Bush Can Write?

That was my first thought on hearing talk of Dubya’s presidential memoir. My second was, “Heh.”

Bush’s immediate predecessor, Clinton, signed up with Knopf within months of leaving office, but his approval ratings were far higher than Bush’s, even though he was impeached for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The first President Bush, defeated for re-election by Clinton, never did write a memoir. He instead worked on a foreign policy book, “A World Transformed,” with his close friend and National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft.

Anti-Bush books have been dependable hit-makers during a rough decade for the industry, but publishers are unsure of the market for a book by Bush. Few believe he has a chance to get the $15 million Clinton received for “My Life” and some question the quality of a memoir by Bush and especially Vice President Dick Cheney, who has also expressed in writing a book, but is not known for being self-critical.

Full story here.

Bush Can Write?

Student Life (and Death)

Dr. Isis, in her new digs, is writing about teachers letting themselves into students’ lives. She’s looking at it through the lens of writing, but there are…never mind, I’ll just tell the story.

Fall semester of my sophomore year of college, two things happened that shouldn’t be related. I got a gamma globulin shot, and I officially changed majors. The event that linked the two was the death of Jon, my buddy and lab partner.

Jon was an unrepentant geek. Band geek, physics geek, punner, the kind who taught himself to flip a pen around his fingers and would practice in class even though the pen would occasionally skitter noisily away. He was the kind of geek who crushed on female friends without any expectation that there could be more.


One weekend Jon went home to do laundry and see the family. He didn’t come back Sunday night because he thought he had the flu. A few days later he was in the hospital, then moved to the local university hospital, comatose and in need of a new liver. It was hepatitis.

I thank whoever decided that the hospital needed large waiting rooms. Jon would have been gratified to see how many of us huddled together there. He would have understood, too, as the wait went on for days and people drifted back to school except for an hour or two here or there. The three of us who hung around except to sleep and shower and work when we had to were the ones who had already been through bad stuff, who knew that the strain was survivable and ultimately better than not knowing what was happening. Jon would have stayed too.

It was a week before a donor liver was found. Jon’s kidneys had shut down and he was on dialysis. Neither Jon’s family nor those of us who’d stayed told the others that we could read the doctors’ faces by that point. Somehow, those told a story that the percentages couldn’t. They told us how critical the next few hours were.

The surgery went well, technically, but the liver never started working for Jon. His body rejected it, as sluggishly as it was doing everything else. Dialysis got more difficult as his veins stopped functioning properly. Somewhere in there, I made the mistake of telling one of the hopeful people that it was over, Jon was dying. I don’t think he forgave me.

Then Jon died, about a week after the transplant.

I think that was when they finally got around to asking which of us might have had close enough contact to be in danger. The night before Jon had gone home, we’d been out for beers with another friend. (Yes, I was barely eighteen. So sue me.) This friend was all but bawling over his impossible love, and Jon and I took turns stealing his beer and drinking it when he wasn’t paying attention. We still had to prop him up to walk him home, but we kept him away from dangerously drunk. I earned a gamma globulin shot for that. So did our friend, but he also got the girl in the middle of all the stress.

No one, by the way, ever figured out why Jon’s liver went bad. It wasn’t any of the known strains of hepatitis.

Going back to classes was hard. I dropped multivariable calculus without regret. I was taking it from the incomprehensible teacher who’d written the incomprehensible book, and having Jon as a study partner was the only reason I hadn’t already decided to take it at a different school. I took an incomplete in optics, meaning to go back when I could face the lab without my lab partner. I don’t remember what my third class was, something where the grade was dependent on midterm, final, and papers. It was flexible and not something Jon was taking with me.

I woke up the first morning I was fully back on campus to discover that there was a test scheduled in my fourth class–psychology–in three hours. I’d skipped one test, as allowed under the rules of the class, the first week Jon was in the hospital. I couldn’t skip this one. I went to the professor to ask for a one-day extension. I think I even managed not to cry in his office.

He said no. He explained that the ability to drop a test was there to cover bad situations and that it wouldn’t be fair to other students to make a special rule for me. He, not unkindly, suggested I start studying.

I did. I read the chapters I’d missed, even though I wanted to curl up into a tiny ball instead. I barely finished them, having to go back so many times because I realized I wasn’t taking anything in. The test was a nightmare. I knew I wasn’t doing well. I couldn’t concentrate, and I could barely remember what I’d read. I hated my professor and wondered how life could pile one unfairness on top of another.

