Category Archives: Politics

A Letter to the Warren Campaign from a Supporter Who Feels a Bit Overwhelmed by the Irregularity of Things These Days with a Request About Email Regularity

Dear Senator Warren,

In answer to your campaign’s online survey question: “Is there anything else you’d like to share about why you’re in this fight?”

Yes, there is. I am in this fight for regularity. For predictability. If I were to put it in a campaign slogan, it would be this: Make Public Service Boring Again.

And to get there, I want to put in a small request: Please give us, your supporters, two choices for the emails we receive from your campaign, as follows.

1) Keep getting fundraising emails the way everyone has always done them. Emails sent unpredictably, at random hours on random days. Emails from unpredictable senders (“Elizabeth Warren,” “Warren HQ,” “Team Warren”). Emails with a chance to be one of 224 donors from Ohio today, or with a request to meet this fiscal quarter’s fundraising goal, or with a favor, Thomas, to give even more than you already have done—even though at my age, and with two kids and a mortgage, and with our tight budgeting, I have already given precisely how much money I can.

Or,

2) Start receiving a new, secondary email campaign, one like no one has ever done before. (No one that I’m aware of, I should say.) Emails that are always sent from the same sender. Emails that are always sent at the exact same time once a week, like a magazine (say, Fridays at 10:00 a.m.). The Elizabeth Warren Good News Friday Digest. Emails that are a campaign diary, essentially; emails that are a summary of Senator Warren’s previous week. Possible additions at the end could include events in the following week that we can attend, and/or a list of follow-up concrete actions that we Warren supporters can take.

And then maybe—just maybe—a postscript. Not a grid of multiple pre-populated ActBlue buttons. A PS with just one maybe-give-whatever-else-you-can donate button.

Getting back to your campaign’s online survey: I want all the things on the list in the survey of “the issues that matter most to [me]”: from campaign finance reform to corporate accountability, from jobs to nuclear non-proliferation to universal child care. All of it.

But I also I want to have the confidence now that in 2050, we’ll have the confidence that civilization itself might have a shot of making it to 2100.

In our current political spectrum, this would be called liberal. But to me, it’s cold-hearted conservative capitalism: I want money and trade and capital and banks and voting American citizens all to continue to exist in 2100. I want elected representatives to still exist in 2100. I want there to still be people saying “Oh look, can you believe it’s 2100, and these blueberries are delicious, and boy the Green New Deal and President Warren’s Green Marshall Plan were such good ideas, and also I have to walk the dog” in 2100.

I want there to still be dogs and blueberries and spoken language in 2100.

I would like regularity and predictability at the large scale and the small scale, the epochal and the daily. The regularity and predictability of the world continuing to exist, instead of the deadly chaos of climate denialism. The regular, predictable positivity of scheduled magazine-like emails, rather than the deadly chaos of the unpredictable tweets of a madman.

My cautious, tired, middled-aged and middle-class dreams might seem contrary to those of “Dream Big, Fight Hard, Live Proud.” But I think they’re one and the same. They’re both about love.

Living from love—not from toxic narcissism.

In addition to the unpredictability of campaign emails, the strategies of Democratic candidates all too often seem like inside-baseball panic. I remember a call I received from a fundraiser who yelled “We’ve got to stop these Republicans!” at me right before I hung up.

But we don’t stop something by trying to stop something. We make something wither by starting something better. We don’t stop people from wallowing in the spiritual gutter of a nihilistic death cult by yelling “That’s bad! You should feel bad about yourself for wallowing!” We draw our fellow Americans’ better angels up and away from the death cult by calling to them from Dr. King’s Beloved Community, from JFK’s—and Reagan’s—City upon a Hill.

We stop something bad by starting something much better. Something good.

You, Senator Warren, are starting something.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that, goes your slogan. Yes we can, went Barack Obama’s slogan. I voted for Obama because I felt like I was helping to build something, not stop something. I feel the same way about your campaign now.

Plans, not reactions. Collaborations, not fomented divisions. Steady progress, not strategic chaos. Partial victories, not the angry purity of “We’ve got to stop these Republicans!” FDR’s Fireside Chats, not the Stephen Miller strategy of an exhausting blizzard of hatred and lies—a strategy from a man who seemingly read Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism as an instruction manual.

