December 20, 2004

Sorry Everybody!

Merry Christmas, folks. See you next year - if there is a next year! And can I crash on your couch, assuming we're still allowed to have couches?


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Yet Another "Found" Letter

This is a school assignment of some kind. On the reverse side it says in large letters: "Found It!"

At school I learn about busniess. I want to thankyou for teaching our class how to play the busniess game. I learn that we shouldn't cry just because the teacher pick somebody else then we don't have to cry. Volenteers came to our class for the rest of the day. Their names are Mr. Quek and Ms. Nguyen. come again Thankyou!



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December 18, 2004

Berkeley Denizens

I've been reading The Voices of Guns, a lengthy journalistic account of the whole SLA story published in 1977. It's not particularly well-written even when it's not rambling and repetitive, but it is still as fascinating as its subject, of course.

The 1977 description of Berkeley could pretty much have been written yesterday:

Berkeley is the ghost town of the Movement, the morgue of the New Left. It is a city dominated by the huge University of California Berkeley campus; a college town uniquely caught up in its own peculiar atmosphere in which swift, turbulent currents of the sixties still swirl, settling well outside the American mainstream. Once the premier capital of the counterculture, Berkeley is still mecca for those seeking to discover or re-create the angry, hopeful anarchism that surged across the nation in the youthful rebellion of the last decade...

Here the Revolution never failed, it merely fell into limbo... Among themselves, they created a time warp, an enchanted-village effect in which much of what constitutes time seems frozen in 1969.

I've learned some details I hadn't known, including the fact that Emily Harris's first job when she arrived in Berkeley was as a clerk-typist at the same university department where I worked, around seventeen years later. The office was slightly off-campus, about two blocks from the Patty Hearst apartment, and apparently she was still working there when the Hearst kidnapping occurred. I guess that means that some of the people I worked with had known her, though no one ever mentioned it. Weird.

More on this later, I'm sure.

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Christmas Plan

My blogging has been slow, thin, and fitful mostly because I'm spending my laptop time working on my Young Adult Novel. Or I'm supposed to be. It's "finished," but not done. When you write a book, you don't just do it once, but rather over and over again. I'm on my third version now, and the plan is to spend the holidays finishing up so I can get to work on the fourth version as soon as possible. If it sounds like I'm complaining, don't get me wrong: this is, like, the best job I've ever had. Not that I've had a lot of jobs or anything.

I'm going to be in Merrie Olde Englande for Christmas and New Years. England = Dial-Up City, usually, so I'm not sure how effective my blogging will be from there, though I may try to post if I think of anything to post about. I have decided to turn off the comments while I'm away, because sifting through thousands of comments-spam messages about Cialis and Texas Hold-'em and Rolex knock-offs at 24 kbs on a quaintly British copper phone line does not sound like a good time. Feel free to email, though.

And have a great Christmas.

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December 13, 2004

Valuable Prizes

Hugo Chavez has been awarded, and has accepted, the prestigious Gadhafi International Human Rights Prize for 2004. The award is "in appreciation of his stances."

Previous International Human Rights Prize recipients include Fidel Castro and Louis Farrahkan.

(via Marc Cooper, by way of Harry's Place.)

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December 11, 2004


I just finished reading Bill Ayers's memoir, Fugitive Days. It's a puzzling book. The first 2/3 tells a straightforward and more or less typical story of the "making" of a 60s radical consciousness (all-American privileged childhood; stint at an oppressive prep school; a subsequent struggle to fashion the Catcher in the Rye escape into a more or less permanent lifestyle loop; institutionalized adolescence; white guilt; Vietnam angst; free love with a variegated crew of "movement women"; disaffection from American society expressed through a naive and sentimental reflexive identification with America's enemies.) Yet the treatment of the alleged subject of the book (i.e., the fugitive days) is frustratingly cursory. If you're looking for insight into the psychology of the hip radical in "revolutionary" mode, or a thoughtful reckoning of the process through which activists can turn to terrorism, or an honest exploration of the limits and ethics of "armed struggle" within a liberal democracy, you won't find it here. Nor is there much in the way of a narrative of events. Ayers somehow manages to leave out all the interesting parts of the story, that is, most of what he was up to between 1970 and and 1981.

Leaving stuff out is, I suppose, the intentional and rather perverse game plan of this "memoir." Absence, dearth, ellipsis; haziness, sketchiness, vagueness; an existential state where nothing is concrete, where no subject can be described or examined but only alluded to - these, rather than "fugitive days," are the themes of the book, summed up in the book's constantly-reiterated initial sentence: "memory is a motherfucker." In the hedging preface, he admits his account is "not exactly" the truth. But, fortunately, it "feels honest" to him.

