Open Thread and Link Farm, No I Said She Was A PEPSI Head Edition


  1. Long-running baboon war at Toronto Zoo comes to an end –
  2. California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers – The New York Times
    Reminds me of the people who depend on Obamacare and voted for Trump. (And not all of them failed to realize that Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing.)
  3. How President Trump Could Seize More Power After a Terrorist Attack – The New Yorker
  4. DHS analysis found no evidence of extra threat posed by travel-ban nations: report | TheHill
    Americans are willing to accept big losses of freedom to a man claiming to be protecting us from terrorism.
  5. I Was a Muslim in the Trump White House—and I Lasted Eight Days – The Atlantic
  6. Poll: One-Third Don’t Know Obamacare and Affordable Care Act Are the Same – The New York Times
  7. Republican Members of Congress Are Hiding From Their Constituents – Slog – The Stranger
    They want to take away their constituents’ health care, but can’t actually work up the guts to talk to their constituents about it.
  8. Experience: I accidentally bought a giant pig | Life and style | The Guardian
  9. The Prisoner’s Dilemma: Why Democrats Should Block Gorsuch | Alternet
  10. Discussion of Nazi-punching on Tumblr.
    The people who most favor punching Nazis, are not people who keep careful, tight bounds on who counts as a Nazi.
  11. Income share for the bottom 50% of Americans is ‘collapsing,’ new Piketty research finds – MarketWatch
    The graph is impressive looking.
  12. Dutch Get Creative to Solve a Prison Problem: Too Many Empty Cells –
  13. This economist taught monkeys to use money.
    It’s really a pretty neat experiment – Ben told me about it. Eventually, the monkeys invented prostitution.
  14. It Takes A Village To Bully A Transgender Kindergartner
    Parents at a charter school band together – and invite in a hate group – to harass a trans child, including doxing the child on a major right-wing website (The Daily Signal). Ugh, ugh, ugh.
  15. Transplant patient holds her own heart after life-saving operation | The Independent
    I mean, you can click through and read it if you want, she sounds really cool actually, but basically I’ve put it on the link farm because I’m really into that headline.
  16. The Trouble With Anti-Antiracism | Jacobin
    Referring to left anti-antiracism, not right anti-antiracism.
  17. Article: Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State | OpEdNews
    Ballot rules are used to keep third parties down. And that sucks. Not that I’m feeling like a big fan of third parties these days, but it’s anti-democratic to keep them off the ballot for trumped-up reasons.
  18. Did George Washington’s false teeth come from his slaves?: A look at the evidence, the responses to that evidence, and the limitations of history – The Washington Papers
    His dentures were definitely made of human teeth, not wooden as the myth has it. We can’t know for sure if the teeth came from his slaves, but it seems likely, given how far below market value he paid for the teeth.
  19. Speaking of our founding fathers, according to this, Jefferson began his “relationship” with Sally Hennings in 1787, when Hennings was 14. Jefferson would have been 44 at that time.
  20. Removals vs returns: how to think about Obama’s deportation record – Vox
  21. The Complicated Racial Politics of Going “Undercover” to Report on the Jim Crow South | History | Smithsonian
  22. Senator Mark Chelgren Aims To Purge Democrats From Iowa Universities – Iowa Starting Line
    “The Secretary of State’s office would be directed to provide voter registration lists to the colleges so that new job applicants’ party affiliation could be checked before the hiring process gets underway.” But remember, it’s liberals who want to crush free speech at universities.
  23. The Story Of Henry ‘Box’ Brown, The Slave Who Mailed Himself To Freedom | GOOD
  24. Weakened Democrats Bow to Voters, Opting for Total War on Trump – The New York Times
  25. Listening to Trump Voters with ACA Coverage: What They Want in a Health Care Plan | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
    Mainly, they want lower deductibles. Which is reasonable, but there is no way to lower deductibles without either 1) making the insurance cheap and useless in other ways, which would be unacceptable to these same voters, or 2) having the government cover more of the cost, which is unacceptable to the politicians these voters put in office.
  26. Trump’s Budget Proposal Threatens Democratic and Republican Ambitions
    An interesting look at the budget as a competition for resources between generations.
  27. Tom Perez Announces Plan to Drastically Expand Voter Protections at the DNC — Tom Perez
    Good. Perez has a lot of background in fighting for voting rights; that may be exactly what’s needed.
  28. I’ve been arguing on Tumblr about why Democrats shouldn’t offer a compromise on Roe v Wade.


