Posted tagged ‘news’

Cake Casuistry and Sarah Palin

November 17, 2009

Eaten Cake Too

“Can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

For much of my life, I did not understand what that expression meant.  Oh, I understood its general import; I heard my grandmother sigh it with a sorry shake of her head often enough.

But I couldn’t understand how it actually worked.   Didn’t you have to have your cake in order to eat it?

Even when I finally did get the literal meaning of the words, (“have” as in “continuing to have”, “eat” as in, you know–), I still resisted their logic.  Why couldn’t you save half the cake and eat the other half?  Even if you did eat the whole piece, didn’t you still have it –in your stomach?  At least for a while?

Ultimately, I think my problem was not so much with the expression’s words as with its meaning, especially its meaning for women of my generation.   There were just so many cakes that we wanted to have and eat too—an engaging career and time to attentively raise children; a good paycheck and creative, non-corporate work; a husband who worked and was available to his family; a daily blog and adequate sleep–

So many secret little nibbles of cake, so many secret little hoardings of crumbs, so very many empty or half-empty mouthfuls.

The parceling out of cake, even talking about parceling it out, was simply very hard for some of us;  it continues to be hard for many younger women too.   (Many women, for example, still feel the burden of keeping quiet about a sick child, an aging parent, a wayward husband, simply to protect perceptions of their job performance.  Others find that the job performance problems created by these factors aren’t limited to perception—such non-work matters demand their energy, time, and decision-making on a dailybasis.)

The genuine complexity of these issues is, I think, one reason why some women find Sarah Palin so troublesome.  Although Palin has clearly had her own difficulties with choices of this kind, she glosses these over, trying to have her cake and eat it too in the very same (somewhat disjointed) sentence.

She purports, for example, to be both attentive mom of five and also hands-on executive, lover of the wild but also driller, generous-spirited but also vindictive enough to ward off challenge, winking Josephine Six-pack but also policy “wonk”, perky but contemptuous of the perky, Alaskan hunter of moose and nationwide hunter of bucks, quitter but also stay-the-courser, insulting, reductive and libelous, but quick to find insult, reduction and libel in others, a self-declared claimant of down-to-earth clarity who obfuscates and confuses.

As my family will groaningly testify, I have sometimes expressed a surprising sympathy for Palin (even when cringing on the opposite side of the fence.)   I don’t like to see any woman ridiculed; I understand how difficult it is for a woman to carve out an individual or powerful style in our culture.  But her glibness has lately introduced so many  quoted untruths into common parlance that it is hard for me to retain much sympathy;  these have not only lowered the debate but significantly damaged it, and, when added to Palin’s  pursuit of earnings in the millions, have lately brought another “cake” phrase to mind.  Not the old saying of my grandmother’s, but the, perhaps, older one of Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat….”

Obama Truly At Dover

November 1, 2009

After all the silliness, I want to comment on something truly newsworthy—Obama’s late-night, early-morning trip to Dover, Delaware (October 29), to salute the 18 fallen soldiers whose remains were returned from Afghanistan.  Maureen Dowd has an interesting article about it this morning (November 1, 2009 – “Port Mortuary’s Pull”).  (For video footage involving one soldier’s casket, whose family gave full permission for filming, see

Apparently, Liz Cheney, and others on the right are accusing Obama of using the moment as a photo op.  Dowd quotes Cheney as saying, to a Fox News radio host, “I think that what President Bush used to do is do it without the cameras.”  Dowd goes on to point out that Cheney’s right:  “There were no press cameras at Dover in the previous administration. There was also no W.”

What Cheney and others also fail to note is how small a portion of Obama’s participation was actually covered in the supposed photo-op:  a part of the “dignified transfer” of one soldier out of eighteen, a meeting with a chaplain and all of the families; all through the night.

I’m not saying that the loss of one night’s sleep is a huge sacrifice.  I’m just trying to further emphasize the ridiculousness of Cheney’s statement, and of any statement trying to cast doubt on Obama’s sincerity. Any person with an ounce of neutrality can see the somber gravity of Obama’s expression; it’s as clear as the blowing of that early morning wind.

Thinking About Kennedys

August 26, 2009

Thinking about the Kennedys today after watching videos on the news.   Very glad for Teddy’s relatively long life, his long service, and too, well, the simple fact that he died a natural death.

He was not electric like his  political brothers (which may be part of why he lived so long).  But he also was exposed to a kind of public scrutiny that they never had to face.  Plus he had to deal with the simple difficulties of extended life.  Who knows how the reputations of John and Bobby would have fared had they lived longer?