Back again to emails: I’m not saying get rid of email strategy choice #1 entirely (“Can you give another $5 before midnight, Thomas?”).

But please consider also giving us the optional email strategy choice #2: the Elizabeth Warren Good News Friday Digest. Give it a shot!

Instead of thousands of us clicking “unsubscribe” to get rid of the email strategy choice #1 emails altogether, some—or even a lot—of those of us who react badly to unpredictability might stick around. And by sticking around, and by feeling good about all the good news in the President Warren Good News Friday Digest emails, and by having the calm feeling of regularity and predictability, and the feeling of an industrious and thrifty nation working together in a steady way toward shared goals, then we might just also click on the “PS please donate” link and give more money to the campaign.

Thank you for considering it, and thank you for being such an inspiration.

Sincerely,
Tom

Empathy and the Obligations of Freedom

[NB: Before I left Twitter—having barely been on Twitter—I was inept at Twitter. Which would have been obvious to anyone who ever read how much (or rather, how little) I wrote there. The inability to edit, among other things, was a deal-breaker for me. Anyway, before I quit, I wrote a few last Twitter threads that I never posted. This is one. The date/time stamp for this post is retroactive; I’ve set it to the day I gave up on editing this particular post in TextWrangler.]

The week before the midterms, I reminded my fiction workshop students that early in the semester, I’d described the restrictions of my writing assignments in the context of our greater freedoms as Americans. In this time and place, I said, you’re free to write what you want.

But in the past few weeks, I said, we have learned that a writer for an American publication was tortured and assassinated for what he wrote. This awful news, I said, makes the freedom of expression seem terribly precious.

I want to share with you a few quotes about empathy, I said. Which may be helpful to you, if you find it hard to think about writing as a worthwhile endeavor in times like these. (In class, I wasn’t as articulate as I would have liked to have been, attempting to say all this.)

The first quote was from George Saunders, since we read “A Perfect Gerbil,” his essay on Donald Barthelme’s “The School,” and his story “Home”:

Why is the world so harsh to those who are losing? Sensing how close we were to the edge financially […], I realized for the first time, in my gut, how harsh life could be and how little it cared if someone failed. […] The realization that failure was possible, even for me, had the effect of increasing my empathy. If life could be this harsh/grueling/boring for someone who’d had all the advantages, what must it be like for someone who hadn’t? A thread of connection went out between me and everyone else. They, too, wanted to be happy.

—from the preface to CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (new edition)

Then I read a favorite quote from Donald Barthelme’s essay “Not-Knowing”:

[A]rt’s project is fundamentally meliorative. The aim of meditating about the world is finally to change the world. It is this meliorative aspect of literature that provides its ethical dimension.

Then this great quote from Nikki Giovanni:

Writers don’t write from experience, though many are resistant to admit that they don’t. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.

I have not read Black Women Writers at Work (1983, Claudia Tate, ed.), but I’m grateful to Jon Winokur (who compiled Advice to Writers) for having tweeted it, and Emily Barton for retweeting it.

My hope, of course, is that this is not all too much to take. I said that I wanted to share these quotes because the news of the world had been particularly devastating the past two weeks.

The torture and assassination of a writer; the attempted assassination of twelve critics of the current “louche shyster” (Josh Marshall) aka the “umber Maginot” (Rick Wilson) aka the “self-pitying drama queen” (Peggy Noonan); the massacre of eleven of my landsmen—it has all been, to put it mildly (and to view it only in one way), terrible failures of empathy.

In the face of all this, I view creative writing workshops—and the greater categories workshops inhabit (the practice of writing, the study of literature, the liberal arts, even liberal democracy itself)—as tantamount to a religious practice.

I am asking my students, I suppose, to share my faith. Which, again, I hope is not overwhelming. Perhaps they just want to write stories! But writing stories is a political act. Not seeing writing as political is itself political.

I didn’t say all this in class, of course.

It is not my job to advocate for a candidate or a cause. But it is my job, I believe, to challenge them. It is my job to make the case to my students that they have grave and magnificent responsibilities.

