I feel like a cell in a body. A tiny little cell that’s part of something far bigger and more complex than myself.
It’s a body that has cancer. Not a terrible cancer. Something curable with appropriate treatment. The treatment wouldn’t be pleasant, but it wouldn’t be crippling. But it has to happen, because without it, the body really would die.
But the body has somehow inexplicably rejected conventional treatment, and decided to go with alternative medicine. Woo. Nonsense. Fantasy-based care.
“That chemo is poison!”
“The drug companies are all in cahoots, trying to keep me sick so they can make more money off me.”
“My doctor has orange hair and small fingers, and although he’s never been to medical school, he says he can make my body great again. So what do I have to lose?”
I am trembling in fear, because as a tiny isolated cell in this sick…
Today the issue of seven deaths will peak and it’s still hard to know what to say in order to encompass the whole thing because it is in an important way the story of America.
The very idea of race was invented in America as early as the 17th Century, and its story in the forced migration of Africans as slaves, the bloodiest war which that crime finally brought on, the persistent failure to solve the issue of white supremacy from then on, the sort of peak of success when today’s grandparents were young, the slow disregard of laws from those gains, and now a new peak of white backlash perhaps coming to a head with a serious minority of Americans speaking openly of erasing all the gains of black people as a group two generations ago – two generations ago – by “taking my America back” or “making America great again.”
The context of a pivotal presidential and Congressional election is inescapable, at the same time, with two candidates chosen in controversy and rejected by many of the party of each. And a black President, just finishing his term successfully in every way except getting his legislation passed into law!
Presidents from both parties will speak today about this, and the one who is the ex, it seems obvious, is of a political family that is not for their “own” candidate – as in, of the party they might have expected to “own.” The current President can’t speak for his own race without being criticized again for causing the divisions of America, he will speak again in full awareness of that and once again, one more time and maybe not even the last, will visit bereaved Americans whose loved ones were killed by a gun no one in this country should own, but some of which were carried openly and legally in the streets of the city as a form of protest, even confusing the police in the immediate crisis of a sniper picking them off from an unknown perch.
There are questions about funding, and don’t talk about the mental health issue of this without asking why we don’t fund mental health programs. We dump the problems on the Army to hand over to the police! Yes, we do – a young black man of intelligent parents who totally fails at school is sent to the Army, but “it just didn’t live up to his expectations” – the problem of him to be solved finally by the police whose comrades he killed. When and who was to provide the psychiatric care he probably needed in his teens?
Tonight we’ll also see a smart and aggressive questioner spend a couple of hours probing (while publicizing) the Speaker of the House, who is talking about what good he wants to accomplish, but has supported an ongoing policy of obstruction of all good and an absolute opposition of fair taxation as a means of solving any of these problems, yet who is considered the “intellectual” of his party – in some way their leader not just in Congress but in “deep thinking” and in being budget “expert” or as we say today, “wonk.”
Oh, I almost forgot – this same day Bernie Sanders will finally endorse Hillary Clinton perhaps with some reservations. While maybe the other candidate will continue to seek votes by pretending to be Richard Nixon – yes, believe it or not – because “law and order” and a secret plan for ending war he then didn’t end, until his/our generals refused to keep fighting, got the guy elected in a process ending with resignation in shame, but that’s who this proven con-artist has chosen to channel this week.
Anything could happen in terms of this complex of issues today! All of it will greatly effect the election. We perhaps have never seen such an important day in advance of an election when neither candidate is going to address anything except by comments after the fact. There will be elements of political debate on these issues in today’s statements, yet I think some real and sincere efforts to speak truth from both the ex-president and the soon to be ex.
Very unusual day in a very unusual time. In some ways similar to the times of two generations ago and in some not.
Here’s a review I like so much that I saved it in a file on my hard drive – back in 2004. I never got to read the book, but I want to post this for other readers. I love Kerouac’s writing and have read most of his works and several books about him and his writing. I agree with the author that he is among the Greats of the Canon of American writing which my New Critic professors in college kept among themselves and published, but which did not include Kerouac since he hadn’t yet been dead for 25 years – that was one of their standards. I didn’t discover Kerouac until this century, and I immediately became a fan. At first I thought of him as a sort of literary father, since he was of that age, and then I realized that he never got beyond the age which would have almost made him a literary son – I mourned his loss more thinking that, and what he could have done if his addiction hadn’t killed him young.
