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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

My Sanitarium Fantasy 

I had a violent coughing fit while I was working at the information desk and had to excuse myself to get some water. The public drinking fountain was much closer than the staff room’s, so I made my way over there. When I arrived at the fountain a large and shaggy homeless man was hovering over it. I know he could feel my presence and my desperate needed to use it but, like some belligerent musk ox at the watering hole, he dallied and bogarted it spitefully. After a minute or so I finally gave up and went to the staff room.

Not to be a hypochondriac alarmist, but I hope my coughing spell was not one of the initial symptoms of TB. If it is, I thought it over and have decided that being laid up with tuberculosis in a sanitarium for a couple of months might not be so unpleasant after all. I would spend my days taking sun and fresh air in a chaise lounge as nurses in crisply starched uniforms waited upon me, attending to my every need. My wan pallor would contrast beautifully with my flushed red cheeks, that tell-tale symptom of the consumptive. I would cough delicately into a lace handkerchief that would stain with blossoms of crimson, and my hollow eyed beauty would be irresistible, like that of one of those doomed 19th century courtesans. No demands could be made upon me in my delicate condition, and I would be free and unmolested to read books and lie around in dreamy contemplation and uninterrupted languor. There would also be lots of vicodin for the chest pains. Lots and lots of vicodin. Like many of my patrons, I would also collect full disability.

I did some research and tragically, quarantine and tuberculosis sanitariums no longer exist and the afflicted are now free to roam the streets doing their part to infect new people and contribute to the development of virulent, drug resistant strains because they cannot be bothered to complete their course of antibiotics. If I came down with TB I would probably just be put on 7 month course of antibiotics, a time period during which I inconveniently couldn’t drink, not quite the romantic fantasy I had in mind. I also rode my bike to work for the first time in over a year and it was so exhilarating that I hope that I remain fit and in sound health.

Friday, May 27, 2005

You better run along now 'cause I think I see the Mossad 

While helping a patron the other day I was a little taken aback to see that the name on his record was remarkably similar to Josef Paul Goebbels. I thought perhaps his parents, either in an act of unfortunate ignorance or incredibly bad taste, had named their child after Hitler’s minister of propaganda, but my colleague informed me that that the patron legally changed his name from a very ordinary, unoffensive one to Josef Paul Goebbels about a year ago. I'm not sure of his reasons and I’m not sure if he insists people address him as "Doctor."

The name was even more surprising to me because he looked nothing like a skinhead or Neo-Nazi or the actual Goebbels himself, but more like your average Kentucky dirtball, with blonde hair tied in a greasy ponytail, soiled khakis, a worn t-shirt and the stink of the street on him. When I saw him he was very well behaved, which my colleague credited with his recent enrollment in a methadone maintenance program. He used to be combative and hyperactive, with a tweaking meth addict’s gnat like attention span. Whenever he asked a reference question he would get easily distracted, interrupting himself or the librarian about some new tangent before he could even finish his first question, jerkily shifting his weight back and forth from foot to foot.

He reminded me of a NASCAR fan that E saw interviewed on MSNBC after Dale Earnhardt’s death. News organizations seem to delight in humiliating the South by dredging up the absolute worst embodiment of certain unfortunate southern stereotypes. The man they had chosen to be the face of the South had mirrored sunglasses, a grimy gimme hat, a Members Only jacket and missing teeth. Clearly overcome by emotion, he managed to speak only a little bit about the tragedy that was Dale Earnhardt’s death before he got choked up. Apologizing for needing to take a minute, he said, “I’m sorry, it’s jest that I loved Dale Earnhardt more than I loved my own Daddy!” He then violently jerked his chin to the side and made these “gee gee” choking sounds.

