As I go out to meet the ravening hordes.
Except they’re not ravening. They’re hyperventilating.
Which they wouldn’t be doing if they hadn’t left their term papers to the last minute, and beyond.
I really do read the comments, most of the time. I even follow the links to find out what everybody is doing.
And I have heard the plaintive cry that I should put up something new.
Unfortunately, we have reached one of those times of year when my time is not my own.
Somewhere back there in the house are two folders full of term papers that are virtually all a mess, and of which at least three are almost certainly plagarized.
And, as usual, the plagarizing isn’t even intelligent.
I’m beginning to wonder if we shouldn’t give an assignments that requires students to plagarize in a way that indicates an IQ number in more than double digits. If they’re going to do it anyway, they might as well learn to think it through.
Last night was also our first snowstorm, more or less. There is snow on the ground out there, but not much of it. There’s been a sander by and a plow, but I’m not sure what the plow actually had to plow. When I said “not much of it,” I was serious. My lawn is still mostly green.
I’m also reading a very strange little book, called The Lusiads, an epic poem (I know, I know) written by a man named Camoes about the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India.
It was written in the sixteenth century by a man who desperately wanted to give Portugal a literary monument to match the Homeric epics and, of course–because all these people at the time read Latin, but very few of them read Greek–The Aeneiad.
I don’t read Portuguese, and this is a poem. It’s hard for me to tell whether the sheer awfulness of the poetry is in the original or the result of the translation.
I have learned that there are a lot of things that rhyme with “ocean.”
The work itself is–so far, I’m about halfway through–a conglomeration of things that kind of do and kind of don’t make sense.
There’s a lot that takes place on Mount Olympus and other venues of the Greek gods with Bacchus kind of/sort of identified with the devil.
Then every once in a while Camoes breaks in to explain that of course he doesn’t believe in any of that. He’s a Christian. He knows that the Greek gods were fake and a matter of superstition.
The most interesting part so far, for me, has been the long scene in which da Gama narrates the history of Portugal to the first friendly king he’s encountered on the other side of the horn of Africa.
The king is Muslim–as have been all the other kings he’s encountered on that side of Africa–and I kept wondering if it made much sense for da Gama to spend that much time talking about how thoroughly the Christian Portuguese had vanquished the Moors.
Especially since he desperately needed the help of these people to complete his voyage to Indian.
I’m also willing to bet that the real da Gama did know such thing on his actual voyage.
You’ve got to assume the man had some sense.
The Lusiads is the national poem of Portugal. It’s important to Portugal’s culture and to its national identity.
And Portugal is a place I’ve visited and a place I love. It gave me Jose Saramago and Manoel de Oliveira. It wouldn’t be right for me to make fun of this thing, so I won’t.
It is, however, either as a result of the translation or of the weaknesses of the original, well and truly awful.
It’s also in endless ottavia rima, which is mindboggling in its own way. Although not in the way you might think.
The translator does not seem to have tried to put the lines entirely into the rhyme scheme, but he has insisted on ending each stanza with a couplet.
And the couplets are…
I’m about to go back to that mind boggling thing again.
My gut says you’ve got to work at making something this bad, but from the introduction the translator obvious adores the hell out of this poem.
Since I’m not writing fiction this week, I’m at liberty to try to cut the problem with music, but so far I’ve tried Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn and Charlie Parker and none of it has worked.
One of my sons has suggested I move on to Wagner and Strauss, but I can never handle sturm und drang in the morning.
Right now I’m going to go launch myself into the real world and try to get this correcting done before the hordes descend on special office hours tomorrow.
For that, I may bring tranquilizers.
It is Monday morning, and I will admit that what I thought I was going to be doing here in the cold wet drizzle that is a New England December is writing about how the Obamacare website ran on the first day after its deadline.
As it turns out, I have heard no Obamacare news at all.
Sometime yesterday, a Metro-North train on its way from Poughkeepsie to New York City derailed in the Brox, killing four people and injuring 67 others, including fourteen who ended up in critical condition.
Metro-North is the principle commuter rail system for NYC and its suburbs. If the crash had occurred during the commuter hours on a week day, there would have been a truly impressive body count.
As it is, things are bad enough, and the newspapers and major news outlets–all but one of which is based in NYC–are a bit distracted from the usual political fray.
So let me write about something else, something I sort of darkly alluded to yesterday–the reason why this book I’m reading took me so long to get into.
