s agreement exists between labor and big business that they must continue to protect, big labor unions have chosen to bargain with the devil than to reach back and lend a hand to their brother and sister workers who could offer strength in their effort to finally resist big business’ assaults on labor.

The labor movement cannot survive in its current state. Dwindling membership rates and even more diminished actual power when one considers participation rates and support in current unions, has a ripple effect on all workers everywhere.  As John O’Reilly points out here, the larger unions smirk and snub workers they consider beneath them at their peril.  Only with all workers united together to fight the nihilistic and dehumanizing forces of corporate capitalism will workers succeed and together bring the living standards of all workers to enable peaceful, dignified existence.

John O’Reilly on how the labor movement talks about itself and how he interprets it as a member and organizer of the IWW.

I’ve been thinking recently about the way that the labor movement sees itself and talks about itself. Labor movement activists often talk about labor as a kind of community, a place where individuals can reach across differences and speak to each other based on a shared connection to their unions and unionism more generally. There are big, well-funded internal publications that the large unions produce which help move this discourse. But there are also independent voices which participate in this discourse. I can think of Labor Notes as an example that I’m most familiar with.

Labor Notes and magazines, blogs, or other publications like it have this particular way of speaking about the labor movement and the changes that it needs to implement that I’ve always had a lot of trouble connecting with. I like Labor Notes, I think its a useful piece that praises rank-and-file struggles and shows how the bosses and the business unions are strong and powerful but also have weaknesses. It’s the kind of publication that shows that working people can have independent publications that highlight our stories of success and explain why and when we fail with a good analysis (usually).

But I’ve always had trouble connecting with the language that LN and similar publications use to talk about the labor movement. There’s a positioning of “inside and against” that I’ve always been unable to connect with. The discourse often goes “we are the labor movement, we need to do better, we need to get better leadership and democratize our unions, we need to organize the unorganized.” I like all the reclaiming of the labor movement narrative, that’s a great step I think. Saying that “we,” being rank-and-file workers, are the labor movement and that unions are not just the union leaders, is really important. But to me as an IWW organizer, I’ve never felt part of some community of labor.

Read more: Outside the House of Labor, by Jack O’Reilly, IWW organizer, originally published in Labor Notes.

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Convolutions of the Press

In a New York Times story from October 17th, a long analysis of the current state of the economy exposed the trap that income inequality poses for national growth.  This would seem obvious as countries that have the highest income inequality are countries that suffer permanent, disabling lack of growth; at least for the majority of the population.  Entrenched in a culture of favoritism, an unresponsive government that is choked by commercial/corporate interference and corruption, poor economies seem to rarely find their way out of the cycle of poverty.

What the article states with attributes and quotes to IMF and economists is that now that the decline in wealth distribution has hit first world countries, they are taking serious notice.  What they find confirms what many can figure by pure observation; as countries sink further downward, the climb back into stability and growth becomes more difficult.  What the article did not spell out was how corporate infiltration into governments leads to much of this as governments, for lack of cash sufficient to serve even basic functions, becomes more and more dependent upon corporate/private market manipulation.  Of course, this manipulation benefits those with interests in such as investment assets with increasing concentration at the top where global investment is broader.

The article also mentions the concern about social stability within countries suffering economic collapse.  The United States could well be falling into its last throws of empire as it spends wildly on military infrastructure in an effort to maintain global domination.  At the same time, the United States has increased its investment in military control of its citizens through increased militarization of municipal police units and build-ups of domestic armies (National Guard).  The article elludes to the real fear on the part of the administration that economic unrest could lead to domestic unrest.  The elite, as is often in more oppressive and poorer countries, have no interest in improving the conditions of the people, but in preserving their interests exclusively.  Hence when the Times quotes the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year warned about the “negative consequences” of the country’s high levels of pay inequality,”

One could interpret such a warning as a dire whistle blow to for the plutocrats to stop their squeeze of the global economy for their own interests. But instead, it appears, if observations are correct, that the real concern is a social upheaval from angry citizens that must be checked, not answered.  Must be suppressed, gassed, arrested and possibly even detained without trial or charge for as long as desired — by the government.

The report goes on to say that the IMF has warned the United States that its policies of favoring the wealthy over the many will lead to further disaster as well.  But if one watches network news they probably won’t know that.  They won’t understand that just possibly those who watch the United States and the world see the US teetering on the brink of complete ruin.  The paper goes on to show that most of the common people have been sold down the river with the con that home ownership is the answer to stability.  But housing values have depressed, after falling from the longest and biggest fraud perpetuated on the people now stuck with devalued property and an employment cycle than no longer can produce a living wage.