What I found truly pathetic about the Goebbels patron is that he misspelled and garbled Goebbels’s name and no one has bothered to correct him. I bet he doesn’t pronounce it right, either. I will keep the key misspellings secret to protect his anonymity and to keep the Mossad from finding him.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Air Bud 

There is a seldom used staff exit hidden away on one of the sides of this large building. The door opens from the inside of the building to a small, unobtrusively recessed space facing the street. The door’s hydraulic control system is either malfunctioning or needs to be adjusted, because when someone going outside the building pushes the door, no matter how gently, it will swing violently outward. Yesterday one of my colleagues stepped out through this side door of the building and surprised a man who had tucked into the alcove to get out of the wind so he could roll himself a joint. The man was squatting and the heavy door slammed into him. The impact knocked all of the marijuana loose out of the man’s hands and he screamed, “Goddamnit, MAN!” He then began dropped to all fours and began frantically searching the ground for his lost drugs. That space is the perfect little grotto for all sorts of activities, so the ground is sticky and glutinous as flypaper with urine and spilled 40s and God knows what other kind of street sludge. Most of the marijuana remained trapped in it so he was able to recover a good portion of it, and he didn’t look like the overly fastidious type who would have any qualms about smoking it.

Another colleague surprised a man peeing into a Pringles can in that space, but the man nimbly avoided being hit by the door. Too bad the door missed, because it would have served him right to have urine splash all over him. I mean, there’s a public bathroom in the library he could have used!

Cipro, Anyone? 

A woman of indeterminate age with that tell-tale exposure tan approached the desk and said, "I need to get on the internet, and once I'm on it I need you to tell me a good source for medical information. I need a straight up one, one that is going to give me the right information."

I told her that WebMD is very reputable and showed her how to get there.

She leaned toward me over my desk to squint at the screen and said, "Since you're already there, would you go ahead and look up tuberculosis for me?"

With a sinking feeling, I keyed in tuberculosis.

"Are you sure this website is any good? I just found out I have this shit and I'm really freaking out here."

That makes two of us, girlfriend.

The Other Day at Krav Maga 

The instructor clapped his hands and announced, "OK, now we’re going to work on kicks to the groin."

The girl next to me said very softly, "Sweet."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

How to Disappear Completely and Never Pay your Library Fine 

This might surprise you, but all ten of our copies of How to Disappear Completely and Never by Found were checked out years ago and never returned to the library. If our system doesn’t own a particular book, or all the copies are missing, we offer a service called interlibrary loan where we will request the book from another system for the patron. We eventually had to stop interlibrary loaning this title for people, because those copies would never come back either, and this system would always have to eat the cost.

Books on another topic that we have trouble keeping in our collection? Survivalism. One patron checked out almost every title on survivalism we had because he thought society was on the brink of collapse. When the world didn't end on schedule, he decided that he needed his library privileges reinstated. Library fines and replacement charges were the last thing on his mind, so he had been careless with the books and lost them in the wilderness area where he had bunkered down to await the End Times. The replacement fines were over $300. Since he didn’t have any money, he wanted to know if he could work in the interlibrary loan department to pay off the fines. While he was presenting his offer he smelled like he had just wandered back from the wilderness and hadn’t showered the entire time he was out there. The librarian informed him we didn’t have any sort of program like that and he would have to find the books or pay to replace them.

Friday, May 20, 2005

That Philip Roth is Real Nasty Minded 

Like Thomas Pynchon and Saul Bellow, Philip Roth is one of those authors that I’ve been meaning to get around to and have suffered a vague, free floating guilt about not reading. About ten years ago I did try to read Portnoy’s Complaint, but the feverish masturbation fantasies of a young Jewish man in the 50s with a suffocating mother held little appeal for me so I did something I rarely ever do – I gave up and stopped reading it after 50 or so pages. I didn’t really think of him again until he dumped his wife, the actress Claire Bloom. My aunt lives in Connecticut and Claire Bloom was there on a theatrical tour when the marriage ended. One of her best friends took in Claire Bloom, who was absolutely a wreck, and nursed who through the crisis, and so I had a personal, although extremely distant connection to the whole affair that reignited my interest. Philip Roth ended their marriage in such a disgraceful way that it confirmed my feeling that this guy was a total creep. I couldn’t separate the art from the artist and decided that I wasn’t going to go out of my way to read his work. According to Claire Bloom, Philip Roth broke up with her by giving her his new book to read. She curled up in bed one morning with a cup of tea all, all excited to read it, and with creeping horror realized that one of the characters, a shrewish, aging actress, was obviously her. He then tried to bill her $150 an hour for the time he had helped her memorize her scripts. What a guy. (Claire Bloom was no innocent victim, though. When they moved in together Philip Roth insisted that her 18 year old daughter from a previous marriage could not live with them and made her choose between them. She chose her new boyfriend. She rationalized the decision to herself because she felt she was getting old and needed to grab on to love while she could and that he daughter was 18 and adult and could take care of herself.)