The book is called Deadly Force, with a subtitle I’m blanking on completely this morning. It’s written by a man named Chris MacNab, who is described in his author bio as “based in the UK.”
The book was also originally published in the UK by Osprey, and later distributed here by Random House.
The UK-ness of all this is important, because it may be the reason I have to excuse the man for his introduction and first half of first chapter.
It’s also important to note that the copy I have is what’s called a “bound galley” or an “uncorrected proof,” which is exactly what it sounds like. These are raw galley pages stuck between covers and sent out as advance copies to reviewers and librarians and people who might blurb so all that can be coordinated with the actual launch date.
Since this is an uncorrected proof, it’s necessary to give this book the benefit of the doubt. It’s always possible that the problem I’m about to outline was caught before publication and fixed.
But I doubt it.
Because this isn’t a matter of a few words misspelled or a few acronyms misidentified. (Although there are plenty of those–it takes him to the last quarter of the book to stop called the ATF the BATF.)
The problem is that Mr. MacNab based his introduction and most of his first chapter on the Belleisle study, including his contention that in talking about gun violence in the US, he doesn’t have to deal with conditions from the colonial period to the Civil War, since in that period most Americans didn’t have guns anyway.
If it seems a little odd to you that a largely frontier society still vulnerable to Indian raids and where most families relied for meat in the winter on game they shot themselves–even most families in cities like Boston and New Haven–well, it seemed odd to a lot of people when the Belleisle study came out, because that is what the Belleisle study claimed to prove.
Michael Belleisle was a professor of history at Emory University in Atlanta, and he’d actually been writing quite a few well-received academic papers on this very theme over the course of several years.
He might have spent a long career “proving” a lot of things that weren’t true, except he decided to up the ante. He published his “findings” as a book, called Arming America. The book was published by Knopf, probably the most intellectually prestigious house in the US, in 2002.
And at first, things went just swimmingly. In fact, they went better than swimmingly. The book received almost universal acclaim and turned into a best seller. Belleisle was awarded the Bancroft Prize, as good as it gets in history. He had a lecture schedule that was the envy of academia.
The first complaint to come in came from Charleton Heston, then president of the NRA, and Belleisle and the people who loved his book brushed it off without much thought.
Arming America was a book that threatened to debunk everything gun rights advocates contended about the atmosphere surrounding the adoption of the Second Amendment. Of course such advocates would claim there was something wrong with the research. Heston wasn’t a scholar or an expert, after all.
Belleisle managed to maintain an atmosphere of “nobody objects to this research but gun rights activists with an axe to grind,” and several of the actual scholars who next stepped up to complain about the books research and premises were indeed gun rights supporters as well as actual historians.
But they were actual historians, and the more they complained, the more other historians who had initially supported the book started to get…hinky.
And hinky they should have gotten.
It’s not that Belleisle fudged his research. He did enough of that, taking quotes from people like George Washington out of context and cooking his statistics.
The problem was that he’d also made a lot of it up.
A lot of it.
Whole whacking hunks of it.
He claimed, for instance, that some of his statistic had come from his review of the records of San Francisco in the years before the Civil War. The problem is that no such records exist. What records there were were all destroyed in the great San Francisco fire that followed the earthquake of 1906.
He also claimed to have analyzed the probate records of 150 who had died in Providence, Rhode Island in the last days of the colonies and the first of the new Republic. It turned out most of those didn’t exist, either, as most of the men on the list had died intestate and left no probate records of any kind.
There was more, but you see what I mean. The book wasn’t just a sieve. It was a fairy castle in the air.
And it turns out that real historians, even committed left-liberal ones, don’t have much patience with fairy castles in the air.
It took two years, but in the end Belleisle was forced to resign from Emory. Knopf cancelled his book contract and ceased publishing the book. Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize.
The man’s career was, to all intents and purposes, over. (The book is still published by a small independent press, so you can get it if you want it.)
Now, a few things.
The first is that the writer of Deadly Force, Chris MacNab, lives and works in Britain, and it’s possible he never heard about any of this. Maybe he went to his local library and it hadn’t heard about any of it either, and there was the book, and he read it and found it interesting, and assumed he could trust it.
That’s sloppy, but not criminal. It’s happened before, and it will almost certainly happen again.