Even a eulogist would admit that Teddy was far from perfect.  But you have to admire people who just hunker down, and who,  despite disappointment, tragedy and disgrace, just try to do their part.

Obviously, people tend to romanticize the Kennedy’s hugely.  We have such a cult of celebrity in this country;  they fit the bill very nicely, what with the looks, the memorable speech patterns, the sheer number and variety of the family members, the equally large numbers of tragedies, the money, the religion, and too, the very human vices.    And finally, they illustrated (for lack of a better word) a kind of archetypal nobility, a kind of Robin Hood quality.  Which came from the fact that they were rich people who worked for causes associated with the poor.   (It is hard to find the Bushes noble in the same way.  They seem, at least to me, to be a rich political family who works for the rich.)

Then too, there is the fact that the deaths of Bob and Robert were simply so shocking.  This was because of their youth;  maybe too because of the relative youth of our media culture.  We were less bombarded then.  The deaths hit us so hard.

Anyone old enough to remember the deaths at all remembers them exactly.  They know  where they were when they heard the news of John’s assassination; and then, five years later, the hours and hours they waited for Bobby to die. These were “Pearl Harbor” moments, airstrikes to the collective consciousness.

JFK’s death was different for me than Bobby’s, of course;  in part because he was President, in part because he was the first, in part because it was 1963 and not 1968.  Bobby’s death came right on the heels of Martin Luther King’s death, and of course, in the middle of the Vietnam War.   But Bobby’s death was so sad.  Less aloof than JFK, he seemed so vulnerable, so warm.

I do not bring up the deaths of Bobby and JFK to in any way diminish Teddy.    It’s simply hard to hear of his death without thinking of theirs.  He was so very dignified through these times.

It all this reminded me of a piece I wrote several years ago, an excerpt from a novel called Nice that starts with RFK’s death.   I include it below:

And then Bobby Kennedy was shot.  Kate had stayed up late, and her mom most of the night, watching the t.v. people try to decide whether he’d have brain damage.

Her mom kept moaning, “oh why didn’t they watch him, they should have watched him.”  Then she’d whisper too, “what in the world is happening to this country?”

That was the dark pool everyone stared into.  Most seemed afraid to actually say the words, but some came straight out with it.  “I just can’t understand what’s happening to this country,” one black woman cried from the screen.  “Jack, Martin, and now Bobby.”

They had the t.v. on the next day at school too, while Bobby was being operated on.  The teachers opened up the sliding wall between the two sixth grades so they could all see.  The wall was a soft zig-zaggy thing that folded up like a blubbery fan.  The teachers had said at the beginning of the year they’d open it all the time for special activities but they never had before this.

There was nothing much new on.  The announcers mainly just paused, their faces masks of seriousness.  Then said the same old stuff again in voices too tired for the normal attack dog edge.

Still, it felt important to Kate that they keep watching.  If they all watched, the whole grade, the whole school, the whole country, it felt like they could somehow keep Bobby alive.  And if he lived long enough, they might even be able to force some miracle. If they just all tried.

But the other kids were being so stupid about it, so dumb.  A bunch of boys played desk football, flicking a wadded-up triangle of paper back and forth.   A knot of girls had their heads down on their desks, passing notes under cover of folded arm.

“I’m tired of this,” Bruce Beebee said, as his wad of paper flipped onto the floor.  “Can’t we just watch some cartoons?”

Miss Carlson came over and whispered to him.

“Oh man,” he said, turning his head away.  “I never liked the guy anyway.”

The boys tittered.   The girls picked up their heads to get a better view.  Miss Carlson, a tall woman, bent over further so that her large face, squeezed into a tight fist, almost pressed into his.  She took his arm too, hard, whispered harder.

Kate sat up straight so she could be seen to be watching the t.v., fearful that the teachers would get fed up, just turn it off.

Some guy talked about the Secret Service.  Armed gunmen, line of fire.  Paid bodyguards and working the crowds.  Bruce stopped pulling from Miss Carlson, suddenly attentive.  The other boys turned up their heads too.  Safe for a little while, Kate lay her head down on her desk, facing a bulletin board.  She’d heard all this stuff the night before.  Maybe even twice.

Miss Carlson had hung their reports about the Old West up there.  California.  Kate’s cover was made of red paper, filled by a setting sun.  The red looked purplish in the dark, the sun like a big eye.

