Friday, February 29, 2008

New Poems from W. S. Merwin

W. S. Merwin

reading from his latest book,
The Carrier of Ladders,
to Tulane students

New Orleans, 1971

photo by Jack


A Single Autumn

by W. S. Merwin March 3, 2008

The year my parents died

one that summer one that fall

three months and three days apart

I moved into the house

where they had lived their last years

it had never been theirs

and was still theirs in that way

for a while

echoes in every room

without a sound

all the things that we

had never been able to say

I could not remember

doll collection

in a china cabinet

plates stacked on shelves

lace on drop-leaf tables

a dried branch of bittersweet

before a hall mirror

were all planning to wait

the glass doors of the house

remained closed

the days had turned cold

and out in the tall hickories

the blaze of autumn had begun

on its own

I could do anything


Near Field

by W. S. Merwin March 3, 2008

This is not something new or kept secret

the tilled ground unsown in late spring

the dead are not separate from the living

each has one foot in the unknown

and cannot speak for the other

the field tells none of its turned story

it lies under its low cloud like a waiting river

the dead made this out of their hunger

out of what they had been told

out of the pains and shadows

and bowels of animals

out of turning and

coming back singing

about another time

Rain Light

by W. S. Merwin March 3, 2008

All day the stars watch from long ago

my mother said I am going now

when you are alone you will be all right

whether or not you know you will know

look at the old house in the dawn rain

all the flowers are forms of water

the sun reminds them through a white cloud

touches the patchwork spread on the hill

the washed colors of the afterlife

that lived there long before you were born

see how they wake without a question

even though the whole world is burning

The Atlantic on Merwin (click)

W. S. Merwin from Wikipedia (click)

Allen Ginsberg, W.S. Merwin, and myself

one of many N'awlins meals together

Tulane U. 1971

Thursday, February 28, 2008

More Treatment

Found this today in the New York Times (Is someone reading my Blog?)

He Listens. He Cares. He Isn’t Real.

Claudette Barius/HBO

SIGN LANGUAGE Many viewers say that if you want to know why they love Dr. Weston so, it’s in his hands.

Published: February 28, 2008

COMPASSION is an aphrodisiac. It is a potent elixir for sure to those who tune in to HBO five nights a week to watch Gabriel Byrne play Dr. Paul Weston, the rumpled, world-weary shrink of “In Treatment.”

Taking in the world from the depths of his leather armchair, Paul is all ears. And eyes. And hands. Steepled, clasped in contemplation or lingering at his cheek, those hands, especially, express empathy better than words.

“They are like an artist’s hands: I watch them all the time,” said Nian Fish, a fashion publicist in New York. In her mind, Mr. Byrne and Paul, the 50-ish psychotherapist he plays, are fused.

It is hard to say whether it is a fantasy of those fingers trailing across their skin, or the promise of an emotional deliverance that so rivets fans of the show, women in particular. But in recent weeks, the viewers’ ardor has transformed Mr. Byrne and his character into the latest Dr. McDreamy, a television healer-as-lust-object, a flash point for audience passions ranging from fluttery crush to full-on erotic fixation.

“He’s a hunk, totally,” said Elizabeth Easton, an art curator in New York who is among the smitten. “He’s hot.” His sympathetic response to patients “makes him even hotter.”

Some male viewers are also susceptible. Reactions to Mr. Byrne/Paul are “almost visceral,” said Vincent Gagliostro, an American filmmaker who lives in Paris. “When I first watched the show, I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t really like Gabriel Byrne,’ ” he said. “Now I’m totally infatuated with him. I want to watch his every move.”

Similar responses are posted on the Web, where chatter about the show and its brooding protagonist is mostly of the uncensored kind. “I could lick Gabriel Byrne all over,” a fan calling herself Therealzenobia confided on an HBO message board. Another viewer, Kleds, seemed to hang on the actor’s every gesture. “I love, love, love when he licks his lips,” Kleds wrote, “or when he simply sticks his tongue in the front of his mouth near his lips for a second. Sooo sexy.”

On the show, which began on Jan. 29, Paul conducts four sessions a week, seeing a different patient (and in one case a couple) Monday through Thursday. The therapist’s fraught encounters with his patients — including Alex, the guilt-racked aviator; Sophie, the teenage gymnast bent on self-destruction; and Jake and Amy, bickering young marrieds — attract intensely devoted viewers. (On Monday night at 9:30 Eastern, 302,000 people tuned in, according to Nielsen.)

Some of the most passionate identify with Laura, a sullen 30-year-old anesthesiologist who chases Paul with a fervor bordering on the predatory. Early in the series, when Laura confesses during treatment that she loves Paul, he replies, “I am not an option.” The audience knows better. Paul’s attraction to Laura provokes the crisis of conscience that is a central conflict in the series.

Hello, Dr. Freud!

The Paul-Laura relationship (not to mention that between Paul and the viewer) is a case study in erotic transference, during which the patient develops feelings of love and sexual attraction for the therapist. But “transference can be a two-way street,” said Peter S. Kanaris, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Smithtown, N.Y. “The common term is counter-transference, in which the intimacy of the therapy may have triggered feelings of attraction and connection toward the patient.”

“At this point in the series,” Dr. Kanaris added, “I have to say Paul’s counter-transference is not going very well. It makes for good television but bad therapy.”

But transference may be just a fancy name for gratitude. Patients in therapy are often effusively thankful just to have someone pay attention to them.

Diane O’Rourke, a medical writer in Chicago, is reminded of this each time she watches. “There is an old saying,” Ms. O’Rourke said, “that most men would rather have you hear their story than grant their wish.” That truism applies even when the sexes are reversed. In or out of therapy, Ms. O’Rourke added, “you fall in love with anyone who will listen to your story.”

Paul is good at listening. But there are times when his book-jammed study is more battlefield than confessional. His patients often taunt him and pick at his scabs, while he, in turn, provokes in them a tumult of responses. Amy flirts. Sophie threatens suicide. Alex hurls insults that open old wounds. A master of confrontation, Alex chides the doctor, reminding him that he is no saint. Paul, in fact, is estranged from his wife, at odds with his children and patently unhinged by the depth of his feelings for Laura.

“I was first annoyed that he was falling in love with a 30-year-old patient,” said Ms. O’Rourke, who is closer to Paul’s age than Laura’s. “But I realized that he is pained by his own imperfections and learning to cope.”

“Paul is attractive not because he has youthful great biceps,” she added, “but because he’s vulnerable — a real person who wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, worrying, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’

“What could be sexier than that, somebody who knows how fragile you are because he’s so fragile himself?”

Richard Nahem, an American living in Paris and the author of a Web guide about the city, watches the series with a mixture of zeal and unease. “Paul is almost too expressive,” Mr. Nahem said. “A psychologist is supposed to be neutral. But I like that his personal life is in turmoil. You just want to say ‘I’ll take care of you.’ ”

And then you don’t. Part of the drama’s compulsive fascination, viewers say, is that when Paul’s frailties are exposed, he can be off-putting. Snappish and shaken by feelings he can barely express, the psychotherapist is so flummoxed he sometimes turns on Gina, his own therapist and former mentor, played with a mix of compassion and censure by Dianne Wiest.

On such occasions, Mr. Byrne’s sympathetic hands seem repellently waxen. “To me they look like instruments of manipulation,” Ms. Fish said. “Physically, Paul gets disgusting. But I’m still rooting for him to have a victory over his weaknesses.”