I also learned from the same file that this review was in that the New Critics were early proponents of the concept of making lists. I supposed today they would have earned some extra money from publishing on BuzzFeed, except back in their time a Professor already made pretty good money just being what he (and the occasional but rare she) actually was. So here’s this:
BOOK REVIEW DESK
‘The Rush of What Is Said’
By WALTER KIRN
Published: October 10, 2004, Sunday
The Journals of Jack Kerouac, 1947-1954.
Edited by Douglas Brinkley.
387 pp. Viking. $25.95.
It’s still hard to separate Jack Kerouac the novelist from Jack Kerouac the brand. Beginning with the publication of ”On The Road” in 1957, when Kerouac became a national celebrity and appeared on TV talk shows, and especially since his death in 1969, when he became a minor industry and a leading author’s-photo postcard, his name has been used to sell so many attitudes and promote so many fashions that the artist behind the image has been obscured. For certain left-wing baby boomers, Kerouac is a political figure first — the great Eisenhower-era proto-hippie. For New Agers, he’s a spiritual pioneer who helped make America safe for Eastern religion. For college kids with powerful car stereos, he’s the original road-trip party hound. Even people who may have never read him want a piece of Kerouac,it seems (including the tabloid murder suspect Scott Peterson, who referred to him as ”Jack Cadillac” in a phone conversation recorded by the police.) Kerouac is no longer just an artist. He’s a lifestyle god.
But was Kerouac a great American writer, not just a great American personality? Strangely enough, given all the attention paid to him, this is still an open question, partly because of the pop idolatry and partly because his publishers have kept him in the literary equivalent of a permanent vegetative state by persistently digging up his bottom-drawer jottings and repackaging them as books (”Atop an Underwood,” ”Door Wide Open,” ”Book of Haikus,” etc.). Until a writer is good and dead and his works can be lined up on a shelf, it’s tough to view him with any critical distance. It’s even tougher in Kerouac’s case because of the way he mythologized himself as a blazing force of nature who wrote without any internal critical distance.+
The publication of ”Windblown World,” a collection of Kerouac’s early journals edited by Douglas Brinkley (a sober, well-known political historian who seems an unlikely candidate for the job), may at first strike readers as an attempt to squeeze yet more toothpaste out of Kerouac’s flattened tube. Fortunately, the book is better than that. For one thing, unlike other posthumous volumes that have worn Kerouac’s name, it’s readable. By doing a little tinkering and splicing, which he describes in his helpful introduction, Brinkley has made the journals flow. Most important, though, the entries tell a story of self-invention, perseverance and breakthrough that should help rescue Kerouac from the cultists and secure his admission to the mainstream hall of fame, where he deserves to rest.
The book opens with the as-yet-unpublished novelist, 25, broke and still grieving for his dead father, sitting up late in his mother’s kitchen in Queens pondering the ”morality” of Tolstoy, fantasizing about success and pushing himself to meet daily word-count quotas in the manner of someone digging a prose canal: ”2,500-words today in a few hours. This may be it — freedom. And mastery! — so long denied me in my long mournful years of work, blind powerful work.” It’s an achingly lonely, pathetic scene, made more so by Kerouac’s proud, sophomoric attachment to the ideals of loneliness and pathos — and made positively tragic by our knowledge that his grand ambitions will be fulfilled but that they won’t make him happy. They’ll make him miserable. Living back with his mother as though nothing had ever happened, he’ll die 22 years later at 47.
Toiling away at ”The Town and the City,” a panoramic autobiographical novel in the florid tradition of Thomas Wolfe, Kerouac comes off as impossibly young and serious, a comically exaggerated version of the stereotypical literary novitiate. All he needs is a hair shirt and a desktop skull. Without a trace of the self-irony endemic amongtoday’s apprentice writers, he obsesses on the fallen state of society and sings of his own misunderstood nobility. ”There’s something really wrong about being worldly,” he observes, writing with the stilted virginal earnestness of a Miss America contestant. Taking on a more Shakespearean tone, he blasts conventional middle-class types for wasting their lives in ”blind acquisitive days.” When he senses that he’s succumbing to ”ennui,” a mood that the Roman Catholic-raised Kerouac (and dedicated high school football player) seems to identify with sloth, he yanks himself up by his own spiritual bootstraps: ”Tonight I’m going to write greatly and love greatly and strangle this folly.I’m catching these damnable changes of purpose in the flesh, red-handed, and throwing them to the winds, just like that.”