And by the way, WHY DO WOMEN DO THIS SORT OF THING? Is it some sort of biological imperative? It’s a common enough occurrence for a woman to put the needs and desires of her new man in front of her own children from a previous relationship that it would lead me to believe it is. I wouldn't put it past Mother Nature, that old bitch. Look what goes in a lion pride, where a new leader of the pride will systematically round up all the nursing cubs, products of his defeated rival, and EAT them. When a nursing lioness loses her cubs abruptly she goes into estrus, and so the new lion king gets to impregnate the lionesses with his DNA, the odor of all their dead cubs still on his breath. Gross.)

I was discussing the documentary The Weather Underground with one of my colleagues, and he suggested that I read American Pastoral, so I decided to give Philip Roth another try. In the novel, Swede Levov, an all around nice guy home town athletic hero, serves his country in WWII and then settles down to run the successful family glove making business that his penniless, immigrant Jewish forefathers had created from nothing. He marries the former Miss New Jersey and they move to bucolic New Jersey to raise their adorable little girl, Merry. Seemingly overnight in some sort of Kafkaesque transformation, his daughter, the apple of his eye, becomes a hateful, 6’0, fat, hulking, slovenly, ideology spewing, radical Vietnam War protester. In a very Weathermen act, she plants a bomb in the local store, and the bomb inadvertently kills the town doctor. She disappears and goes underground, and Swede’s life is destroyed. He tries to go on with life, but can’t stop obsessing over his daughter or trying to find her whereabouts. He refuses to believe that she murdered on her own volition; instead, he believes that she must have been brainwashed by a radical group, or there must have been something that he did to make her this way.

While he searches for her, he analyzes his past, desperately trying to find the one pivotal moment that turned his daughter against him, the instance where it all could have possibly gone wrong. The only event that the Swede could think of, and he replays it again and again in his mind, is what destroyed Philip Roth’s credibility for me. When I read it I thought, “This man doesn’t know females at all!” The scene take place when his daughter is eleven, when they’re driving home together in the car after trip to the beach.

“..lolling against his bare shoulder, she had turned up her face, and, half innocently, half audaciously, precociously playing the grown-up girl, said, “Daddy, kiss me the way you k-k-kiss umumumother.” Sun-drunk himself, voluptuously fatigued from rolling all morning with her in the heavy surf, he had looked down to see that one of the shoulder straps of her swimsuit had dropped over her arm, and there was her nipple, the hard red bee bite that was her nipple... He lost all his vaunted sense of proportion, drew her to him with one arm, and kissed her stammering mouth with the passion that she had been asking him for all month long while knowing only obscurely what she was asking for.”

Sorry, Philip Roth, but you just failed Psychology 101. Little girls often ask to kiss or even marry their fathers, but WHEN THEY’RE 4, right on track with the Electra complex, not eleven years old, the cusp of puberty. Every girl I know at that age is writhing in self consciousness, and would rather DIE than ask their father such a thing, unless they were molested and had had their sexual boundaries blown out of the water by some other horrible sexual violation.

Actually, he fails pretty miserably in all of his female characterizations - and please don't try to tell me that they're just supposed to be allegorical. Most of the women seemed like, at the very best, ungrateful bitches, and at the worst, monsters who are agents of men's destruction. He seems to resent beautiful women and their sexual power over him - especially women's power to betray and ruin men by letting some their rival have sex with them, like Swede's wife does with his loathed neighbor.

In a truly repellent scene, a young woman, a mysterious associate of Merry who taunts him with her knowledge of his daughter’s whereabouts, tries to seduce him in a hotel room where she has lured him with the promise of information about his daughter. When he rebuffs her advances, she splays herself naked out on the bed and says, “…you’re such a brave man you won’t even look at it, shut your eyes and step right up and smell it. Step right up and take a whiff. The swamp. It sucks you in.” To me, this expresses the real sum of all Philip Roth’s fears in the novel. Not an America gone mad with the war, or the punishment that befalls a Jew who has assimilated and forgotten his roots, but that old bugbear, the vagina dentata. The swamp, it sucks you in.