A publicist for Mr. Byrne, who was born in Dublin and who earlier in his career starred in “The Usual Suspects” and was married to Ellen Barkin, declined to make him available to comment about the unusually personal feelings some audience members have developed for him and his character. Rodrigo Garcia, the writer and director of the drama, which is adapted from a hit television series in Israel, predicted that as the series continues, through March 29, viewers with a crush on Paul might find the spell broken.

“Sure, Paul is a sex symbol,” he said. “But he makes mistakes along the way. And now that we’re seeing his real problem, maybe he’s not a god after all. It’s like my mother used to say: Being that close to someone, you are seeing his dirty underwear.”

See also:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

You are not getting Sleepy


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Here's some insight into what's happening in the Democratic race to the nomination:

City Journal Home.

Fred Siegel

Yes, We Can’t
From Ralph Waldo Emerson to Deval Patrick, the politics of hope have been a bust.
25 February 2008

Aging baby boomers see in Barack Obama’s down-the-line liberal voting record the promise of a left-wing revival. The college students and twentysomethings of the Millennial Generation see in him a way of pushing the quarrelsome, narcissistic baby boomers off the stage. Someone is bound to be disappointed by this extraordinary performance artist. But what both the boomers and the Millennials share is a desire to be part of what Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in the 1840s, called “the politics of hope.” Emerson wrote during a time of numerous experiments in utopian living. Obama—whose candidacy rests upon a standard utopian dichotomy between the earthly evils of poverty, injustice, war, and partisanship, and the promise of the world to come if we allow him to rescue us—appeals to the same Elysian strain in American and Western political life, largely in remission since 1980, when the 1960s truly ended.

America’s founding fathers were a famously hard-headed lot; they understood that government had to be structured to remedy the “defects of better motives.” Since self-serving interest groups—or factions, as Federalist 10 calls them—were an unavoidable element of liberty, interest could only be checked by competing interest. But while this insight is the main stem of our political tradition, there is another, albeit punctuated, branch—a utopianism that derives from the millenarianism of the sects that emerged from the Protestant Reformation and eventually populated America. “Utopian . . . ideas,” notes Daniel Flynn in his new history of the American Left, are as “American as Plymouth Rock.” This is why, as Sixties activist Bo Burlingham put it, “the Left bobs up and down in American history, a battered and leaky craft which often disappears beneath the tide, but somehow never sinks.”

In the wake of bloody utopian experiments in 1930s Europe, a slew of erudite authors launched compelling attacks on them. Jacob Talmon, Karl Popper, Raymond Aaron, Czeslaw Milosz, and Hannah Arendt laid waste to the historical, philosophical, sociological, and literary assumptions that supported communism and fascism. But their arguments didn’t endure, despite their power. By the mid-1960s, utopianism had again taken hold, and its lure was such that even Arendt, once a vocal opponent, found herself drawn to the religion of politics. Propelled by her disdain for America in general and the Vietnam War in particular, as well as the promise, as she saw it, of worker-control experiments in Europe, she effectively reversed much of her earlier writings.

She wasn’t alone. In 1949, Arthur Schlesinger had published The Vital Center, the canonical statement of disillusioned, empirical, and anti-utopian post–World War II liberalism. Schlesinger praised “the empirical temper” and a realistic sense of man’s limitations that recognized that “freedom means conflict.” Tracing the shared assumptions behind Brook Farm—the famous American utopian experiment of the 1840s—and the Soviet Union, he distanced liberalism from an optimism born of eighteenth-century rationalism and a nineteenth-century romanticism about progress, which left “too many unprepared for the mid-twentieth century.” Democracy, he wrote, “brooks no worship” of great leaders because “it knows that no man is that good.” And Schlesinger rebuked the leftists who, admiring the USSR, couldn’t believe that “ugly facts underlie fair words.” It was an intellectual tour de force.

But a little more than a decade later, Schlesinger—romanced by John F. Kennedy—walked away from these arguments. His admiration for the liberalism of a “moderate pessimism about man” was replaced by hero-worship and a sense of the dashing, aristocratic, articulate Kennedy as someone who could transcend standard political categories. Kennedy’s untimely death canonized the hard-nosed Massachusetts pol—with a mixed record at best as our first celebrity president—as JFK, a Lincoln-like martyr to civil rights, the King of Camelot who, if he had lived, would have made all right with the world. This Kennedy passed into Democratic Party legend and still inspires some today: remember Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign ads, featuring a picture of the young Clinton visiting the White House with a group of young student leaders and shaking hands with Kennedy. Kennedy, the ads implied, was passing the torch.

Obama, the celebrity-like candidate drawing on his generational appeal and noble bearing, fits better into Kennedy’s robes than Clinton did. Unlike Kennedy, who didn’t think of himself in messianic terms, Obama seems short on irony. Still, for lovelorn boomers and for youngsters who’ve known only the failures of the Bush years, Obama promises a Camelot-like reenchantment with politics. “I’ve been following politics since I was about five,” says TV host Chris Mathews. “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers, he’s the New Testament.” In this view, just as Kennedy’s victory in 1960 brought the country out of its Eisenhower-era stupor and put the Catholic question to bed for good, so an Obama victory will reenergize our politics and bring an end to poverty and racial division.

Hillary Clinton has searched in vain for a way to combat Obama’s appeal. In the recent Austin debate, she criticized Obama for borrowing generously from the speeches of his good friend and coeval Deval Patrick, the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. “Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches,” she challenged in the debate’s one charged moment, “is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.” Clinton’s arrow here was not aimed so much at plagiarism—all candidates borrow heavily from each other and from past campaigns—as at Obama’s claim to authenticity. But with the press, on both left and right, all but openly rooting for Obama, little came of her attack; more important, the press missed the true importance of the Patrick comparison.

Bay State journalist Rick Holmes describes Obama and Patrick, fellow Harvard Law School graduates, as “peas in a pod.” Patrick is the Obama campaign’s national cochair. Obama’s presidential campaign has modeled itself on Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign. Patrick’s 2006 campaign slogan was “Together we can,” while Obama’s is “Yes we can.” The brilliant Chicago political operative David Axelrod has managed both men’s campaigns. Both candidates have made persistent appeals to “the politics of hope.”

So Clinton’s criticism seems an opportune moment to ask how Patrick’s inspirational rhetoric has translated into governing a state where Democrats control both houses of the legislature—the likely scenario for Obama, too, should he take office. Patrick’s governorship is the closest thing we have to a preview of the “politics of hope”—and that governorship has been a failure to date. As Joan Vennochi observes in the Boston Globe, “Democrats who control the Legislature ignored virtually every major budget and policy initiative presented by a fellow Democrat.” Patrick’s record in office, Vennochi concludes, “shows that it can be hard to get beyond being the face of change, to actually changing politics.” His stock has sunk so markedly that Hillary Clinton carried the state handily against Obama in the Democratic primary despite, or perhaps because of, Patrick’s support for his political doppelgänger.

In one area, however, Patrick has achieved some of his goals. In thrall to the state’s teachers’ unions, he has partly rolled back the most successful educational reforms in the country. Most states gamed the federal testing requirements that were part of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. But Massachusetts, thanks to Republican governors William Weld and Mitt Romney, created the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability to ensure that the state’s testing methods conformed closely to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—federal tests that are the gold standard for measuring educational outcomes. In 2007, Massachusetts became the first state to achieve top marks in all four categories of student achievement. One of Patrick’s first efforts as governor was to eliminate the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.

Patrick hasn’t delivered reform, much less the transformation that both he and Obama promise. This should come as no surprise. Obama’s utopian vision of transcending the interests that make up the fabric of our democracy is unlikely to fare any better than the “politics of hope” did in Emerson’s time. The key question at hand is whether Obama’s Edenic bubble bursts before or after the election.