I closed with a quote from Alexander Chee. (Alex, if you ever happen to read this, I haven’t told you how much I enjoyed How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. I already knew that the individual essays were good—what surprises me still is how astonishing well they fit together into a larger whole, how they come together as a narrative, as a memoir.)

My syllabus ends with this quote:

Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whatever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write.

But this week, I ended my class with a longer excerpt from the last paragraph:

If you are reading this, and you’re a writer, and you, like me, are gripped with despair, when you think you might stop: Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whatever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write. And when war comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—be sure you write for the living too. The ones you love and the ones who are coming for your life. What will you give them when they get there?

—from “On Becoming an American Writer

In the quote I initially included in my syllabus, I think I was wary of mentioning war and “the ones who are coming for your life.”

But here they are: they don’t come across borders. They cross a border in their mind, then go across town on Shabbat.

Vote, I told my students. Vote!

The world will be a different place when class meets next week. We just don’t know how or in what way.

I didn’t tell them who to vote for.

But I think only the authoritarian bent on exploiting the values of a free society in order to undermine those very values would say that a teacher can’t urge a student to exercise the franchise.

Sibling March

a button found on the ground at the sibling marchHe found it on the ground at the March for Our Lives sibling march on the Walkway Over the Hudson. He asked if he could keep it. He knows the word, in part because Emily and I have said it a few times, but mainly because of Hamilton, which has something like three curse words. During many of the times when we’ve listened to the soundtrack in the past two years, we’ve talked about these curse words: how judiciously and precisely they are deployed in the libretto, how Lin-Manuel Miranda used them when no other word could do. Could he keep it? Could he put it on his hat? Yes and yes. Fuck the NRA. Fuck you, NRA, or rather, fuck you, the nihilist death cult that took you over from the inside, ever since the “Cincinnati Revolt” coup in 1977 (see Jill Lepore, “Battleground America“). Yes, this boy (this proud Jewish American, this proud Son of the American Revolution) can wear this on his hat, and yes, I will proudly follow him and all the children leading us. (The winds on the bridge were fierce and cold. We wanted to turn around. What would Alexander Hamilton do? I asked. He’d keep going, my older son said. But we’re not at war, he added. Well, we kind of are, I said.) I will follow you, Hamilton generation, as you lead us into a risen-up democracy and a new peace.

Purim Saves the Day; Or, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Mezuzah

batman and darth vader take out the trash and the recycling

I look forward to the day when the time change in the spring must happen, according to the American candy lobby, before Purim, because Purim will have become completely assimilated into the wider corporate American culture, as candy and costume manufacturers (and drugstore chains and large retailer chains etc.) will have realized that it’s a readymade Halloween II, almost perfectly spaced on the calendar (give or take a lunar month), and that it really doesn’t have to just be for kids being raised in the wonders of the Jewish revival of early twenty-first century; it doesn’t have to be just children dressing up as Esther and Haman and IDF soldiers and beyond (the beyond is key to the assimilation and corporatization, of course). Like gentile kids who go to school with Jewish kids being raised in the marvels of the Jewish revival of the early twenty-first century, corporate America will widen its eyes with wonder at the news that yes, even more marvelous than getting presents for eight nights instead of one morning is the fact of a whole other Halloween, a spring Halloween, with all the candy and all the sugar and all the sugar crashes. There will be confusion over the timing—when is the time change this year, it seems like it’s early this year, that’s because Purim is early this year and the American candy lobby (at least, in secret, or at least, in secret according to myth and Purimist conspiracy theories) controls when the time change happens because of all the money they make now on trick-or-treating for Purim, also known as Halloween II. That dastardly candy lobby! But all of this will be good for the Jews, and will wither the nasty, jealous rage of the anti-Semites whose awful power is currently on the rise in America, because it will be as if Judaism regained the power it once had, centuries ago, as a proselytizing religion: this is a rigorous club, not an exclusive one; you, too, can be a part of it; in the meantime, you and your family can participate in this rediscovered and syncretically reinvented holiday; you don’t have to figure out yourself exactly which weekend the time change is going to happen, because the time change (and Purim, and Easter, for that matter) is on your smartphone’s calendar; and also, while we’re at it, everyone needs to stop toppling headstones at night, like a bunch of racist cowards, please. We are all stronger together, not divided, like the troll farms and their authoritarian overlords would like us to be. Purim, like Esther, can save the day.

