Unprintable Version has been reborn as a reading and writing blog called Second Draft. Please visit.
A hey-world-I’m-Kevin-and-I-have-opinions model of blogging no longer makes much sense, at least for me, at least for now.
After 885 posts and 1147 comments, I’m no longer adding to Unprintable Version.
When I started this blog in April of 2005, facebook, linkedin, twitter, and tumblr were not a part of my world. A blog was a sort of all-purpose bulletin board.
I can now keep in touch on and share interesting links on facebook. So can Albert.
With that in mind, I am starting two more focused blogs: Business Casual, about marketing, advertising, culture and “shiny things,” and Second Draft, which is about reading, watching, and writing. Each worries a question that is, for me, a quest: how to create better marketing, how to write a better novel.
I also called the new writing blog second draft because it continues a thread began here. In fact, I may repurpose some of what I’ve written here. It will literally be the second working of some material.
I’m fascinated by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s study of Lincoln’s presidency, Team of Rivals. But since I am trying to write a novel, a part of me also wants to get back to reading fiction so that I have some models and inspiration.
That said, the book illuminates the motivations and consequences of human actions, and the warps and triumphs of human character, in ways that novelists should envy. Lincoln is a hero both saintly and strategic and also fallible. It is amazing to trace the incredibly complex process by which ideals get translated into reality. Lincoln understood popular opinion as a kind of character–flawed, sometimes base, but capable of growth.
It is also interesting to note how the book is talked about in the press, where it is usually reduced to a prurient view of its title: oh goody, the cabinet might fight with each other. The phrase “team of rivals” is spoken in the tone of voice usually used to announce that there’s a fight going on behind the gym.
I’ve still got 100-some pages left in the book, but while there is infighting, Lincoln decided many questions himself, cancelled many cabinet meetings, and consulted his Secretaries of State and War while ignoring (but placating) lesser Secretaries. What Lincoln really seemed to want was a) high competence in the important tasks of fighting the war, funding the war, containing the war, and connecting the troops and their loved ones and b) a coalition which would keep both conservative Democrats and radical Republicans engaged. He was also strong to hear opposing views without being threatened by them.
Lincoln and Seward, his closest confidante, understood that the highest matters of state–in this case, whether the state would survive, whether slaves would be freed–were shaped by the jealousies and flaws and vitalities of frail individual humans. The two men regularly escaped to the theater, which was then experiencing a golden age. They invited leading actors and actresses to their homes and quizzed them on their interpretations of characters. They especially loved Shakespeare, perhaps because it so resembled their daily life.
Obama has pledged to promote bipartisanship.
But that may require a far deeper change than even he can promise.
On MSNBC, Chris Matthews says something about helping the President. It’s a sweet thing to say. Of course, he’s lambasted by a guest journalist from Time and Joe Scarborough who both cite Walter Cronkite to effect that “I must be skeptical so the people do not become cynical.” But the authentically interesting Scarborough isn’t skeptical about what matters most: his own motivations and the motivations of his employer. Cable news is prurient and partisan so that it might spike its ratings. When Haley Barbour wants to talk about a power plant that actually captures carbon, when he wants to talk about a solution that might actually help someone, Andrea Mitchell can’t contain her impatience, her boredom, her “Obama won student council but do you think he like totally might ask Hillary to head the dance committee” fecklessness. Olbermann announces yet again the three worst people in the world. Maybe the worst person in the world is the person who becomes a millionaire by teaching Americans to hate each other. In this respect, he is no different from Limbaugh.
Partisanship is a business model. And partisanship is in me: it’s a gang membership, an affirmation, an endorphin, a vice that feels like a virtue. I am smarter than you; I am more decent than you; I am more sophisticated than you; I am the real America and you are not.
Partisanship is pleasurable and distracting. I’ve had some experience with things that are pleasurable and distracting. They’re not that easy to give up.
My friend Maury shared a link to a Salon essay which pointed out that the last eight years have been hugely bipartisan in that almost all the important measures passed by Bush have received numerous Democratic votes and little serious opposition. That’s true, and an incredibly useful fact to point out. But I think when Americans say they want bipartisanship, they mean something else.
