Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Here's an evil thing I hate


Today I was reading Lincoln's second inaugural address (here) and it struck me that how, unlike GWB's second inaugural (here), Lincoln did not bother to mention a single thing about electoral politics or "reaching out" to supporters of his opponent. He had bigger things on his plate--like the Civil War and slavery (Bush had Iraq and that's not small). Then it struck me that Abraham Lincoln himself sat down at some point and considered the future of his administration, considered the appropriateness of his words, and then set down his vision of the future in these words he would deliver at his inauguration. This does not happen anymore. George W. Bush did not write his inaugural address. His speechwriters did.

This really bothers me. I think it should be a requirement for a president to write his own speeches--at least the majority of them or at least the important ones. Let's say I'm a really busy student, why I can't I hire "speechwriters" to "articulate my vision" for me? Gee, it's called plagiarism and it's an offense taken very seriously at every university in America. The fact is that if we demanded our leaders to be proficient writers and articulate speakers, we'd see a whole new class of leaders rise to the top. This is all pretty recent, you know. Go back and read the Louisiana style politics of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men." The Kingfish was pretty corrupt, but he could sure as hell improvise a speech and craft his words into persuasive sentences. Is the world really that much more complicated now that NO ONE can do this? What about Bill Clinton? How often did he just tell the speechwriters to take the day off? Never. (That film "The War Room" is a good example of how Clinton was the hand-shaker and Carville and Stephanopolous were the speech magicians.) Politics now equals bureaucracy, which means Rule by weird little committees. A small group of ideologues decides the policy that they are trying to feverishly promote and then they hire hundreds of peons to carry out their wishes. All speechwriters should be fired. You are all evil and you aren't helping anything.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Books on the Nightstand, 9/20/05

Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Hiaasen is one of my go-to beach reads, but I had to abandon this one when he tried to write about a "teenage hacker." It was the poorest character description committed to paper since Dave Eggers wrote about a dog.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
This memoir was published to much acclaim last year but I am just now getting around to reading it in paperback. It's a pretty riveting story about a Flynn getting to know his father while he (the father) is a guest at the homeless shelter where Flynn works. I liked the book, but it did seem to lack some emoting and the tone of the writing might be hemmed in by so much of the author's drug use. Sort of similar to Sean Wilsey (though Flynn's life is the polar opposite of Wilsey's).

What's the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank
Again, I'm a little late to this party, but hey, I got it at the library. I wish that every Republican or "moderate" would be willing to read it. I would hope that the Katrina disaster would get people talking about doing something with respect to the distribution of wealth in this country, but it's so hard to be optimistic. Also, it seems to me that so many Republicans opposed to "welfare" don't have a problem with "social security" or "disability" checks. Imagine if everyone who worked 40 years in this country got 75% pension salary for life.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


This year's Hands on a Hardbody contest has been stopped due to a contestant's bizarre suicide early this morning:

It wasn't clear whether Vega walked away during or just before an official break for contestants, most of whom were away from the contest site when Vega killed himself.

Witnesses said Vega went directly to a Kmart across the street, threw a trash can through a window and quickly went into the store.

"It was the most surreal thing I've ever seen in my life," said Dru Laborde, a program director for KYKX radio and a media participant in the contest.

Police said they were called at 5:59 a.m. When they arrived, they saw Vega walking from the back of the store toward the doors. He had a shotgun in his hands, police said, and shot himself. A police spokesman said police exchanged a few words with Vega before he stepped back and shot himself. He said he wasn't sure what had been said

In other news, Nabokov's Lolita turns 50 today :

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Still at a loss

Not sure that I was ever cut out to be a blogger, but now the updates might come even farther apart than ever before.

I got this awesome new job (here) editing high school literature textbooks and it will probably a while before I get back into posting anything here. It's great, though. This is one of the few jobs I've even heard of that rewards being a complete polymath. I've alredy wished that I knew more about Confucianism and Sanskrit and it's only my first week! I salute all teachers of literature.

In other news, I can't stop watching the news. Even ten days after the hurricane I am transfixed, horrified, staggered.

Also, I have rekindled a long-standing intrerest/obsession with Antarctica. Mostly this is a literary fascination and I devour all books that even mention the cold continent, but lately I have thought about going there. If I were to go to Antarctica, I would want travel the way of Scott and Shackelton (ship) rather than the cargo planes that fly from Christchurch to McMurdo. I'm certain that my wife would have no interest in accompanying me on such a trip, but not a lot of people can see the attraction of intentionally going somewhere -50 F (the coldest temperature recorded on planet earth was -128 F at Vostok Station, Antarctica). It really is the last frontier on the planet, though. There are still vast areas of ice and mountain ranges untouched by humans. This tallship expedition looks like my dream (comfortable and yet adventurous):