Abraham Joshua Heschel's mezuzah

PS Look, I wrote a blog post! That felt good. Although writing this, I realize it may become a part of an essay I am hoping to write. Topics touched on may or may not include and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s office-door mezuzah at the Jewish Theological Seminary, shown here in this picture I took on December 5, 2016 (quoting Emily’s and my ketubah, using text that appears in the ketubah template in the back of Anita Diamant’s The Jewish Wedding Now, “as we customarily count time“). The essay may also reference Arnold Eisen’s talk “The Blessing of Assimilation—Then and Now.”

PPS See also the Danny Trejo monologue from Reindeer Games (which is hilarious in context, but isn’t really at all funny taken out of context): “It says here the retail industry does 50% of its business between December 1st and December 25th. That’s half a year’s business in one month’s time. It seems to me, an intelligent country would legislate a second such gift giving holiday. Create, say, a Christmas 2, late May, early June, to further stimulate growth.”

PPPS See also: “The daylight saving time debate makes headlines for a few days each year, but I’m skeptical that there’s enough political will to modify the system that has largely been used for decades (a few tweaks to DST start and end dates notwithstanding).”

Notes on a Brief and Failed Dare, and Reasons for Hope

a postcard to Barbara Lee

My failed dare started when I triangulated these three things:

So many of us run from intimacy by using hobbies, a job, or events that, on the larger scale, you know deep in your heart aren’t nearly as important. Instead, try a new habit that links you. Write a thank-you note every night to someone—a teacher, a coworker, a doctor, a friend, or your spouse.

Mehmet Oz, Prevention magazine, October 2012

As spectators we are disdainful, sneering; as partisans we are responsible, sensitive to what the moment demands, and convinced that the sense of meaning grows not by spectacular acts but by quiet deeds, day to day.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Existence and Celebration”; from Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays

Use the mail. Use the mail. Use the mail. Use the mail.

Many of you are doing simple actions of resistance and protest. Allow me to suggest another. May I suggest you begin to use the Postal Service. First let me remind you that you do. A letter carrier has you on a route 6 days a week. But we all have cut back on contributing on the front end of the act. […] Send postcards, letters, there is even a rate for media mail. It is a quick action. One you can do between calling your rep, signing a petition on line etc. Heck, send me a postcard. I will respond.

Michael Martone

I triangulated these things on the dark days right around the Electoral College vote. And I had the idea: on top of phone calls and petitions and marches and letters and postcards, could I also send a thank-you note every single day? Specifically, could I, from 20 December 2016, the Electoral College vote, through 20 January 2021, the inauguration of the next President, write at least one note of kindness and gratitude per day?

I tweeted:

A dare: From 12/20/2016-1/20/2021, mail ≥1 public &/or private notecard or postcard/day. 1,492 days. Hope, thanks, pluralism, civics, love.

I made it eighteen days.

Why did I fail at this? In part, to be honest, because it’s hard to track down everyone’s addresses. In part because I was trying to carefully document the whole thing (too carefully and thoroughly, really): transcribing the text, photographing the postcards, then writing a tweet about the postcard I’d just written. It was too much to do every single day, without fail, for 1,492 days.

I’m good at the without-fail part.

But maybe I have limits.

And then, speaking of fire, there is burnout, the genuine exhaustion of those who tried—though sometimes they tried in ways guaranteed to lead to frustration or defeat (and then, sometimes, they burned out from being surrounded by all these other versions of left despair, to say nothing of infighting).

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (p. 21)

Maybe we all have limits individually.

But together, we are unstoppable.

From the Indivisible Guide: “Figure out how to divide roles and responsibilities among your group.”

From my friend KC: “Remember: you are meant to feel overwhelmed, dismayed, despairing. […] We are standing together but we are dividing up the work.”