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry or groan at such earnest, operatic oaths. They’re quixotic in the truest sense, born of profound emotional isolation. For while Kerouac was a famous nocturnal socializer, knocking around the jazzy New York streets with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs (and even, believe it or not, attending the Ballet Russe with a group that included Gore Vidal) it often appears that he had no one to talk to except for the voices between his own two ears: ”It is suddenly occurring to me that a great new change is about to take place in mankind and in the world. Don’t ask me how I know this. And it’s going to be very simple and true, and men will have taken another great step forward.” In the face of such portentous oracular whispers, it’s a wonder that Kerouac kept his mental balance.
WORK was his fortress. Between the bursts of mysticism, the journals document Kerouac’s dogged regimen of marathon all-night writing sessions with regular breaks for marathon all-night reading sessions and marathon all-night bull sessions with Ginsberg. The man was his own intellectual personal trainer, standing over himself with a shrill whistle as he ground out the paragraphs, pored through Dostoyevsky, analyzed ”Hamlet” line by line and typed up his novel’s 1,100 page manuscript. To quantify his progress in this last task, Kerouac devised a numerical ”batting average” that he recalculated as he went. ”Did 17 pages, batting .329 — and I swear to God that I’ll never be finished with this thing.” To spur himself on, he imagines buying a ranch where he’ll settle down with friends and family and sweat away his neuroses in the hot sun. From the way he envisions this western mini-utopia — as a vast Tolstoyan property filled with the laughter of his many children and emotionally anchored by the devoted wife that he has yet to meet but knows he will — it’s plain to the reader, if not to Kerouac, that he dare not try to make it real because the place will only disappoint him. Most everything, we sense, ultimately will disappoint him. Until then, though, everything will fascinate him.
The journal entries from 1949 and 1950, when Kerouac’s first novel was finally published to pleasing reviews and meager sales, allude to these disappointments in a voice that’s calmer, sparer and more truly lyrical than his style of a couple of years before. Despite the reputation for self-indulgence that continues to cling to him, Kerouac was a reflective, vigilant artist who constantly, and consciously, strove to overcome his limitations — the chief one being, as he saw it, his own self-critical temperament. ”I’m going to discover a way,” he wrote, casting forward to ”On the Road” while he was completing ”The Town and the City,” ”of preserving the big rushing tremendousness in me and in all poets.” One could call the effect he was after ”willed spontaneity.” Verbal diarrhea it was not.
The journals show him evolving toward his ideal almost by the month. Released from his monastic labors in his mother’s kitchen, the ascetic, introverted Kerouac took an abrasive dust bath in the real world and emerged a broader, stronger artist, who combined a mind for the transcendental with a feeling for the particular. ”But at the fireworks at Denver U. Stadium great crowds had been waiting since twilight, sleepy children and all; yet no sooner did the shots begin in the sky than these unhappy people trailed home before the show ended, as though they were too unhappy to see what they had waited for.” This piercing sketch and others like it — of a sandlot neighborhood baseball game, of a day spent riding horses in Colorado — are the work of a soul that has settled into a body after floating free in the cosmos for too long.
Though Kerouac was a sort of knee-jerk Platonist who could cast almost every phenomenon he came across in sweeping, eternal terms (”no one has consciously realized the tremendous significance of American weekends, from proud sartorial Saturday night with its millions of premonitions of triumph and happiness, to dark Sunday night with its sweet and terrified loneliness”), he had an equally powerful attraction to material, ground-level, geographical fact. Among 20th-century American writers, his flair for divining the spirits of actual places, of living, peopled locales, is rivaled only by Faulkner’s, with the difference that Kerouac rambled far and wide and the Mississippian stayed home.
Here is Kerouac conjuring the differences between Minnesota’s so-called Twin Cities, whose separate essences he was able to capture on the basis of a brief bus trip: ”St. Paul is smaller and older and more rickety than Minneapolis, but there is a depressing Pittsburgh-like sootiness about it . . . even in joyous snowy winter. Minneapolis is a sprawling dark city shooting off white communities across the monotonous flats. The only soulful beauty here is rendered by the Mississippi and also by a hopeless hint of Mille Lacs and the Rainy River country to the North.” Kerouac was an indefatigable mapmaker, assembling city by city, state by state and river by river (the occult vitality of rivers was one of his abiding preoccupations) a spiritual atlas of postwar America.
