On One Hand

April 30, 2008

To Ezra

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A letter to Ezra Pound,
the poet:

My father once questioned my use of the word “tool.” He wanted to know if it has anything to do with being used by someone else to accomplish a task, or if women could be tools, or if the point of the term is for the person being called a tool to not know what you mean by it. The definition we settled on was that it is someone of exaggerated self-importance, who holds himself to be more popular than he really is, elite in the face of mass-appeal or appealing when he is actually narcissistic. My big five, for example, is Nicolas Cage, Bill O’Reilly, Tyra Banks, Ryan Seacrest and Tom Cruise. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for crafting a fabulous identity that countless others would follow.

Dear Robert Frost,
the concept:

They put a statue of you on campus here. Guess what they portrayed you doing! No, seriously, guess. I wanted you to know that every time I pass your bronzed figure on a wint’ry morning, alone, I catch it out of the corner of my eye, and it freaks me out. I think there is an exceptionally quiet man sitting near me that I did not notice till we were just 5 feet apart. I also want you to know that this is quite possibly the worst thing I have ever written.

Ode to Walt Whitman,
the old man in the wilderness:

I want to wrap myself in the blanket of your beard and march into the woods.

I want to take my shoes off and slack-line across your poetry, barring split infinitives.

I want to wear shirts with big conspicuous holes like the kids at Naropa do, because god, they freaking love you there.

I want to write everything in anaphora because that’s what you would do, and because Ginsburg really knew what’s up when he wrote that poem. Yeah, that guy was pretty cool.

April 29, 2008

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April 28, 2008

Picture Of The Week

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U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jeremiah Wright operates on President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1966, for which Wright received a White House commendation. The man on the operating table is President Johnson, while Wright is the man obscured by the I.V. tube.

Wright is the retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, where presidential candidate Barack Obama attended for 20 years, whose inflammatory comments sparked a firestorm of public criticism and brought Obama downward significantly in the polls.

April 26, 2008

Ryan McGinley is Back

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My high school photography teacher once whispered to me, I want to show you a book I ordered, but you can’t let anyone see. He was a teacher with a reputation for crossing the line, letting students grade themselves, passing out European fashion magazines with photos of topless women in sexual poses, and, according to rumor, smoking marijuana in his office during planning hour.

He pulled me to the corner of the classroom, which was itself in the dungeonlike basement floor of the school, with windowless cement walls and studio props decorating the room. I sat near the teacher’s desk, lit by a glowing red buddha lamp with long tassels hanging from the velvet lamp cover. He had me promise I wouldn’t make a big deal of the book before he’d let me look at it, afraid of getting in trouble with the school. Flattered by the respect my teacher was giving me by singling me out to see the book, I accepted the invitation.

The book featured the work of Ryan McGinley who, at 24, was the youngest photographer to have his own exhibit in the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City, but was still largely unknown. The photographs – mostly of naked 20-something boys from the city’s Lower East Side – were taken in an intimate snapshot setting, blurry, sometimes overexposed, and casual, sometimes indoors, sometimes out in a forest or park. The premise of the collection was that the photo subjects were McGinley’s own friends, most of them gay, and in some of the pictures the boys were outright having sex with each other. I remember one photo of a young naked girl leaping through a shower of firecrackers, her flayed pubic hair puffing out from between her pressed thighs, her small breasts tipped outward in opposite directions. Another page revealed a wall of polaroids of everyone who had slept in the photographer’s own bed. The most striking photo was a close-up of a man’s crotch, his blue jeans spattered with drops of semen.

Ryan McGinley – 2002 Book Cover

This was when I was seventeen years old and obsessed with the city of New York, for exactly the kind of image this book represented. While the Suburban world around me celebrated the seething, venomous sexuality of heterosexual American white teenagers – a role I could neither play nor mimic – the universal sexuality in McGinley’s life was inaccessible to me. The closest I came to finding it was through Internet porn, which, even in deviance, still idealized glistening, eerily hairless bodies, biceps the size of spaghetti squashes and artificial bleached-blonde hair. New York City, a place I had never actually been, was a fantasy where I’d go to escape from the world of stripes and squares.

And suddenly I was in on something that lent credibility, prestige even, to the grotesque, Earthy lifestyle that could make room for me, shattering the hegemony of jock-and-cheerleader youth sexuality. It wasn’t trashy titillating sitcom entertainment like Friends or softcore porn like Baywatch. It was high art, at levels that the self-obsessed teenagers of Dawson’s Creek could never reach because they were typical and boring, and challenged nothing.

McGinley’s subjects were mostly skinny white boys, their whiplike arms dangling, ribs protruding, portrayed from random unflattering angles. It was perfectly attainable, natural and innocent. I don’t often remember names, but held on to this one, and would google Ryan McGinley every few months from then on to see if any new collections had come out under his name. Usually there was one website with a couple of his cleaner photos, a 50-word blurb in the back pages of an Online art and fashion magazine, and a 10-line Wikipedia stub.