Posted in Link farms | 21 Comments  

Global Warming Discussion Thread (moved from the “Six Kinds of Republican” thread


There is now a significant discussion of global warming and denialism going on in the “Six Kinds of Republican” thread. I’m creating this post to move those comments to.

Posted in Environmental issues | 17 Comments  

I Just Learned About the Equal Justice Initiative – If You Don’t Know About It, You Should

In “The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw,” a series of letters I composed during the summer of 2016 that were published in December of that year, I wrote about the stolpersteine, an art project started by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992. According to Wikipedia, the project “aims at commemorating individual persons at exactly the last place of residency—or, sometimes, work—which was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror, euthanasia, eugenics, was deported to a concentration or extermination camp, or escaped persecution by emigration or suicide.” I was astonished to learn that more than 50,000 stolpersteine have been laid in 20 European countries. “I don’t want to romanticize what the stolpersteine represent or over-celebrate their scope,” I wrote, “but it speaks volumes to me that so many communities across Europe have agreed to bear witness to, and in that way hold themselves accountable for, what the Nazis did [primarily to the Jews].” Then I wondered about whether a similar kind of project focused on slavery would even be possible in the United States:

Consider a white artist—as far as I know, Denmig is not Jewish—trying to pursue a similar project regarding slavery in the United States. Even setting aside the differing circumstances and practical considerations that might make a project like that impossible, it’s hard for me to imagine white America saying yes in the same way that those European communities have. We are, after all, a nation in which someone like Bill O’Reilly feels authorized to “fact check” on national TV First Lady Michelle Obama’s statement about the White House having been built by slaves; in which it took the mass murder Dylan Roof committed in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, with the explicit intention of starting a race war, for legislators finally to vote the Confederate flag off of South Carolina’s state house; in which far too many white people cannot accept the simple assertion that Black lives matter as anything other than the at least implicit claim that other lives don’t.

In such a nation, how many communities would be willing to be reminded daily, as they walked to work or school, or down the block for a quart of milk or a sandwich from the deli, or to take out the garbage or go to the movies, or church, or shul, or to meet a lover for a date—how many communities in the United States do you think would say yes to a memorial that asked them to confront not slavery in the aggregate, difficult and meaningful and necessary as that is, but the names and dates, the lived lives of the particular enslaved Black people who played a role in that community’s history? There’s no way to answer this question, of course, but I can, as I am sure you can, picture the kind of resistance such a project would run into across wide swaths of the country, not to mention in the right wing media. To put it simply, we are a nation in which white people tend to work very hard not only not to take responsibility for the historical fact of slavery, but also not to be held accountable for the ways in which we continue to benefit from its aftermath.

At the time I wrote those words, I did not know about Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), an organization in Montgomery, Alabama founded by Bryan Stevenson. In February 2015, as part of a project that resembles Demnig’s stolpersteine to a remarkable degree, EJI released a report on the history of lynchings in the United States. “Lynching and the terror era,” Stevenson is quoted in The New York Times as saying, “shaped the geography, politics, economics and social characteristics of being black in America during the 20th century.” The part of the project that most closely mirrors the stolpersteine involves erecting markers and memorials on specific lynching sites “to force people to reckon with the narrative through-line of the country’s vicious racial history, rather than thinking of that history in a short-range, piecemeal way.” Stevenson is expecting resistance and controversy not unlike what he experienced when his organization tried to place historical markers at the cites of the slave markets in Montgomery, Alabama, where, The Timessaid, in what feels like ironic understatement, “city and state governments were not welcoming…despite the abundance of Civil War and civil rights movement memorials” in the city.

We need this kind of memorial in the United States. I plan to start following EJI’s work.

Posted in anti-racism, Anti-Semitism, antiracism, Race, racism and related issues, Racism | 6 Comments  

Cartoon: The Six Kinds of Republican

republican-6-kinds-1500This was originally published on Fusion. They have a lot of great cartoons in their archives.

If you like this, consider supporting my Patreon!

There’s a tendency among conservatives to act as if racists are unicorns . That is, they consider racism to be exclusively the province of people who not only consider non-whites inferior, but who say so explicitly.

But real racism happens in many more forms – and often these subtler forms are more incidious and harmful. One that especially infuriates me is the ongoing Republican party assault on voting rights. And as bad as it’s been, it could easily get worse, now that the Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act and Jeff Sessions is Attorney General. (Talk about putting the racist fox in charge of the henhouse….)