There's a popular term for this narrative and analytical mode: denial. Ayers tells his story as he feels it ought to be remembered rather than as he actually remembers it, his excuse being that it's not possible to remember things right anyway, so why not? His book is not so much a memoir as it is a memorial, a commemorative monument posing as a quasi-historical subjective narrative. That's not uncommon, to be sure, but few authors are as explicit about their own deceptive program. "What is truth, anyway?" is an interesting, if clichéd and exhaustively chronicled, question as a general matter. In specific contexts, though, particularly where violent crime and culpability are at issue, it can sound very much like what they used to call a "cop-out." I doubt such a defense would have stood up in court, had Ayers ever had to answer officially for the activities deliberately obscured by his "memoir." More importantly, though: it sure doesn't make for a compelling or informative story.

Ayers struggles to avoid coming off as smug and self-regarding. In this he is only occasionally successful, but at least he's trying. He pronounces himself "guilty as hell, free as a bird," adding: "it's a great country." He does cop to naivety, lack of seriousness, stupidity, arrogance, even elitism when reflecting on his sixties self. He is unrepentant about the terrorism, though, and not only in the platitudinous "if I had it to do all over again, I'd do it all over again" formulation. (He denies he's actually a terrorist, of course: America and its government are the "real" terrorists, he insists, in yet another defense that would probably not stand in court.) In the notorious September 11-eve promotional interview in the New York Times he said: "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." Moreover, in the book's post-9/11 postscript, he pointedly refuses to rule out a return to the principles and praxis of his fugitive youth:

I can't quite imagine putting a bomb in a building today - all of that seems so distinctly a part of then. But I can't imagine entirely dismissing the possibility, either.

I just hope he doesn't blow up my building, should the not entirely dismissible possibility arise.

In fact, these sentences are in a sense a good encapsulation of the contradictory aims of Ayers's apologia. On the one hand, the theory and practice of urban "armed struggle" is presented as more or less a lark, one further curious element of the sex and drugs and rock and roll lifestyle, "part of then," a whistle-stop on the long strange counter-culture trip, crazy, perhaps, but well-meant and, you have to admit, colorful. On the other hand, the Weather Underground's activities and rhetoric are granted a moral weight that belies this breezy characterization. Ayers wishes to leave the impression that these activities were mostly harmless, and thus not entirely unethical; yet he clings to the equally dubious notion that they were also not entirely pointless. I don't believe, in the end, that he manages to square that circle, but it's not for want of trying.

The twists and turns of this downplay-and-celebrate method yield some amusing absurdities. My favorite occurs in chapter 26, where Ayers appears to be trying to leave the impression that the primary activity of his organization, in the aftermath of the townhouse explosion, was to travel around the country searching for people who were planning bombings, in order to talk them out of it.

All in all, I was unable to determine the degree to which Ayers's denial is sincere as opposed to merely literary or contrived; maybe that, like the truth, is supposed to be unknowable, too. I can say that I do recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject: it is deeply, hence fascinatingly, dishonest.

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December 09, 2004

All Us Girls

Sorry for the silence. I've been involved in some bizarre literary activities and just couldn't fit any blogging in.

This quote has been making the rounds, and it isn't bad, so I figure I may as well join the party.

Gwen Stefani on songwriting:

Tony called me and I was like, 'Dude, I suck.' And he was like, 'Dude, come over.' So I went to his house and a bunch of our friends there were playing these tracks that Tony was doing that were, like, stupid. I was like, "You did not do these." And he's like, 'Yep, you wanna hear your tracks?' And I was like, 'Nuh-uh, you did not.' So he pulls out this one and I'm like, 'Oh my God, that's my song.'

All I can say is, I can relate. Not to the composition method (I'm a lousy collaborator - all attempts to co-write end in misery and devastation where I'm involved.) Rather, I can relate to the challenge of doing interviews when you're handicapped by a California upbringing. Usually, your quotes get edited so that you sound pretty much like a normal person. But sometimes, either because it's kind of funny or because of a misguided desire for scrupulous accuracy, they will transcribe every like, y'know, dude, and whatever. And no matter who you are, you come off like a Valley Girl. In fact, that's pretty much how we all are, but that's no reason to rub it in.

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December 01, 2004

Grape Mrs. Carillon, or wait, I mean, never mind...

A worthy cause.

(thanks once again, Tris.)

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