Fred Siegel is a contributing editor of City Journal and a professor of history at the Cooper Union for Science and Art.

Yes, City Journal is a Right-wing Rag. But this article does get you thinking...

Keep voting.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

You are not getting Sleepy

No, there's no hypnotism. There are no silly Freudian interpretations. It's less about sex and more about our basic humanity. In Treatment is a stunning look at the psyche in all its depth and wonder. Gabriel Byrne is a wonder, gazing into the minds of his patients and himself. And Dianne West is stunning as Byrne's colleague and foil. The series is filled with compassion and intellect that grows organically from week to week.

But enough of my praise. Here, take it from the L. A. Times:

'In Treatment'

'In Treatment'


Gabriel Byrne and Melissa George in a scene from the new drama "In Treatment."

Strike tedium has put us in therapy. Dianne Wiest, Gabriel Byrne make it all better.
By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 28, 2008
In these strike-plagued days of endless reruns and empty, aching TiVo queues, just about anything new from HBO would be cause for rejoicing. But "In Treatment," a half-hour drama that debuts tonight, is the proverbial manna in the desert. And not just because it's based on a popular Israeli television show. Cleverly conceived, it boasts a star-studded cast (Gabriel Byrne, Dianne Wiest, Blair Underwood) who achieve, at times, theatrical transcendence. And perhaps most important considering these troubled times, it airs five days a week! Yes, that's right, every weeknight for nine weeks.

As God is my witness, your TiVo will never go hungry again. No, nor any of its kin.

Here's the setup: Paul (Byrne) is a therapist who sees patients in his home. Each episode is devoted to one patient's session: Monday, it's Laura (Melissa George), a young doctor with the hots for Paul and some fairly obvious father issues. Tuesday, it's Alex (Underwood), a cocky fighter pilot who completed a mission that left 16 Iraqi boys dead, not that this is a problem for him or anything. Wednesday brings Sophie (Mia Wasikowska), a troubled teenage gymnast who may or may not have attempted suicide. On Thursday, it's Jake and Amy (Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz), a couple fighting over what to do now that their five-year attempt to get pregnant has worked (she wants to abort, he doesn't). Friday is the best, because that's when Paul takes himself, his fraying marriage and various midlife anxieties to the home of his former mentor, retired therapist Gina (Wiest).

If you've ever been in therapy, thought about going into therapy, known anyone in therapy or just really like Gabriel Byrne and/or Dianne Wiest (and I think I have covered the vast majority of Americans here), "In Treatment" is television as controlled substance -- highly addictive. The therapist's office may be in danger of being worn ragged as a dramatic construct -- indeed, between "The Sopranos" and "Tell Me You Love Me," it is tempting to wonder if HBO executives are making some kind subconscious plea for help. But "In Treatment" writer-director Rodrigo Garcia refuses to apologize or equivocate. He just puts troubled people in a (very lovely, evocatively lighted) room and writes the hell out of it.

Which doesn't mean "In Treatment" is perfect. At times the construct of two or three people sitting in a room talking for half an hour becomes stagey, and the level of antagonism each patient aims at Paul in almost every episode strains not only believability (surely grown-ups would not waste their money talking about their therapist's failings when they could be talking about themselves) but also the dramatic pitch. Nor are all of the characters or storylines as compelling as the others -- I found Laura grating rather than seductive, and the Alex storyline failed to capture me.

That said, I watched all seven weeks that HBO sent me (that's 35 episodes, people), one after the other, as fast as I could clear the room of my young children. I stayed up past midnight, grew hollow-eyed and pale, missed meals and refused to answer my cellphone or check my e-mail just so I could squeeze in another episode. It wasn't pretty, but it sure was fun.

Part of this you can chalk up to a lifelong pash for Byrne, who is at the top of his fretful haunted game, portraying a man truly devoted to his clients and his science and yet depressed, repressed, narcissistic and occasionally downright whiny. Having now officially turned the noncommittal murmur into an art form, Byrne uses his craggy brow and tragic Irish eyes to their best advantage, making Paul, at the base of it, noble enough, a man seeking to correct his failings even if he can't quite bring himself to admit them.

When he first turns to Gina, the mentor he broke with years ago, he tells her it is because he has become so impatient with his patients. That isn't what the real problem is, of course, and his and Gina's attempt to get at the root of his irritation forms the spine of the narrative.

Now I could devote a whole paragraph to the wonder that is Dianne Wiest and, in fact, I think I will. Long one of the most versatile American actors around, her Friday appearances lift "In Treatment" into dramatic realms that defy mediums. Watching her and Byrne circle each other and the truth, it's easy simply to forget where you are -- you could just as easily be at the Mark Taper Forum or the ArcLight as in your own living room. With relatively few lines, Wiest radiates the wisdom, curiosity and bewilderment of a woman in that stage of life when the paths before her grow more numerous and less distinct. She has lost her husband and retired -- she's trying to write a novel -- and although she is still angry at Paul for past behavior, she is clearly grateful for the opportunity to sit in the therapist's chair again. With her easy laugh and mercilessly direct questions, she is therapist as Mother Earth, and is there any chance she has an opening on Thursday afternoons?

You could watch "In Treatment" for the level of acting alone. As the truly troubled Sophie, Wasikowska is a luminous prickly wonder. Davidtz (so marvelous in films as diverse as "Matilda" and "Junebug") and Charles ("Sports Night" and "Six Degrees") perfectly embody one of those crazy couples whom you can't imagine ever getting married in the first place and, yet, here they are. As Laura, George has the difficult task of parading her character's sexual exploits in an queasy sort of psycho-seduction, while Underwood must create a man so buried under denial that he really believes his heart attack had nothing to do with his killing of 16 children. If they don't always reach the same level of resonance some of the other story lines do, it is not for want of effort or talent.

And the best part of "In Treatment" is that if, for some reason, you really can't stand one of the patients or the stories, you can just skip that night. Though I wouldn't recommend it. Even without a strike, television like this doesn't come along every day.

Wish I could make an appointment tomorrow!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

When In Bruges

Whether you spell it with one or two "g"s
Bruges is a splendor to behold, a lovely place for a Belgian Beer and the best mussels you ever ate...

Bruges, 1998 (our room is the open window)
by Jack

Thus, it is with irony that Colin Farrell's character Ray in the film,
In Bruges, declares it a shit hole. The irony only grows as he and his hit man friend Ken explore the Medieval town and find adventure of all kinds there. Here's my favorite review of the film from the Baltimore Sun:

Twists and layers make 'In Bruges' engaging

By Chris Kaltenbach

Sun Reporter
February 15, 2008

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two of the nicest, most literate hit men you'd ever want to meet in Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's In Bruges. Tightly scripted and intricately plotted, the buddy film manages the neat two-step of being simultaneously profane and engaging.

Think of it as Pulp Fiction with an Irish brogue and without the jumbled timeline. But In Bruges is more than simply another film looking to recapture the magic Quentin Tarantino unleashed on movie screens 14 years ago. With smart dialogue, winning performances and multidimensional characters, it's the sort of film demanding audiences crave - but with enough action to keep everyone happy.

Plotwise, it's nothing new - merely the latest in a long line of buddy films doubling as gangster dramas. But In Bruges displays some welcome twists on established formulas, as well as a lesson in taut scriptwriting.