The writer continues by explaining correctly that the asset holdings of wealthier individuals and of course corporations, are concentrated in investment portfolios that rise and fall with the trading and financial markets worldwide.  These investments, unlike a house, will produce revenue as long as the peripheral economy of stock market trading, derivatives, hedge funds and other instruments continues to grow.  They grow as they are pegged to the continued shrinking of the share of the economic pie worldwide.  As worker’s wages are crushed and de-regulation of industry and finance continue while productivity remains stable, if not growing (because people must produce more to earn enough to make ends meet), investment portfolios remain in an upward growth cycle.

Therefore, there’s plenty of room to conclude that as long as the plutocracy that holds a strong interest in depressing wages and disempowering workers by attacking labor law, increasing suppression of dissent they will prosper.  This theme drives the story and is well documented. What is troubling though is that it ends with a quote from the right-wing Heritage Foundation that got the last word blowing its scare-horn, that no matter what any intelligent observer thinks or researcher finds, continued investment expansion directed policies will contribute to growth.

That is what the reader will take away. Possibly the writer was hoping to make a contrast; to make a point by showing that despite all evidence to the contrary, the right -wing of the country pushes the same old lie.  Unfortunately, ending with a negation of what was in fact a very well written article will be the final taste in the mouth of the reader.  Not a good thing when the goal was to convince the reader of the truth of the entire piece.

Joyce Carol Oates: We Were the Mulvaneys, or How I Suffered This Book So You Don’t Have to

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

This was probably one of the worst books I’ve read. I picked up this book on a thrift store shelf for 2 bucks and I’d like my two bucks back. In fact I never finished the book because I’ve just got only so much time in my life and I don’t need to waste it reading overly sensitive, moralistic, white bread drivel.

It was on the Oprah’s list! So what does this say about Oprah?

The book opens up on a scene set in Michigan in the seventies, a large white family whose papa works as a roofer and mama stays home to be the fulltime mom to a gaggle of kids. On a roofer’s wages in a small podunk town, somehow they manage to hold onto a farm with all the nostalgic accoutrements; horses, chickens and the big old victorian house. Welcome to the Waltons in print.

The characters are developed like cardboard cut-outs, with apparently no more thought to developing them into believable, full-fledged things representing humans than say, someone writing ad copy for a grocery store circular. Based on stereotypes that could choke a hard-boiled wingnut, one reads every page anticipating that possibly, we’ll get rewarded on the turn of the next, for our hard work plowing through the flat, boring constructions to find something real on the other side. But that never occurs. Mom is ever self-effacing, fragile and foolish, so is the only daughter, whose loss of innocence destroys the family.

Oates worries incessantly about the males in her story, attempting to show us how the moral soiling of a female is ruinous to the poor menfolk too; perhaps, it seems, even more important. The women take a backseat and unbelievably, in Oates’ world, this doesn’t bother them a bit. Instead they stand in the background and allow their menfolk to shine while they flitter in the light of the moon. Often I had to put the book down lest I scream for reading one more passage about the delicate paper thin white skin of the mother or the daughter; their skinny appearance showing self sacrifice. She even had repeated references to both women denying themselves food! Good God! Did anyone tell this woman we already have a ton of middle class white girls starving themselves to death to meet this foolish ideal of angelity? Take this for instance, “her hair cut cruelly short, face waxy-pale and mouth slack, so without experession, in the daze of sleep, he hadn’t recognized her. She looked so young, so– childlike.”

So all you big girls, loud mouthed girls, dark colored girls, strong girls, look out because you are not getting any empathy from Ms. Oates, in fact in her world you don’t even exist, lest possibly you trample her flailing, delicate female fairies.

Then of course, if you’ve lived your life anywhere outside Cornell university, you might not be so bought into the idea that a roofing contractor in a small town could make enough money to join a local country club — or more accurately, that if he did, he would be able to make that class transference so easily. Only in the lala land of the conservative white middle class brain does such a mythology still achieve any serious consideration. I’m sure Oates sold well by stoking the fertile fantasies of the striving middle class with that theme.

Oh and the dialogue! The descriptors. I grew up in the seventies, I grew up in the Midwest. I’ll tell you right now that no teenager in their right mind that didn’t grow up in a closet talked like this, “I shan’t…” Shan’t? Of course whatever she shan’t do or say usually is followed with a long descriptor of her feminine duty to sacrifice without complaint, such as numerous scenes where either women jump up to serve immediately, always self deprecating and always fragile, with hollowed out, sunken eyes we’re told, (again) paper thin white skin and fluttering fingers through thin, frazzled hair apparently reflecting over-wrought fragile minds of these martyrs to the feminine cause.

The males, the father and the three brothers of course are the doers. They represent the rescuers, the strong ones, the ones given to flights of anger or self serving hedonistic pleasure; but they are men and the women not only tolerate such but in the world of the Mulvaneys, the women seem completely oblivious to what they are missing.