The thing was that Bobby seemed like a real person. Of course, Martin Luther King was a person too, and JFK.  But Bobby seemed somehow different, like a big boy, like one of his own kids.  Every once in a while, they showed pictures of them playing football, real football, blurs of teeth, hair, sweater.

Though what they mainly showed was the other picture, his arms outstretched, his head cradled in blood, his eyes staring upwards as if watching a flight of the spirit.

The room seemed suddenly darker, the splinters of light at the sides of the drawn shades softening to blurred bolts of shadow.   Though it was hard to see much beyond the dark shapes of things, she could sense Miss Carlson just to her side, her reddish cheeks covered with tears.  Mrs. Brown too.  Mrs. Brown with the round teased hair and pink skirt suits, who you could just tell was a Republican.

Dear God, she suddenly prayed.  Let them come out now, let them say that he’s okay.

Let him be President too, okay—just let him have it.

Who even cares about president?  Just let him be okay.

When the newsman said he had died, the teachers turned off the t.v.   It was already time to go home.

The room was too bright, even though a few shades were still drawn, everything looked cheap, rundown, plastic.  Kids banged their chairs onto their desks, grabbing each other.  Buses were called over the loudspeaker.

She wanted to cry.  She wanted to walk arm in arm with someone and cry.  That’s what the big kids had done when JFK had been shot.   They’d been taken out to the playground.  She’d only been in first grade back then and couldn’t really cry, had simply walked around watching them.

But crying wasn’t what people were doing now, not the kids anyway.  They were talking and fighting and pushing each other; they were just getting out of there, the sense of shock left to the sides of the dim broad halls where the teachers stood, grim monitors of the crowd.

All rights reserved (Karin Gustafson)

Re “Symbol of Unhealed Congo” N.Y. Times August 4

August 5, 2009

I  read a chilling article in the New York Times this morning (by Jeffrey Gettelman, published in August 4, 2009 New York Times) about the increasing number of male rape victims in the Congo. It’s an experience of absolute destruction for these men and boys. Some do in fact die shortly after the rapes, others live as if dead.

The horror for the men does not end with the particular violence. Their culture frequently does not extend empathy, but confronts them with derision. Which is what they also feel for themselves. They seem to be derisive of themselves not because they somehow attracted the fate they suffered, but simply because they experienced it.

The article points out that, of course, there are many more women rape victims than men, and that many of their lives are destroyed as well. But I’m not writing here to compare the levels of destruction of the two sexes—destroyed is destroyed.

I don’t really like to read these types of articles.  Sometimes I just don’t.

But skipping over the articles feels almost worse than reading them. Not that I do anything when I read them. (I sometimes, but I have to confess, rarely, give to charities working in war zones.)  I tell myself when I do read an article like this that I am trying to make myself aware. At least I am learning about the suffering, somehow bearing witness to the horror.

But does that actually mean anything?  Isn’t it pathetic in every sense of the world?  Why don’t I do more?

Is it because I am basically so comfortable in my life that I can’t identify with this suffering? Or is it because I am so bothered by my relatively minor discomforts that I refuse to identify?

Or am I just lazy? Miserly?  Self-aggrandizing?

Maybe.  I don’t know.

For me the articles raise another question too. (Not how can people be so cruel to each other?  Though that’s a pretty good one.) Simply why is life so unfair?

Why are some people made to suffer so horribly?  How is it that they can be  snatched out of their lives and destroyed? How come nobody (nobody else) stops it?

I understand that these questions reflect my rather luxurious expectation that life should be fair. That good should triumph at least by the last minute. That every cloud should have a silver lining. That all should ultimately turn out to be for the best.

I know it’s crazy, immature.  But I grew up watching Hollywood movies, reading great and not great novels, going to church, believing in the U.S. of A., being given many many advantages.

In the world of my youth, nothing was supposed in vain. No accident was completely senseless, without at least a teaching.  Certainly, there were events deemed unfortunate, even tragic–bad marriages, irrecoverable accidents– but one tried to not talk of such events too much.  And if one did speak of them, to emphasize what came out of them that could be called good.

In this belief system, one tries to hope that maybe the increase in male rape will somehow bring attention to these issues, will focus the world’s mind more than all the female rape, will make people act in the Congo, will bring some kind of peace.

Even I, a child of the West, a lover of storybook endings, cannot swallow that. Not for these particular men anyway, these men who each stare away from the camera in the Times.

So what should I do?