At this point, to be aligned with the Republican party at all is a form of racism.

Artwise, there’s some subtle differences in this cartoon, that reflects that my cartoons are being designed more for web than print. (Thanks to my Patreon supporters!) I wanted more room for words and art, so I made the cartoon taller than usual – which would be a problem for cartoons I draw for print. And I put the “kicker” image below the cartoon, rather than in a little box in the cartoon.

And a special thanks, in the sidebar of this cartoon, goes to my Patreon supporter SocProf. Occasionally I use the sidebar to thank patrons supporting at a $10 level, because that kind of support is awesome! So, thanks SocProf!

Transcript of cartoon:

CAPTION AT THE TOP OF CARTOON: The Six Kinds of Republican

Panel 1
CAPTION: 1. Overt Racists
IMAGE: A natty white man, with a shaved head and a pinstripe vest, is standing on a sidewalk talking directly at the viewer with an intense expression.
NATTY MAN: Obviously white people are better at civilization. That’s why we need to stop Blacks from voting.

Panel 2
CAPTION: 2. Strategic Racists
IMAGE: Same scene as panel one, but now an older, successful-looking white man, in a jacket and tie, has entered and is talking to the Natty Man, putting one hand on the Natty Man’s shoulder.
OLDER MAN: No, my friend! We have to stop Democrats from voting. But most Blacks vote Democrat, so we’ll find some excuse to keep the Blacks from voting.

Panel 3
CAPTION: 3. Enabler Racists
IMAGE: We are looking closely at the screen of a smartphone, being held by a hand. On the screen, a well-dressed white woman with a straight haircut is talking.
PUNDIT LADY: Voter I.D. laws don’t literally say “we hate Black people.” It’s unfair to call them racist!

Panel 4
CAPTION: 4. Pragmatic Racists
IMAGE: A suburban-looking white couple stands in front of a two-story house. The man is holding a baby.
MAN: Maybe voter I.D. laws do suppress the Black vote.
WOMAN: But we’re white, so that’s not a deal-breaker.

Panel 5
CAPTION: 5. Willing Dupe Racists
IMAGE: Two young white men are talking. One, with a chinstrap beard and a plaid shirt, is waving his arms and has an angry expression. The other, with neatly combed hair, a t-shirt, and a lecturing expression, has his arms folded.
PLAID SHIRT: In what way is systematically making it harder for Black voters to vote “racist”? (Stop playing the race card!)
T-SHIRT: We need I.D. laws because millions of “illegals” are voting! (But you’ll never see that reported by the lamestream media!)

Panel 6
CAPTION: Not Racist
IMAGE: A blank white panel, other than a caption in the middle of it.
CAPTION: (No example found)

Little “kicker” panel at the bottom
The plaid shirt guy from panel 5 is angrily gesturing.
PLAID SHIRT: This cartoon is why Trump won!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Conservative zaniness, right-wingers, etc., Contemporary Racism, Elections and politics, Racism | 57 Comments  

Cartoon: Oh Those Intolerant Liberals!


Whoops! This cartoon is from February 3rd, but I was tired then and forgot to post it here. Here’s what I wrote about it on February 3rd, on my Patreon:

Another strip based on current events. I’ve been drawing all day to get this finished, and it’s now 11pm – but it feels nice to have gotten it done.

It’s nice to have been able to take a day to turn an idea into a comic strip. And I can do that because of all the patrons here supporting me. Without you, this strip probably would have never gotten further than a doodle in my sketchbook. Thank you!

I’m going to keep this one private until Monday, so my patrons can get to see it early. But as usual, if you’re supporting these cartoons at the $5 or above level, you can start sharing it right away. Everyone else, please wait until Monday. :-)

I don’t think that leftist intolerance doesn’t exist – obviously it does. I attended Oberlin College in the late 1980s, and the social pressure to conform to liberal beliefs could be stifling. I don’t think it’s actually changed very much, except that now social media makes everything that happens on campus into potential nationwide news.

But the media seems convinced that this is solely a problem with left-wingers; this strip is about how ridiculous that is. The black bloc protesters in Seattle who broke windows1 were acting like jerks, and I don’t approve of them hijacking a much larger peaceful protest to make it all about them. But it’s not reasonable that a broken Bank of America window gets so much more coverage (and so much more hand-wringing) than a Republican official calling for a repeat of Kent State, or of a Milo fan actually shooting a protester.

