Friday, September 11, 2009

From Guernica: Tom Engelhardt: Rebecca Solnit, 9/11's Living Monuments

On September 11, 2001, a fellow New Yorker and friend of mine, a public health historian who knew instantly what the dangers were, bicycled directly into the smoke, ash, and chemicals that hung over lower Manhattan searching for his daughter whose school was only blocks away from the collapsed buildings. She was, it turned out, "safe" in that same pall of dangerous smoke. She had been evacuated to the street with her class in time to see people leaping or falling to their deaths from the upper floors of one of the crippled towers. You probably couldn't live in New York City that day and not be connected, however indirectly, to someone who died. In my case, it was the father of a classmate of my son's, a photographer, who also advanced into the chaos near one of the towers, leaving behind an eerie, moving trail of photographs.

As for myself, I was on my bedroom floor that morning most undramatically exercising when my wife called to tell me that something was happening. By then, TV cameras were already focused on the first punctured tower and, remembering tales of the B-25 that had hit the Empire State Building in 1945, I assumed I was watching a horrifying accident. Another friend, a rare North American who remembered the first 9/11 -- that day in 1973 when Salvador Allende, the Chilean president, was overthrown and murdered in a U.S.-backed military coup -- thought it might be Chilean payback.

Any half-plausible idea was, for a while, possible. History hadn't set. The Bush administration, in disarray, hadn't yet hijacked the day or the country. September 11th, still being lived, hadn't been renamed "Patriot Day." There was, as yet, no Department of Homeland Security, no Patriot Act. No one had been rounded up. No wars had been launched.

As for New Yorkers, those of us not making our way out of -- or into -- the danger zone were on the phone checking on loved ones, listening to rumors, or outside in the streets, talking to each other, wondering while the sirens wailed. It was a memorably terrible moment, but not, in fact, a nightmare of fear; nor would New York ever, as far as I could tell, find itself in the grip of blind revenge as, it seemed, so much of the country would soon be. Not so long after 9/11, for instance, two New Yorkers I know -- one had been close indeed to the collapsing towers -- headed for Afghanistan, not armed to kill but to help.

I remember my own now-embarrassing first reaction to 9/11 (once I grasped what was actually happening). It was unexpectedly dense and unprophetic, given the American reaction to come. I thought, then, that perhaps the horror of those acts of destruction and mass murder in my own city would open Americans to the sort of pain so many others in the world had felt -- sometimes, in fact, at our own hands. It might, I thought, change our politics. It did, of course, do that, but in no way I imagined. And that was the strange, unexplained thing for me: it seemed as if living at "ground zero" during the assaults of 9/11 somehow made you the worst predictor of what our nation would feel and do.

For me, even today, an especially unnerving aspect of 9/11 was the way so many Americans donned "I [heart] New York" T-shirts and hats -- New York having, until then, been Sodom to Los Angeles's Gomorrah for much of the country -- and under the Bush administration's fear-filled ministrations, began beating the drums of war, while panicking over prospective terrorists launching improbable attacks on their local amusement parks and landmarks. It seemed craven to me then and still does today.

Eight disastrous years later, I suddenly understand that day so much better, thanks to Rebecca Solnit, whom 9/11 indirectly sent my way offering hope in dark times. Now, she's returned with her latest book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
, which capsizes our most basic sense of what disaster is all about, humanly speaking. As befits an author who has written a guidebook to getting lost, she is bold beyond belief and her originality matches that boldness. And here's the thing: if you take a journey into disaster with her (9/11 being but one of the many disasters she explores in the book), you won't get lost. You'll find yourself. You'll find ourselves, our better selves, even in catastrophe.

Think of Paradise as the perfect companion volume to Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Klein explained how governments try to take advantage of disasters to optimize their power and wealth (and that of their cronies); Solnit explains what ordinary people in disasters regularly do for themselves. They don't, as we have been taught, run screaming from danger. They head for the smoke, pedaling hard, and then, without the help of governments, they begin to organize. They become, briefly, their better selves. So here's a thought: Maybe it was the lack of the actual experience of 9/11 that left the rest of America so vulnerable when the Bush administration led them toward their lesser selves.

Read Rebecca Solnit's essay on Tomdispatch.com

Thursday, July 30, 2009

So, Glenn Beck, Obama is a "White Guy" Who "Has a Deep-Seated Hatred for White People"?

Crossposted at the Huffington Post

A friend of mine dug up a story from Media Matters that is from all the way back on February 12, 2007 that quotes radio and television host Glenn Beck as saying that Barack Obama is "colorless. You don't notice that he is black. So he might as well be white." Adding later the unbelievable (for multiple reasons) following lines: "But if somebody who is me -- I say, 'You don't even notice his color. He might as well be white. He's a white guy.' Doesn't matter. 'To white people.' Doesn't matter. That's racist," claiming that someone can say Obama is "not black" and be considered just stupid, but not a racist.

These comments, made so long ago, are interesting in light of Beck's recent comments on Fox and Friends, where he called Obama "a racist" and claimed that he (Obama) has shown himself "over and over again" to be "a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is..." While adding, interestingly enough, "I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist." It seems to me that if someone shows us over and over again "a deep-seated hatred for white people" he should be considered anything but "colorless."