Is it really as simple as all that? Is that what it all really boils down to for him? The fear of being devoured and destroyed by female sexuality? Really? What a nasty world view.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Fun on the Reference Desk 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

--Philo of Alexandria

A young man approached the desk. He looked just like Napoleon Dynamite, if Napoleon Dynamite wore all black and worshiped Satan. Like Napoleon, he was a mouth breather. In the same dead pan delivery he asked, “I need all of your books on Halloween. You know, Halloween, the day when the undead walk the earth? It's pretty much my favorite holiday.”

I smiled courteously and replied, “Second floor!”

A man in a business suit said, “I need the telephone number to the local paper. I need to use their microfilm machines.”

“The local paper doesn’t allow the general public to use their microfilm machines. They refer them here. Would you like for me to show you where the microfilm machines are?”

His eyes narrowed and he hissed, “Just give me the fucking number to the paper!” He loomed over my desk. I felt like a bank teller in the middle of a hold up.

He began to shriek, “I’m so goddamn sick of this! The Mexican Mafia infiltrated your machines back in ’86. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of pages of my court documents they have stolen from me!”

I gave him the main subscription number to the paper, silently wishing him luck reaching a human in that automated tarpit. “Here you go!”

A burly man wearing an incongruous tiny pink Hello Kitty backpack, the kind designed to fit the back of an elementary schoolgirl perfectly, approached the desk and said in an eerie monotone, “I was sprayed heavily with pesticides yesterday. I could smell it on my body all day, so I knew it had happened to me. Today I got sprayed again, but it’s odorless. It must be a new kind of pesticide. I thought I should report this.”

“I’ll let the proper people know. Thank you, sir.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Another Nice Way to Start My Day 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOn a morning walk with the dogs, getting to see a Buddhist monk in his ochre robes climb out of his car and feed his parking meter. Then we passed a society dowager, who stopped and bent down to examine and fuss over the dogs. She asked,

"Are they both yours?"

When I said yes, she asked, "Do they get along? Are they great friends?"

I replied, "They're best friends! Actually, they're life partners."

"Oh, then, they are both male?"

I laughed, "No, I just meant that they are very devoted and committed to each other."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Pretty Damn Magical Way to Start your Day 

On my way to work, happening upon a group of homeless men practicing Tai Chi in the park. Their ancient Chinese instructor was tottering back and forth, gently correcting their form.

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Nice Chianti 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Part of my new job territory is spending a couple of hours a day answering the main information telephone line. Often I will hear background noises during the calls. The sounds can be distracting, like when someone calls from a cell phone on a street and 5 fire trucks and ambulances go by, or disgusting, like when patrons smack their gum or enjoy their lunch while they’re talking to me. Other times the noises are extremely intriguing and leave a lot to the imagination. Since I’m on the phone and I don’t have a visual, my mind will often produce one. Sometimes,.especially late in the evening when the library is quiet and creepy, the visuals and scenarios that my mind produces for me are extremely unwelcome. One night a male patron with an extremely silky, patrician voice called with a question about the history of a particular vineyard. Classical music was playing softly in the background and all I could think about was the scene in Silence of the Lambs when Hannibal Lecter is preparing to create his gore masterpiece art project out of the two Tennessee policemen. I wondered if the patron was asking about the vineyard because he was trying to pair the exact right wine with the sweetbreads of his victim, who was sitting tied up and gagged 10 feet from the phone. OK, I need to quit watching so many horror movies.

The other day an ancient, hard of hearing woman called, or I guess I should say she had her equally ancient, hard of hearing African American maid call for her. The woman would scream her question and then the maid would communicate the question to me through the phone, even though I heard it perfectly the first time.

“Tell the librarian I need a detective agency! I need the number to the Pinkerton Detective agency!”

“Hello, Ma’am. Good day. Yes. My employer needs the number to the Pinkerton Detective Agency.”

I asked, “May I ask what you need the agency for? Maybe I can help you.”

"The librarian needs to know why you need the information because maybe she can help you!"

“I need to find the whereabouts and the telephone number of a person who might be living in the next county!”

“Yes, she needs to find the whereabouts and telephone number of a person in the next county.”

I asked for the name and found the person immediately using http://www.whitepages.com.

“That’s him! Tell the librarian thank you very much!”

“Thank you very much.”

“And to have a good day!”