THE traditional rap against Kerouac — that he was a sort of half-baked dopehead primitivist who prized sensation over sense — crumbles on a reading of his journals. For every entry concerning a wild night out with his colorful cohort of insomniac poets, opiated philosophers and autodidact ex-cons, there’s a meditation on Mark Twain or a list of favorite Renaissance poets. There’s no way around it: for all his hobo posing, Kerouac began as a New Englandhighbrow. (The Ballet Russe, remember — with Vidal!) He even brooded on international politics, concluding, like an early neocon, that Soviet Communism’s hostility to the masters of the Russian novel betrayed a fatal inner fragility. ”Don’t talk to me about the Soviet state . . . those gloomballs are dead.”
The cultural interest groups that try to claim Kerouac for their own ignore the private nature of his journey, as well as his fundamental inability to tolerate any orthodoxy for long, including that of high bohemianism. What he wanted most, the journals reveal, was to dig down into the dark American earth as his heroes Twain and Whitman had and turn up his own rich shovel-ful of truth. His enemy in this labor, he believed, was the cowardice of aesthetic perfectionism. He trusted, finally, in his own energy, but it was an energy produced from the finest sources: great books, adventurous friends, high moral purpose and wide experience. ”It’s not the words that count,” he wrote, ”but the rush of what is said.” Kerouac, who became famous for writing swiftly, first had to slowly and carefully build momentum. First came the season of rain, and then the river.
This my first angry rant on my blog. It is my answer to Peter, a gun enthusiast who posted several long comments on a friend’s Facebook page and he inspired me to write this:
I’m really not going to read all the things you say because I read enough to know you want all Americans to carry guns. In spite of any stats saying that crimes are stopped by “good guys” with guns I would still hate this idea because idiot civilians carrying guns would kill someone by mistake a certain percentage of the time.
Have you never read anything by highly skilled gun-using professionals, like Mark Kelly, who said in the 30 times he’s come under fire in the military there are fully trained soldiers with experience who don’t immediately react well? Damn you people who want the thrill of carrying a gun around hoping to use it on someone.
I was raised by a cop and he was an ultra-conservative and I’m telling you if he were alive he’d be TOTALLY against more civilians with guns, and his experience includes being shot at in the Newark riots by citizens with guns and feeling the wind of bullets passing by his face.
Bottom line: I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE AROUND PEOPLE WHO HAVE GUNS. Can I make that any clearer? I have used a gun against a bad guy and I did it very well. I DO NOT TRUST YOU TO DO THE SAME. OK?
We should repeal the 2nd Amendment which is the source of this confusion and idiocy – it is antiquated. We should pass very restrictive gun laws.
I spent a lot of time working with Mafia union leaders and their bodyguards who were all armed – that didn’t bother me at all. I’d seen them in action and they knew what they were doing. I DO NOT WANT the average idiot near me when he has a gun.
Funeral after funeral we watch
but none will top the one in
Charleston when the President
sang “Amazing Grace.” There are
no more words of shock or grief.
When will the national well of
tears run dry? 204 mass shootings
in the USA in 204 days? We hear
that stat and we question: but
did someone die in every one? Why
were they not all on TV? Is this
real? Or the propaganda of paranoia?
How can this go on week after week?
We didn’t know!
And Bobby Jindal, or some other
governor, some other politician
jumps in front of the camera
barely able to conceal a smile
and says in righteous rage: “This
is not the time for politics! We
need time for this city to grieve!”
Well, no Bobby, our grieving is done.
We are past grief. We, the nation,
are in some other place – is it
anger? We need someone to shout
you down, Bobby. Someone needs to
take control of this, this what?
This lifestyle of grief?
Listen – it is not going to stop. We
are too full of guns, yes, and crazy hate –
Though we want to puke, frankly
when we hear the words, “Both
sides need to…”
There is a national malaise – there
is no other word. Go pick one.
The economic indicators go up, the
people’s confidence goes down.
The Mourner-in-Chief sighs.
He knows if we think it’s fine to
murder six-year-old children and not
put a limit on our treasured guns –
what? Are we past saving? Remember
the last time of national malaise,
Jimmy Carter was President and a
former actor was scoffed – Reagan
could never be President, they said,
Gerald Ford said. The nation was
sad and fed up. And now we have
Please do not read my story of one white man’s experience with the police living in the suburbs almost all of his life without also reading the story linked above about D’Angelo and Bobby Seale first. My story is just honest as I can be but very short of any facts backing it up – it’s an extended anecdote. I’m not going to comment on the NYT story here, but just post my own story as a counterpoint which might show you something by comparison and contrast.