I read an article – I can’t find it now, sorry – which pointed out that the shooting at the University of Seattle protest (referred to in the second panel of this strip) got much less coverage in newspapers than some Oberlin student who complained that the food served in the cafeteria was not authentic enough.

Anyhow, that was the inspiration for this strip. I hope the drawing looks good – it’s hard for me to judge, so soon after I’ve finished drawing it. I think the dude in panel 2 is my favorite.

(I wrote a blog post about the similar problems with how the media reacts to threats to free speech on campus. )

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody!

And here’s the transcript of the cartoon:

Panel 1 shows two “black bloc” protesters, with black hoodies and faces masked, standing with broken glass around them. One is holding a brick, and both are waving a fist in the air.

CAPTION: Berkeley: Masked far-left protesters set fires and break windows.
BB1: Oooh, look at us. We’re such hardcore rebels!
BB2: In your FACE, people who do tedious activism work that actually matters!

Panel 2
An angry man holding a smoking handgun yells at someone on the ground in front of him.
CAPTION: Seattle: A fan of a right-wing speaker shoots a left-wing protester.
ANGRY MAN: Stop trying to silence me!

Panel 3
A cheerful man in a suit and tie looks directly a the viewer, hand out in a “explaining things” gesture.
CAPTION: Michigan: A Republican party official suggests that student protesters should be shot.
MAN: Kent State is a model we should all aspire to!

Panel 4
A young white man, face distorted by hate, is standing with his back to us, holding a gun, and glaring back at us over his shoulder.
CAPTION: Quebec: A white supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, Trump supporter murders six people in a Mosque.
MAN: Being privileged in every way imaginable has made me so ANGRY!

Panel 5
Three well-dressed people wear expressions of panic as they yell in unison.
CAPTION: And the pundits spoke.
PUNDITS: Why are liberals so intolerant?

  1. Who were not all the black bloc protesters there, I assume. []
Posted in Cartooning & comics | 27 Comments  

What I Tell My Introduction-to-Creative-Writing Students on The First Day of Class

“The first duty of the writer is the rectification of names—to name things properly, for, as Kung-fu Tze [Confucius] said, ‘All wisdom is rooted in learning to call things by the right name.’” —Sam Hamill, “The Necessity to Speak”

To name a thing correctly is to change the world in which that thing exists. There was a time, for example, when it was legally impossible to charge a husband with raping his wife. Or, for that matter, a wife with raping her husband. Why? Because the fact of being married was understood to mean, on the part of both husband and wife, a perpetual state of sexual consent. Once we acknowledged that consent is something that is given, or not, during each and every sexual encounter, forced sex within marriage became recognizable for the rape that it is, and once that naming was complete, both the world within a marriage and the world within which marriage exists—at least here in the United States—changed. The “rectification of names,” in other words, has serious personal and political consequences, though not always on such a grand scale. We all know the uncomfortable, disconnected, out of joint sensation of wanting to communicate something to someone, but not being able to find the right words, and we all know as well not only the “click” that happens when we do find the right words and the world suddenly falls into place, but also the difference between the lives we live after that “click” and the lives we were living before it. That difference might be as relatively small as the choice to start waking up earlier so you aren’t always late to class or as consequential as the choice to move out of your parents’ house and get your own apartment or to live abroad for a year in a country where you don’t speak the language. Whether it’s big or small, however, the choice will have consequences.

The things you will try to name in the writing you will do this semester—fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction—are less easily summarized in a single phrase or sentence than those I’ve listed above. Rather than simply naming the desire to get an apartment, for example, you will try to name, to depict as accurately as possible, the experience of having that desire. This kind of naming will demand of you a willingness to engage language more deeply, more subtly, more fully than you may have done in previous English classes. You will not be telling your readers what you think or feel—or, in the case of creative nonfiction, merely what you think or feel—nor will you be telling them what you think they should think or feel. Rather, you will be inviting them to explore what it feels like to think or feel about the things that matter to you. To learn to do that is to pursue a connection between your facility with language and the content—intellectual, creative and otherwise—of your character. I do not mean by this that people who cannot write well have no character or that writing is the only way in which people can show their character. I mean, simply, that you cannot write well if you do not make this connection, because not to make it is to fail, as a writer, in holding yourself accountable for the quality of your own thinking and feeling. Or, to put it another way, it is to fail to take your own intellect and creativity seriously.