I am resisting. I’m in the crowd. I’m calling, I’m signing, I’m using the mail.

I think I’m old enough to know myself well enough to know that I’m probably never going to be leading the march. But I’m solidly in it.

I’m bringing what I’ve got to the fight.

The Truth About the Electoral College

1) “The Truth About the Electoral College” (below) is an animation written by me, produced by Chris Bonner, and drawn and animated by Sarah Berland (née Bereczki). It’s a satire of the Schoolhouse Rock style, with a lot more swear words. We made it in the first half of 2000.

[flashvideo file=http://tomhop.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/electoral.swf /]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

It’s a cranky, badly compressed animation that, amazingly, still works—although the pause button is broken, so it just hurtles ahead whether you like it or not. (Kind of like our worse-than-winner-take-all system of electing the president!)

2) This originally ran as part of an online series of funny/informative content thingies called “The Truth About”; the series was published on a website that ceased to exist not long after this first ran. I re-posted it here on my website right after the 2000 presidential election, but before the disastrous Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision. As of September 2016, I’m going to leave that post with its original pub date as-is, but I’m going to add this updated post with some additional details as well.

Namely, I’m adding the Creative Commons license, in case someone out there wants to take on the challenge of redoing/remaking this into something less technologically cranky and more fresh and exciting! As of 2016, the fate of the whole world rests in the hands of the American electorate. I’m hoping a better understanding of the Electoral College will encourage everyone to vote—and encourage everyone not to throw away their vote in a worse-than-useless protest.

3) As I’m hoping everyone reading this already knows, Al Gore won the presidential election with a margin of something like half a million votes. But he lost because of some combination of protest votes for Ralph Nader, a few hundred votes in Florida, right-wing Astroturf activists on the ground, a 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore (that basically said that the legitimacy of a Bush presidency would be compromised by a total and indisputable Gore victory), and—more than anything, really—the structural awfulness that is the Electoral College.

(Yes, I know: Gore lost Tennessee. To which I say: Half! A! Million! Votes!)

If you want to know more, read The Electoral College Primer 2000. It hasn’t been updated in sixteen years (and, obviously, neither has the Electoral College), but it’s maddeningly and terrifyingly prescient. I haven’t found a better introduction to the subject. Let me know if you have.

4) For anyone interested in taking advantage of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license in the next six weeks, here’s “The Truth About the Electoral College” script. I’ve tried to update what we originally wrote to be a closer approximation of what we ended up recording. Apologies for any errors here; I’ll probably keep refining this after posting:

Kid: Extree, extree! Senator Brayin Jackass elected president! Senator Jackass is the new president of the United States!
Dr. E.: Well, he won the popular vote, but he hasn’t been elected president yet. When your mommy voted yesterday, she didn’t vote for president! Her vote goes to a group of people called the Electoral College. And they’re the ones that will decide who becomes president.
Kid: But—I thought America was a representative democracy, where the people elect the president.
Dr. E.: Jesus Christ, kid, are you high on crack?! Our Founding Fathers took great pains to make sure that the people would never elect the president directly!

(sung) Many many many many years ago
It was seventeen eighty-seven or so—
If my drug-hazed high school memories serve me right

The summer in Philly was hot and sticky
Our Founding Fathers were crabby and picky
And yet they hadn’t even begun to fight!

They almost had the Constitution done,
‘cept how to pick their number one,
The top-dog-cheese, the boss-mac-daddy-prince

And whaddaya know? Hey, look! A big surprise,
They settled on a crippling compromise,
And we’ve barely dodged the fallout ever since!

(spoken) You see, the first major fuckup was in article II of the Constitution. Article II goes like this: Each state shall appoint a certain number of people called “electors.” And then when people vote, their votes don’t go to the presidential candidates. The votes go to the electors. And all of the electors, called the Electoral College, vote for president.

Kid: Who are these electors, anyway?

Dr. E.: (sung) The electors were supposed to be good and wise
Like your favorite uncle in disguise
But then the whole thing went from bad to worse

Americans are supposed to vote for themselves
Not for a college of electoral elves
And that’s when they should have sent it off in a hearse!