But under the circumstances, it would be very sloppy indeed. The episode was not small. It resulted in a major and very public dust up and significant recriminations against the writer, and deserved recriminations at that.
At the very least, MacNab should have done what I’m always telling my students to do: Google the damned thing and make sure you don’t get any surprises.
The same can be said for the editors at Osprey, who had an obligation to vet the thing when they published it.
But then we come to the second thing, which is Random House.
Random House owns Knopf, the very publishing house that had been left with egg on its face and worse when it published Arming America to begin with.
I do understand that in most cases, distribution deals are just that–American House A agrees to use its distribution system to get UK House B into American bookstores, usually for a small consideration. There’s no need for the people at American House A to even read the books they’re getting from UK House B. After all, the book clearly states it’s published by “Osprey House” and not “Random House.”
Even so, the irony here is almost breathtaking.
The parent of the publishing house that had to spend considerable time and effort to rescue its reputation from the mess Belleisle made of it in the first place is issuing yet another book making yet the same claims based on yet the same fabricated “evidence.”
Shouldn’t somebody, somewhere, have been paying attention?
I tried looking up some reviews of the MacNab book, but couldn’t find any that pointed out the problem with the use of the Belleisle study. I have no idea if that means that the Belleisle references were removed before publication, of if none of the reviewers had heard of it either.
And the reason can’t be that MacNab is telling his readers what they want to hear, because in spite of the awed tone of a Brit dealing with American gun stats, MacNab’s books is VERY pro-cop. The pro-cop people don’t want to hear that there’s something wrong with the Second Amendment. They want to hear that there’s something right with it.
The impression I get is not of a bunch of anti-gun ideologues latching on to what they want to hear, but an overall sloppiness that makes me a lot more nervous about the research in the rest of the book than I would have been with actual bias.
I can correct for actual bias. Sloppiness is an invitation to the fate of Sisyphus.
And it’s too bad. Because on many levels, MacNab’s book is very, very interesting.
So, another first of the month, and the November list runs as follows:
64) Mark Levin. The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.
65) Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Lucifer’s Hammer.
66) Alison Weir. The Life of Elizabeth I.
67) Charlotte MacLeod. Exit the Milkman.
It’s not a terribly exciting list as lists go, but it’s the end of the term and I handed in a book and…well, you know.
I was fairly sure, mid-month, that there would be at least one more book on here, but I ran into the same trouble I had with the Pinker last month.
I had problems with that book itself, and for several days I found myself unable to force myself through more than a couple of pages of the thing.
It was a much shorter book than the Pinker, and normally wouldn’t have taken me more than four or five days of even a very busy week, but here we are.
I’ve started to wonder if this is something new or something I’ve always had and never noticed until recently.
Since the thing about always finishing what I start is not new, I assume I must have had some response to books I either didn’t like or distrusted all along, but I just don’t know what it was.
And maybe it was this.
Anyway, as to the books:
The first thing I want to point out is the Charlotte MacLeod, Exit the Milkman, at the end.
I have a little stack of MacLeod’s Peter Shandy books on my coffee table, and I picked up this one because it was on top of that stack and I was looking for something light.
I have a soft spot in my heart for MacLeod, because her first Peter Shandy mystery, Rest Ye Merry, is probably what propelled me out of graduate school and college teaching and into really making a shot at being a mystery writer.
I stumbled into a bookstore called Jocundry’s in East Lansing, Michigan, after a really harrowing two weeks involving classes who hated me and prelims I couldn’t wrap my mind around and looking desperately for some kind of respite, and what I found was Rest Ye Merry.
It’s definitely a cozy, but the high end of cozy, well done and interesting and with characters you want to live with, and right after I finished it I bought the only other thing by MacLeod the store carried in its mystery section: The Family Vault, the first book of her other series.
And it occurred to me that if this was the kind of thing people were publishing in mysteries, I could be very happy doing something similar, assuming I could do it at all.
And that’s where the Pay McKenna series came from, a couple of years later, after several tries at book that just weren’t going anywhere.
I was, in those days, a much cosier writer than I am now.
That’s the kind of thing watching people die can do to you.
This book is, I think, the last in the series, and it is not one of the best. Too much depends on enormous coincidences, and not enough depends on the mystery.
And the thing is sort of…disorganized. And it bothered me. Charlotte was not normally disorganized. So I started checking around a bit, and found that it was published in 1996.
And there, I think, is where the problem may be.