I originally wrote this in response to the article linked below, which puts forth a history of policing starting with the need for protection of a “ruling class” both in the North, where new immigrants were a threat to “order” and the South to repress the Negro. This history makes sense to me. So could I ask that you read this too?
Sorry if I’m making you work to get to read my simple story! 🙂 First, my background:
My father was a cop from the early fifties till about 1970. He worked for a very corrupt force – all promotions required a bribe, and I never learned the extent of other corruption, but if that existed, I’m sure more did. They did have one black cop, their token. He and my Dad were friendly because they were, to my knowledge, the only two out of 70 who refused to pay for promotions and never got any.
It was a Park Police force – Essex County NJ, and my Dad patrolled the county parks of Newark and East Orange. They were all called in during the Newark riots in 1967, in an unusual use of their department.
My father was stubborn, hard to discipline, probably learning-disabled and when motivated, he could be scary at 6’9 and 300 pounds. He refused his sergeant’s direct order to stay under cover and went onto the street at least several times to recover wounded people. He told me afterwards that he could actually feel the wind of bullets passing by his head – there were no helmets back in the day. I didn’t learn the circumstances of his being exposed that way until his sergeant told me at his funeral.
He could not understand (literally, unable to) how the same black people (to his simple mind) whom he used to hang out with on street corners and play with on the football and basketball teams – would actually shoot at him. In his sometimes simple mind, they were the same people twenty years later. He was crushed by this and wanted out of the department. He stopped arresting people unless it was something very serious or dangerous and was very lucky to be injured badly enough on a pursuit so that he could retire on disability.
He was a bigot but could be friendly with “the good ones” among “the colored.” I often asked him about the strange coincidence that the only black people he ever met were of “the good ones” and he was literally unable to understand this question, but with his racist friends he would laugh along at their jokes and be racist. He actually thought Archie Bunker was a real person – not kidding here, he refused to believe Carroll O’Connor was a Liberal.
I grew up in that 99.99% white suburb Chris Christie grew up in – my old gym was on television for his announcement. I didn’t know that realtors had been keeping black people out, though they probably had – how else could Livingston remained so white. It was also every bit the most wonderful place to be raised that a white person could possibly imagine – very much the paradise Governor Christie describes. We had wonderful teachers – a really amazing group, many of whom were very smart Liberals. Having one black family in a town growing to 40,000 people ten miles from Newark just seemed to be “the way it was.” I assumed that for one reason or another they just didn’t want to live there.
I have friends who joke around now about their high school escapades with the Livingston police, but in general the police were very nice, trustworthy people, not in any way like an army of oppression – there was no need for that there! My Dad told me if I ever had any problem whatsoever in my wanderings around town to find a policeman. That was our family’s version of “the conversation.”
I know now that some of the cops were friends of the Mafia Don Richie “The Boot” Boiardo, who controlled most of NJ and Staten Island and part of New York, and who lived very quietly in a mansion on the biggest hill in my town. Richie was actually the model for the main character in The Sopranos – Tony Soprano.
I was a high school politician (like Christie) and was friendly with Richie’s grandson and the whole “gang” of what we called “hoods” who were mostly Italian, dressed a certain way following Frank Sinatra’s rat pack styles, and my friendship with them won me elections, since the other candidates ignored them. However, I knew little about that subculture. I now know that some of the “hoods” were Mafia in training, but other than rebellious acts in school and some drunken tussles with the police now and then, they were fairly quiet.
Anyway, my point is that the mid-20th Century was a time, I think, when if you were white and living in de facto segregation (and not even knowing it) it is very likely that you had a good, fair, professional police force that had high standards. I think this period of good policing, for many Americans, went on for decades.
We were shocked at things like the police actions against the demonstrators in Chicago at the Democratic Convention – that didn’t fit our concept or our experience. The fact that Mayor Daley had a sort of “private” goon squad didn’t fit how we knew the police in the suburbs.
