Why I Read the New York Times

•9 April 2017 • 2 Comments

One of my mantras and often-deployed Twitter hashtag is #ForeverPrint; it hasn’t really caught on, but the vagaries of social media outreach optimization are thankfully beyond me and will remain so. All of which to say is that when I read, which is often, I want a tangible text in front of me. I’ve written before about the personal importance of the aesthetic effects of the printed word, but that’s not quite the point. 

It’s no secret — nor would I even try to make it one — that politically, I’m firmly on the left. I tend to vote for Democrats, because in our undemocratic political system, pragmatism trumps (no pun intended, this time) ideology. Of the viable candidates (of whom, yes, is a triple divorcée and quadruple bankruptee who boasts about sexual assault and has the intellectual curiosity of a week-old cantaloupe and now holds the nuclear codes… but I digress), I supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and still proudly display a “Bernie 2016” sticker on the bumper of my battered Civic.

So now that we’ve gotten the ideological parts aside, the reason I read the Times is both tangible and ideological — though not, perhaps, in the way you might be thinking. The tangible part is easy — I love waking up around 05:00, starting my coffee brewing while waiting for the distinctive “thwack” of today’s Times hitting the cracked and often snow-dusted pathway of the driveway — that distinctively American staple attesting to home-ownership and a place in what’s left of the middle class. Or maybe, when I can’t afford it (which is often; the Times ain’t cheap), I read it at the college library, sifting through the Thursday Styles section with as much interest as the box elder bug making her/his daily sojourn across the wide window opening out unto an artificial brook dammed artificially. 

One might think that I read the Times because editorially, we’re on the same page (bad pun *not* explicitly intended); the truth, however, is far from it. I tend to skip over the editorial page, reading only krugman and kristof with any regularity, and anyone else depending on the topic at hand. Part of that is simple fatigue — there’s a lot of text between A1 and A30, or wherever the editorial page is located. Which brings me to my point; I don’t read The New York Times because I need editorial comforting close to my ideology; I read it because it’s one of the few newspapers left in the world with the resources and curiosity to investigate and report on stories that few news sources can. The Times also has the resources of a stable of journalists dying to see their byline in the “Grey Lady,” and — whatever it pays them — it’s not enough. I read The New York Times not because I’m a democratic socialist (I am), but because I want to learn about the politics in, say, Sierra Leone, religious sects in Laos, the human effects of drug trafficking in Bolivia. I’d love to have the time to read The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Le Monde, The Financial Times, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, but the Times, cover to cover (which is how I read it usually) takes 2 1/2-3h by itself. I go to it primarily because of the breadth and depth of its coverage, the quality of its journalists and the concomitant quality of its reportage on a consistent basis. 


Why Opposing Gorsuch is Bad Strategy

•26 March 2017 • Leave a Comment

Look, I dislike Supreme Court Justice Nominee Hon. Neil Gorsuch as much as anyone who considers themselves on the political left. That is to say, I really dislike Judge Gorsuch and oppose his judicial philosophy on almost any issue, given his statements and previous rulings. I think his assumption of the late Justice Scalia’s seat on the bench would open the door to disastrous 5-4 rulings on everything from a woman’s right to her own body, the use of torture and so-called “black sites,” LGBT equality, separation of church and state, separation of powers, environmental regulation — basically, well, everything of contemporary judicial consequence, and that could cause far-reaching disasters for decades to come.

Of course, this should be Merrick Garland’s seat, but that discussion can go on ad infinitum and won’t change the fact that Republicans are dicks and we’re stuck with a Trump nominee. Now here’s why opposing Gorsuch is the wrong move right now; Trump — even as the one-term president (if even) he’s working really hard to be — likely will have at least, and I can’t emphasize that enough — at least — one more Supreme Court pick. Statistically speaking, the Justices whose seats Trump would get to fill are those of Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg [84y, 0m — and happy belated birthday! (15 March)] and Justice Anthony Kennedy (80y, 8m and the longest-tenured member of the Court at 29y, 1m); Justice Stephen Breyer turns 80 next year.

