April 28, 2006

Can't You Just Feel the Diss?

BAGNewsNotes has this photo, and another photo (see below) of Bush paling around with a white soldier on his site April 25, but this one, at left, struck me as absolutely stunning.

I somehow get the strong feeling that the black soldier has just said to Bush:

Get back, white boy. You ain't gonna suck me into to your oil war propaganda and use me to pretend you got black dudes for friends, especially this black dude who would really rather whip your sorry ass.

Look closely. Is there any respect, awe, reverence, deference, or submission of any kind in the soldier's facial expression, in his posture, or anything else about his demeanor? I sure don't see it. And I do see Bush's discomfort and embarrassment.

In contrast, the picture below shows two white, good ol' boys having a fine joke together. Doesn't Bush look so much more comfortable and, even, relieved?


Matthew Katinsky said...

I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and your writing reminds me of the more politically active and articulate students I knew when I attended Swarthmore College, itself a politically-active and articulate school. This is both a compliment and a criticism.

The compliment is that you educate yourself, you think about the issues, you care about them, and you do a decent job of expressing them and educating others. I care about these issues too, and I often, though not always, support your opinions. More importantly, I rely on blogs like this to give me a fuller picture than I can get in the mainstream news. As a full-time working parent of two very young children, I find that I barely have time to get eight-hours of sleep, much less educate myself on the issues. So I appreciate your efforts here.

The critique is that there is a sophomoric, belligerant attitude to several of your postings. This particular post is a good example. It is mean-spirited character assassination. While perhaps amusing and cathartic to some readers, it does not educate, explain, clarify, build bridges, promote understanding, nor in any way edify or entertain me. It may provide a laugh or some emotional release for your readers who feel victimized by our President, but at best it is preaching to the choir. At worst, it is dull, vindictive, and immature.

Of course, this is a blog, not a newspaper column. Let's have some perspective here. You have every right to print what you want, to target your postings to whatever audience you want. I'm merely giving feedback, selfishly hoping to focus your writing in a direction that I personally prefer to read. But I think it would also make your postings accessible to a larger audience and more useful as a tool for having your voice heard.

To that end, in the comments of your posting "Why I Saved My First Kiss For Marriage", I was shocked to find myself agreeing with Fred Z when he said Stephen, I must say you sound like a real ass. Your "astute remarks" are laced with hatred and personal attacks, and you have an annoying habit of putting words in people's mouths that they did not say. Fortunately, intelligent readers of this blog will see that for themselves. While I disagreed with everything else Fred Z said, I think he has a valid point here. I would not have called you "an ass," but my estimate of your age dropped by a decade.

There was a lot of good information in your responses, but there was also a lot of vitriol and disrespect, assumptions and attacks. To tell your Anonymous poster I think you probably, secretly, admired the Taliban certainly didn't build any bridges (not that this was your intent), but neither did it offer me, a third-party reader, anything other than perhaps a vicarious thrill at your attempt to puncture his or her ego. I do not enjoy this kind of writing.

I would urge you, as a professional writer, to strive for total honesty in your writing. If you feel that someone else's words are worthy of disrepect, you can do so without disrepecting that person who, after all, you have never met and know little about. I have had the embarassing misfortune to respond angrily to postings only to find out later that the poster was a decent, sweet human being, a grandfather with too much time on his hands, and a member in good standing of my own community. To me, the lesson was a sharp reminder that we are ALL worthy of respect. We all carry our own history, pain, and suffering. These truisms (like most ideology) wither under the cynical glare of abstract discussion. The truth of such aphorisms can only be understood in the polished specifics of a single story. As a writer you have the opportunity to show us this. I'd be far more interested if you were able to draw out from Anonymous why he feels the way he does, what his background experiences were that lead him to his views, what do his neighbors and family feel about his views. God forbid, you may find you have something in common with him (other than a mutual affinity to label people with differing opinions as ignorant jerks).

OK, I've said my $0.02 and then some. I will do you the courtesy of signing my name, and encourage you, by all means, to keep writing, whether you agree with my comments or not.

Dicky Neely said...

Dang, I forgot what I was going to write after reading the above volume.
I think the prof is kind of missing the point here. This is a blog and blogs are something between self expression and editorializing and journalism.
It is obvious, if you look at a lot of blogs, that journalistic standards do not apply!
Maybe they should but don't look for it to happen soon!
I think you do a good job and you are more objective than many. Take a look at the some from the other side of the political spectrum if you want ome unbalanced and vitiolic works.

Dicky Neely said...

I mean "vitriolic." Sorry.

Mimi said...

I found Matthew's comments odd. It seems to me the whole idea of S. McA.'s blog--and others--is to combat the bland, "even-handed" sameness of institutionalized media. Not so incidentally, the information from these talking heads fits right in with the administration's attempts to persuade the populace that this horrific world is the way it's "s'posed to be." Maybe I'd give the Bush apologists a break if I didn't remember a certain video I saw a year ago. It showed an Iraqi child, 18 months old, with his leg blown off. If only I could forget that...
Stephen, I hope you'll get MORE one-sided and MORE passionate in your writing, not less!