Farrell and Gleeson are Ray and Ken, and they open the film as comedically mismatched tourists, albeit ones who just pulled off a mob hit. Ordered by their unseen boss, Harry, to lie low in the medieval Belgian city of Bruges, their conflicting attitudes take on almost Laurel-and-Hardy proportions. Ken couldn't be more thrilled, soaking in the atmosphere, booking trips on the local tour boats, gazing in wonder at the ancient architecture. But Ray is just as miserable. Everything's gray, the buildings need a good washing and there are nosy tourists everywhere.

McDonagh has great fun building on Ken and Ray's dissimilarities, constantly positioning one character as the yin to the other's yang. Farrell and Gleeson pitch and align their performances perfectly, each feigning exasperation at the other, while never forgetting for a moment the mutual affection that will continue to pay dividends - for both them and us - as the film progresses.

There's also a constant stream of minor characters flowing through the film, including an overweight American tourist, a dwarf, a hapless thief and a doe-eyed drug supplier. Each provides welcome moments of comic relief, especially as the pace of In Bruges amps up and the violence that always seemed to be bubbling just under the surface begins to explode.

For there are serious tensions underlying this film, including the murder of a child, Ray's tormented conscience and Ken's conflicting loyalties. Things come to a boil when Harry ( Ralph Fiennes) finally shows, determined to get everything back to normal, whatever the cost.

In Bruges demands a lot from its audience, but the rewards are great. Seemingly minor plot threads that get dangled early in the film show up unexpectedly much later, characters are consistently displaying unexpected layers, and delightful twists abound.

Admittedly, McDonagh lets his film's violent undertones get the better of him, leading to moments that threaten the good will In Bruges is constantly generating. But invariably, the black humor and inventiveness return. In a cinematic landscape where so many films are content to simply riff on established formulas, it's refreshing to find a formula film that's not above tweaking the very conventions it celebrates.

>>>In Bruges (Focus Features) Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Rated R for intense violence, language and some drug use.

(and some excellent beer drinkin')


Nader's Nadir

He's back--- again: Ralph Nader, the egomaniac who still hasn't figured out that the United States is a capitalist country. What, me guilty? Hell, no! It isn't my fault the worst president in American History took command of the White House in 2000. I'm going to stop the reign of corporate greed, single handedly.

Ha! Nader single handedly put big oil in power like never before. He is responsible for the most right wing Supreme Court ever. Thanks to him our natural resources have been raped for eight years, from polluted air and rivers to strip mining to clear cutting of forests. Nader deserves a big thank you... from big business.

here's the news item from AP:

Nader Announces New Run for President


Ralph Nader, seen during a news conference in this July 14, 2007, in Reading, Pa., announced that he is launching a third-party campaign for president on the Sunday talk "Meet the Press" in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008. Associated Press © 2008


Ralph Nader speaks at a news conference in Reading, Pa., in this July 14, 2007 file photo. The consumer advocate will appear on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday Feb. 24, 2008. Associated Press © 2008


Ralph Nader speaks at a news conference in Reading, Pa. in this July 14, 2007 file photo. Nader could be poised for another third party presidential campaign. The consumer advocate will appear on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. Nader launched his 2004 presidential run on the show. Associated Press © 2008

WASHINGTON February 24, 2008, 10:27 am ET · Ralph Nader said Sunday he will run for president as a third-party candidate, criticizing the top White House contenders as too close to big business and pledging to repeat a bid that will "shift the power from the few to the many."

Nader, 73, said most people are disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties due to a prolonged Iraq war and a shaky economy. The consumer advocate also blamed tax and other corporate-friendly policies under the Bush administration that he said have left many lower- and middle-class people in debt.

"You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized and disrespected," he said. "You go from Iraq, to Palestine to Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bumbling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts."

"In that context, I have decided to run for president," Nader told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Nader also criticized Republican candidate John McCain and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for failing to support full Medicare for all or cracking down on Pentagon waste and a "bloated military budget. He blamed that on corporate lobbyists and special interests, which he said dominate Washington, D.C., and pledged in his third-party campaign to accept donations only from individuals.

"The issue is do they have the moral courage, do they have the fortitude to stand up to corporate powers and get things done for the American people," Nader said. "We have to shift the power from the few to the many."

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, speaking shortly before Nader's announcement, said Nader's past runs have shown that he usually pulls votes from the Democratic nominee. "So naturally, Republicans would welcome his entry into the race," the former Arkansas governor said on CNN.

Nader also ran as a third-party candidate in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. He is still loathed by many Democrats who call him a spoiler and claim his candidacy in 2000 cost the party the election by siphoning votes away from Al Gore in a razor-thin contest in Florida. Nader vociferously disputes the spoiler claim, saying only Democrats are to blame for losing the race to George W. Bush.

Though he won 2.7 percent of the national vote as the Green Party candidate in 2000, his percentage dropped to just 0.3 percent as an independent in 2004, when he appeared on the ballot in only 34 states.



Saturday, February 23, 2008

Akbar the Great

With all the hoopla over who will be the next President, why not look at some fabulous rulers from the past? Maybe we'll have a revelation about what being a great leader encompasses. Today's choice is Akbar the Great, contemporary of William Shakespeare. He ruled the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605.

Akbar, Emperor of India

Often considered the true founder of India’s Mughal Empire,
Akbar ruled from 1556 to 1605. His realm eventually stretched
from Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal,
and from the Himalaya to the Godavari River.
Akbar established an efficient administrative system,
stimulated trade, encouraged the arts,
and adopted a policy of religious tolerance. (source)

One hallmark of his reign was religious tolerance and even open discussions among Muslim, Sufi, Hindu, and even Jesuit Christian. Akbar, a Muslim , married Hindu wives and allowed them to continue their religion.

Akbar brought major tax reform and economic innovation to his realm. He was also a vegetarian.

Akbar loved the arts, respecting Hindu architecture, and all forms of painting, poetry, literature, music and philosophy. His court was culturally diverse.

His love of wit, humor, and intellect shows in the story of his intimate friend

Raja Birbal

"It is said that Akbar came across a young man named Mahesh Das on one of his hunting trips. In the meeting that occurred, Akbar was highly impressed with the young man's wit. The Emperor gave Mahesh Das his ring and asked him to come and visit him in his palace any time."

Akbar loved Birbal for his wit, wisdom, poetry and loyalty.

Our friend Salman Rushdie (read below) gives us an intimate, albeit fictional, look at Akbar the Great in the current New Yorker:


The Shelter of the World

by Salman Rushdie February 25, 2008

At dawn the haunting sandstone palaces of the new “victory city” of Akbar the Great looked as if they were made of red smoke. Most cities start giving the impression of being eternal almost as soon as they are born, but Sikri would always look like a mirage. As the sun rose to its zenith, the great bludgeon of the day’s heat pounded the flagstones, deafening human ears to all sounds, making the air quiver like a frightened blackbuck, and weakening the border between sanity and delirium, between what was fanciful and what was real.

The remainder of the story (click)

Moral? Leaders should be enlightened.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet, Dead

Just this week, and maybe it was Wednesday, I was talking about reading The Voyeur years ago and the impression it made on me. To see the world through the eyes of a psychopath and to merge with that disturbed mind was so powerful when it was written. A. R-G. was a writer in the style of Kafka, Rimbaud, Beckett, to name three.

