And not in the gradual fashion of an organic cry, with the palpable build-up of liquid emotion that your body ultimately can’t contain and spills out onto your cheeks, your shirt, your lover’s shoulder.
And not in the gradual fashion of an organic cry, with the palpable build-up of liquid emotion that your body ultimately can’t contain and spills out onto your cheeks, your shirt, your lover’s shoulder.
April 01, 2012
It was the summer of 2004, and like most liberals, I was absolutely steaming out the ears about George W. Bush. Unlike most liberals, though, I had taken it upon myself to write a novel about it.
Looking back, I’m not sure what exactly I was thinking. Even if I had completed the book in three months, it would never have reached an audience before the 2004 elections. But regardless, there I was, sitting in hipster cafes on Portland’s Alberta Street, writing a novel about a preacher who had gathered together an odd bunch of bicyclists and zinesters and strippers, and who was preaching to them about the evils of the Bush Administration.
Unclear about all of this? Over at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein cuts through the static and offers up a comprehensive breakdown of this week’s Supreme Court review of the Affordable Care Act.
Health reform opponents contend that the decision not to do something — namely, not buy health insurance — is economic inactivity, rather than activity, and therefore not a behavior the federal government can regulate. Health reform supporters argue that the decision to not purchase health insurance has an economic effect. An individual without coverage, for example, may not have the money to pay for an emergency room visit, sticking hospitals or taxpayers with the bill.
March 24, 2012
We all make them.
We couldn’t verily live without them.
Things we need from Rite Aid.
Demands we want met before submitting to a lie detector test.
Questions we don’t want to forget to ask our parole officer.
Delirium tells the story of how a small group of reactionaries, who want to control sex, hijacked American politics. Author and historian Nancy L. Cohen traces our current political dysfunction to the machinations of a well-organized, religiously-based movement to reverse the sexual revolution and hold back the tide of women’s rights, gay rights, and the changing American family. Delirium charts the strange history of this bipartisan sexual counterrevolution and exposes how an extremist minority, out of step with mainstream America, has been able to commandeer national discourse.
Why is your book called Delirium?
Because you can’t title a book Crazy. The big question is, why is our political climate so insane?
March 17, 2012
Asked for “one single word to describe your impression of the budget negotiations in Washington,” Americans volunteered “crazy,” “disgusting,” “stupid,” and “juvenile.” Two-thirds of the American public called it “ridiculous.” In the weeks after the debt ceiling crisis, polls registering record levels of dissatisfaction poured in from every major survey firm and every major news outlet. Obama’s approval rating fell to its lowest level yet, but Congress and the GOP fared even worse. Approval of Congress plunged to an all time low, while disapproval of the Republican Party rose to record highs.
—Originating from the point where the printed text begins to shape tunnels and T’s and question marks, torn out pages of Our Ecstatic Days (2005) can be arrayed in a Spira Mirabilis that produces an image of the Tiananmen Square protestor…
—Editions of Tours Of The Black Clock (1989) printed after Y2K retain the characters and locales of the original, but subplots and chronologies have been so materially altered that readers from different millennia have, in fact, waded through entirely different texts…
As a writer with a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, I make most of my living teaching composition, argument and rhetoric to college students. This means I have the often-unenviable job of pointing out to students when their thinking is flawed, which in this era of anti-intellectualism is a dangerous and radical idea.
BACKGROUND: 750 feet in the air, on the top floor of One Atlantic Center in Midtown Atlanta for Alston and Byrd, LLP’s hosting of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation Winetasting and Silent Auction fundraiser. The Judge stood about five-foot-six to my six feet. His wine sloshed in its glass, his caviar-smeared cracker half-bitten. I had two martinis before any wine, and nothing to eat.
The last time I drove past the apartments on North 5th, their efficient practicality had been scrubbed up a bit. A nice little fence marked the front entrance. The sidewalk that led into the U-shaped courtyard had healthy plants on both sides. The casement windows had been replaced. Someone had finally taken pride in the boxy old place, built in 1948 to provide post-war housing.
January 18, 2012
The U.S. House of Representatives is debating legislation that could fundamentally change what types of content we’re allowed to access over the Internet, and the resulting outrage has sparked a heated ideological debate. But for some reason the media isn’t talking about it.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA, as it’s widely called) was introduced in October by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). It’s a boldly ambitious plan to give copyright holders — and the courts, by proxy — better tools to fight the profligacy of online piracy originating from foreign websites.