By the time I had moved to Apex NC in 1988 there was a change going on. These “good” suburban police forces (racially fully integrated) were developing an attitude that they were under attack and their own safety had become the main priority. They became very retaliatory. I did something to piss one of them off once and started being followed around town. When I was outraged and took a questionable traffic violation to court, the judge, who was black, would not let me speak. I was threatened all the way out by a white lieutenant – he kept yelling at me even outside, saying they knew who I was and would “get me.” My son and friends had the experience of being followed too, though they were “good” kids who had maybe once done something that looked suspicious so maybe a cop thought they were into drugs or something, which they were not.
It hit a point in the “good” town of Apex where a cop just hid behind his patrol car door, in view of witnesses, while a bad guy (who for the record was white) kidnapped a woman at a gas station (a domestic violence “beef”), drove off unobstructed and wound up fatally shooting her three miles down the road. People began to talk about the general attitude of our police.
There was a major outcry by the citizens, eventually leading to the realization that the police had become something that they should not be, and the chief was purged and maybe the problem was solved. I had moved to Raleigh before I got to know the ending of the story.
My point here is that there has been a major change in attitude by police at the end of last century, and in places where that hasn’t changed, like Baltimore or Ferguson, atrocities happen. In those inner cities the police are indeed like an occupying force.
I think if the federal investigation started by the Department of Justice in response to Ferguson were to expand to thousands of suburban and also urban police departments a very corrupt subculture, among officers of every race, creed, and color, would be found.
I’m not sure that this subculture of policing to “protect and serve the police” is a simple continuation of the history described in the article, though. I think there might, in many cities and towns, have been a sort of break from that: the root of the policing problem changed from something coming down from the top of society to something arising within the police culture itself, and finding support in city and town leaders, and then even participation by elected leaders in the corruption.
When we saw the attitude of the president of the smaller of the two police unions in New York – militant and racist – it was clear that he did not have the support of the management of the police force all the way up to the Mayor. And the suspected job action “slow down” on enforcement in NYC and now well known about in Baltimore is not directed by leaders at the top – it’s the opposite – it’s from the bottom up.
That’s just one personal view of it – just one extended anecdote, I suppose.
From the perspective of one white person living in the suburbs, my conclusion is that the police problem we see now is not a direct descendant of the creation of police to serve the ruling class, as the article above explains and D’Angelo and Bobby Seale seem to take for granted from their perspective.
I’m suggesting that the doubts white people have about the claims of police brutality by activist black people like the leaders of #BlackLivesMatter are due in great measure because we are coming at the question from an entirely different experience than our black fellow Americans.
Here I am, raised in an idyllic town where the most monstrous crime was being transacted from a mansion on the hill, with no evidence of it at all in the streets of my town – the crimes took place in Newark or Staten Island or New York City. Bodies may or may not have been incinerated on that hill, but in secret. Then I move to another idyllic town where we find the police department is out of control, the citizens rise up, and it is changed. Compare this to the view of Bobby Seale and D’Angelo and it’s clear, once again, that we’ve been living in two different Americas.
Postscript 2 July 14 2016: Please note the date this was written. Since then, a year later, this subject has become larger, after a year gone by with no significant change overall in the US. However it does appear that the city of Dallas, with a black police chief of unusual experience, talent, and determination, has gotten much closer to the ideal of the Obama commission’s recommendations. Perhaps some other cities have, too, but on the whole we have seen approximately zero action to change this situation except many more people speaking up and saying, “Enough.”
Postscript 1 August 16, 2015: I actually chose to live in “the county” (unincorporated land 4 miles south of the Town of Apex, actually served by the historically relatively black County Sheriff’s department, with its legendary Wake County Sheriff John Baker) but I thought I’d bought a house in Apex. Kids went to Apex schools and it was served by the Apex Post Office and had an Apex phone number. Apex has just been named as Time Magazine’s best town in the US, which doesn’t surprise me at all. http://time.com/money/3998655/best-places-to-live-2015-meet-apex/
For my first blog entry I am posting my comment on someone’s response to Sarah Lyall’s New York Times article about the young Bernie Sanders, saying that he’s bringing Beatnik back, and that inspired me to look more carefully at her review:
In actual fact, the young Sanders was post-Beatnik, to use an unflattering term for the highly respected literary movement, somewhat involving life-style, actually called The Beats. He was more of the Hippie Movement, which Beat originator Jack Kerouac rejected but his strongest co-founder and close friend Allen Ginsberg allied himself with.