Couple all the Hallmark card sentimentality with its glitter coated one dimensionality for popular consumption, with horrendously long, drawn out and uninteresting descriptors. I don’t give a damn if a character wore “a silk polka-dot dress that fitted her loosely, marble-sized red dots on a white background; the bodice was a mass of buttons…” So what? The descriptors of what people wore were like reading a Sears catalog and what relevance this ever had on the plot, one can never know. Is it more relevant that the protagonist wore red pumps with a 5″ heel or blue open toed sandals with a 3″ heel? A nubby, chunky sweater or a tight cowl-neck green one? Smooth slacks with an elastic waist or rumpled jeans?

In addition, the moralizing. Mom sang hymns while she worked, daughter quoted the bible endlessly, one son quotes the bible as well and listens to classical music, finding the popular band Plaistica, nauseating and the hoaorish behavior of his college chums equally nauseating. And he fits in a university atmosphere and peerage? Really? Maybe I’m just sheltered in this, but I thought college kids demand as much or more conformity of eachother than even junior high schoolers.

But the moralizing, the religion, the assumption of the author that Christian values permeate through every decent family and thus are assumed. This is given strength by the college attending boy (because the women don’t have or acquire or value education and nor does the author apparently wish to give them chance to get one) who gets all tied up in a moral knot about questions of evolution when studying biology. This is taken seriously and the doubting professor is the one described as the cruel, clueless, rigid restriction against the free thinking pro-creationist.

I could go on, but I’ll quit here only with the thought that if I had known such low quality writing could make one a good living, I’d have gotten started on this track years ago. Oates apparently churns out the popular white bread for an audience to believe in weak women, strong men and a big man flying in the sky to protect them all and everything that is right pretty regularly. Hell, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? We can see Oates isn’t working for the Pulitzer but is paying the bills. I guess we’re not all out to save the world.

Now I admit, I didn’t finish the book. Like I said at the beginning of this screed, I just couldn’t. I’ve got better things to do. Sorry, its not my job to make an author’s creation justify my time, its the other way around; the author has an obligation to keep me wanting to read that book, to keep me enthralled enough to find out what’s going on next. But when it takes two pages for a character to answer a ringing phone, or trudging through insufferably simplistic and moralistic scenarios, enough is enough.

A person can only wade through a swamp so long before realizing, there’s really nothing to see on the other side to make the effort worth it. As a lover and collector of books, I must say that my conscience is clear about my plan to consign the volume I purchased to the recycling bin, in the hope that its pages will be reincarnated into something more useful to human kind, like say toilet paper.

Wanton Feminist Sex at the Colleges Killed My Privilege: Cry of a White Man

“Oh wouldn’t you like to come
Back underneath my thumb
In a Patriarchy’s Garden
In serfdom?

You would know your place,
Below the human race
In a Patriarchy’s Garden
Without mace.”

That and more at Sadly No! where writer Cerberus cuts into David Brooks and commits beautiful slaughter.  Slaughter on Brooks’ pulling out every tired stereotype of women to make a siren call to the men that the wymenz are taking over and they’d better, um, do something.  Like maybe wake up to the fact that the OMG! the roles of women they are a changing and this is nowhere better reflected than in the poor economy.  Well ok, he didn’t say all women are ruining the economy, just the loose ones that go college; the ones who put getting a degree and an education as a top priority.  Brooks laments the good old days where women knew their place and went to college to find a doctor to marry.  Oh the bloody horror! Now with contraception and all, they are having wanton sex, learning things and get this! Getting jobs! Not good paying jobs, that’s not important and not all women, that’s not important either.

When you need to force attitudes that force ridiculous, prejudicial policies that protect a narrow group from another larger group, best to make that group really, really big and scary. Women shouldn’t have reproductive freedom, look, they are all turning into educated sluts! And then taking our jobs!  Wasn’t that the frat boy’s job? The privileged snot getting in on daddy’s dime with his white-boy, super polished shine, who studied and had wild sextapades with willing coed sluts?  Brings to mind a little diddy someone told me long ago, that’s one of those custom made stories that dad’s tell their young stud sons about to embark into the world of teh wymenz:

A little dog sat next to the railroad tracks all forlorn, contemplating his future.  He let his tail fall over the rail.  A train came by and as he felt the pinch on his tail he turned his head and whack!

So unfortunately, the puppy’s gone but hopefully you’ll remember to not lose your head over a little tail.

Those femi-nazi mothers must be telling their daughters that story, which of course is bringing in the collapse of all civilization partriarchy.

But I need add no more, let Cerberus take it away!

Bitches Be Responsible for Everything Bad

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