As a teacher of creative writing, I measure my success not in how many A’s or B’s I give out—since grades reflect the surface of learning, not necessarily its quality—but in whether my students have begun to take on the responsibility not simply of having something to say, but of having the audacity to find words compelling enough to command a reader’s attention above and beyond the fact that they were written in response to a classroom assignment. That is the challenge we will face together this semester. I am looking forward to it.

Posted in Teaching, Writing | 15 Comments  

Low Vaccination Rates Are Caused By Inadequate Public Health Systems, Not By Anti-Vaxxers

There is a really crappy New York Times op-ed entitled “How the Anti-Vaxxers Are Winning” circulating at the moment (it’s such a great click-bait headline! Good job New York Times editors!).

It claims that “It’s looking as if 2017 could become the year when the anti-vaccination movement gains ascendancy in the United States,” but the only pieces of evidence it actually gives for that are that Robert Kennedy claims he was asked by Trump to be on an anti-vaxxer commision, and that there is an anti-vax documentary. Then it goes on to present some CDC data in confusing and misleading ways, while skipping over all of the data that shows that vaccination rates are steadily increasing and that the overwhelming majority of failure to vaccinate is caused by poverty and busyness, not anti-vaxxers.

It targets the wrong problem and ignores the real problem (as well as engaging in pointless scare-mongering). Anti-vaxxers are wrong and selfish, but the reason for low vaccination rates is overwhelmingly an inadequate public health system. Look at Texas in the two maps in the article: more than 33% of toddlers haven’t gotten the full sequence of vaccines, but only 2-5% of toddlers are unvaccinated for anti-vaxxer reasons.

More directly, here is the CDC report on vaccination rates: Note three things:

  1. for each vaccine individually, vaccination rate is > 90%, generally the safe level for herd immunity;
  2. the complete 7 vaccination rate has risen steadily for the last 7 years (through 2014, but nothing in the NYTimes op-ed cites more recent data);
  3. the main group that is inadequately vaccinated is poor people.

The two minute hate at anti-vaxxers is fun (and who doesn’t hate anti-vaxxers?), but it masks the real problems and the real success of vaccination programs in the US.

(Oh, and in good vaccine news, Britain, which really did suffer a huge wave of anti-vaxxers in the 00’s is now back to greater than 9 out of 10 rates for MMR vaccines.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Dancing In The Wind Edition