1996 was the year when Bill was dying, and also desperately attempting to finish a book subtitled “an oral history of the mystery.”
That book required interviewing dozens of mystery writers about their lives, work, experience in publishing, you name it. There was urgency on two fronts. Some of these writers were very old, and there was the need to get them on the record before the time ran out.
And Bill was getting sicker, so there was the need to get the book written in case the time ran out.
Close to the end of everything, Bill called Charlotte to ask her to interview for the book, not expecting any trouble. We’d known Charlotte for years, and it was one of those things. Even people we didn’t know wanted to be in the book, including some extraordinarily authors.
But when Bill called Charlotte, she not only didn’t want to be in the book, she didn’t want to talk at all, and she was highly agitated and upset. Bill went through his spiel and Charlotte said “No!” and hung up.
Bill proceeded to do his usual thing and start worrying that he had said something that upset her.
Then,a while later, we heard from a mutual friend that Charlotte had moved to a nursing home, the victim of a rapidly progressing case of dementia.
And that, I think, may be what is wrong with this book. It may be the book she wrote when the dementia was first coming on. Dementia would explain the kinds of problems it has. The odd driftiness. The lack of cohesion.
If you like cozies, the Peter Shandy series is a good one to read, but don’t read this one until you’ve done the rest.
Charlotte’s best work is very good indeed, and it deserves to be appreciated.
Oddly enough, I’ve beent thinking about Charlotte for a while now. She was one of a trio of mystery writers who were close friends for many years: Charlotte, and Marion Babson, and Barbara Peters.
Charlotte was the first to die. Barbara Peters (Barbara Mertz) died a few months ago. Marion is left, still writing mysteries and, I worry, lonelier than I’d like her to be.
Her publisher tends to reissue The Twelve Deaths of Christmas every year or so. It’s a good one, if you like cozies.
As for the rest of the books up there:
The Liberty Amendments is interesting, although if I wrote my own set, they would be significantly different.
That is, of course, the problem with projects of that kind. Everybody knows the system is broken, but everybody thinks the system is broken in a different way.
There are some interesting things in here that I’d never thought of, especially about the role of the courts. And my two big complaints are a) that he doesn’t want to end rule by regulation absolutely and b) that he only wants oversight of rule by regulation where the result of the regulation is $100 million dollars or more.
But the regulations I am most concerned with–how you reaise your children, what kind of chair you use at the desk in your home office, what kind of food you’re allowed to send with your kid to school, schools that punish or expel children for acts they commit OUTSIDE of school hours and grounds and auspices–are precisely the ones that have little economic impact, but lots of the personal kind.
Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer is a standard issue disaster novel, and I love disaster novels.
Like most disaster novels, though, this one gives you about the first third of the book concentrating on disaster, and the rest on What Happens Next To Put Civilization Back Together.
My big problem with all that is that I don’t really care what happens next. I want the disaster.
The greatest disaster novel ever written is certainly Stephen King’s The Stand in the originally published version.
King later published the full version as he wrote it, and that one is damned near unreadable.
But even King’s novel is only half the disaster and the rest What Comes After.
Lucifer’s Hammer doesn’t rise to the level of The Stand in either plot or characterization, but I had a good time with it. I tried reading it many years ago and couldn’t even get started, but this time it went down like butter.
Finally, there’s The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir.
Elizabethans are what she does best, and this is very good indeed.
I’m going to go back to the music and the crime book–a nonfiction book about crime.
It’s the last full week of classes.
That’s how that is.
Yesterday was yesterday, meaning Thanksgiving, meaning a day when I’d had way too much to eat for the day before 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
I even took a nap, which is virtually unheard of. If I’m not majorly ill–and I’m not, at the moment–naps tend to be an overall negative for me. I have my body rigorously trained into a work-and-sleep schedule that works very well for me, and naps tend just to mess that up so that I have several days of virtually no sleep until the schedule settles back again.
This time, I seem to have gotten away with it, so I’m going to keep my fingers crossed. But I only allowed myself an hour, and when I woke up and came downstairs again, I was still fairly out of it. It made looking pitiful and getting Gregor to put away the leftovers a lot more effective.
While I was sitting around looking pitiful enough to get all my work done without expending any personal effort, I came across a blog post by somebody whose name I no longer remember, concerning people who were required to work during the Thanksgiving holiday.