“And you have a good day.”

I’m always fascinated by the interaction between women of a certain Driving Miss Daisy age and their maids. I recently learned that my grandmother, whose eyesight is beginning to fail, is having her African American maid read her the Wall Street Journal every morning. I can hear it now.

“Look here, Miz Ferrell. The price of Genentech went up!”

Often when I'm on the phone senior citizen shut-ins who are lonely and want to talk will call. It makes me sick with guilt to have to give them rush, but there is usually a queue of callers and my colleagues give me the stink eye if I’m on the phone too long exchanging pleasantries. I have a problem cutting lonely people off at the desk as well. The intensity of their loneliness is hard to bear, and often while I'm at work the song Eleanor Rigby plays on an endless loop in my head.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Dope Sick Love Still Blows 

Check out this comment I got from 'Sarah,' who took umbrage with my negative review of Dope Sick Love. I really don’t know why I am even wasting my time responding to this little electronic snit, all quivering in its self righteous indignation. I truly hope it was written by a teenager because I would really worry about an adult who takes herself this seriously.

This movie is an un-biased and "REALISTIC" window into the real lives of dope addicted people trying to forge a life, no matter how meager, and do what we all attempt to do in this world, find and hold on to love and or commitment in it's rawest form. Apparently your only interested in the reality of addiction and disease when it's sprinkled with a little intervention and hope to make YOU feel better about it. This is the reality of 99% of the drug addicts out there and the movie set out to accurately document the real life goings on of people who live this way. It wasn't intended to leave half witted librarians with a sense of decensy, although apparently it did make you feel better about yourself and you were succesful in further degrading and demoralizing people who clearly didn't need any help to begin with. So, really it wasn't a total waste, you were able to pass judgement and feel holier than thou throughout the entire experience, right? And deep down that's all your ever really looking to do now, isn't it? I found the movie to be accurate and realistic, and although I didn't always feel good about what I saw on the screen I felt a sense of empathy and compassion for these people. I hope they are able to find whatever they truly seek....What eludes us all. Even you 'Foxy' (your name speaks volumes)Self value and true love.
Sarah


Sarah,
I frequently encounter and serve the likes of the cast of Dope Sick Love at work and on the streets of my neighborhood, so please don’t tell me I’m not interested in their reality - it’s a daily part of my life and job. My colleagues and I at a large urban library are on the front line. We have to deal with the fallout and consequences of this nation’s public policies - misguided, misdirected and ineffective as they are.

The documentary was irresponsible and exploitative. And I’m sorry, but the way those addicts were portrayed was anything but sympathetic. The absolute last thing the subjects stirred in me was compassion, and I'm pretty damn bleeding heart (AND I put my money where my mouth is by working with these people.) What angered me the most about the documentary was that any Blue State/Middle American who watches it will only have disgust and loathing for these people and the way they live, which is, the way they see it, by whoring, scamming, lying and stealing. Do you think that the next time the average citizen who watched that is asked to cough up tax dollars for rehabilitation, needle exchange or other harm reduction programs (which have PROVEN to be effective) that they will want to pay for anything but locking the addicts up and throwing away the key? The documentary was like a propaganda film made by the most neo-conservative, zero tolerance, anti-social program lobby. This film said to me, “See? These people are scum and deserve to be locked away. They are filthy animals not worth saving.” Forge a life? My God, all they are trying to do is feed their next fix by any means possible.

My biggest beef is that this documentary didn't put these people in any sort of context nor did it try to explain why they became the way they are. A documentary that accomplishes this and successfully and powerfully humanizes heroin addiction is Black Tar Heroin, Dark End of the Street. Stephen Okazaki, who spent years with his subjects, effectively shows the sometimes inexorable societal and familial forces that result in the tragedy of addiction. As harrowing as the documentary is, he ALWAYS treats his subjects with dignity and compassion. The street domestic between Sebastian and Michelle, the one where she chases after him and he kicks her down and throws her bag in the street while she screeches at him like a scalded crow? Grotesquely comic, yes, but not a sensitive and dignified portrayal of the situation. Using the word ‘love’ in the title of this documentary is a sick parody of the word.