Alain Robbe-Grillet

'We're not going to talk about Spider-Man 3' ... Alain Robbe-Grillet. Photograph: Daniel Janin/AFP

"Nowhere in all the world has anywhere been less interested in my work than in Great Britain," says Alain Robbe-Grillet. In this country, few know that he is a film-maker. Even fewer are aware that he is a novelist. Yet he is known across the Channel as the Pope of the nouveau roman ("new novel") and was hailed for his literary achievements half a century ago by great critics such as Roland Barthes and Maurice Blanchot. Hardly any Britons know that in 2004, Robbe-Grillet was elected one of the 40 "immortals" of the Académie Française in recognition of his great contribution to French literature. If few know that he is a novelist, even fewer have read his novels.,,2169523,00.html

He Was Nouveau When It Was New

And Here's his Obit:

February 19, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet, 85, French Author, Is Dead

PARIS (AP) — Alain Robbe-Grillet, an author and filmmaker who was one of France’s most important avant-garde writers in the 1950s, died on Monday. He was 85.

He died at a hospital in western France where he had been admitted over the weekend for cardiac problems, officials said.

As a novelist, Mr. Robbe-Grillet helped establish the New Novel, a genre that rejected conventional storytelling. As a screenwriter, he was best known for his work on Alain Resnais’s “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

An enigmatic work whose characters, often bored and identified only by initials, live in an otherworldly chateau, not sure whether they are planning seductions or remembering them, “Last Year in Marienbad” was released in the United States in early 1962 and became one of the most talked-about art films of the year.

Among the films Mr. Robbe-Grillet directed himself were “L’Immortelle” (“The Immortal”) (1963), “Trans-Europ-Express” (1967) and “Eden and After” (1970).

He was the most prominent of France’s so-called New Novelists, a group that emerged in the mid-1950s whose other members included Claude Simon, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute. Their experimental work tossed aside literary conventions like plot and character development, narrative and chronology, chapters and punctuation.

Mr. Robbe-Grillet’s best-known works of fiction include “Les Gommes” (“The Erasers”), a 1953 novel about a detective investigating an apparent murder who ends up killing the victim, and “Le Voyeur” (1955), about the world seen through the eyes of a sadistic killer. His last novel, published last year, was “Un Roman Sentimental” (“A Sentimental Novel”).

In 1963 he wrote “Pour un Nouveau Roman” (“Toward a New Novel”), a highly regarded critical essay laying the theoretical foundations of the genre. It became the French avant-garde’s bible and catapulted Mr. Robbe-Grillet to star status among Parisian intellectuals.

Mr. Robbe-Grillet was born in Brest, France, the son of an engineer. He graduated from the Lycée St.-Louis in Paris and received a degree in agricultural engineering from the National Agronomy Institute.

Information about survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Robbe-Grillet was inducted into France’s Legion of Honor and was one of the 40 so-called immortals of the prestigious Académie Française, the anointed protector of the French language.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said in a statement, “The Académie Française today loses one of its most illustrious members, and without a doubt its most rebellious.”

Bon Soir.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Dark Side of the Presidency

As Hillary continues to fight for putting a woman in charge, as Ohio and Texas approach in March, maybe we'd all better have a closer look at the front-runner:

Volume 55, Number 3 · March 6, 2008

Dreams from Obama

By Darryl Pinckney

A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
by Shelby Steele

Free Press, 143 pp., $22.00

On a surprisingly mild January afternoon in Harlem, the day of the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, my barber predicted that Senator Barack Obama would win by a landslide. He shut off his clippers and took the floor. "We need to pull for him. I'm sick of people saying, 'They'll never elect a black president.'"

A well-groomed man perhaps in his late thirties reminded us from the chair where his thick beard was being seen to that Obama won in Iowa, which was 98 percent white, and that he was about to win in another state that was 98 percent white. He said that he was ashamed of David Patterson and Charles Rangel, "our elected black officials," for not endorsing Obama, because no matter who got the nomination, the Democratic Party couldn't win the presidency without the African-American community, and therefore it didn't matter how angry at them for not supporting Clinton during the primaries anyone might be down the road.

I was going to point out that Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV had come out for Obama when an even younger man with a heavy Jamaican accent said from the chair where his head was being shaved that it all depended on how developed was your racial consciousness. This young man, the black sheet still tied around his neck, got up and preached about Obama's readiness. I thought of the scenes in Richard Wright's fiction that present the black barbershop as a place where black people reveal what they really think, because black barbershops are more private even than black bars. Denny Moe's, at 133rd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, with its polished tiles, pretty receptionist, and flat-screen TV for the play-offs, looked nothing like the small corner shop of my midwestern youth, but it served the same function as a forum.

The Jamaican youth, exhorting the few patrons in the large shop, seemed to represent the increased percentage of the black population who are immigrants. The youngest barber on the premises looked as much Latino, Italian, or Arab as black, one of those newfangled American youths about whom you can't guess anything, what nationality they are or where they're from, until you hear them talk or they tell you. He dapped fists with the dark-skinned Jamaican youth. I felt I was seeing a new youth vote, not just a reinvigorated black vote. There was a woman barber who went about her work and didn't join in. Because she was young, I wanted to assume that the "Obama for President" placard in the window spoke for her as well and that she would be annoyed or defiant if told that she was putting race before gender in supporting him.

In the past two presidential elections, black voters complained that they were taken for granted as the Democrats fought for the center ground only to find in both contests that there was no center, just one side or the other. On the side that black people for the most part were on, all too many of them found not enough polling stations in their neighborhoods, employers unsympathetic to their willingness to miss work in order to stand for hours on line at what polling stations there were, and challenges to their registration, never mind the shame of the Florida and then the Ohio results. However, dread of what the other side is capable of wasn't in evidence in my barbershop the afternoon of the New Hampshire primary, not even the mutterings that maybe "they," whoever "they" are, will kill Obama if he goes too far. Instead, there was excitement, the sense that something historic was happening, that an unprecedented national narrative was taking shape.

I was struck by how far the story had moved since the autumn, when many were saying that Obama's campaign had unraveled. Back then, Senator Joe Biden was derided for calling Obama "articulate" and "clean," but George Will was speaking from the same assumptions and in a similar code when on a Sunday morning talk show shortly after Christmas he called Obama "a great getting up in the morning time," because he wasn't Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. Obama is the assimilated black, such commentators want to say, as if an assimilated black didn't think about civil rights or, worse, as if civil rights were a narrow, passé issue. Meanwhile, Obama's candidacy is somehow separate from the success of black athletes and independent of the trust Oprah Winfrey's huge audience accords her. He is an expression of a general change, not the product of a star system.

He may not be identified with the Congressional Black Caucus, but his path has been prepared by the thousands of blacks elected to local, state, and national offices since the days of the National Black Convention in Gary, Indiana, in 1972. Though, paradoxically, the low percentage of black people who register to vote has always been a frustration to political activists, black people have been visible in politics—and other professions—for a while. White America got used to black people turning up everywhere, except next door. Obama's way may also have been prepared by a generation of black anchorpeople on local TV stations, and years of hearing their mid-Atlantic accents.

People have been talking about the demonization of black youth since the introduction of harsh sentencing guidelines during the Reagan years, but it turns out that the nation had been absorbing another image of black people right alongside the lurid tales of gangs and guns. Because of affirmative action, the picture of America has changed. However unpopular it has been as public policy, affirmative action has succeeded in integrating the middle class. Obama is not exotic to white Americans. He is familiar, the really nice black guy who went to school with your son.

Though Obama has been praised by some for not making race an issue in his campaign, and for not coming off as the black candidate, his race most certainly is crucial to his broad appeal. Black people can appreciate as much as white people the inclusiveness of his mixed-race heritage and that his story is in part that of an immigrant. But this is not a color-blind election. People aren't voting for Obama in spite of the fact that he is black, or because he is only half-black, they are voting for him because he is black, and this is a whole new feeling in the country and in presidential politics. Forty years ago, Robert Kennedy was sharply criticized for saying that a black man probably could be elected president of the United States in fifty years' time. "Victory tonight," my barber, Mr. Sherlock, said as we shook hands.