In a nutshell: SOPA would give copyright holders the power to file lawsuits against sites that they believe are aiding in the pilfering of their goods, be it music, movies, TV shows, video games, or the distribution of tangible, counterfeit consumables. Judges could file injunctions against Internet Service Providers or individual websites, forcing them to block access to foreign sites deemed in violation of U.S. copyright law.
Included in the bill is an immunity provision for Internet providers that proactively remove “rogue” sites from their registries. In other words, SOPA attacks Internet piracy not by going after sites that create and supply nefarious content, but by censoring ISPs and search engines that enable their availability, knowingly or not. Specific targets include payment providers (like PayPal) that facilitate transactions with spurious sites, and ad services (like Google’s AdSense) that promote copyright infringing content in search results. The bill’s authors are aware that many of the Internet’s biggest bootleggers operate overseas. Because attorneys general can’t round up foreign DVD pirates, they’ll instead punish U.S. sites that facilitate a portion of their profits.
SOPA currently has thirty-one Congressional sponsors. A companion bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (better known as PIPA), was passed but is currently on hold and awaiting further debates. Given the noted support that SOPA has received from both political parties, it’s important to mention that the divide over the bill is economic rather than political. Supporters and detractors comprise a who’s who in the supply chain of the digital commerce world: on the former side you’ll find virtually every U.S. broadcast and major media company, as well as manufacturers like Sony, video game giant Capcom, comic publisher Marvel, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America, to name a few; on the latter is a groundswell of opposition from creators, artists, grassroots advocates, and Internet leaders like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Wikipedia, Reddit, and non-profits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the ACLU.
Supporters of the proposed bill believe that SOPA gives copyright holders some much needed legal teeth to curb online theft. Opponents—and I count myself among them—argue that this is yet another example of the government’s increasing tendency to provision our freedoms under the auspices of safety. It gives the U.S. Department of Justice unprecedented authority to trowel the Internet for content it doesn’t like, in effect taking on the role of content arbiter.
To say that the opposition has been vocal would be an understatement. In January, Wikipedia announced it would shut down the English portion of its site for 24 hours in protest of the legislation. [Happening 1/18, at the time of publication.] Co-founder Jimmy Wales also said he’d pull all Wikimedia content from hosting company Go Daddy’s servers in opposition to their SOPA advocacy (Go Daddy has since rescinded its support of SOPA, claiming it now opposes the bill). Social site Reddit has staged a boycott against pro-SOPA companies, targeting anyone who’s in favor of its passage. Unlikely political bedfellows such as Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Al Gore have joined forces to denounce the bill.
Given the historic magnitude of what’s being proposed inside the Beltway, it’s decidedly unusual that these bills — and the deluge of opposition — are being almost completely ignored by major U.S. television news networks. A January Media Matters report claims that SOPA and PIPA have received “virtually no coverage from major American television news outlets during their evening newscasts and opinion programming.” The report, based on Lexis-Nexis database searches that analyzed newscasts dating back to when SOPA was introduced in October, found that ABC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and NBC devoted a sum total of zero time to this issue during prime evening newscasts.
Some networks bore minor exceptions. In December, CNN featured a single snippet on The Situation Room that mentioned SOPA. And while Fox News hasn’t touched the issue, host Andrew Napolitano broached the subject on sister channel Fox Business Network. Otherwise, major broadcast news outlets have responded to the possible passage of one of the most historic media and copyright bills in American history with complete, unanimous silence.
It comes as little surprise, then, to learn that the parent companies responsible for this blackout are, without exception, noted SOPA supporters. News Corporation (which owns Fox), Time Warner (which owns CNN), Viacom (which owns CBS), Walt Disney Corporation (which owns ABC and ESPN), and Comcast/NBCUniversal are all current advocates of the legislation. The media’s blatant disregard for the issue shifts from coincidental to damning when you consider the obvious relationship between the services these companies provide and what they seek to gain from SOPA’s passage. Faced with the harrowing realization that their old business models are obsolete, U.S. media companies are attempting to quell hemorrhaging revenues and maintain market share not by adapting to the age, but by stifling online commercial and social behaviors. It’s the equivalent of burning down the house to protect one’s property from theft.
And speaking of theft, it should be mentioned that piracy is indeed a real issue. Copyright holders should be able to protect their intellectual property and make money from their work. The problem with SOPA is the means by which it would attempt to achieve these ends.