Also, how did you arrive at your decision that the documentary is the reality of 99% of all addicts? That’s really preposterous - there are millions of addicts in the US and only a small percentage live on the street. The fact is the majority of addicts manage to hold down jobs and remain, for the most part (except for the drugs), law abiding citizens. The addicts portrayed in this documentary are at the extreme of the most extreme end of the spectrum. What I find so powerful about the television show Intervention is that most of its subjects are highly sympathetic (except for the rapping former child prodigy gambling addict) and from ‘normal’ families. They are GOOD people who have lost their way and become ensnared by addiction. It shows how addiction can happen to anybody and how salvation from addiction is possible, that there is a way out besides death or jail or the streets. Shows like Black Tar Heroin and Intervention raise awareness and national levels of compassion concerning addiction without being luridly exploitative.

After watching the documentary, the only useful lessons I walked away with were:

1) I must shred my receipts so I don't enable an addict to scam a store

2) Some men will stick it into anything, and are gullible enough to believe that an emaciated, filthy junkie is an undercover cop

3) I need to tell my neighbors in my condo that if they every buzz a stranger into the building I will kill them

4) That Starbucks needs to install black lights in their bathrooms, as many have in Vancouver, so junkies can't find a vein

So, Sarah, why don’t you lighten up and then run along and learn the difference between it’s and its and your and you’re. After you master basic diction, go watch Requiem for a Dream for I’m sure your 50th time because you think it's the best, 'realistic' movie ever so you can continue to convince yourself that you really know what an accurate portrayal of drug addiction and the human condition is.

Foxy (By the way, your not liking the name speaks volumes about you and your tiresome, self righteous lack of a sense of humor)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Don't Click on the Link! 

I've heard there's a very scary monster at this link! Whatever you do, don't click on this link!

Or this one!

I'm begging you!

Not this one!

OK, I really, really mean it this time. Actually, that's E's new AIM icon. Poor Andrea Dworkin. May God rest her pitiful, rape fantasy tortured soul. My old manager used to live on the same block as she did in Brooklyn, and said every time he saw her he was almost knocked down by these rays of hostility and hate she emitted as she lumbered around the neighborhood in her signature overalls. I said, "But that still didn't stop you from wanting to rape her, did it, you filthy man!"

Spoon is finally getting groomed next week. Doesn't she look like a wookie?

Here's the original book, which was one of my favorites as a child. Come to think of it, it's kind of subversive in that it encourages breaking the rules, which I guess was very au courant in that hippy drippy era. Thankfully, I had plenty of Davey and Goliath to keep me morally centered. How far children's books have come. I'm glad I never was exposed to the famous German 19th century children's book Struwwelpeter, a perennial favorite in that country, which explains a lot. Check out what happens to little Pauline, who pays a high price for her fascination with fire. I mean, no one wants a bunch of little pyromaniacs running around but isn't there a less terrifying way to teach a child not to play with matches?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky believed that you could tell a lot about a society by its prisons, but I believe you can tell more about a society by the stories read and given to its children. In For Your Own Good : Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Swiss psychiatrist Alice Miller theorizes that German pedalogical practices made Germans particularly vulnerable to Nazism. Child rearing practices at the time, which emphasised discipline and breaking the child's will by means bordering on sadism, created a nation of cruel bullies vulnerable to being held in thrall to a father figure like Hitler. And later, scheisse porn. It's a fascinating book.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Radical Chic 

I recently watched The Weather Underground, a fascinating documentary about the extremist, anti Vietnam war SDS splinter group. Its members engaged in a terrorist campaign of bombings on architectural symbols of ‘the establishment’ (mostly bank and post offices, always after hours) from the late 60s until the mid 70s, when the US finally withdrew from Vietnam and the group disintegrated without its unifying cause. The group was founded because, in their words, despite million person strong marches on D.C. and other forms of non violent protests, the war was escalating and the American public seemed content to go about their lives while the body count and atrocities mounted in Vietnam. The Weather Underground, comprised primarily of incredibly privileged Ivy League college students, believed with all the idealistic, romantic, uncompromising fervor of youth that a bloody, explosive revolution to overthrow the government was the only answer to what Martin Luther King called the “abominable, evil, unjust war in Vietnam.”