When we say “bipartisanship” I think we mean a consensus which values the opinions of the minority, which is not achieved by bullying and slander, which does not indulge in the dubious pleasures of self-righteousness, which aligns actions and opinions, which doesn’t abuse the trust we place in a President in war time, which seeks solutions not just victory, which claims no privileged access to God’s will, which doesn’t relentlessly judge purity, which is shaped by gratefulness and humility, which values facts and experience, which is not tazared with charges of flip-flopping and is thus free to evolve its thinking and adapt its solutions.
1. This is incredibly cool.
2. In the US, there is always a moment when someone says, "can we mail this?" Creatives in the Ukraine are evidently less fettered.
I used to read poetry confidently. When I edited my college paper, back at Beloit, we put W.S. Merwin on the front page and ran a long interview with the even more obscure Laurence Lieberman. But more recently, I read poetry tentatively, and, in my worst moments, defensively. (I have the same reactions to contemporary art.) I curse Jorie Graham.
Then I remember the very basic rule of reading poetry: work harder. Read it several times; read it slowly; let it percolate through my mind.
When I do this, the rewards are amazing. I’ve recently finished Shana Youngdahl’s affecting chapbook Donner: A Passing. It took me some time to realize that her very syntax absorbs her subject: starvation and how it changes people.
Before starvation ends life, it distorts consciousness. Consider this passage, well into the book:
Back at the lake: cabins buried under, survivors
immune to fumes of shit and vomit
Little movement, this, the felling
of trees. The dead
The bible murmured aloud, a forsaken
mountain where few breathe.
Each day the same bones
boiled and chewed.
The known world: thinning.
Look at what’s happened to the verbs. They are enfeebled into gerunds, exiled to adjectival clauses (“Where few breathe). Notice the way the omitted “are” and “is” petrify the writing: (are) boiled and chewed, (are) immune to fumes . . .
Notice the horror of “frozen-eyed storms” which denotes snow but evokes the dead settlers.
I voted. Since I've gone on about who I would be voting for, I should note that I voted for Norm Coleman. Otherwise, straight Democratic, including someone named Humphrey. On Rachel Maddow last night, Pawlenty noted that in recent decades Minnesotans have been notorious ticket splitters. In some cases (Durenburger, Wellstone), it's about actually voting on character. In other cases, I think it's a Minnesota oh-don't-you-go-getting-too-big-of-a-head-there thing. Plus Franken's last bit of mud was particularly unfortunate, in an already filthy campaign.
I put myself through this whole process to force myself to publicly articulate my reasons for voting. This leaves me with:
It has become clear that
If you can’t run a campaign, you can’t run a country. McCain lacks the temperament and judgment to be a chief executive. See the endorsement of Reagan’s Head of Arms Control, Ken Adelman.
At its worst, this feels like the unctuous vs. the obnoxious.
I voted for Coleman for Mayor of Saint Paul because he is a hardworking, highly intelligent, extraordinarily effective politician. The liberal StarTrbune endorsed him for similiar reasons for Senate. His very opportunism suggests his course: a repudiation of the Bush legacy and an embrace of centrism. A chastened but vigorous Republican minority in the Senate might serve as a useful counterweight to any excesses in an otherwise one party government. But Coleman has ultimately carried too much water for Bush. Why not let the Democrats have their team so they can be held responsible for their results?
The Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, enthusiastically.
This is precisely the kind of public good that the government is supposed to further: clean water and land and a robust cultural legacy. This is precisely what Oliver Wendell Holmes meant when he said, “Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.”
The quality of the opposition to the amendment says much about the moral and intellectual quality of the Right these days.
“They know this thing is a scam,” [Representative Tom Hackbarth] said, referring to the arts and culture component of the proposal that would capture about 20 percent of the total funding.
My dictionary defines a “scam” as a “dishonest scheme” or “con.” Yet the arts are explicitly included in the language of the Amendment. So where’s the con? The alliance in the bill is explicit and not all that unnatural. Habitat, lakes and rivers, and the arts are a part of what might be called the spiritual infrastructure of the state.
A Conservation Legacy Report, requested by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and released in May . . . quotes Pawlenty: "Our beautiful lakes, streams, prairies and forest help define who we are as a state. They bring great pride and enjoyment to our people. We need to take proper care of them for future generations." Pawlenty was also instrumental in making sure the Guthrie got its funding.