Barack Obama was born in 1961, three years before the Freedom Summer of student sit-ins and nonviolent marches, when their political faith helped black Americans to face down the power of white mobs, fire hoses, and sheriffs with dogs. We look back on those times as the innocent days before Black Power and FBI shootouts, when white allies were still welcomed in the struggle. Obama's mother, a white, eighteen-year-old coed at the University of Hawaii, married its first African student, a Kenyan in his early twenties. When he went to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in economics, he left his wife and two-year-old son behind. After his return to Africa, he saw his son only once, when Obama was ten years old. He died when Obama was in his early twenties.

Obama's quest for the meaning of his absent father's life becomes a search for his own identity in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. First published in 1995, beautifully written, it is the story of his youthful disaffection and salvation through community organizing in Chicago. He describes his childhood and adolescence in Hawaii, where "there were too many races, with power among them too diffuse, to impose the mainland's rigid caste system." Hawaii had been interrupted by Djakarta, where Obama lived between 1967 and 1971, when his mother married again, to an Indonesian engineer who would teach him how to defend himself and how to change a tire. His stepfather's brand of Islam accommodated elements of animism and Hinduism, but Obama understood in retrospect that the overthrow of Sukarno in 1965, and the massacre of Communists and ethnic Chinese, had changed his stepfather from the idealist his mother had met at the University of Hawaii to an incommunicative man intent on surviving in the new regime.

Unable to afford the International School in Djakarta and wary of the education he would get in the local schools, his mother eventually sent him back to his grandparents in Hawaii, to Punahou Academy, an elite prep school, where Obama encountered race in the form of white boys amused that his father was of the Luo tribe and a white girl who wanted to touch his hair. He distanced himself from the one other black student—"a part of me felt trampled on, crushed" —and in time was left alone, once the novelty of his presence had worn off, though his sense that he did not belong only increased. Before he left Indonesia, his mother had taken a job as an embassy secretary in order to pay for supplementary lessons for Obama from a US correspondence course. She woke him at four every weekday morning to give him three-hour English lessons. Obama realizes that she, "a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism," kept alive his connection to America, to black America:

She would come home with books on the civil rights movement, the recordings of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King. When she told me stories of schoolchildren in the South who were forced to read books handed down from wealthier white schools but who went on to become doctors and lawyers and scientists, I felt chastened by my reluctance to wake up and study in the mornings.... Every black man was Thurgood Marshall or Sidney Poitier; every black woman Fannie Lou Hamer or Lena Horne. To be black was to be the beneficiary of a great inheritance, a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were strong enough to bear.

This is reminiscent of Langston Hughes, who recalls in his autobiography that in the isolation of his Kansas childhood he was brought up on tales of racial heroism told to him by his grandmother, a widow of John Brown's raid.

Where Hughes submerged himself in the urban Black Belt to come into contact with a black identity, Obama had a "color-coded" popular culture of television, film, and radio that offered him "an arcade of images" and styles to choose from. He played basketball "with a consuming passion." He made white friends on the court and reminded his angry black friends that they weren't "consigned to some heatless housing project in Harlem." People were pleasantly surprised to meet a "well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time."

He learned to slip back and forth between his black and white worlds, "understanding that each possessed its own language and customs and structures of meaning, convinced that with a bit of translation on my part the two worlds would eventually cohere." Yet racial self-consciousness left him on edge. "There was a trick there somewhere, although what the trick was, who was doing the tricking, and who was being tricked, eluded my conscious grasp."

He read Du Bois, Hughes, Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, and concluded—as only a young man can—that each had ended his life exhausted and bitter. "Only Malcolm X's autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me." But in 1979 at Occidental College in Los Angeles he "stumbled upon one of the well-kept secrets about black people: that most of us weren't interested in revolt; that most of us were tired of thinking about race all the time." Yet when he remembers that a girl on campus from a multi-racial background nearly cried when she said that black people were trying to make her choose sides, that it was black people who always made everything about race, he reflects that integration was a one-way street, that the minority always assimilated into the dominant culture, as though only "white culture" could be nonracial, neutral, and objective. "Only white culture had individuals."

Because he didn't want to be thought "a sellout," he chose his friends from among politically active blacks and foreign students—Chicanos, Marxist professors, structural feminists, and punk rock performance poets discussing Fanon and patriarchy into the night. He had been involved in anti-apartheid and divestment campaigns, but feared that he would always be an outsider. After two years in California, Obama transferred to Columbia University. While in New York, he received a call from Africa, telling him that his father had died. Polygamous, his father had six other children by three different women (Obama's mother had a daughter from her second marriage).

Dreams from My Father ends with Obama's first journey to Kenya in 1987, as he is about to enter Harvard Law School. He tries to close the circle, and writes movingly of his efforts to understand his father and how Kenya's postcolonial politics nearly destroyed him. He was, as Obama's half-sister put it, punished by Jomo Kenyatta for telling people "that tribalism was going to ruin the country and that unqualified men were taking the best jobs." However, the heart of Obama's book is about finding himself after his graduation from Columbia, as a community organizer in Chicago.

Obama heard Jesse Jackson speak at a rally on 125th Street, but he says he couldn't figure out how to join Harlem life. He spent three months working for a Ralph Nader offshoot, trying to convince City College students of the importance of recycling. Unemployed, he heard Stokely Carmichael, aka Kwame Touré, speak at Columbia about a vague plan to build economic ties between Africa and Harlem, and it seemed to him that the movement was dead. Obama doesn't say much about his New York experiences, but he gives the impression that he took a close look at the coke-addled, hedonist bazaar that Manhattan was for the young at the beginning of the Reagan era and knew it was not for him.

Obama confesses that in high school he found that pot, booze, or "a little blow" could sometimes push away nagging questions. Some critics have called Dreams from My Father almost naive in its candor, but few care about his drug use as an undergraduate. If anything, having brought up the subject, he would be scorned now had he not inhaled then. So many voters by now have similar casual histories; it is an acceptable rite of passage.

Obama corrected his course very quickly. What comes across in his touching memoir is not how lost he was, but how determined on the path to elected office he already was when writing his first book. It is the work of someone positioning himself, someone who understood instinctively Malcolm X's autobiography as a conversion narrative in the American grain. In 1983, what Obama needed was community. On his third day in Chicago, he passed Smitty's Barbershop on the edge of Hyde Park and the laughter drew him in. They were talking familiarly, affectionately, about Chicago's black mayor, Harold Washington, and how the white man tries to change the rules whenever a black man gets in power:

Clumps of hair fell into my lap as I listened to the men recall Harold's rise. He had run for mayor once before, shortly after the elder Daley died, but the candidacy had faltered—a source of shame, the men told me, the lack of unity within the black community, the doubts that had to be overcome.
But Harold had tried again, and this time the people were ready. They had stuck with him when the press played up the income taxes he'd failed to pay.... They had rallied behind him when white Democratic committeemen...announced their support for the Republican candidate, saying that the city would go to hell if it had a black mayor. They had turned out in record numbers on election night, ministers and gang-bangers, young and old.

Though he was young and hadn't been in Chicago when Washington was elected mayor, he felt that the older men in the barbershop assumed he understood their feelings. He wondered if they would still have taken his understanding for granted had they known his history, had his maternal grandfather walked in. Obama says he heard in Smitty's voice a fervor beyond politics. He and his customers weren't just proud of Harold Washington, they were also proud of themselves. The election had given them a new idea of themselves, holding out the promise of "collective redemption."

