When my writing boots get a little too clean, I take Scout to hang around with the Gillespies, in Cleveland.
Nine o'clock, join a gang of tipsy speechwriters at the steps of the Capitol Building, for a long, bracing walk to the Lincoln Memorial, where I hope we'll have retained enough of our buzz to recite, in unison, the Gettysburg Address.
Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan said about the Repubublican Party of Armenia: "the Party has been carrying on with its noiseless, unpretentious work, steering away from the roads to abyss and temptations to reach the sun flying on wax wings."
Rereading President Obama's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, I ran across an idea I'd like to dismiss:
"If we leave our values at the door," Obama said, "we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries, and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Heschel—the majority of great reformers in American history did their work not just because it was sound policy, or they had done good analysis, or understood how to exercise good politics, but because their faith and their values dictated it, and called for bold action—sometimes in the face of indifference, sometimes in the face of resistance."
He's saying, in purposely uncertain terms, that when it comes to social good, Religious People Get More Done.
Now, Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens have spent the last decade saying the opposite, that spiritually deranged religious people do much of the harm in the world, too. The atheists have a point, of course, and they've made it. And made it, and made it, and made it.
And I'm glad.
But mustn't a New York Times-reading, cocktail-snarfing, motorcycle-riding, golfing liberal agnostic writer like me acknowledge, if only in a parenthetical pause from my pontification, that when it comes to drawing a line and laying their life on it, religious people are more reliable than I?
For me—as for most of us, I suppose—Darfur bleeds into the Taliban's treatment of women who make me think about the lives of suicidal Chinese workers who made the computer from which I blog today's outrage (and schedule tomorrow's, a day ahead)?
I certainly don't want to go to0 far with this, but it does occur to me that a religious person might be more likely than a non-religous person to seize on a problem and commit a life to its solution. I honestly wonder whether Lincoln, Addams, King, Day and Heschel would have made their moves and maintained their movements without an explicit moral framework for justification and a church community for backup.
Douglass would have been fine without religion, because he was one bad-ass emmer effer. As were and will be any number of secular, non-religious American heroes.
But can't we all at least acknowledge that religion can be psychologically and socially useful as a provider of bright lines in a world of moral gray?
And if we can acknowledge it, shouldn't we do so, if only so that we may continue to claim to have more intellectual honesty than Rick Santorum, and to undercut his manipulative claims of cultural persecution?
I know Christians can probably never say out loud that atheists are good for the world. But sometimes you just have to be the bigger person.
Thinking we've done together here at Writing Boots leads to my latest post at McMurry.com, where I argue that the best clients to have are the ones in trouble. They have to listen to you and your crazy ideas.
Monday morning, and
We have sprung forward into darkness.
Mom has left for work, but
Scout and I lie on the couch,
Under the blanket.
"My throat is sore," she says.
"You'll be fine," I say.
"That's a weird thing to say," she says.
And we laugh.
Studs Terkel would be 100 this May. "Ninteen twelve. The Titanic went down, and I came up."
Screw it. Studs Terkel is 100 this May, and here in Chicago we're having a month-long birthday bash for our beloved spokesman. A wacky bridge rededication ceremony one day, a fancy party another, a folk concert and a film festival. I'm on the Studs Terkel Centenary Committee and the only thing I know for sure about this month is that it's going to be so nuts that the NATO Summit will go unnoticed. (The already canceled the G8 meeting here, for fear of their being overshadowed.
Meanwhile, enjoy Terkel's 1975 interview with the novelist Nelson Algren. Don't shut it off until after Algren explains why he's moving from Chicago to New Jersey because he loves San Francisco, and New Jersey is "on the way."
CORRECTION: The ad I discuss here was not by Ford, it was by GM, for the Chevy Volt. (I told you I was snoozing.) Even more jarring, considering GM's conservative communication tradition. —DM
Listening to The Morning Joe as I tried to snooze this morning, I heard a commercial where a cute young woman was enthusing about her new Ford—it was the Fusion, I guess, I wasn't listening too closely. She urged everyone to buy it, because, "You'll save a crap load of money."
Then she giggled and as I whirled my disbelieving head around I saw a caption on screen that said, "She meant boat load."
How long until she means shit load and says fuck load?*
* I'm old enough to have known men who said things like, "If you say 'shit' in front of a lady, what do you say when you have a flat tire on the Brooklyn Bridge?"
To the extent that life is a never-ending poker game with everyone you know, your bank account is your poker hand, and you should never show it, whether it's good, bad or mediocre.
But, like you perhaps, I have more money than some people I know—a financial cushion to in case I get myself shitcanned someday, the beginnings of a college fund for Scout, a prayer for a graceful conclusion to this frenzied life of mine.
You could argue that there's as big a psychological disparity between someone who has a little safety net and someone who has none, and someone who has a vast financial empire, and me.
And you'd be right.
So why don't I keep making preposterous verbal gaffes about my "wealth" (a term, like "slather," that makes me queasy)?
Why don't I say to my truck driver friend, "Why don't you get those teeth fixed?"
Because I hang around the truck driver enough to realize he doesn't have any dental insurance!
Why don't I tell my nurse neighbor that she should encourage her teenager to major in English instead of business?
Because I know the nurse well, and have figured out that she's sending her kid not to a four-year intellectual dreaming range (as my privileged parents did), but to get a degree that's going to secure the kid's financial future.
Why don't I act uncomfortable and weird when someone suggests that, despite my heart-of-gold empathy and general salt-of-the-earthedness, I probably do see things a little differently than someone who has less financial security?
Because I know they're right—because I know people who have tons more financial security than I do, and I know they perceive the world differently than me.
Mitt Romney keeps making these gaffes because he doesn't have real, detailed relationships with people less well off than he is ... and none with anyone significantly more well off (because no people exist).
So he's just disoriented in this area and can't figure out what sounds right to regular people, and what sounds like a couple of Cadillacs.
It's that simple.
Now: Does this particular disorientation mean that Mitt Romney shouldn't be president of the United States?
Well, far be it from a rich guy like me to tell you. Or a poor guy ike me to tell Mitt Romney.
But I'll tell you this: The more deeply you understand the people you're communicating with, the better the chance that you might say things that mean something to them.