When the tests came back, mine had an “A” at the top and no other marks on the page.

I may have learned more in that class than in any other I’ve ever taken.

All of which is a very long way of responding to Dr. Isis’s concerns about doing students an injustice in taking their personal situation into account. It certainly doesn’t have to be that way. It can even be an opportunity to help them develop.

Student Life (and Death)

A Letter of Protest

Submitted here. Reasons here. More information on the two undesirables here and here. Feel free to adapt this for your own protest letter.

Dear President-Elect Obama:

By now you have begun to hear concern from the scientific community over the potential appointments of Larry Summers as Treasury Secretary and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. I am not a scientist. I am merely a citizen who must also express her objection to these candidates.

One of the hallmarks of the Bush administration has been the unprecedentedly political nature of appointments. Party and personal loyalty have trumped all considerations of competence, and the country has paid the price in Iraq, in Louisiana and on Wall Street. This can’t be allowed to happen again, but serious consideration of Summers and Kennedy would represent a continued triumph of politics over competence.

Summers has demonstrated a persistent inability to present his ideas with any kind of diplomacy. He cannot lead. Considering the scope of the changes that must come to American markets and the resistance those changes will face, a lack of tact and the inability to inspire others are fatal flaws. In addition, the choice of Summers, even for Treasury, would signal that your administration is not serious in its desire to encourage more women to go into STEM.

Kennedy has done some excellent work for the environment, and he deserves to be recognized for his service. However, he too is unsuited for a leadership role in your administration. His understanding of science is led by his ideology instead of his ideas being shaped by science. This is most apparent in his championing of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, but it applies in his understanding of environmental cause and effect as well. Whoever heads the EPA must be guided by the science instead of choosing which science to believe.

Either of these picks would continue the current administration’s embrace of incompetence and ideology. Neither would represent the change we were promised. And either would lead to a distracting and embarrassing confirmation fight that you cannot afford in the early days of your administration. I have already asked my congressional representatives to support your agenda of change. Please, avoid these candidates and others like them so that I don’t have to ask them to work against you. We don’t have the time for that.

I thank you for your consideration.

A Letter of Protest

The Second Test

We have (oh, finally) elected Obama. We’ve done a good thing, for ourselves, for our country, and for the world. If you were part of this, pat yourself on the back. Celebrate. Treat yourself to a nap, then to a second evening with champagne, or maybe the other way around. (Dr. A, take two of both, please.)

Then have a seat and look around. As I pointed out in the wee, weary hours of last night, many of us failed the first beyond-Obama test. We hired our guy but sent him into the job without all the tools he could use. In Minnesota, a state that went 54% for our president-elect, only 42% voted for the senator who supports the same changes he does.

It’s time for the second test. It’s time to get a hold of your freshly elected representative and your senators, if you know who they are yet. Congratulate those who just won a race. Then get down to business.

Tell them that you didn’t vote for Obama for his charisma. Tell them you didn’t elect him to put the cutest first family ever in the White House. Tell them McCain was wrong about it being because Obama is black.

Tell them you meant it when you voted for change and that one of the first things that is changing is how you and they do business. They sent you email every six hours for the last several weeks. Tell them they should expect to hear from you more often now. They told you when and where action was needed. Tell them you’ll be doing the same for them.

Start now by telling them which of Obama’s inititiatives you expect them to support and make a priority. Remind them that their jobs depend on it. Remind them that they’re not alone in doing this. They still know how to reach you if they need you to rally or write letters or rouse the rabble in some other way.

Tell them you voted for Obama because he inspired you to be a citizen, not just a voter. Then be one.

This is a test. We’re all being graded.

The Second Test

Mixed Feelings

As I sit here, watching local election results come in, I find myself very proud of my country and disappointed in my state. As a nation, we rejected cynicism, rejected the politics of fear. We listened to someone tell us we need to work, and we cheered. After months of hearing the uneasy question, “Are we ready?” we said, “Duh!” We watched the new first family walk out in front of an elated crowd and were unashamed to say that we cried.

Minnesota stood behind Obama with a ten percent margin. That looks like a lot of support–until you look at the results in our other races. We’re sending Michele Bachmann, who doesn’t believe that Obama has America’s best interests at heart, who saw nothing wrong with the Obama Waffles, to Washington to work against him. We’re sending Eric Paulsen, who is merely somewhat smoother and less transparent than Bachmann, to do the same. With his election, Minnesota actually makes its House delegation more conservative.