That list is lengthening now, 5 years later. McGinley is rising above the fringes of deviance into mainstream professionalism; he was recently selected to work on the New York Times Magazine Portfolio and produced an extended shoot of actress Kate Moss. His work is more structured than its former happenstance, intimate style that first captivated me; McGinley now hosts casting calls to select groups of young people to take on road-trips across the country, where they’re photographed naked in various exurban settings as an overarching theme of McGinley’s work. As an age-old question that finally, in my case, strikes close to home – one has to wonder if the art loses something by becoming well-accepted or routine.

If I hadn’t grown up Catholic, if I hadn’t grown up in a clean-cut suburban community, Ryan McGinley’s photographs would have meant nothing to me. The excitement was not only in their wholistic approach to sex and life, but also in their deviance. GLBT civil rights and improved attitudes toward sexuality represent a long-fought achievement and also, ironically, a profound loss. My only hope is that in my life I’ll produce something that does for a future generation what McGinley’s photos did for me at age 17, offering a long-awaited quiet glimmer of freedom.

April 25, 2008

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April 23, 2008


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April 21, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:16 pm
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I used to hope Chelsea Clinton would get into politics. She is remarkably intelligent, and has earned private-sector credentials that many lifelong Democratic politicians – especially those from big political families – skip over. She faced GOP Clinton-bashing during her father’s presidency, and in her sensitive formative years was at ground-zero in the biggest sex scandal in American history – winning the sympathy of nearly all Democrats. Unlike her parents, she’s never been responsible for any of the scandals and blunders that have tainted the Clinton name, and unlike other famous first-daughters, she’s never been caught up in an underage drinking scandal.

Chelsea disappeared for nearly a decade, gracefully bowing away from media attention to complete her education, proving yet again her class as a high-profile figure. We never heard anything about her for years, until she appeared suddenly out of the mist to stump for her mother’s presidential campaign. When I first saw footage of her college tour on MSNBC, it struck me then that, unless she gets a job at a laundromat or lives in rural Texas for a while, Chelsea Clinton will never win public office outside Massachusetts.

Chelsea Clinton has the thickest Harvard accent I’ve ever witnessed, either on TV or in person. You can hear it before she even opens her mouth; Harvardiosity practically leaks out of her pores. It is in the way she dresses and the way she carries herself, careful to keep all hand gestures within a seven-inch bubble around her chest, and a perpetually surprised expression on her face; her composure is more reminiscent of a speaker at a city Water Board meeting or prep school debate team than a tumultuous and empassioned political campaign.

Allow me to take this opportunity to discuss something I noticed recently, when a 50-something blonde woman with big, bushy hair and glasses discussed animal rights as a guest speaker in a sociology class. When she uttered the words, “I first became Vegan at Harvard,” it was of no surprise; she may as well have posted her alma mater on a name tag.

If you live in a college town you can learn to identify professors and grad students who went to Harvard. I imagine they’re scattered through university campuses across the United States, usually bitter that the school they’re working in now isn’t as good as the one they came from – either that or they think they’re successfuly of-the-people, able to blend in among the inferior, blue-collar crowds at Michigan State or UCLA. They are unaware of how sorely they stick out, most immediately identifiable by their clothing, which comes in the form of expensive earth-tone slacks, layerered vests and ribbed turtleneck sweaters. They like cocking their head to one side and speak in a gentile, soft-spoken, yet subtley condescending tone, and are immensely proud of having stood up for veganism or feminism or gay rights in a culture that is uneducated and backwards on those issues.

There’s one layer of Harvardiosity for academic elites in general – which is constituted by most Humanaties professors and grad students who do not smoke weed or roll their own cigarettes – a second layer for those from one of the top 50 American schools, and a third layer for Ivy Leaguers specifically. Those who actually went to Harvard, meanwhile stand at the shining pinnacle of Harvardiosity, elite, excessively cultured, strong-willed, mild-tempered and gut-wrenchingly self-critical. They are a bizarre, ground-zero synergy of old money, extreme liberalism, East Coast cutthroat professionalism and a profound sense of superiority, which even the more laid-back Berkeleyites pale in comparison to. Their politics – and this applies to most white-collar Democrats from the Northeast – are steered towards compassion for social groups, but that doesn’t mean you have to be compassionate toward any one person in a competitive world – there is no excuse for intellectual laziness or ignorance.

I don’t think people from prestigious schools mean to make you feel unintelligent, but you can tell that somewhere in the depth of their souls, they get a kick out of it. Even if they respect your unconventionality, creativity or oppressed minority status, they will find a way consider you naive or disrespectful. Within five minutes of talking to them you know they’ve evaluated whether or not you could have gotten in to Yale or Princeton if you were more ambitious, and decided that, if you are of sufficient IQ, you took the path you’re on either out of despair or because you grew up persecuted by a Christian church setting. You often wonder if they’re using unnecessarily big words on purpose, or if they realize how annoying it is when they drop lines like “if you’d gone to Harvard you would have read from….” or “at Harvard we discussed the…” etc.