Here’s what’s wrong with it:
Both SOPA and PIPA are, at their essence, a matter of bewildering impracticality and gross political miscalculation. This is underscored by the fact that neither the bills’ authors nor their Congressional supporters sought input from the tech community regarding possible security concerns or how its proposed tactics would affect the Internet’s present ontology. It’s yet another example of Internet law being written not with the interests of the public in mind, but rather to appease the demands of the special interest groups that fund Congress.
Government-imposed Internet filtering is a practice common in countries like China and Iran. If SOPA becomes law, the U.S. will embark on a dangerous precedent. And as extreme as it seems, the likelihood of SOPA passing through Congress in one form or another is actually quite good. Internet law has become a Congressional cause célèbre in recent years; between SOPA and PIPA — and a flurry of incoming drafts currently being written on the Hill — it’s clear this is an issue that isn’t going away. The U.S. is currently one of only seven countries that doesn’t filter Internet access. But if the recent traction of these bills is any indication, that might not be the case for very long.
December 13, 2011
If I’m off here, I’m not off by much. Two-thirds of our senators, and over 40 percent of our congressional representatives are millionaires. The family of the average member of the House of (Non-) Representatives has about five-and-a-half times the wealth of the average American family.
It is from that exalted perch that laws are handed down which tend to benefit. . . the 1 percent.
Surprise? Not really.
Politics has always been a rich man’s game. And I’m not being gender-neutral here, because for the most part what I’m writing about isn’t gender-neutral. Money as an access point to politics—and wealth as a consequence of wielding power—is nothing new or different: see Washington, George; real estate deals.
Nor should we reflexively smear anyone and everyone simply on the basis of income or origin:
Roosevelt in 2012!
But this severe economic skew in the makeup of our leadership class has serious consequences in terms of what our representatives think of as baseline normal. I am less concerned about the pernicious effects of “the Washington Bubble” and more concerned about the effects of “the Money Bubble.”
Congress decidedly does not feel our pain.
And they need to, if they are to properly diagnose and understand what ails us as a society.
We tinker with the Constitution at our peril. It has long been true that the Bill of Rights could not survive a popular vote: Americans are strongly in favor of free speech and freedom of religion, for example. . . except when people say things we don’t like, and excluding—you know—those weird UnAmerican religions. The Founders couldn’t possibly have really meant to permit them.
Having acknowledged the dangers, I would still propose three constitutional amendments to put the U.S. House and Senate back in touch with the day-to-day realities of “we the people.”
1. The mandatory medical plan for members of Congress and their families shall be Medicaid.
They think funding for Medicaid is adequate? Then they should get perfectly good care there.
2. Anyone serving in any public office—national, state, or local—shall have their children enrolled in public school.
We’re defunding kids? Fine. We’re defunding your kids, too.
3. There shall be created a Congressional Battalion, made up of the sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of every person elected to Congress (no substitutions please; spouses or exes not accepted). In any American military action, the Congressional Battalion shall be the first unit put into service.
Congress seems indifferent to its constitutional responsibilities regarding declarations of war; presidents more or less get to do what they want. One suspects that substituting their own for the children of other people would make them a little less blithe about the exercise of U.S. power abroad.
I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to a Cadillac and a vacation condo; I do believe everyone is entitled to healthcare and education. That’s not just soft altruism: you build a strong society, a strong economy, on the foundation of a healthy and well educated population.
While I am often skeptical about military action, I’m not a pacifist. But I am disturbed by how freely our politicians spend the lives of other people’s children on causes to which they would be loathe to sacrifice their own.
We get the word “society” from the Latin word socius, meaning “companion.” We get “companion” from the Latin com and panis, “with bread,” meaning people with whom we break bread.
And when our leaders eat cake and the people get crusts. . . ?
That bodes well neither for the fate of our society nor for the fate of our leaders.
There has of course been excitement of other sorts, also breaking through in The Big Apple. Some of the scenes of the “Occupy” protests bear a striking resemblance to the fictional events of American Terrorist. I recently re-connected with Tyler to get his thoughts on the matter, and he shared some fascinating illustrations of the connection between his fiction and live current events.
Tyler Chin-Tanner: When I first began writing the American Terrorist graphic novel over four years ago I felt as if it was a fairly topical story in terms of its take on current American politics and where we were headed. But now, at the time of its release, even I find myself amazed at just how relevant it is in terms of its similarities to the mass protests of the Occupy movement.
[Transcript from an interview exclusive to The Nervous Breakdown.]
Milton: Since Halloween was last night, and October 31st is his birthday, I am here talking with Satan, on Skype, from his holiday villa Pandaemonium deep in the depths of Hell. Satan, let me first wish you a Happy Birthday!