Harold Washington died suddenly, a few months after his reelection in 1987. His second campaign, Obama notes with interest, was very different from his first in that Washington "reached out" to old-time machine politicians, to the Irish and the Poles, "ready to make peace." Businessmen sent him their checks, but some of his black supporters disapproved of "his willingness to cut whites and Hispanics into the action."

Obama was at City Hall the night Harold Washington's coalition fell apart. Not long afterward, he received his letter of acceptance from Harvard Law School. He was gratified that, far from resenting his success, his co-workers, with whom he had shared early mornings, thankless meetings, and tiresome door-to-door canvassing on behalf of modest neighborhood and employment initiatives, accepted that he had other options. His mobility was a sign of their progress, but at least one of his colleagues was certain that Obama would return to Chicago.

Obama asked himself if this simple desire for acceptance had been the reason for his coming to Chicago. He found an answer in the black church, at Trinity United Church of Christ, in the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr.'s sermon "The Audacity of Hope":

I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories—of survival, and freedom, and hope—became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world.

He would take this newly discovered communal spirit to Africa, where he decided that what Africa most desperately needed was courage. He gives, as if from memory, the oral history of his father's family on the banks of Lake Victoria, presumably as it was told to him, just as he earlier recreates a fair amount of Reverend Wright's sermon. Maybe some poetic license went into the recounting of so many conversations in Chicago's projects and churches, but on the other hand, Obama comes across as someone who stored away for future consideration practically everything that was ever said to him, and who had a talent for watchfulness, part of the extraordinary armor he developed at an early age.

In Dreams from My Father, Obama makes it clear that his father's absence left a hole and that the communal experience, working with and for others, went some way toward fulfilling him. He says that he wanted nothing less than to give black people that fervor about their lives that he saw them get from Harold Washington. He wanted them to get that feeling from him, the same feeling he got from them. The Reagan years in which he came of age were an era of individual advancement and collective decline for black people, he observes, and he'd learned "not to put too much stock in those who trumpeted black self-esteem as a cure for all our ills." Politics are his solution.

Dreams from My Father may have been written when Obama was thinking merely of Harold Washington's office. The Audacity of Hope, however, is the presidential candidate's manifesto for the campaign season, down to the respectful quotation from Profiles in Courage and Obama's observation that Reagan spoke to America's longing for order and offered the country a common purpose that liberals did not. His first book concentrated on his father; The Audacity of Hope is for his mother, who died before his Senate victory. Though he now judges her understanding of the politics of the 1960s to have been limited by her romanticism, he is careful to honor her memory as someone who didn't just declare her principles but acted on them as well.

The Audacity of Hope tells us a little about his courtship and marriage, the birth of his two daughters, and his deep involvement with their church, Trinity United, which he joined when he returned to Chicago after Harvard. The Audacity of Hope tells us how much Obama minded losing his congressional bid in 2000. It also says how aware he is of what he calls his "spooky good fortune" to have faced Alan Keyes, a black conservative ideologue of no charisma, in the Illinois Senate campaign of 2004. His deference to Senator Robert C. Byrd (while recalling his early membership in the Klan) is a mark of how seriously he takes the Senate. Its history is real to him, and to judge from the savor in his descriptions of its workings, Obama seems to have grasped readily how power works in the corridors and committee rooms. He recalls that as an Illinois state senator he would "partner up" with his most conservative colleagues to work on a piece of legislation.

Throughout he maintains a note of surprise at everything that has happened to him since he stepped up to the rostrum at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004. "I was the beneficiary of unusually—and at times undeservedly—positive press coverage." However, his readiness to meet destiny fits with what he views as a profound social change: the psychological shackles of Jim Crow have been broken and the new generation of black professionals rejects "any limits to what [it] can achieve."

There is a generational divide in black America between those who remember Jim Crow and those who do not. Older blacks maybe sometimes react to Obama from an acute awareness of what had not been possible for them. The last time black people were urged to get on the bandwagon for a black man, we got Clarence Thomas, Bush Sr.'s insult to the memory of Thurgood Marshall. They will mention that the racist ad that maybe helped to defeat Harold Ford for the Senate in Tennessee was recent history. One elderly black newspaper vendor pointed to a photograph of the tearful but dignified track star Marion Jones, punished for lying about having taken steroids, and said that this was America and America would remind Obama where he was. Recent Urban League studies show that for the majority of black people, income and housing relative to the total population are not much better than they were in 1960—an unemployment rate among black youth at 17 percent, a 50 percent dropout rate, and births to single mothers at 79 percent.

While Obama acknowledges that the battles of the Sixties have not been resolved, he repudiates partisanship, the taking up of old ideological battles. President Clinton may have fought the right wing to a draw, Obama contends, but the right emerged yet more powerful and in Bush Jr.'s first term it took over the US government:

In the back-and-forth between Clinton and Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004, I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation—a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago—played out on the national stage.

The youth rhetoric of Obama's campaign is unsettling to an older generation that once used the same sort of rhetoric and are now on the receiving end of it. One of its effects has been to turn Senator Clinton into the incumbent, rather than the woman candidate. After all, her campaign is also historic. But then, as one recent Skidmore College graduate said, she thought of Hillary as a Clinton first and a woman second.

The day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the Obama campaign opened a Harlem headquarters in a smart storefront at 130th and Lenox Avenue, between the Malcolm Food Market and the It's A Wrap Hair Salon, a young black volunteer was saying that he thought it was very healthy for black people to have differences and not to be perceived as having a monolithic vote. This was before the debate in Charleston and the week that backfired on the Clintons, as though they could not bear to be sassed, the week that consolidated the black vote in South Carolina for Obama. New York State Senator Bill Perkins led some thirty campaign workers with shiny signs and posters from the storefront down Lenox Avenue, to the call and response of "Fired Up," "Ready to Go," and the chant of "Obama/08/Be a part of something great!" Shopkeepers and pedestrians applauded here and there.

The French and German television crews trailing the Obama volunteers caught their encounter on the corner of 125th Street with a half-dozen Clinton volunteers. The two sides brandished their blue signs in the cold and traded jibes good-naturedly. A man in a Hillary T-shirt yelled that so many Republicans were for Obama because they were sure they could beat him, but they weren't so sure they could beat her. Obama would be president one day, but not this year. A woman answered that the title of the First Black President was like the Miss America crown: the judges could take it back.

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama goes on record, again, on a range of issues, from his qualified support of abortion to his opposition to the war in Iraq. At the same time, he wants to demonstrate that just because he is a black legislator it doesn't follow that his votes in the Senate can be predicted.* He favors looking into merit pay for teachers, though the teachers' union is against the idea, and he says that he has called for higher fuel-efficiency standards in cars, though the UAW opposes them. He stresses his admiration for Lincoln the pragmatist as well as Lincoln the man of convictions: "I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally." In writing about his understanding of our political history, it is as though the Constitution's system of checks and balances reflects his dual heritage, his desire to reconcile in his person and in his policies the polarized nation.

While Obama holds that goals for minority hiring may sometimes be the most meaningful remedy available when there is strong evidence of discrimination in a corporation, trade union, or government office, he also lends his voice to the argument that black people must take collective and individual responsibility for their welfare, an echo of the criticisms made by black conservatives, such as Shelby Steele in The Content of Our Character (1990), in the bitter days of the culture wars. Obama observes:

A cottage industry grew within conservative think tanks, arguing not only that cultural pathologies —rather than racism or structural inequalities built into our economy—were responsible for black poverty but also that government programs like welfare, coupled with liberal judges who coddled criminals, actually made these pathologies worse.