Gorsuch would be replacing Scalia, and all the pundits have issued the talking point that, in terms of jurisprudence, Gorsuch’s philosophy most resembles that of Justice Scalia. This is obvious, but you’d be trading one conservative for another; the Court’s ideological balance would revert to the status quo ante. Beyond that, Gorsuch, in his hearings, at least (which I watched far more of than I thought possible), and in the few opinions of his I’ve read seems to possess a very agile and knowledgeable legal mind. His prose doesn’t dazzle or bite like Scalia’s, but whose does? Of course, you’ll also hear that his colleagues and even opposing counsels hold him in very high esteem, etc. None of this diminishes from the wrongheadedness of his judicial philosophy, as if a 230-year old document written by white men could anticipate many of the issues on which the Court must rule, but that’s its own discussion, on which oil tankers’ worth of ink has already been spilled, and on which I’m not qualified to pronounce judgment.

To get to the point finally, Gorsuch is at least a competent and seemingly thoughtful jurist. Despite the major victory in derailing Republicans’ attempt to destroy America’s healthcare system (such as it is), Democrats would be wise to keep their powder dry on the Gorsuch nomination. Even with a filibuster, he’s highly likely to end up being confirmed; plus filibustering raises the prospect of Sen. McConnell using the so-called nuclear option, giving Trump essentially carte blanche for any future nominee. Let Gorsuch replace Scalia; save the fight for the next round, when it won’t be the Court’s most conservative Justice being replaced by another conservative, but potentially a “liberal” Justice being replaced by a conservative; and, given Trump’s propensity for nepotism, one who may be grossly unqualified unlike Gorsuch.

It really pains me to write this, but to take a pragmatic long-term view, there’s more to be lost than gained in an ultimately quixotic attempt to block Gorsuch.

(Caveat: I am neither a lawyer nor a law student; any legal analysis is predicated only on what I’ve read and researched independently)

The Public Good and Obamacare

•7 March 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s not just the sprawling, unwieldy and imperfect Affordable Care Act (which, despite its flaws, has managed to save countless lives — mine among them) that Trump, Ryan and Republicans in general oppose, and it’s not just the very concept of “public health” that they oppose. No, it’s the very notion of a public good in general to which they are so vehemently opposed. This in spite of overwhelming evidence that the provision of a good that impacts an individual directly can positively impact others who may not benefit directly. Vaccination is the exemple parfait here. Republicans cringe in affected horror any time the public good as such comes under consideration, braying about “socialism” (which very few understand) and inveighing against the “unworthy” others who might benefit; the reality, of course, is that when it comes to health, everyone benefits if everyone else is healthier. The same holds for clean air and water, combating the effects of climate change, research and development, expanded access to communication, affordable quality education; the list goes on. No man is an island, John Donne famously wrote, yet the concept of isolated Promethean man seems to be the wet dream of much of the contemporary right. 

The Books in My Bathroom

•28 February 2017 • Leave a Comment

There’s a basket, strategically placed for purposes of access, of books in my bathroom. This is invariably true, no matter where my bathroom happens to be. It has been true in several states and several countries on several continents. I do not carry a basket with me wherever I go, though I will always find one of appropriate size and capacity. I carry books with me wherever I go.

Let me tell you about the books in my bathroom. They fall into three categories, I have discovered, though this epiphany was just that. I did not pre-divide the books in my bathroom into their three categories. The combination of circumstance, convenience and chance made it so. Such happens with so many of the interlocking parts of the material world in which we envelop our daily selves. The first category is likely the most practical; this category includes collections of poems, short stories (I find that Lydia Davis and Donald Barthelme are excellent for this purpose, though I do hope that neither would think only for this purpose. Barthelme passed away almost thirty years ago. I do not think he will mind his work being among the books in my bathroom.) and the occasional novel or nonfiction work with frequent paragraph or page breaks. I do not think I need to further explicate the reasons underlying this first class of books in my bathroom.

William Faulkner and James Joyce do not appear among the authors whose works fill my basket.

The second category is a bit more slippery. They are the fish in my basket. The third category contains the loaves, but first, the second category: these include longer short stories, long-form periodical pieces and works which otherwise would fall into the third category, yet have the occasional chapter or section long enough not to qualify for the first category, but brief enough to fit within the allotted time. Drama also qualifies, though reading a scene or two without continuity in either direction could disturb unity. We must not upset Aristotle.

I suppose As I Lay Dying would qualify for admission into my basket. My mother is a fish, for instance. As I Lay Dying has not been among the books in my bathroom.