It was a very good blog post and I wish I did remember who wrote it, because I would like to post it here. It was good because it was not the same old screed about Evil Greedy Corporations who were trying to turn us in to materialistic zombies with no ties to family and friends.
The message instead was that we should not be crying anathema against the shoppers, or the stores and their owners, or the people who work on holidays. We don’t know the circumstances. Some of the workers might be grateful for the extra hours and therefore the extra pay. Some shoppers might desperately need the deals on offer to give their families a happy Christmas, or might have jobs that leave them no other time to shop.
One of the people posting comments even pointed out that some stores make pretty much all their profit from the Christmas season, and if they don’t take advantage of the whole Black Friday weekend thing, they could easily end the year in the red.
That is, after all, why it’s called Black Friday.
Most of the comments, though, were the usually–the Greedy Evil Corporations out to destroy all our lives, the hoodwinked public so thoroughly brainwashed by advertising that they weren’t making real choices at all, the right wing onslaught demanding unfettered free market capitalism that’s destroying the country, etc, etc. etc.
I will was tired, because if I wasn’t, I’d have commented myself–to point out that I’d checked all the major news outlets, and the only one that was headlining the “stores open on Thanksgiving” story and deploring the fact in news piece and editorial was…Fox.
Small episodes of irony aside, though, I’m not really sure how I feel about stores opening on Thanksgiving.
I asked my students about that last week and got a mixed bag. Of the students who were being required to work on Thanksgiving Day, two thirds of them were indignant. The other third wanted the money and were happy to get it.
The more I think about this, though, the more complicated it gets.
There is, for instance, the fact that some people are required to work on Thanksgiving (and other holidays) because the world needs to keep turning.
There are the obvious–nurses, doctors, fire and police personnel, prison personnel, and all of that–but people at places like communications companies and cable stations and newspapers. We expect out phones to be working on holidays and our local news to be broadcasting news and weather and our cable stations to have football games running all through the day.
My point here, I think, is that in spite of all the sturm and drang about this horrible new thing of having to work on the holidays–sturm and drang for both left and right–it has always been the case that a large number of people worked on the holidays, whatever the holidays are.
And that not all these people were essential safety and emergency personnel.
And that none of us really wants them to stop. We want football games on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day and all the rest of it.
Maybe we shouldn’t. But we do.
But the other thing that struck me–and didn’t come up in the comments–has to do with what happens to people who are not celebrating the holiday for one reason or the other.
This might be because they have some principled reason for not celebrating–a lot of atheists/humanists make a point of not celebrating Christmas–or it may be because they are far from home or without family and have no one to celebrate with.
When the subject has been Christmas instead of Thanksgiving, I have had complaints from atheist and Humanist friends about the fact that “everything” is closed and that they are forced into observing the holiday whether they want to or not.
As a matter of fact, of course, “everything” is not closed. A Humanist group here in Connecticut meets every Christmas day to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant. My guess is that the Chinese people running the restaurant don’t celebrate Christmas either.
Then there are the people who are celebrating the holiday, but end up with a less than life threatening but still significant emergency.
There was, for instance, the Thanksgiving–13 months after Bill died–when I accidentally put the turkey down the garbage disposal.
Not the whole turkey, just one leg. Because I was trying to wash it.
You don’t want to ask.
Our little local chain IGA grocery opens on Thanksgiving from 7 to noon, and thank God, or we would have had nothing to eat but vegetables and pumpkin pie.
It seems to me, in other words, that there are lots of reasons why stores might want to stay open on holidays and why people might want to patronize them and why workers might want to work in them.
At the same time, I am still a little uncomfortable with the whole thing, and more uncomfortable with “you have to work on THANKSGIVING whether you want to or not” than I would be with Christmas.
I think I responded to reports of workers in stores being forced to work on Thanksgiving with the not-completely-conscious assumption that it was just one more example of the de-historicization (is that a word?) of everything.
That what I was seeing was just more evidence that we no long understand anything about who we are, and where we came from, and what got us here–that we don’t understand, any more, why Thanksgiving is important.
I think the de-historicization is real enough, but I also think it was odd that I didn’t start worrying about the working on American holidays thing until we got to Thanksgiving store openings.
Thanksgiving is important, but on the subject of national identity, the 4th of July is far more important, and almost everybody is open for that.
I still wish I could think of something we could do that would mark out national-identity holidays in particular (and possibly all national holidays) as exceptions to the general rule of everything.