Along with some friends and my younger sister’s friends, I founded an underground newspaper back then: some local news and many of the exact same kinds of articles Sanders and his friends were writing. What is strange in reading the NY Times article, which is mocking Sanders, et. al., is the degree to which much of what they were saying has come true! Even I didn’t think that so much of what he and we were publishing would be as prescient as it turns out to actually have been!
This writer even makes fun of the fact that “His current workplace, the United States Senate, is not exactly known for its thrill-a-minute dynamism.” But, seriously? I mean the Senate certainly has its problems but Bernie freakin’ Sanders went from what and where he was to the United States friggin’ SENATE – c’mon!
I am not one to lay off making fun of the “movement” I was somewhat allied with back in the day, and the oldsters who still only listen to the old hippie music, dress and wear their hair similarly to then, smoke the same dope, and cover the rear end of their old compact cars with “motivational” stickers rooted in that time – but I can since I was part of it. This is why I think I’m justified in complaining that Ms. Lyall, born in 1963, is being just a little bit too snarky.
Is there really anything to argue with about young Bernie’s opinion on the nature of work? I mean, have the masses of Americans really “progressed”? Is this statement from her article actually justified in fact?
The piece began with an apocalyptically alarmist account of the unbearable horror of having an office job in New York City, of being among “the mass of hot dazed humanity heading uptown for the 9-5,” sentenced to endless days of “moron work, monotonous work.”
“The years come and go,” Mr. Sanders wrote, in all apparent seriousness. “Suicide, nervous breakdown, cancer, sexual deadness, heart attack, alcoholism, senility at 50. Slow death, fast death. DEATH.
Well, OK, these are not the deepest thoughts I’ve ever heard, and maybe his CAPS key was sticking and he didn’t have enough money to fix it. And Viagra wasn’t invented yet, but who would have seen that coming? Then Lyall disparages the “freelance journalist” from Burlington yet again:
“If children of 5 are not taught to obey orders, sit still for 7 hours a day, respect their teacher, and raise their hands when they have to go to the bathroom, how will they learn (after 17 more years of education) to become the respectful clerks, technicians and soldiers who keep our society free, our economy strong, and such inspiring men as Richard Nixon and Deane Davis in political office,” Mr. Sanders wrote, referring to the president and the Vermont governor at the time.
Is Ms Lyall ignoring the fact that the way we train our children to become corporate cogs is now perhaps a more serious problem than it even was in Bernie’s youth? The fact is that the debate over Common Core, control over college curricula, the impossibility of paying college loans, and even the future existence of public schools indicates that educating our children is a much bigger issue now than it was then, both from the point of view of the Left and of the Right. Once again, Sanders appears to be the Seer of Vermont, rather than a feckless handyman who occasionally gets an article published.
Back in the ’70s Sanders also wrote favorably on the Cuban progress in healthcare while noting the existence of “distorted and inaccurate” reporting about our near neighbor in the Caribbean – fast forward to 2015 and he’s still right. I’ll just include one more long quote from the article and let you look at it and see how you think it holds up forty-something years later:
In “Reflections on a Dying Society,” he declared that the United States was virtually going to hell in a handcart. Its food was laden with chemicals; its environment was being ruined; the threat of nuclear annihilation or “death by poison gas” was increasing; people were suffering from malaise and “psychosomatic disease”; citizens were being coerced and duped by the government and the advertising industry; and the economy was based on “useless” goods “designed to break down or used for the slaughter of people.”
The extent that our economy depends on the sale of sophisticated weapons of war and the manufacture of firearms hasn’t grown smaller – it’s larger! If you don’t believe me, ask the NRA. I’m sure they’ve got figures they’d proudly show.
It seems to me that The Times should be paying more attention to someone who’s attracting thousands of supporters of all age groups and whose careful lists of current positions perfectly describe the progressive agenda. He may not end up as President of the United States of America, but he is surely having a major impact on the politics of this era. Though he still has “wild curly hair,” as she notes, his “brash Brooklyn accent” has been softened a lot by life in New England, and his writing way back then may include an embarrassing column on sex (though it concludes with some timeless wisdom) on the whole, what is most notable about the writings of young Bernie Sanders is actually how extraordinarily well his thoughts hold up today, rather than the reverse.
Postscript: I have to laugh, having just checked the bio of the writer, to find out she’s a preppie with a degree from my alma mater, Yale. She apparently works from the London office: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Lyall