But instead of putting it in the ground
They just fiddled and tweaked it all around
And it looms over the country like a ticking, time-bomb curse

(spoken) They wrote and ratified a whole bunch of amendments to the Constitution, which go something like this: The Electoral College elects the president, but only if the leading candidate has a majority. If there’s not a majority, the Electoral College goes home, and the House of Representatives elects the president.

Kid: A deadlock gets thrown into the House of Representatives?
Dr. E.: That’s right! It’s only happened twice, but sometimes people have tried to force it to happen, like Strom Thurmond in ’48, or George Wallace in ’68.
Kid: Why would they do that?
Dr. E.: Because they hated black people! And when the American public didn’t agree with them, they were hoping that maybe their buddies in Congress would.
Kid: Oh, I get it.
Dr. E.: But check this out! It gets worse!

(sung) If the house of reps can’t make up its mind
We’d all wake up the next morning to find
The speaker of the house becomes our president.

Kid: Goddamn it! Can I say fuck again?
Dr. E.: Sure, kid. I think you’d be justified.
Kid: Fuck! Fucky fuck fuck fuck! Fuckity fuck fuck fuck!
Dr. E.: Okay, potty-mouth, I’m gonna finish my song now.

(sung) So in 1996, in the final week,
If Ross Perot hadn’t been such a freak,
We could have had President Gingrich standing tall!

And if that ever happens, we’re out of luck—
It just goes to show how deeply fucked
Things can be in a country where the Founding Fathers didn’t trust the American people at all.

5) Part of the original script that didn’t quite make it into the final:

Jefferson thought it was good as dead
“A blight on the Constitution,” he said,
“And one which some unlucky chance will someday hit.”

But instead of putting it in the ground,
They just fiddled and tweaked it all around,
So there’s a chance the fan might someday meet the shit.

6) Something that seems like it might possibly be a story for journalists: the co-author of The Electoral College Primer 2000, Lawrence Longley—”best known for his expertise and authoritative knowledge of the Electoral College, which he believed was a fatally flawed institution that should be abolished”—died in March 2002. Which means he lived long enough to see the Bush v. Gore decision, the 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the long march to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. How did he feel about all these things? Did he want his book to live on, maybe finally causing enough sustained outrage to accomplish its ultimate goal of the direct election of the president, or something closer to it than we have now?

7) Vote, everyone! Vote! Civilization and life on earth depend on it.

My Petition on Whitehouse.gov

Here’s what I want: I want to buy products made in the U.S. whenever possible. It seems like a simple thing we can do to help create and preserve American jobs. It’s easy to do this in a store, where the product or package says “Made in USA” (too infrequently), “Made in China” (much more frequently), etc. It’s hard to do this online.

I want to have the same information when shopping online that I do in a brick-and-mortar store: I want to be able to know that a Poof-Slinky football is made in the U.S., whereas a Nerf football is not. (Amazon didn’t tell me this; USMadeToys.com did. I got a Poof-Slinky football for Toby for Hanukkah!)

As my friend Bill Mann points out, if you want to only buy Albanian-made or Azerbaijani-made, this would be beneficial to you as well.

I think this is a straightforward, sensible, nonpartisan, and easy-to-implement idea. If you agree, can you sign, forward, share, tweet, telegraph, etc.?

Here’s the title of my petition:

Require online retailers to provide country of origin information about products sold over the Internet.

And here’s the description:

In stores of all kinds in the U.S., just about any product—clothing, electronics, food—displays its country of origin (COO): on the product itself, on the packaging, and/or on display information nearby.

This helps us make informed judgements about product quality. It lets us be consumer patriots who support the American economy by buying American goods. But we can’t buy American if we don’t know COO.

COO is a field that already exists in product databases. It is easily propagated with preexisting data.

We Americans can be consumer patriots when we shop in brick-and-mortar stores. We should be able to do so when we shop online, too. Help the Web catch up with in-person commerce. Help us create and preserve good American jobs. Help us all have the chance to be online consumer patriots.

Thanks for your support!

Alas, Poor Country

From Act 4, scene 3.

An excerpt, with an ellipsis in the middle.