Satan: Gee-wiz, thanks, John. So kind of you to call. I am touched, really, I am. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you. And may I say you look marvelous for a 400-year-old? What is your secret? Who is your surgeon? You could pass for a teenager. It must be the poetry—Paradise Regained.
My people come from what is often referred to by banks as LDC’s (least developed countries), little brown tropical countries, drenched with religious fanatics, stalks of sugar like magic wands picked for five cents an hour sold for 3.00 a box. My people come from generational recycled 40 oz. bottles of beer and shit and cigarettes smoked backwards (the lit end in your mouth), and cassava, and ube, pickled chicken fetus’, and piss, and mah jong, gambling (lots of gambling) and child sex workers, boys and girls. Untold numbers of pretty pretty boys. My people are light bulb eaters, bed-of-nail-walkers, fire-eaters, every day is a circus in their jungles, alive with naked intent. By the time we got here we would be happy at any swap meet, all of us hollowed out like empty mango shells. My people rested naked sandwiches on the arms of chairs, and always had an open saucer with half melted butter, a block of Velveeta cheese in the freezer, an open rice cooker. Every kitchen with brown and white diamond checkered floors lined with ants, and every top drawer with little boxes of broken chalk to try to fight the ants and roaches, my people have big rubber fly swatters, and eat with their teeth floating in glasses of water at the dinner table. My people live their lives tending to things. And if you told them the city was cruel with budget cuts they would scoff at you and your American budget cuts. They lived half their lives in city dumps. Here the trash bins behind restaurants are caged and locked to keep homeless out. “Why do they lock it up?” we ask. “So the homeless don’t eat the trash.” “Oh.”
But it still makes no sense. Is food-trash only for throwing away? My people drink coffee for dinner. Kills the appetite. Little empty bellies always round.
So that’s why the first time I saw someone stand at a podium, fist in air, microphone against mouth chanting “Si Se Puede! Si Se Puede! Si Se Puede!” And then there were claps that were slow to start with spaces in between like the clap that a kid makes when he’s teasing another kid. The clap of humiliation but it gained speed faster faster faster until the whole crowd was lifted up by this clap and my heart was catching up with the clap. I felt it clanging against my chest. I felt my nipples hard against my shirt. I felt my hands tight. I wasn’t a person I was part of this big giant super fast heartbeat. And everything in the vehicle formerly known as my body screamed “SIGN ME UP! SIGN ME UP MOTHERFUCKERS!” And so it began.
The day I was hired as a union organizer I was handed a small stapled booklet that read ‘Axioms for Organizers’. These axioms were slung in homes across the Coachella Valley as Fred Ross Jr. worked with Cesar Chavez on the farmworkers campaign and were eventually put into a little DIY booklet and handed to organizers on their first day. My favorite is every organizer is a social arsonist, you have to set the minds and hearts of your members on fire. In that same way I think of writers as social arsonists.
I’ve learned there are two reasons people read: 1) to escape and 2) to connect. I picture thousands of people reaching for books with their best intentions reaching for books and laying on benches, in beds, on couches, shoved against walls, curled on concrete all reading with one hope in mind; to connect to the antagonist and further their understanding of the human spirit. Even though it’s fun to use terms like social arsonist I think that I am now occupying one of the less sexy spaces. The spaces between. It’s what happens after you occupy Wall Street after the chanting and the microphone. It’s what happens while your quietly working on your first novel. It’s like going home after partying all week and thinking, Who turned out the lights?
My job today is to get new and occasional voters to commit to voting regularly in their local elections. No that’s not as fun as wearing a sign or pitching a tent or screaming into a bullhorn or getting arrested or doing anything facebook-status-change-worthy but it’s what I believe is necessary for real systemic change. I’ve read recently “Behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time.”
I would say the same is true for novels. That behind every great novel is a writer doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time. To me the spaces between while writing the novel, whether it be the spaces between feedback or the spaces between a submission response, or the spaces between sitting before the page, can be desperate like being a teenager in foster care wishing keep me keep me keep me. It’s the novel afraid it will slip between your fingers, off of your hard drive, beside the others in the wastebasket on your desktop, tucked somewhere between law school and your afterschool tutoring volunteer gig. First the tugging at your brain and heart, then the shame then the daunting weight of guilt that turns the whole thing into an afterthought. That is the dull screeching around your heart when you are living in the spaces between. Come with me and brave them.