So, Glenn, putting aside the non-racial issues I have with a sentence that begins, "But if someone who is me -- I say" (excuse me?), and the interesting juxtaposition of stating that someone has a "deep-seated hatred for white people," but then claiming that you're "not saying he doesn't like white people" (dislike in no way being a prerequisite for hatred), explain this to the rest of us, please. Is it possible for a "colorless man" or a "White guy" to have a "deep-seated hatred for white people"? Is this some sort of white self-racism...with a person who is actually black...except in the eyes of "Color Blind" Glenn Beck...where he is colorless? C'mon Glenn, explain this to the rest of us who just don't have our finger on the pulse of the racial dialogue in this country the way you do.

Here's the thing, if it wasn't so obvious that these people (see: Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, et al., hosts and commentators alike) simply say things to make people look at them, to make people watch and listen to their shows, if they actually had positions upon which they stood and didn't contradict themselves constantly, then it might be worth the time to entertain their views in the ongoing political discussion. But, as it is, as they are so willing to change course, not out of rational thinking, but instead in attempts to simply shine the spotlight more in their direction, to keep their shows in the public eye, there is no real reason to consider their views thoughtful or, indeed, well thought out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ben Harper Nat Geo Video Courtesy of The Amazing Pudding

Once again The Amazing Pudding has some great music videos up, including this one from Ben Harper. (Check out all the slide guitar clips that Trevor put up here.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why the Hate Crimes Prevention Act Should be Attached to the Defense Bill

(Also published on the Huffington Post)

Let me state this up front: I'm not a fan of the political practice in Congress of attaching unrelated measures to bills that are considered must-pass legislation. I think it's a political tool that tarnishes our government and makes a mockery of what a legitimate government should be.

As the Senate votes today on broadening the definition of federal hate crimes to include people attacked based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities, Democrats have attached the Hate Crimes Law to the Defense Bill, which, if you have been paying attention at all over the last eight years, is about as "must-pass" as legislation gets in today's political climate. But I don't see this as an unrelated matter the way many Republicans in the Senate do, including Senator John McCain:

"While we have young Americans fighting and dying in two wars we're going to take up the hate-crimes bill," McCain said, "because the majority leader thinks that's more important, more important than legislation concerning the defense of this nation." And later: "The Senate will pass a highly controversial, highly explosive piece of legislation to be attached to the authorization for the defense and the security of this nation. That's wrong."

What exactly defines the defense and security of a nation? I would argue that the defense and security of the nation implies the defense and security of its citizenry, of its people. Otherwise, just what exactly are we defending? Now, say what you will about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but those who have supported these wars have always defended them as our only means to fight for the right of every U.S. citizen to continue to live that life promised to us, one in pursuit of happiness. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is commonly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act, named after a young man who was kidnapped, robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area, and left to die. Defending the American people is not only a matter of fighting people far away who might one day come to this country to try once again to do us harm. It's a matter of defending our people against the small-minded, bigoted, hate-filled people already within our borders who would seek to do harm to fellow citizens.

Attaching the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the Defense Bill in not in contradiction to what that bill should do (i.e. help those looking to defend our country and its people). Indeed, the Hate Crime Prevention Act looks to do exactly what the Defense Bill should be set up to do: defend the nation and allow its people to live freely.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it well when he said, "If their country doesn't stand up for them, if we don't stand up for them, who will?" It is important to fight against anyone who might look to bring terror (and a crime like the one perpetrated against Matthew Shepard is most certainly terror) into the lives of people only trying to live freely. Just because John McCain thinks it's more important to defend a uniformed soldier in Iraq than a young homosexual man in Wyoming doesn't mean the rest of us have to come to that same conclusion.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Radio Happy Hour All the Time



Radio Happy Hour will be extending its stay at LPR in October, November, and December.

RHH will wind up its summer performances with Andrew W.K. on August 8, take September off, and then return in all its glory to LPR on October 10.

If you've missed the first two episodes of Radio Happy Hour featuring Norah Jones and Michael Showalter, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or stream the show at RadioHappyHour.com. While you're at RHH's online home, watch out for your chance to submit suggestions as to who should be the special guests for the fall and winter shows.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Listen to Radio Happy Hour With Norah Jones



So, as I've mentioned here before, I've been lucky enough to do a little writing and editing work on my good friend Sam Osterhout's live show here in New York called Radio Happy Hour.

Well, now those of you who couldn't make it can listen online and see just what the heck this live radio broadcast that isn't really on the radio at all is all about.

We've got Michael Showalter as our guest in July and Andrew WK in August. And this first episode features the one and only, Ms. Norah Jones. She was a pro, by the way. Flew in from Spain that day (I think), read the script, and nailed it. She's hilarious. The whole thing is, in my opinion. And a couple of my jokes even got some small laughs.

Listen here, and check the Radio Happy Hour blog often for updates and hilarity in general from Sam Osterhout.

About Me

David Luke Doody is a freelance writer and editor. He is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine (www.indigestmag.com), an online literary magazine and the blog editor for Guernica Magazine (www.guernicamag.com). His writing and interviews have appeared in those magazines as well as in The Huffington Post, mnartists.org, The Minnesota Twins Yearbook, and Intentionally Urban Magazine, among others.

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