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Archive for March, 2008

People are not stupid. Nor (and I’m going out on a limb here) are they willfully ignorant. In fact, if this protracted political campaign season gives me hope about anything, it’s that more people than ever appear to be trying to stay informed.

Still, people, I’m worried. Negativity is finding new and subversive ways of showing its ugly face. Radio and TV talking heads, not to mention on and off-line journalists of all stripes, are salivating over opportunities to trip up the candidates and their surrogates. The political opposition is in full collusion mode. What did he mean by that comment, hmm? What about the way she phrased that last remark, eh? Sexist? Racist? Atheist? Unpatriotic? Un-American?

It’s one thing to legitimately want to understand a candidate’s position on the issues. It’s another to believe there’s a hidden agenda and sinister intent behind every single utterance a punch-drunk and sleep-deprived campaigner makes. Some of the advisors, frustrated by the rise of nuance-free news, have played right into the microphones of conflict-seeking reporters. Hello, are you nuts? There is no such thing as off the record. Others speak their minds without considering that what makes sense to one group will be anathema to another. Then again, they’re not the ones running for President. 

Words mean something, yes they do. That’s why we are trying to listen to (not just hear) what the candidates are saying. Sure, we care about who their advisors are and what advice they’re receiving. But let’s keep our eye on the prize. We’re not electing their preacher or teacher or spouse or elderly mother. We’re not going to get distracted by the mind-games the minions are playing on each other, fully egged on by a media mostly bent on stirring things up. We’re better than that, right, people?

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I had to turn off the TV yesterday morning after being confronted with the left-side, right-side mindset following the revelation that Elliott Spitzer used a prostitution ring. The male talking heads were all about explaining how the strains of public life and the seduction of power might cause someone to use such a service without thinking (poor Elliott) the women were all about how and why men cheat (naughty Elliott) and there was the noxious presence of “expert” Laura Schlessinger (“Dr. Laura”) on the Today Show suggesting that women are to blame when their men stray (oh those inattentive spouses). All I wanted to do was sink my fist into the flat screen TV, which is probably some weird combination of left and right brain activity. No wonder I often feel as if I’m from some other planet altogether.

Anyway, I turned to other news, wherein I contemplated some recent statistics: One out of every one hundred Americans is in jail and one out of four US teenage girls has at least one sexually transmitted disease. Oh, and before I turn the TV back on and hear various pundits rant about the decline in morals in our increasingly secular society, how about this one: America is still one of the most religious countries in the world. according to the Institute for Social Research. So I wouldn’t rush to blame this craziness on a vacationing Supreme Being.

Someone looking in from, say, Venus or Mars (or even Europe) might think that Americans  are prurient, judgmental, voyeuristic, moralistic, undisciplined, self-centered, overly analytical, unreasoning, intellectually lazy and thoroughly confused about priorities. God, we’re one mixed-up bunch of people. Beam me up, Scotty.

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I’m writing a book on moral authority. It’s a heavy subject and as much as I’m enjoying the research, I’m looking forward to finishing the manuscript, shipping it off to be ripped apart by some editor somewhere and turning my attention to other important subjects, like the relationship between crabbiness and aging and how chocolate can help.

In the meantime, while I’m thinking about good and bad and good and evil and good and unbelievably stupid, I thought I’d make note of two news items I tracked this morning. One of them – breaking news! – relates to New York Governor Elliot Spitzer‘s alleged involvement in a prostitution ring. Spitzer, who earned a reputation for tracking down corruption in the private sector and prosecuting (or persecuting, depending on your point of view) the perpetrators, has had a rough year. His take-no-prisoners style hasn’t exactly gone over well among the State Senate Republicans (or some Democrats) and his surrogates have been caught in schemes to discredit opponents which, if not illegal, qualified as excessive. Now this. We could ask what was he thinking but why bother?