With 92% of the vote in, it looks as though we’re also sending Rove’s boy Norm back to the Senate. It’s hard to say for sure, but this race should not be close. There was only one candidate in this race whose priorities matched Obama’s.

Looking further down the ballot, there’s much to be happy about and proud of. Dangerous judicial candidates were locked out. We stepped up to pay for the things we say we value. But closer to the top, we failed. We chose the president who asked the most of us, but in our first test, we gave him nothing.

We can’t do this, people. We elected a man whose power lies largely in his ability to move us. If we stand where we have always stood and refuse to budge, we will ensure his failure. If we do not move, we fail ourselves. And we cannot afford to fail.

Mixed Feelings

An Argument in Shakespeare

Because the drama isn’t always all in one place. Sometimes it’s here.

ACT 1: SCENE III. A Starbucks near Brooklyn.

Sound of a modem connecting. Enter three Moderators.

First Mod
Where hast thou been, sister?

Second Mod
Killing trolls.

Third Mod
Sister, where thou?

First Mod
A right-wing nut had posts from NRO,
And spamm’d, and spamm’d, and spamm’d:—
‘Stop it,’ quoth I:
‘Amendment, First!’ the astroturfer cries.
His IP’s to McClatchy gone, with three diff’rent screen names:
But with my Mac I’ll thither wend,
And, faster than the troll can send,
I’ll ban, I’ll ban, and I’ll ban.

And sometimes there.

To ban, or not to ban: that is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in men’s eyes to suffer
the stings and sorrows of discordant words
Or ban and thereby silence them? To ban,
Then sleep in peace, and by a sleep to say
We end the questions and the niggling facts
That thought is prone to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To ban, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub.
For in the censor’s sleep what dreams may come
Though we forbade contrary thoughts,
Must give us pause.

But it’s all drama, nonetheless.

An Argument in Shakespeare

Life in Da Hood

There are times when you wake up, not quite sure why, but knowing it isn’t good.

Two men and a woman, all 19, suffered non-life-threatening wounds when they were shot about 1:35 a.m. Sunday near 1012 E. 21st St., said Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer. The motive was unclear, but it was not a random shooting, he said.

I woke with a vague memory of loud noises and only consciously heard people yelling in what sounded like an argument. There was a cop car at the intersection by the time I was aware enough to move and look. The two ambulances were the big hint that it was serious.

Mostly, I knew that the election was making me sleep deprived (as though I didn’t already know). Usually gunfire wakes me up instantly, so that I’ve been able to count a full clip unloading as I come to consciousness. Not this time. There wasn’t even any adrenaline.

For the curious, no, it doesn’t happen very often. Less than half a dozen times in over ten years, although this is the first time there were injuries to make the paper. The arguments that pull me out of sleep are much more common, especially now, when the economy’s in trouble, but they’re still less frequent than the kids running around after my bedtime who are having too much fun to be quiet.

No, I’m not scared, and no, I’m not moving. In all the time I’ve lived in the city, I’m still further from the closest murder than I was growing up in the suburbs. It’s life, people.

There’s just a little more of it here.

Life in Da Hood

Who Makes You Afraid?

When you head to the polls tomorrow–whenever you evaluate politicians–there’s one question you should ask yourself. “Who makes me afraid?”

I’m not telling you to think about who you’re afraid of. I’m asking you to do something very different and think about who wants you to be afraid.

Who goes beyond talking about our problems to paint you a picture of the most dire consequences of not voting for them? Who’s telling you you’re going to die or go to hell or lose your country? Who is telling you your family is threatened? Your marriage? Your children? Your job? Your house? Your vote?

Fear has its place in making choices. It keeps you from walking too close to that edge or taunting that bear or trying to beat that train. It’s excellent at pushing you to make snap judgments when you face an immediate danger.

Aside from that, fear is a lousy basis for decision-making. The thing that makes fear so useful in that dangerous instant–the ability to suppress conflicting thoughts–makes it counter-productive when you have a complicated situation to evaluate. It’s difficult enough to sort through some of the issues and competing interests that we elect our representatives to deal with without fighting fear’s little injections of adrenaline that clamor for a decision right now!

That’s why it’s always worth looking at who wants you to be afraid. It is possible that they’re just communicating the urgency they feel over a particular issue. However, it’s also possible that they don’t want you thinking very hard about the rest of what they have to say. Anytime you see fear injected into a campaign, it’s always worth taking a step back until you can figure out which it is.

So, as you prepare to vote, don’t forget to ask, “Who makes me afraid?”

Who Makes You Afraid?