Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Is Reading on a Screen Reading?

When are we going to realize that readers of ten, twenty, forty years ago are not the same as the non-readers reared on iPhones and video games? I would guess that Daniel Akst (“Apple's tablet and the future of literature,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24, 2010) grew up a reader of traditional print sources. He stacked up a nice vault full of print on the page reading capital; acquired the skills of concentration, self-motivated imagination, and patience. This is what Daniel Akst's children and ours will be missing as books on screen blur and destabilize reading practices. (See Mary Anne Wolf's Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.) And what will be there instead? Gone or severely compromised will be what readers of print on the page eagerly searched for and expected while reading a great book. All lost and/or diminished as screen readers dash to the next, and then the next, surface stimulus. Readers in the past sought comprehension and meaning; readers of screens surf and skim. And what should we expect from a generation raised on twittering?

[A version of this appeared in the LA Times, "Letters to the Editor," Jan. 31, 2010]


Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's a Good Day for Democrats -- 3

Always remember this.

Even Scott Brown knows this:

-if nothing is done, by 2019 there will be 57 million Americans without health care insurance,

-if nothing is done, by 2019 employer paid health care insurance will cost $20,000+ per employee, up $10,000 from current costs.

This is why Scot Brown and Mitt Romney support the Massachusetts health care system which goes beyond that proposed in the Senate.

And just what do the Tea Partiers and Republicans propose to do with these facts staring America in the face? "No!" and Nothing are the only responses coming from their direction. To Republicans and Tea Partiers I say, write a program meeting these problems. Do it in 2 pages or 2000 pages, but let's hear some specifics engaging these realities.

Listen carefully. Hear the silence.

Republicans in Congress won't produce a program because they know the complex facts of the problem of health care reform. This makes them hypocrites every time they criticize the Democrats efforts.

Tea Partiers will never provide answers to pressing policy problems because they are not about the well being of the nation, only about applying ego-salve to their pathetic personal feelings of loss and inadequacy. This makes them a bunch of adolescent whiners.

This being the case, the Democrats should push, shove, force, their health care program through. Let the babies who stand on the sideline waving their empty rattles get all red in the face. Democrats need to show some backbone, some statesmanship, some political courage. They should work to make history and quit looking over their shoulders at the next election. That's for do-nothing, lobbyfied, bending to the wind, Tea Party petrified, Republicans.

And never forget this.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's a Good Day for Democrats --2

Always remember this.

It's a good day for Democrats.

As we well know, no explanations are necessary in these Tea Party Times when emotions rule and "No!" is the extent and essence of the Republican’s program. In this political climate, reasoned explanations are superfluous. Democrats need to hammer home the reality of the Bush Depression and Republican and conservative opposition to doing anything about economic suffering. The people suffering and those with sense and fellow feeling will vote accordingly.

But there is work to be done. And method precedes object.

Senator elect Cosmo won on what is being called "public unease." The Democrats can win on this as well. They need to point (keep pointing, and point some more) their finger at the causes of this unease--the Bush Depression and Republican inaction/obstructionism. The prosperous bond traders and bankers will howl, clueless Teabaggers will grimace, and those unemployed and unable to send their kids to school in new clothes in September will vote Democratic in November.

Real Democrats need to get on message. Send the yellow dogs to a kennel in limbo. They are a part of a puppy mill that soils the truths of what real Democrats stand for. Better a vanguard of idealists than a motley crew of scavenger camp followers.

Work from the central belief that the Republicans can only go so far on the oil of hollow slogans and the fumes of fear. Trust the voters. Educate and establish for the public the truth that the Republicans are without solutions or substance.

Democrats should repeat this every day and into any microphone that comes within fifteen feet. They should not explain themselves at length. They should punch home job stimulus legislation, heavy bank regulations, taxes on bail out bonus greed, and cuts in defense spending which can be reinvested in the domestic economy. The value of these steps are self-evident and should be proposed and achieved in this tone.

When challenged on any of this, the Democrats should shrug their shoulders and say, "Of course this is what we are doing. Bush wrecked the country and the minority Republicans offer nothing to help the people and the nation he wrecked."

[Version of this appeared in Terre Haute Tribune Star, Feb. 2, 2010.]

And never forget this.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's a Good Day for Democrats -- 1

It's a good day for Democrats.

Massachusetts should show the Obama administration what they are up against and that kid gloves treatment with the minority Republicans only means they are acting like kids. Polarization? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Think about the Democrats: post Massachusetts. They can pretend to be Republicans or they can act like FDR liberal Democrats. Which choice would you make if you were a yellow dog, say Indiana's Senator Bayh or Representative Ellsworth and the Republicans put up another Cosmo centerfold type candidate against you? I say these two leaning right Dems can only lose votes (to say nothing of self-respect) by taking on the role of counterfeit Republicans.

Perhaps these counterfeit candidates, and the Democratic party as a whole, will finally take those soft kid gloves off and start the political alley fight that’s needed. If they fail to do this, refuse to use the ideology and tools of New Deal liberalism to the hilt, they lose.

So here’s the agenda:

–-the House should pass the Senate version of the health care bill making it unnecessary to pass a conference committee version of the bill in the Senate,

-- move full steam ahead on bank regulation and greedy bonus payout to the execs on Wall Street (let the Republicans defend their own),

–immediately propose another stimulus to the economy and add long term projects in the mix,

–be bold on military hardware waste and close 70 unneeded bases open around the world; redirect parts of these savings to true Homeland security, starting with our ports and the shipping security,

–take whatever steps are necessary to end the filibuster rule in the Senate (it’s not a law, it’s not in the U.S. Constitution, the Tea Party should support this move), if it ends up in the Supreme Court, so be it. This action will educate the public and show the nation that one party, the Democrats (liberal version) is not afraid of democracy.