The closest I could come to that was the sort of old-time labor law that required that workers who were forced to take such duty should be paid extra for the inconvience.
A friend of mine from college, who was from an observant Jewish family and positively wanted to work on Christmas day–used to make triple time and a half as a fill-in operator for the old AT&T monopoly.
In the meantime, I find myself enormously grateful that nothing in the work I do requires me to go out into the world on Thanksgiving week-end.
I went out on Black Friday once before I knew what it was, and I’ll never do it again.
Before you could talk me into that again, I’d have to be looking for life-saving medicines for a child. I’m not sure I’d do it for life saving medicines for myself.
Happy Thanksgiving week end.
Stay out of the stores if you can. It’s crazy out there.
The first one is just behind this.
is truly wonderful, except that it’s so awful.
So, it’s Thanksgiving here in the States, and because it is Thanksgiving, I am having one of those scattershot days. I got the chestnuts roasted and chopped last night, so I don’t have to do that, but in a few minutes I’m going to have to go chop other things, stuff a turkey worry about stuff to go with the turkey, and consider pumpkin pie.
My mother made the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had, but her recipe has been lost for years not, and I do not bake.
Cook, yes. I love to cook. But baking reminds me of chemistry, and I didn’t like that the first time around.
Back in 1968.
I was reminded, yesterday, of how long it’s been since I took a formal course in mathematics of any kind–that was 1971.
But here’s the thing. There is one of those round robin things going on on FB at the moment, and out own Mike Fisher has invited me in.
The exercise goes like this: without thinking about it, list the ten books that have really stayed with you over the years.
There’s a lot of other stuff involved in it, tagging people and things that don’t really matter here, but I’m going to reproduce the list I came up with this morning on the spur of the moment, and then I’m going to comment a bit on the entire exercise.
The list goes as follows:
1) Carolyn Keene. The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.
2) W. Somerset Maugham. The Razor’s Edge.
3) Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca.
4) Ernest Hemingway. A Moveable Feast.
5) Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged.
6) Alice Hoffman. Seventh Heaven.
7) Betty Friedan. The Feminist Mystique.
8) Jose Saramago. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.
9) Henry James. The Portrait of a Lady.
10) Shari Benstock. Women of the Left Bank.
Now, a couple of things about this list that might be significant.
The first is that, with two exceptions, everything on it is fiction.
And both the exceptions are feminist tracts.
I read very little fiction these days, and haven’t now for a very long time. You can see that from the reading lists posted every month here.
What these things seem to be, largely, are books that gave me the sense of a different world out there somewhere that I could escape to when I finally got the time.
We have that fight here all the time, so let me try to be more explicit. What I was looking for then was mostly a “sense ofl life,” as some people call it–a way people were, in themselves and with each other, that was very different from the way the people were around me.
This sense that there was another world and another way of living was very important to me. It’s probably the only way I got through childhood and adolescence without killing myself or someone else.
At the end of the long tunnel that was my growing up, many of these books promised me another life in another place, another life in a place where the things people thought were good and important were the things I thought were good or important.
I was not particularly political at the time. It wasn’t politics that was at issue.
Both Betty Friedan and Ayn Rand are on this list for the same reason: I read both of them for the first time in the same year, and both of them told me that I was right to hold out against conforming to what everybody else wanted me to conform to, that intelligence and ambition and competitiveness and intellectualism were good things (even in a woman!) that I was right to pursue.
And I still respond to that message, even now, when I sometimes feel I am drowing in a double-barrelled explosion of willful stupidity.
And no, you don’t get to tell me that that’s all the fault of religious people or the right wingers or whatever. I can give you examples on every single side.
But the third thing is maybe more important in terms of making the list–as soon as I’d written down these ten things, I realized that there was an 11th, Alix Kates Shulman’s Burning Questions which should have been on it, too.
And maybe, when I get over to FB, I’ll add it. Because it came into my head almost as soon as the Benstock did, and there wasn’t much in the way of being able to choose between them.
I was looking around on the Internet this morning before class, and I found this
That’s a post at The Nation’s online site about the woman who wrote the Poverty Matters article discussed in the last post.
It’s an interesting article–and, once more, it’s about somebody who has almost nothing at all of that “even trying is completely hopeless” attitude.
One of the things I think would be helpful in these discussions would be making a distinction between “poor” and “not making much if any money at the moment.” The two things are not the same.