Text cut and pasted from MIT’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

ROSS

Alas, poor country!
Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
Be call’d our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air
Are made, not mark’d; where violent sorrow seems
A modern ecstasy; the dead man’s knell
Is there scarce ask’d for who; and good men’s lives
Expire before the flowers in their caps,
Dying or ere they sicken.

MACDUFF

O, relation
Too nice, and yet too true!

MALCOLM

What’s the newest grief?

ROSS

That of an hour’s age doth hiss the speaker:
Each minute teems a new one.

[…] But I have words
That would be howl’d out in the desert air,
Where hearing should not latch them.

MACDUFF

What concern they?
The general cause? or is it a fee-grief
Due to some single breast?

ROSS

No mind that’s honest
But in it shares some woe; though the main part
Pertains to you alone.

MACDUFF

If it be mine,
Keep it not from me, quickly let me have it.

ROSS

Let not your ears despise my tongue for ever,
Which shall possess them with the heaviest sound
That ever yet they heard.

MACDUFF

Hum! I guess at it.

ROSS

Your castle is surprised; your wife and babes
Savagely slaughter’d: to relate the manner,
Were, on the quarry of these murder’d deer,
To add the death of you.

MALCOLM

Merciful heaven!
What, man! ne’er pull your hat upon your brows;
Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.

MACDUFF

My children too?

ROSS

Wife, children, servants, all
That could be found.

MACDUFF

And I must be from thence!
My wife kill’d too?

ROSS

I have said.

MALCOLM

Be comforted:
Let’s make us medicines of our great revenge,
To cure this deadly grief.

MACDUFF

He has no children. All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?

VOOM, AH-WHOOM; or, The Cat in the Hat Strikes Back

Every time I read this (which is often—sometimes nightly; from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat Comes Back; p. 59 in the Beginner Books Book Club Edition, copyright 1958—our copy still in great shape and going strong!):

Then the Voom…
It went voom!
And, oh boy! What a voom!

Now, don’t ask me what Voom is.
I never will know.
But, boy! Let me tell you
It does clean up snow!

I think of this, the scariest moment in Cat’s Cradle, when the dead body of “Papa” falls into the ocean, freezing the entire planet (from the fifty-sixth printing of the New Dell Edition; copyright is 1963, print date is July 1983—half the age of the Seuss, and completely falling apart, but still functional!):

There was a sound like that of the gentle closing of a portal as big as the sky, the great door of heaven being closed softly. It was a grand ah-whoom.

I opened my eyes—and all the sea was ice-nine.

The moist green earth was a blue-white pearl.

The sky darkened. Borasisi, the sun, became a sickly yellow ball, tiny and cruel.

The sky was filled with worms. The worms were tornadoes.

In other words, for me, reading The Cat in the Hat Comes Back brings back childhood Reagan-era fears of a nuclear war—isn’t it about the Bomb, the arms race, the Cold War, capitalism, American exceptionalism?

Much of Seuss, in a way, is about capitalism—about the anxiety of a culture of conspicuous consumption (“Have you a Zans for cans? You should.” “We have the only Gack in town.” “[Y]ou should get a Yink.” “All girls […] [s]hould have a pet like this at home.”).

But that enthusiastic voom!—it freaks me out.

Meet the New Pleasure Dome, Same as the Old Pleasure Dome

(Week-of-unrelated-quotes catch-up post, three of five.)

From Eliot Weinberger’s critique of a show at the Met, “The World of Khubiliai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty,” which closed last month:

Yuan meant “origin”—as in “back to the origins”—and Khubilai [Khan] revived ancient Confucian court rituals and had a dynastic history written in the traditional manner to justify its heaven-endowed legitimacy. His greatest claim as a Chinese emperor was that the Yuan eventually unified the country as it had not been in centuries. The Jin Dynasty had conquered half of the Song Dynasty, but the southern portion continued on for 150 years. The Southern Song, a wealthier and more populated region, with some 50 million people, had become weak and bankrupt as—in a pattern that has become all too familiar—the rich managed to legally avoid paying taxes while military expenses greatly increased.

—Eliot Weinberger, “Xanadu in New York,” The New York Review of Books, 23 December 2010