I don’t know if the way they discuss Chomsky’s latest thesis like you were clearly all over that shit is more patronizing than had they prefaced, “Noam Chomsky is a famous liberal academic,” assuming you’d never heard of him at all. In the case that they do mention the MIT professor’s recent lecture at Columbia, you know they know you hadn’t heard of it and were just discussing it to show what world they come from.

I’ve had professors or met grad students whose Harvardiosity was slathered so thick you wanted to drop the names of French philosophers just to avoid seeming like an idiot by comparison – then praying you didn’t reference a brand of European cheese by mistake. “As Reblochon argued,” you continue, “identity is a composite of what the society wishes it was not.” The Harvarder will not embarrass you, but will instead politely feign ignoriance – “hm, I am not familiar with that line” – then whisper about it to a colleague before selecting another toothpick of port salut at the campus museum’s Persian flowerpot exhibit’s public opening.

I, along with so many Americans, used to feel sorry for Chesea Clinton. We’d lament how unfair it was that she had to grow up with the pressures of living in a political family, and curse at Rush Limbaugh who compared her looks to a that of a dog when she was just twelve years old. How unfair that she was isolated from her peers and –

– wait a minute, her father is the president, former slave. Lets face it, Chelsea Clinton is one of the most priveledged people in the United States and the world; I’d certainly rank her among the top 100. She met virtually every important world figure and traveled with Secret Service protection while growing up. Warner Brothers made a movie staring Mandy Moore based on Chelsea Clinton’s life, but only after Disney made one for TV first.

Chelsea Clinton is priveleged among the priveledged, and it comes through in her voice. Neither of Chelsea Clinton’s parents reek of East Coast elitism, though they went to Yale – they are more accultured to the life of populist politics, while Chelsea is fresh out of it.

Barack Obama doesn’t have the Harvard accent, though he graduated from Harvard Law, but John Kerry does, even though he went to Yale. Michelle Obama, who also went to Harvard, has a bit of a Harvard accent.


April 18, 2008

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April 16, 2008

Philadelphia Debate

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ABC made an interesting judgment call by choosing former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos to moderate the Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The appearence of a conflict of interest is frowned upon in journalism even if that person can assure neutrality – ABC is the real loser of Wednesday’s media spectacle. If the debate itself seemed neutral or favorable to Obama it wouldn’t be any real issue, but the debate did seem like a piling-on, and many Democrats are going to be offended by the way it was run.

The debate’s real winner is John McCain; both Democrats missed opportunities to make themselves moderate or appealing, and the tone between the two candidates was viscious. Their supporters increasingly hate each other and independents who want to vote for someone who seems fresh and positive will be put off by the bitterness.

The pundits’ early reaction to the Pennsylvania debate says that both candidates performed poorly and were hurt by the negativity – but since they are running against each other for now, one must be hurt more than the other. That will appear to be Barack Obama, who was pummeled for the first 45 minutes with questions about his gaffes and personality. His response to the unfavorable environment was unfortunate; he seemed exhasperated most of the time, which doesn’t look good even if it’s understandable.

Wednesday won’t be remebered as a great day for Obama, but Thursday might. Some superdelegates who leaned towards Obama and were waiting to endorse could jump on board early tomorrow morning to neutralize the debate’s coverage. If those delegates are big names, they will push the debate to page two.

Obama probably shouldn’t complain about Stephanopoulos – bickering about the media makes any candidate look bad – but if a few pundits pick up on ABC’s weird choice, the debate will seem more like a gang-up on Obama than a fair match, which will buffer some of the negatives.

This will almost certainly lead to a boost in fundraising for Obama since his supporters will be angered and empassioned by what they saw. But fundraising won’t do Obama any good; he’s already raising twice as much money as Clinton and outspending her 5 to 1, so the market for his TV commercials is saturated. For Obama to bounce back after this, he needs to get some superdelegates to endorse in the next two days.

Obama needs to come up with some better explanations for his Jeremiah Wright associations and his “bitterness” comment than he gave on Wednesday. My excuse so far has been that he hasn’t had a good platform to make new statements; one epic speech per 6-month period is enough to saturate the market for that. But at Wednesday’s debate, he had a platform to at least roll out some new lines, and didn’t do it. The fact that columnists can come up with more effective lines in his defense than he can make for himself is a problem. He may not want to be a say-anything candidate like Hillary, but he has to be at least a little political, and do it in a smooth and a prepared way. The next best excuse for his failure to generate new material is that he’s exhausted – which is a reasonable explanation, but not something that voters consider in a voting booth.

Clinton’s biggest downfall is that her ring of advisors are so partial to her and so entrenched after backing her in well over a decade in politics that they’ve lost their objectivity – they’ve pushed her into being overly defensive, overly viscious against Democratic colleagues, and far too negative to be appealing. Could Obama be similarly suffering from his campaigns one-sidedness?

April 12, 2008

Democratic nomination poll!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 9:41 pm
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I haven’t written a Democratic nomination poll in a long time, so here goes:

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