[Go here for clear and fair discussion: Filibuster ]

President Obama should announce this agenda in his State of the Union address this month. Congress should put these bills up for a vote in the next three months. Let’s see if the real Democrats will swallow a cup of starch and stand up straight. (Bye, bye Bayh and Ellsworth?) This will all add to the record of the Republicans obstruction of needed legislation supported by large majorities in both houses of Congress.

The Democrats can attack or drift. Massachusetts demonstrated the rewards of drift. Massachusetts represents a good day for the Democrats if it sends them into attack mode.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Ruth Lilly, 1915-2009

[Ruth Lilly died on Dec. 30, 2009. I repost this in her honor and for her support of the arts, most famously and fittingly, poetry.]

Two Ruths to Remember

[gary daily col. 46 December 22, 2002]

Ten Cents A Dance
That's what they pay me
Gosh how they weigh me down.
-- from the Ruth Etting album "Ten Cents a Dance," Living Era, 1926

It would be easy to fill this column with “Ruths.”

I could linger on the likes of Ruth Benedict the path-breaking anthropologist, Dr. Ruth the diminutive Smasher of Sex Shams and Shames, the incomparable Ruth Etting quoted at the head of this piece, and Ruth Gordon, the great actress who once profoundly asked: “Why should ruts be so comfortable and so popular?” (Why, indeed?)

But the Ruths I sing about, or at least mumble in praise of today, are Ruth Stone and Ruth Lilly.

These Ruths have had a recent splash of ink in the papers and 30 second news spots on the tube. Their lives and contributions, however, are tied to something deeper and more meaningful than the media’s attempt to freeze a moment of the passing parade. They have lived long lives touched, guided, dominated, suffused, given over to, and enriched by a love for the consuming and creation of poetry.

Ruth Stone is a poet. She is this year’s winner of the National Book Award for poetry, but she is not, as one account reported, “a sweet old lady.” As Dinita Smith notes it in her New York Times profile, “There are words in Ms. Stone's poems that cannot be printed in this newspaper, even for art's sake. The words are not written for effect, they are there because of a brutal honesty.”

Maybe not “sweet” then, but there’s no reason to avoid “old” in descriptions of Ruth Stone. She’s 87. And certainly the “brutal honesty” stands. Here are a few lines from the National Book Award-winning volume, In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press):

"Tied a silk cord around his meat neck
and hung his meat body, loved though it was,
in order to insure absolute quiet,
on the back of a rented door in SoHo."

Tough stuff, no? Tougher yet when you know that this poem, "The Electric Fan and the Dead Man (or the widow as a useful object toward the end of the century)," is about her husband who committed suicide in 1959. Stone calls her husband "Serial-killer of my days," in another poem, "March 15, 1998."

Unsentimental, unflinching. These hard memories are one source for her art, a gash of memory never to heal, underlining the constancy of a great poet to her art. Sharon Olds, a friend and renowned poet says, "It's as if she hasn't heard that you're supposed to sugar it up."

It seems safe to say that one “R. Lyly” was thrilled to see four of her poems published by the New York Times in 1939. One of those poems included the lines:

“Secure in plush upholstery
I wink a torpid eye
and note above the plaudits
the needle of your sigh.”

Read those lines again. If you tasted sugar in the first reading, you’re certain to find bitterness in a second sampling.

This poem, with its hint of Emily Dickinson, has been attributed to Ruth Lilly, the billionaire Indianapolis philanthropist. Last month this Ruth bestowed a gift of $100 million on Poetry.

Poetry is the oldest and the most prestigious poetry magazine in the country. It has published poets of international importance continuously since its founding in 1912. Journals and magazines of poetry come and go, foundering after running against financial rocks that are very real, not symbols. Even a journal with the reputation and history of Poetry continues to exist through the kindness of friends and the hard work of volunteers.

Many a wag has used the line over the years that only one letter spells the difference between “poetry’ and “poverty.”  The journal Poetry has scrambled to survive for decades. It operates out of two small, donated offices in the basement of the Newberry Library in Chicago. The magazine pays the poets it publishes only slightly more than the “Ten Cents a Dance” Ruth Etting plaintively croons about in her signature (poem) song. The going rate at Poetry? Should a contemporary Will Shakespeare show up with a fourteen-line sonnet today, he could walk away with 28 bucks in his breeches.

Now, with intelligence and generosity unheard of since the Medici, Ruth Lilly of Indianapolis, a poet four times rejected for publication by Poetry, has demonstrated to all a love for a form of expression that dates back at least 3000 years. Are corporate and government leaders paying attention? The arts starve in this country. While Americans' minds grow obese with trivia, the arts, the spirit sources of curiosity and imagination, shrink from the anorexia of neglect.

Finally, did I mention that Ruth Lilly, like Ruth Stone, is also eighty-seven years of age? Or that Ruth Stone also grew up, albeit in very different circumstances, in Indianapolis, Indiana?

It’s wonderful to imagine these two Ruth’s, sitting together, talking of their life paths--lives so very different in details yet so alike in their passion for poetry. I like to think of them discussing and laughing about the opening lines of Ruth Stone’s poem, “1941":

I wore a large brim hat
like the women in the ads.
How thin I was: such skin.
Yes. It was Indianapolis;
a taste of sin.