Yet Obama faults liberal policymakers and civil rights leaders of the Seventies and Eighties for not addressing "entrenched behavioral patterns among the black poor" that he believes contribute to the poverty that passes from generation to generation, and he is certain that on social issues most black people are "far more conservative than black politics would care to admit." However, it is at this point that Obama draws back from the black conservative critique. While he is not surprised that conservatives won over white opinion by emphasizing the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor, he argues that black Americans cannot make such a distinction; they cannot separate themselves from the poor, and this is not just because "the color of our skin" makes all of us only as free as the least of us, but also because "blacks know the back story to the inner city's dysfunction." He means that he cannot separate from the black poor. He is his mother's son.

Dreams from My Father was one of several memoirs at the time in which a new generation reported back from the front lines of integration. Obama's book, along with Kinship (1999), another intense memoir about a youth coming to terms with his American and African heritage, by Philippe Wamba, the son of a Congolese rebel, and Soul to Soul: A Black Russian American Family, 1865–1992 (1992), by Yelena Khanga, offered new insights into the complexity of black identity. Because they were looking at race from an international perspective, they seemed less provincial than the black conservatives telling their stories about the difficulties they faced adjusting to life at elite schools in the 1970s and 1980s because of the added pressure they felt from other black students to conform to a militant style of being black.

Shelby Steele hopes to liberate Obama from his black identity in A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win, a thin and unhappy meditation on what he considers Obama's costly refusal to repudiate the Sixties and its false, politicized definition of blackness. Steele asserts that "the post-sixties black identity is essentially a totalitarian identity." Furthermore, the emphasis black educators place on black identity has been "one of the most debilitating forces in black life since the 60s."

Black identity for Steele is a parasitic force, a sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers contagion. "This identity wants to take over a greater proportion of the self than other racial identities do." "It" wants its collective truth; "its" idea of protest must become personal truth; "it" wants to make loyalty to this truth a reflex within the self; "it" wants you to think as a black, not as yourself. Moreover, this is a policed consciousness:

The popular movie Barbershop stirred controversy because of a scene in which one of the barbers not only criticized Jesse Jackson but also said that O.J. Simpson was guilty—two statements that clearly violate the challenger's mask and would likely not be said in the presence of whites. There was controversy precisely because the movie was released for everyone to see. Both the movie and its release were breaches of discipline.

For Steele, Obama's upbringing created in him an "identity vacuum," but the transparent black identity he constructed for himself comes at the price of excluding from that black identity essential parts of himself—"family values, beliefs, ambitions, loves." He cannot be himself, he cannot bring his own experience into his black identity. Steele refers to a scene in Dreams from My Father in which Obama relates the bad breakup with his long-term white girlfriend in New York, saying that he realized that they would always live in different worlds and that he was the one who knew how to live as an outsider. Assimilation, not blackness, is the key to success, Steele counters, and he insists that Obama knows this, because he grew up in mainstream culture, not black culture.

Obama's white grandparents informed his identity as a black man, but maybe not as the antidote to blackness Steele imagines. They fled Kansas and ended up in Hawaii, disappointed but decent people. Maybe the myth of his father was a comfort in the way that the sound of his grandfather, trying to sell insurance from home, making humiliating phone calls Sunday nights, was not. Obama's white girlfriend was rich, and class as much as race may have been the thing about her life that made him feel like such an outsider. What perhaps informs Obama's desire to be inclusive as a black candidate is his feeling for the insecure white America that doesn't recognize itself in the images of middle-class well-being.

In A Bound Man, Steele attempts to apply to the election his notions about the uses of "black victimization" and "white guilt" that he worked out in The Content of Our Character. "You must never ever concede that only black responsibility can truly lift blacks into parity with whites," because to do so would be to give up control over white guilt. In politics, blacks wear either the mask of the challenger or that of the bargainer. The purpose of these masks is to enable blacks to gain things from the white majority by "manipulating their need for racial innocence." Because whites are "stigmatized with past racism," blacks have a monopoly over racial innocence and believe, as only the oppressed can, that this is their greatest power in America.

Steele argues that after Obama, a bargainer of formidable power, became president of Harvard Law Review, he was no longer at risk of being seen as a creation of affirmative action. Yet he made his "Faustian" contract with affirmative action. Even the activist black church Obama joined in Chicago is proof to Steele of Obama's "hunger" to be defined as black in that old-fashioned way, which means that he cannot reject "the political liberalism inherent in his racial identity." If Obama stopped talking about government programs for blacks and emphasized individual responsibility, then he would hurt himself politically.

Steele accuses Obama of presenting himself as a protester to blacks and a unifier to whites. But when he holds that Obama cannot serve the aspirations of one race without betraying those of the other, it is Steele, calling black people blackmailers, who seems out of date and most threatened by Obama's candidacy. It is impossible to read Taylor Branch's three-volume biography of Dr. King and not believe that he and the thousands of black people who joined him were responsible for one of the proudest episodes in modern American history. Obama and his audience know it, when his voice starts to take on somewhat King-like cadences.

In 1940, B.A. Jones taught his history class at the Atlanta University Laboratory High School aBarack Obama rhyme originally from the 1870s and that he said came to allude to the rumor widespread in black America that Warren G. Harding was the first black president, because he had black grandparents back in Ohio:

Ma Ma Where's Pa?
Gone to the White House
Ha ha ha

When Julian Bond was nominated for the vice-presidency at the Democratic Convention in 1968, he drew warm applause when he said he had to decline, because the Constitution said he was still too young. Shirley Chisholm ran for president in 1972 as a kind of one-woman show, calling politics "a beautiful fraud" in her autobiography, Unbought and Unbossed (1970). Black glossies used to fantasize about the presidential chances of Edward Brooke, Republican senator from Massachusetts.

Jesse Jackson was attacked from the black left after 1984 for having conducted a campaign largely of ritual and symbol. The Internet is Obama country, but radio is where you will hear black people of a certain age— the ones who aren't in the mood to be less partisan, because to do so would be, they feel, to excuse the right wing for its disastrous policies. They point out that of the leading candidates, Senator Edwards, the white guy who sounds so white, is the populist; that Edwards had rocked Riverside Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Day the previous year; that one of Clinton's foreign policy advisers is Madeleine Albright, while one of Obama's is Zbigniew Brzezinski; that in their announced policies, all three say similar things, and so it is a contest of symbols. Yet uncounted numbers in the middle class who have had to understand that America is much less like it used to be and much more like the rest of the world now fervently want a black man to be the face of the United States to the world.

It could be said that Obama's way has been prepared not by Colin Powell, dutifully holding up the vial at the UN, but by Nelson Mandela, who emerged from his prison not bitter, calling for reconciliation. It is possible that the emerging youth vote is an anti–"War on Terror" vote, not just an anti–Iraq war vote. Mandela was also the one figure on the world stage who persuaded us that he was exactly what he seemed to be. The anti-apartheid movement was one of the few things happening on campuses in the 1980s. Since then white students in their thousands have taken Black Studies classes, reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, bringing Derrida to bear in their term papers on the hip-hop artist Nas's debut album, Illmatic, even as black student enrollment nationwide has been falling. Shelby Steele ridicules institutions obsessed with diversity, but they, like Obama, are right to be inspired by the civil rights movement. The youth vote that gave him such a margin of victory in South Carolina, and kept his campaign going on Super Tuesday, missed the Sixties. Here is their chance.