  1. Ponies | Popehat
    The Ponies category at Popehat is awesome. You will learn more about the pony threat then you ever imagined. (Thanks Mandolin!)
  2. Why Trump wants to get rid of the “Johnson Amendment”
    If Churches can become tax-free political campaigning organizations, that gives them an enormous advantage over orgs like Planned Parenthood. It’s also a way for political donors to hide their identities.
  3. U.S. judge finds that Aetna misled the public about its reasons for quitting Obamacare – LA Times
    Calling them assholes seems so inadequate.
  4. Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl – The New York Times
  5. At least 300 people form barrier to shield Portland churchgoers from harassment |
    Three “Alas” folks – Charles, Ben and myself – were there for this.
  6. AP: Trump’s voter fraud expert registered to vote in 3 states
    There’s no indication that he’s ever double-voted, but this is still notable, since Trump has cited double-registrations as evidence of voter fraud.
  7. TransGriot: Boy Scouts To Allow Transmasculine Boys To Join
  8. At GOP leaders’ urging, Texas Supreme Court will consider undoing gay spousal rights | LGBT | Dallas News
  9. The White Nationalists Come to Washington | New Republic
  10. Feral Bunnies Are Taking Over Las Vegas | Atlas Obscura
    I can’t understand why they don’t make trapping and eating the adorable little things legal.
  11. South Dakota lawmakers declare state of ’emergency’ to force repeal of voter-imposed ethics law
    “The bill guts all of the Act’s provisions, including creation of an independent ethics commission, limits on lobbyists gifts to politicians, tougher penalties for bribery, stronger transparency, and a two-year ban on politicians becoming lobbyists when they leave office.” There are parts of the law which should be modified or clarified, but wholesale repeal? They just want to be corrupt.
  12. The Myth of the Well-Behaved Women’s March | New Republic
    “Bad behavior is enough to lead to arrests, but good behavior isn’t enough to avoid it. If the cops didn’t arrest anyone, it’s because they didn’t want to.”
  13. Report: hundreds of US hospitals follow Catholic rules on reproductive care | Society | The Guardian
    Which leads to cases like what happened to Mindy Swank.
  14. Repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually – The Washington Post
  15. Democrats Want To Pick Their Battles With Trump. Their Base Wants All-Out War. | The Huffington Post
  16. President Trump’s illegal-voter paranoia is a fantasy. But the consequences are real. – Vox
  17. This Stat Will Make Your EPOP | The American Conservative
    Thanks to Harlequin for this link, about the prime-age EPOP: “The employment-to-population ratio for adults between the ages of 25 and 54.” This is a good statistic to look at, not instead of but beside the unemployment rate. The EPOP has mostly recovered since the 2008 recession, but there’s still a ways to go.
  18. Why Donald Trump Has Made American Less Safe From Terrorism
  19. Are Factory Jobs Good Jobs? – Lawyers, Guns & Money
    Not if they’re not union jobs.
  20. Sentencing Law and Policy: The hardest of cases for death penalty abolitionists: convicted murderer who keeps murdering while in prison
  21. On Male Feminists | Thing of Things
  22. Montreal’s Car-Free Street Network Gets Bigger All the Time – Streetsblog USA
  23. Trump to CIA: We now have 2nd Chance to take Iraq’s Oil
  24. German court rules that firebombing a synagogue is not anti-Semitic – Vox
  25. NAFTA Has Been Awesome for Mexico???? – Lawyers, Guns & Money
    Not so much.
  26. heron61 | Thoughts on 2 Films – Passengers (2016) & The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
  27. The Lesson of 2016: Rabid Congressional Investigations Work | Mother Jones
  28. Graphic essay: What the Civil Rights Movement can teach us about surviving Trump | Fusion
  29. How Louis CK Tells A Joke – YouTube
  30. You’re Fired: Political discourse in the age of Trump | Liza Featherstone
    I wish I could cut the final sentence – which is yet another iteration of the “it’s because of liberals I disagree with that Trump was elected!” cliche – but other than that, this essay criticizing the left for calling for people to be fired is spot-on, and by spot-on I mean it says things I agree with.
  31. Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, wasn’t black. But here’s why so many people think he was.
  32. Quebec City imam’s profoundly magnanimous eulogy includes white gunman in list of victims.
    Thanks to Closetpuritan for this and the previous two links.
  33. Arkansas passes law allowing rapists to sue victims who want an abortion | The Independent
    Specifically, the law allows a husband to sue his wife’s doctor to prevent her from getting an abortion, even in cases where the husband raped the wife. That headline-grabbing news is disgusting and noteworthy, but the broader principle in the law – that a husband has an ownership stake in his wife’s body – is also disgusting.
  34. Partisan Redistricting Goes To Court | The American Conservative
  35. Resistance, and Being a "Sore Loser" – Greta Christina’s Blog
  36. Milo and the Violent, Well-Funded Right-Wing Attacks on Academic Freedom
  37. Anarchists, NOT Cal students, responsible for violence in UC Berkeley protests – California Golden Blogs
  38. The Debate Link: Berkeley’s Partially Pregnant Protests
    Very good points from David Schraub: “The fact of the matter is that there were three speeches scheduled at Berkeley last night.” Thanks to Harlequin for the link.
  39. Carl Beijer: Nazi punching probably doesn’t matter either way
  40. On Punching Nazis | Popehat
  41. The Long History of "Nazi Punching" | Mother Jones


Posted in Link farms | 32 Comments  

Articulating Why You Think Your Work Matters

I wish I could remember who gave me the advice that you should never submit poems with a cover letter explaining what you thought the poems were about and/or what you wanted them to accomplish. To explain, this person said, was to apologize, and you should never apologize for your work. Never. No matter how preliminary the draft or experimental the form or unconventional or potentially disturbing the content. You should always let the work speak for itself, listening in the responses you get for clues as to whether and how you should think about revisions.