From the documentary’s archival interviews and news footage of the members of the Weather Underground, it seems that many were playing revolutionary, mostly because of their tender age. (Someone described it as a children's crusade gone mad). Articulate, multagenic Bernadine Dorhn, dressed in her microminis, gave the movement a glamorous, radical mystique. Children of privilege thought they were, they wanted to align themselves with more oppressed 'authentic' groups like the Black Panthers, who seemed for to regard them dubiously, especially after The Days of Rage debacle, a march organized by the Weather Underground march in Chicago in October, 1969. During the march all of those inviting pane glass windows that they protestors were passing by proved too much temptation. After the first one was smashed the night erupted into a free for all, riot of pointless destruction and hooliganism.

When stopped and questioned by the press about the event, Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers condemned and dismissed the riot in an impromptu, hypnotic rap.

We believe that the weathermen’s action is anachronistic, opportunistic, individualistic. It’s chauvinistic, it’s Custeristic. And that’s the bad part about it. It’s Custeristic in that its leaders take their people into situations where the people can be massacred and they call it a revolution.
It’s nothing but child’s play. It’s folly. We think these people may be sincere but they’re misguided. They’re muddleheads and they’re scatterbrained.


Their powerful, influential daddies spared them from being rooted out and assassinated by the police and FBI, unlike members of other radical groups, like Fred Hampton. But their daddies couldn’t save them from themselves, as in the case when 3 of them blew themselves up while building a bomb in an expensive Greenwich village apartment. The three who died were building a bomb to explode during a noncommissioned officers dance at Fort Dix. Even though the dates of the officers would be killed, Mark Rudd said that the builders of the bomb justified their plan because “there are no innocent in this war of aggression.”

One of the most heartbreaking scenes is an interview with James Outin, the wealthy, Republican banker father of 28 year old Diana Outin, who died in the blast. Looking like he was in shock, he said, “I've been asked how I would advise other parents and I have answered that I have no advice at all. I wouldn't know how to advise myself. I'm looking for guidelines myself from somebody else.”

The group disbanded and the members went underground in the mid 70s. In the early 80s most wanted individuals, weary of living on the lam, turned themselves into the FBI. Almost all of the charges against them were dropped because most of the FBI’s evidence against them was gathered illegally and therefore inadmissible. Today, many have settled into normal, bourgeois lives ensconsed in cushy academia (Bill Ayers ia an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bernadine Dohrn, an associate professor and director at Northwestern University's Children and Justice Center, Mark Rudd teaches at a junior college in New Mexico.)

In the recent interviews of them featured in the documentary, most of the members' politics are still way left of center, but some like Mark Rudd seem haunted and embarrassed and befuddled by his actions back then. Others, like David Gilbert, serving a life sentence for his involvement in a Brink’s truck robbery that resulted in the death of a driver and 2 police officers, remain cheerfully unrepentant.

The filmmakers put their actions it in some context by showing the incredibly violent zietgest of the time, but they don’t explain why the US felt compelled to stop the red tide at any cost, why the US was involved in the Vietnam in the first place. The film doesn’t go into the horrors that were taking place in communist countries, where millions and millions of people were being murdered in totalitarian nightmares that made Orwell’s 1984 look like a walk in the park. With the luxury of hindsight we can see what folly the Vietnam war was, and be amazed at how long it took for our government to admit its mistake and withdraw, even faced with undeniable evidence of the pointlessness of the war. Too bad the decision makers hadn't bothered to read the eerily prescient The Quiet American, in which Graham Greene laid out what a grave mistake US involvement in Vietnam would be, and how the Domino Effect just didn't apply in that country. Anyway, as painful and costly as Vietnam was, I’m just relieved that the United States finally learned a lesson about the folly of fighting insurgents on their own soil. Oh, wait…

Todd Gitlin, former SDS president who was ousted by the Weathermen, provides the wisest warning about zealotry and what happens when people cross the line into terrorism.

I think what has to be stared at is that they brought themselves, they were not brought, they brought themselves to that point, to the point of which they were ready to be mass murderers. This is mass murder we're talking about. They came to this conclusion which is the conclusion that was come to by all the great killers, whether Hitler or Stalin or Mao, that they have a grand project for the transformation and purification of the world. And in the face of that project, ordinary life is dispensable. They joined that tradition.

I highly recommend this very illuminating documentary that couldn't be more relevant and timely.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Best pickup line EVER 

Get me a library card 'cause I'm checking you OUT.

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