But I’ll insist on my original point. The attitudes and thought and behavior patterns ascribed to “the poor” in the original article are an insult to the poor.
And I know a fair number of poor people who would be willing to tell you that.
I got an e mail this week from somebody alarmed that I hadn’t posted in a fortnight. I’ve been trying to post things on and off since then, just to show that I’m alive.
But I also just handed in the book for next year–the one I was complaining about having so much trouble with–and it’s getting to the end of the term, and it’s Thanksgiving with Christmas coming after, and I’ve been a little messed up.
I thought about posting this morning, and then I didn’t, and then I was going to let it go, and then this link showed up not once, but several times, on my FB news feed:
It’s an interesting article, for several reasons.
The first is the fact that it seems to me that both the woman who wrote it and the people who posted it assume that this frame of mind is something nobody else has considered before.
What it is, instead, is EXACTLY what most people who are not poor think poor people are like, and EXACTLY the way not poor people think poor people think.
It is, in fact, an almost breathtakingly stereotypical vision of the inner lives of “the poor.”
The students I teach are almost all squarely in the ranks of “the poor,” some of them from poverty so desperate it’s barely believable.
And yet most of them also represent the negation of just this kind of thinking. They may live around and in the sort of determinist negation that this article portrays, but at the same time they are at war with it every day.
And some few of them–not many, but some–get themselves out and on their way.
This is not to deny that there are some people for whom this sort of thinking represents an acceptance of reality–people who are mentally or physically disabled, or very old or very sick or both.
And that thing about giving in to the impulse to do something nice for yourself that you can’t really afford is probably damn near universal.
Doing that sometimes–especially if you’re in a situation of long term stress or deprivation–is a human necessity.
But there is a difference between doing that every once in a while (when we had no money and Bill was dying and the medical bills were beginning to look like the national debt, I used to go buy $5 iced coffee every couple of weeks just to let off steam), and doing that consistently and in areas where the downside is enormous.
Yes, it’s really awful to live through a period when you feel unloved and worthless, and where there doesn’t seem to be any way out of the tunnel, but most people don’t just lie down and play dead.
I know they don’t. I see them walk into my classroom every single day. They’re most handicapped if most of the people around them think like this, and the percentages of those from that kind of environment who make it out are smallest–but some of them do make it out. I’m going to the police academy graduation of one of them at the end of the term.
The second interesting thing about this to me is that the people who posted it seem to expect that it will generate sympathy, or make people who are not sympathetic feel some kind of shame.
It is, as I’ve said, absolutely stereotypical. This is what I’m talking about when I talk about passivity.
And for anybody who doesn’t start out looking for a way to continue to believe that “the poor” are helpless and can’t do anything for themselves, what this will do is make them absolutely furious.
And the fury will not necessarily be the result of rich, arrogant douchbaggery.
Okay, I love that word. I picked it up from a silly movie, but it’s a lot of fun.
Like I said, the fury will not necessarily be the result of heartless, self absorbed assholes chantering on about things they know nothing about.
The fury will come longest and hardest from those people who have been in the same situation and gotten themselves out. If you want to hear people bad mouth “the poor,” come listen to those of my students who were born and brought up in it. They are harder on “the poor” than any fat cat Republican from Yale could be if they worked on it 24/7 for a decade.
But there’s something else going on here–no person who actually thought like this would ever end up in one of my classrooms, because just to get into such a classroom requires more long range thought, and determination, and rejection of economic determinism than this article exhibits.
My students have aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and cousins who think like this, but they don’t.
But if such a person with this mental framework did end up in my classroom, the simple fact of the matter would be that there would be no way to help him. Or her.
This is not what poverty looks like. This is what failure looks like.
This particular habit of thought is characteristic not of “the poor” but of all people everywhere who set themselves up to fail. They exist in all strata of society.
If they’re lucky, they have families who help them out and keep them from ending up on the street. If they’re not, they could have started out with good schools and well off parents and they’ll still end up on the street.
If poor people were really like this–as a class, as a complete entity–then the people who say we should not help them would have a point.
But as far as I can see, they’re not like this, not most of them.
And even this writer isn’t like this, because no matter what else she’s done, she’s also written the article and she’s also started the blog.
Go here. It’s the theory I usually see explaining Islamism and Islamic terrorism. But this is about us.