The third category consists of books I read in an armchair. Books that I require a desk or table to accommodate note-taking or tortured rereading of single sentences do not fit into my basket. I cannot read Benjamin or Badiou half-immersed in hot water. The books I read in an armchair (or, lacking an armchair, an economy seat in a commercial airliner, the waiting room of a doctor’s office, any journey on the Green ‘B’ line. I imagine the books I read in an armchair I would also read on a sea voyage, but I have not taken any sea voyages.) are the books I would not read when I have only a handful of minutes. They are the loaves, and I must sink my teeth into them. Water is important. As hot as I can stand it, but not hot enough that my glasses fog. I cannot see without my glasses.

William Faulkner and James Joyce are not among the authors I read while immersed in the third category of books in my bathroom, though they are among the authors I read while sitting in an armchair. Sometimes my cat jumps on the arms of my armchair and tries to sit on my lap, on top of the book I am reading. This is not an issue when reading the books in my bathroom. The conclusion is that owning a cat makes reading William Faulkner and James Joyce difficult. This is true.

The trope is not to judge a book by its cover. I do not judge a book by its cover, but if am a guest, I do judge the owner of a bathroom on the covers of the books in their bathroom. That judgment may not be fair, but what am I to do if there are no books in their bathroom? A suspension of judgment in that case would hardly be possible, as I am a person with books in his bathroom. My parents keep, among other books, a Bible in their basket. I do not understand this. I keep a candle in my basket. I have read by candlelight when it has been necessary or desirable.

Reading a book in the bathroom by candlelight makes the shadows dance and the spines gleam. Rilke is suitable to read by candlelight in the bathroom, Ashbery is not. Do not ask for further explanation. You will receive none.

I light my candle with an engraved lighter I keep in my pocket at all times. I do not smoke in the bathroom, as my basket contains no ashtray.

That is the prolegomenon to the story of the books in my bathroom.

Cat Life

•5 January 2017 • Leave a Comment

Ari decided 06:45 was time for a full-body rub-down and demanded (rather emphatically) that I provide it NOW. That’s what I’ve spent the last ten m doing. Is he satiated? Hell naw. This is cat life. Must be nice having humans on a leash. 

Thank You Barthelmé and Lydia Davis. And Nap Dreams. 

•31 December 2016 • Leave a Comment

I borrowed some fish. I adopted those fish, as my cell mate who is a person who keeps fish told me it would be good to admit to being a person who keeps fish at my reunion. I borrowed them from my cell mate, who is a person who keeps fish. They were colorful and made the cell a brighter place. But after the reunion they began to smell, and I had no cat.

Rebel Waltz

•15 November 2016 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t written about the debacle of a week ago yet, because I was laid up in hospital sans computer or phone; I can’t add much to what my dear friend M.S. wrote.

With the appointment of avowed “alt-right”ist (read: racist, anti-Semite, homophobe) Steve Bannon to the second most-powerful position in the country, Trump has made explicit his disregard for the concerns of many. For a leader who is now faced with governing a diverse, multilingual, multicultural, multiracial, multisexual etc. nation rather than a corporation or TV show he can control at whim, or maneuvering a primary process vastly dominated by white, English-speaking, Christian, straight voters, Bannon is a telling choice. It tells those of us who don’t meet the proper rubricate that he (Trump) isn’t even going to make an attempt to represent us and our interests.

As my friend M. very cogently pointed out, those of us in the female, nonwhite, nonstraight, non-Christian, LGBT, impoverished, urban populations have been through maelstroms of shit many times before — throughout history, not just in the United States, but globally, we’ve endured. Here, though, no matter what’s been thrown at us, we’ve found the resolve, the power, the leaders, the movements to carry on to tell the next generation that we’re not that much different than you, that we want what you want, that we cheer for the same football teams, read the same books, pray to our conception of the same god (many of us, at least =P), and love the same way. We found leaders along the way — you know their names: Betty Friedan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Holly Woodlawn, Harvey Milk and on and on.

We’ll find new leaders this dark hour, and we’ll survive. In the meantime, use our technology our forebears didn’t have to not just ensure our survival, but progress our equality. Join your local NAACP, CAIR, AJC, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, HRC/GLAAD, NOW, Green Party, etc. The progressive cause did not die on 09 Tuesday, November 2016.

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