Stephen McArthur said...

Dear Matthew -- Thank you for sharing your thoughts about my writing. I am glad you agree with most of what I have to say, if not with how I say it.

This particular entry was intended to demonstrate this President's disconnect from the world that
black soldier lives in, a world I believe Bush has no clue about, a world he really cares very
little about and has actually done nothing in his Presidency to ameliorate. If you have followed my blog, then you probably know that I believe George Bush has actively punished and hurt the world that young black soldier probably comes from. It's a world that is characterized by disadvantage, poverty, struggle, lack of education, bad nutrition, and, in all likelihood, a broken family. From my perspective, the photo demonstrates that disconnect between Bush and the young man perfectly. It is my opinion. It is my view of the man, George Bush, and how I believe he lives his life and performs his duties as President, all evidenced by his actual policies and actions.

You believe this post is "dull, vindictive and immature," in addition to being "sophomoric" and

Perhaps some might find it "dull," but I wonder how. "Vindictive"? Well, I guess I could be guilty
of inflicting some revenge (vindictive means revengeful) on George Bush, but I don't feel any pangs of guilt if I have. Quite frankly, I believe he deserves a comeuppance of historic proportions.

"Sophomoric?" How? I am simply giving my interpretion of the contrast between those two
photographs. I am describing what I see in the photos. "Immature?" Again, I fail to see the

There is actually a long tradition of interpreting photos and artwork and drawings in political
ways, in satirical, critical and biting ways. In fact, political cartoons themselves would easily
qualify for the same personal critique under your strict guidelines. Simply the way a political cartoonist draws the dull, immature and belligerent face of George Bush would be cause for your reproach and correction.

I acknowledge your advice that as a writer I should "strive for total honesty" in my writing. While I am not sure how writers everywhere can achieve such a high standard of perfection, I think it is probably a worthwhile goal for us all. But I am not certain what was not honest about my criticism of Fred Z. While I did acknowledge in my follow-up piece that I wished I had not strayed from the substantive in my first piece, I think you and Fred Z confuse intolerance with hatred. I am, indeed, intolerant of the kinds of views Fred Z expressed, and I do not believe I can change his mind, nor those of Anonymous. But I do believe I can focus on what people like Fred Z say and show my readers an example of what is wrong with a society filled with men who think about women in such demeaning ways. If I sound a tad angry about all this, there is good reason. I am very familiar with issues surrounding violence against women. I have worked in and around issues of violence against women, and have written about those issues in newspapers, monthlies, and on my blog. I am also a volunteer on a battered women's hotline, and have served on the board of a domestic violence organization. I have studied how the patriarchy has gained a dominant power position, and how male violence is used to maintain that ascendancy. I admit to little patience for men like Fred Z. Boys and young men, and of course, women, need to learn about men like him, how they think, and what harm they do to our world. Perhaps some "totally honest," academic, placid approach might work, but I don't think so.

How can we not, as men, in the clearest way possible, communicate that this kind of thinking and
behavior is not acceptable? That we won't tolerate it? We must stand up and shout out what perverted and malevolent notions they represent. My blog is a place where I do that. And where others can join me.

Matthew, there are occasions where the persuasive writing of cool academe is fitting, but there is
also a time and a place for howls of reaction. This is a time for loud rejection of what is happening to us. It is a time for passion. If you want to examine the nature of Fred Z's bitter misogyny, there is ample
literature and research available. In fact, I recently published a piece about intimate partner
violence in Vermont Woman magazine which I recommened to you. It is, for the most part, dispassionate and impersonal. I think you would approve.

While George Bush is not the only available target for my blogospheric skewer, he makes himself an easy target.

Witness his most recent lecture of the Hispanic community's national anthem sung in Spanish, telling them that people in this country ought to speak English. This man, our most illiterate and inarticulate President ever, as well as being a truly dull, immature, vindictive, sophomoric and belligerent person, has alot of arrogance and conceit telling those people anything. To get really personal, the man is the worst thing that has has happened to this country since Joe McCarthy. The problem is that this time we have him as President and he is systematically destroying our Constitution, our environment, whatever is left of our political democracy, and our children's and grandchildren's future.

Actually, Matthew, when I really thbink about it, George Bush and Fred Z are "ignorant jerks." Men like them really do exist and I can prove it. All you have to do is listen to what they say and how the behave.

In sum, Matthew, I do believe there are American men who admire the Taliban's clear message of male dominance, religious conviction, well-defined sense of heirarchy, and politicial narrowness. Yes, what I said was conjecture, but it is conjecture about a group of American men that, I believe, strikes close to home. From what Fred Z says, I think he fits into that group of men.