Rod Grams resorts to what might called Argument by the Insertion of Vaguely Perjorative Adjectives:
"We feel this is a tremendous abuse of the constitution, for it creates basically a slush fund for a lot of special interest groups to have their money to spend on pet projects,” said former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, chairman of the No Constitutional Tax Increase Campaign.
Read Gram’s statement with a more supportable mix of adjectives:
We feel this creates a flexible, but limited fund for a lot of groups to have money to spend on broadly worthy but often politically vulnerable projects.
"After every Republican loss -- whatever the proximate cause -- it is worth recalling the words of Whittaker Chambers: "If the Republican Party cannot get some grip of the actual world we live in and from it generalize and actively promote a program that means something to masses of people -- why somebody else will. . .”
Michael Gerson, The Washington Post
The current Republican Party seems to embrace four myths–at least at the playground level that constitutes most campaigning. When I look at my experience, and what I know of history, each myth starts with a kernel of truth.
1. Business always acts for the greater good.
Please understand: I am not someone who grudgingly accepts business as a necessary evil. I LOVE business. If I were independently wealthy, I might sit in on conference calls just for fun. My wife has remarked that the prospect of addressing marketing challenges “changes your brain chemistry. You get all happy.” Business is amazingly good at generating innovation and prosperity.
But business seeks its own profit, not any broader notion of goodness; it often overvalues short term gain, undervalues long term prosperity, and ignores any good it cannot monetize; it favors a mediocre idea backed with money and muscle to a good idea without those props; it often acts on half-assed information, weird personal agendas, and charismatic trends; and it assumes an educated workforce and an efficient infrastructure.
2. Government is always bad.
I understand the conservative disdain for government. I have ventured into Johnston Hall, triplicate form in trembling hand, and been greeted with that special mix of simmering apathy and contemptuous incompetence that is the University of Minnesota Graduate School.
But against that experience, I weigh these facts:
When my father was disabled, I received social security. When the private school I was in failed, I was able to attend a public school. When my widowed mother couldn’t afford college for me, I was first awarded grants and loans to a private college and then I was able to attend a quality public law school. Social security played an important part in my mother’s retirement. Because of a Minnesota law, my wife and I, a company of two, can get health insurance. There are a number of things —from state parks to safe products to nuclear umbrellas, from an affordable mortgage to protected bank accounts—that I simply take for granted. One of my best clients was a government agency. One of the absolute best customer experiences any can ever have is at the Roseville License Bureau. Without government, I would not enjoy the happiness and prosperity I enjoy now.
3. Taxes are theft. The progressive income tax is socialism.
The Republicans have made the ridiculous charge that Obama’s proposed upper bracket rates of 39% are socialist (and that the McCain plan’s corresponding 36% rates are not.) While I oppose the high marginal tax rates such as we experienced in the late 70s, I agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes that “Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.”
Further, all but the greediest of us understand the reason for a progressive tax.
Adam Smith, the first theorist of capitalism and, evidently, the father of the double negative: “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”
Small government poster boy Thomas Jefferson favored tariffs on imported goods, because they placed a disproportionate burden on the rich. McCain mentor Teddy Roosevelt introduced the progressive income tax. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower levied top bracket rates of–gasp–90%. Governor Palin taxes the rich oil companies who do business in her state and then literally redistributes the money to average Alaskans. John McCain has publicly defended higher taxes for the rich and voted against the initial Bush cuts.
If you are ever fortunate enough to make $250,000, and your first instinct is to whine, you suffer from a spiritual sickness far beyond the reach of politics.
4. Volunteerism is sufficient.
Some genuinely charitable friends of mine disdain government assistance because it is inauthentic and inefficient. They have a point. The most meaningful charity is that voluntarily extended from one person to another. The most profound transformations take place in a private space that no government can reach.
That said, in my experience, voluntary charity failed when it mattered. The people of Rollingstone tried to run a private school and they could not do it. If the public school
district had not stepped in, there would be no school. Period.
If we rely on private initiative to educate our children and take care of our unlucky, it will not happen.
There are, of course, counter liberal myths: that business is always bad, that government is always good, and that the only purpose of the evil rich is to write checks in a vain attempt to assuage their guilt. If you don’t like being governed by people who embrace these myths, please just move the hell out of San Francisco.