Meanwhile, an article in the Times reported to the return to Iraq of a little girl who was sent to the States by a Marine company that raised money mostly from the company leader’s hometown for life-saving surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. The girl’s father had been earlier arrested as a possible insurrectionist but was later freed. This action not only saved the child’s life but created a bond between the girl’s father, once suspected as being involved in the insurgency and the American major, who said, “Perhaps he was involved in the insurgency, perhaps he wasn’t…but as far as I’m concerned, he’s my friend.”

Lives made worse and lives made better and in the end, perhaps, it depends on which little voice inside your head you listen to – if you’re listening at all.

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Okay, Hillary lives on to fight another day (or at least fifty of them), Mac sews it up and who would have predicted any of it? Since there are a number of blogs dissecting the minutia of this crazy run-up to the nomination, I’d rather turn my attention today to the run of fake, or should I say “faked” memoirs.

As a writer, I’m interested in the proliferation of books that ought to be titled “My Life – Not. ” The latest dust-up is over “Love and Consequences,”a critically acclaimed memoir about a half-white, half-Native American foster child running drugs for gang-bangers in Los Angeles was apparently completely fabricated. The comfortably middle-class all-white woman who wrote the book defended her actions as a way to “give voice to people who people don’t listen to” – a sentence that doesn’t exactly suggest an inspired writing style, never mind that it’s fiction.

Some may remember the tale of James Frey, whose memoir “A Million Little Pieces” was touted by Oprah and sold as her recommendations do – very well indeed. When the truth of his million little lies surfaced, he was emphatically scolded by Oprah on national TV, which was both entertaining and uncomfortable. Last year, Laura Albert applied her talents to writing as JT LeRoy, addict and son of a prostitute; she even managed to find an actor to wrap himselves in scarves and sunglasses to show up as the nonexistent LeRoy at all the right parties. But wait, there’s more: what about the heart-rending memoir of a young girl trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto who killed a German soldier, escaped and trekked a couple thousand miles across Europe in search of her parents. Oh and did I mention the part about her being adopted by wolves who saved her from the Nazis? The book, “Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years” by Misha Defonseca, a Belgian living in Massachusetts, was translated into eighteen languages and was adapted for a French film. It just happens to be complete fantasy. Misha’s name is Monique DeWael and by the way, she’s not even Jewish.

I’m not sure why these folks don’t all just write fiction, since they seem to be good at it. Apparently “real life” stories are seen by the struggling publishing industry (which is obviously saving money by laying off fact-checkers) as  more likely to sell more books. 

I’d love to have the fame and fortune that attend these authors, although obviously not the broken contracts, lawsuits and public humiliation that follow when they’re caught. My reality is pretty boring, except for one rather over-sized event that swamped my life for a time (9/11).  While my experiences are surely memoir-worthy, my “real” story is so much more interesting:

You see, I’m the one-legged illegitimate daughter of a Hollywood screenwriter named as a Communist sympathizer and his beautiful Norwegian/Spanish actress mistress who abandoned me to the streets of London in the late sixties. After falling in with a group of adorable orphans and their charismatic leader, I was taken in by pop model Twiggy, who sent me to a posh boarding school in Switzerland. I spent vacations in Los Angeles singing backup for the BeeGees before dropping out and hitchhiking to India where I worked with Mother Teresa. There I fell in love with a handsome graduate student and champion cyclist teaching American-accented English to start-up entrepreneurs who had an idea for a giant call-center in Bangladesh. The stranger was really a prince in the royal house of some obscure and unpronounceable Arab emirate whose father, a forward-thinking ruler who was actually half-Jewish, was married to a stunningly beautiful Irish-Italian graduate of the London School of Economics. We wed, hosted several peace conferences, produced several stunningly handsome sons and one daughter, a math genius who is a contender in the Miss Teen World competition. Upon the death of my beloved’s father, he took over as a wildly popular leader of his peaceful, ethnically diverse and oil-rich country. After building a sustainable housing project next to our palace,we now divide our time between our lovenest in the desert and our vacation home on an island off the coast of North Carolina, the setting for my next novel.

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