I do understand where you are coming from. I think. I have written almost 500 blog entries in the last year, and you will have to forgive me my occasional passionate anger and semantic flourishes. Quite frankly, though, the more I read about and witness what is happening to us, the more passionate I get in reaction to it. I do hope it is true that you often agree with my opinions. And I thank you for not calling me an "ass."

Matthew Katinsky said...

Good. I stuck my neck out a bit here and got a closer shave than I expected, but a good learning experience for me nevertheless. I mostly communicate my opinions in petitions and letters to newspaper editors, congressional representatives, foreign dictators, and other black holes of indifference. So it is nice to get any response at all, and an honest and courteous one as well is a treat.

If you say that your exercise in photo interpretation is part of the venerable tradition of political satire, I'll accept that without argument or complaint. Having sated myself on political satire for years, I now find the medium more often tedious and immature than not. I retract my earlier comments insofar as you may consider them a critique of the genre as a whole, as it is practiced today, and not a personal critique of your blog entry. Satire should reveal hypocracy and duplicity by enlarging the truth to absurdity, and I concede your entry does this, or attempts to do this. It just doesn't work for me, though I am probably the exception. Most modern American political satire seems to grab its audience's attention with a blunt blow to the head. I have to go back to Mark Twain to find an American satirist that really works for me. Paul Gallico said it best, "No one can be as calculatedly rude as the British, which amazes Americans, who do not understand studied insult and can only offer abuse as a substitute."

But as to your "howls of reaction," I remain unconvinced, not that I made my own views clear, either. I do not advocate cool academic prose over passion. If you cannot write passionately about social issues, why be a political writer? You might as well be a politician (smile). It is precisely the passion in your writing, Stephen, that makes it effective and interesting.

I also agree that passion can change the world in positive ways, and your writing is a vehicle for doing just that. My criticism is that you let your writing serve your anger when it ought to be your anger serving your writing. If you labor with your pen under the hot and heady influence of anger and intolerance, the results will reek of abusive name calling. To what purpose? That kind of writing satisfies some people, but I think it is a waste of your talent. I apologize if I am belaboring this point. When you say that you "strayed from the substansive," I think you are responding to the same element in that particular entry that I am responding to.

I can't resist, though, and please take this tongue in cheek. While thousands, perhaps millions, of people are calling for the impeachment of the President, you argued against it, suggesting a rational, more political solution. I am not suggesting your solution is wrong. I am merely suggesting that you too can respond to some one else's passion with a cooler academic answer. I suspect we all feel passionate about the issues that somehow touch us personally, and to your credit the safety and equality of women is an important cause for you.

I will stick my neck out again though. It is not enough to have righteous anger. Anger is destructive, both to oneself and to others. I say this unequivocally and with no exceptions, though I may be hard pressed to defend it. When you read the mysogynist text of Fred Z. and it raises your blood so that you feel it cannot go unanswered, by all means respond. Feeling anger is normal, human, and for the most part out of our immediate control. But how you respond is always a choice. It is not our character that determines our response. It is our response that defines our character. We are not helpless to control anger. We do not need to vent it to make ourselves feel better. There are alternatives that allow us to acknowledge our anger and intolerance, and still act constructively and passionately.

Bush may presently occupy a place of great power, and he may do so through the support of a small minority of power brokers, but he still maintains an approval rating over 30 percent. It gives me pause to think of this. One third of all Americans think he is doing a good job. There are a lot of Fred Z's out there. Are you going to change their minds by villifying them? Are you going to give up and say they are a lost cause that must be repressed? I am not speaking of Fred Z in particular, as I doubt he could admit any error (the ignorant jerk).

What is the most effective way to dilute their influence on American politics and social behavior? You advocate that there is a time and place to rage against them, but I see no point in humiliating them. I don't see how it helps. It merely dredges the channel a little deeper between us and them.

Thanks for the opportunity to express my own opinions. If this is not an appropriate forum for doing so, do let me know. And please forgive my lengthy writing and my spelling errors. Despite a liberal arts education, my major was mathematics and my orthography is much better in Greek than English.

progressivegrannie said...

Great posting! Too bad we couldn't put Bushy boy in my old Army unit. What a fish out of water he would have been! The military is the most multi-cultural place in the entire USA, and there you learn that we all are the same. Perhaps his daughters could sign up and learn about reality?

Stephen McArthur said...

Dear Matthew -- This is precisely where people should be free to discuss anything I write about, or anything they choose to comment on. And I daresay, your English orthography is just fine. It's an old problem of mine, having been raised by a strict grammarian father who red-marked everything I wrote and who, like his hero Winston Churchill, wrote in perfect prose the first time out.

I agree with most of what you say, because it is theoretically correct. But, alas, as in all equations and theorems and rules, we leave things out or put things in which should not be there and we end up with results that are not always perfect. I am afraid my intellect, passion, writing, and use of words, usually all muddled together early in the mornings, reflect that simple little fact. So forgive me my lapses and please keep reading.

Finally, I thank you for saying that my writing is "effective and interesting." That is a comment that goes down like ambrosia for any writer.