There is real wisdom in that. It’s one reason I believe, for the most part, that a writer, especially a student writer, whose work is being workshopped should not be allowed to speak while the workshop is going on. The point of a workshop, after all, and I include my own role as a workshop leader in this, is not (or ought not to be) to tell participants what they ought to do in revising their work. Rather, it is (or should be) a chance for them to hear honest responses to the work and to gauge how well those responses match up to what they think they are trying to do. If the responses match, that tells the writer something; if they don’t, that tells the writer something else. In each case, I tell my students, it’s up to the writer and no one else to decide how to respond, including the possibility of a non-response. Or, perhaps more precisely, a response that sets aside whatever was said during the workshop and addresses the need for revision—because 99% of pieces brought to a workshop are in need of some revision—from an entirely different angle.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, as I’ve been going through a third round of submissions trying to get my second book of poetry published. Some presses, especially those that run contests, want only a (sometimes anonymous) manuscript. They want, in other words, the work to speak for itself entirely. Others ask only for a brief CV and bio. They want to know a little bit about you, your publishing history, your involvement in the literary world, but they’re generally not interested in what you have to say about your own work. There are some, however, who want a full-on, if not necessarily formal, proposal. It’s this last group that got me thinking about the difference between explaining/apologizing for your work and being able to articulate why you think matters and is therefore worth a publisher’s, and a reader’s, time and money to pay attention to.

It may sound strange, but I first learned to do this for my poetry by writing a non-fiction book proposal. Around twenty years ago, I was working on a now-defunct collection of personal, mostly autobiographical essays about manhood and masculinity, for which people I knew in the publishing industry encouraged me to find an agent. To do so, I needed to learn how to write a query letter and a proposal. The book that helped me do that, Elizabeth Lyon’s Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, is one I still go to when I need to think through how to conceptualize and sell the idea behind a project.

What makes Lyon’s method useful for thinking about a book of poetry, if not one’s entire body of work as a poet, is that she focuses you first on defining the concept behind the nonfiction book you want to write and then leads you through the process of refining that definition so it can be stated in a single sentence, two at the most. In this way, you don’t get bogged down in dealing with the content of each individual chapter, or the intricacies of the narrative(s) your nonfiction book will contain. The same kind of thinking, it seems to me, can only strengthen the sales pitch for a book of poems. By helping you avoid the trap of focusing too narrowly on its content—which is nothing more than a way of apologizing for not being able to say clearly why that content matters—Lyons’ approach forces you instead to articulate the terms of your book’s (your work’s) relationship with your readers.  To put it another way, the more clear you are about why you think your work matters, the more clear you will be about whom you think it should matter to. From a publisher’s perspective, this is not just helpful in deciding whether or not to take your book on, but absolutely necessary, assuming they do decide to publish it, in thinking about sales and marketing.

I’ve just done a quick assessment of how long I’ve been waiting for a response from the publishers to whom I have submitted my manuscript, only two of whom asked specifically for some kind of proposal. Some have been holding the manuscript for almost a year; others have had it for four, five, or six months. I mean by this no implicit criticism of them. I understand the economics and time commitment of small press publishing, especially when it comes to poetry. By way of comparison, though, of the two publishers to whom I submitted a query letter, one actually responded the very next day that he would like to see the manuscript, and it struck me that the odds of that happening in the absence of my proposal letter would have been slim to none. The letter, in other words, helped me get my foot in the door in a way that allowing the work to speak for itself almost certainly would not—which says anything, of course, about whether or not this publisher will accept my manuscript, or how long they will take to make a decision, or even whether the manuscript is truly worth publishing in the first place. What it has made me consider, though, is what might be lost when we place so much emphasis on allowing a poet’s work to speak for itself that we end up trivializing, if not entirely dismissing her or his ability to speak persuasively on its behalf.


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Contract Signed! Words for What Those Men Have Done Will Be Out Later This Year

Please forgive the back-to-back self-promotional postings, but I am excited! My second book of poems, Words for What Those Men Have Done, has (finally!) found a home with Guernica Editions. The book should be out later this year. Here are the lines from which the book’s title comes:

I don’t remember what song I chose,
and it’s been a decade at least
since I’ve told anyone
about my son’s first moments
as my son, but they’ve come to me here,
in this urologist’s waiting room,
because I picked up from the coffee table
this copy of The Nation
another patient must have left behind,
and the first article I opened to,
“Silence=Rape,” by Jan Goodwin,
introduced me to Shashir,
six years old and gang raped
in the Congo. When they found her,
she was starving;
and when they found her,
she could neither walk nor talk;
and so they stitched together
the parts of her the men had ruptured,
fed her, gave her clothing,
and that night she slept
for the first time since no one knew when
in a bed that was not
the bush the militia had left her to die in;
and maybe the tent walls
shaping the room she lived in
when Goodwin learned she existed
had come to mean for her
a kind of safety; and maybe
that safety was fertile ground,
where words for what those men had done to her
dropped like seeds
from the mouths of those who rescued her
and began to take root.

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