Friday Reads

Good Morning!

As you may know, one of my pet peeves is how right wing politicians distort historical figures and quotes to their advantage and very few journalists or people bother to spell check them.  Mitt Romney is going on using a George Patton quote and attributing it to one of my favorite founders, Thomas Paine.  Any one remotely familiar with the 18th century would know that “lead, follow, or get out of the way” couldn’t even be part of the lexicon.  But, never let a good opportunity to skew history the wrong direction get in the way of a pol in heat.

Fred Shapiro, editor of the authoritative Yale Book of Quotations published by Yale University Press, told BuzzFeed that “the notion that Thomas Paine said this is extremely ridiculous.”

“The diction and tone of ‘lead, follow, or get out of the way’ are, of course, far too modern to have been said by Thomas Paine,” Shapiro said.

A similar form of the quote — “push, pull, or get out of the way” — can be traced to a proverb dating back to 1909, according to Shapiro, who is the author of a forthcoming book on notable misquotes. And there is a newspaper mention of the quote from 1961, but it’s from the governor of Ohio. According to Paine biographer Craig Nelson, Paine “never said it. George Patton did.” (You can also find the quote attributed to Patton on the Internet).

In response to a request for comment on the Paine misquote, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul noted that the candidate had hedged a little bit: “In another era of American crisis, Thomas Paine is reported to have said, ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.’”

University of Texas professor and Paine scholar William Scheick called Romney’s misquoting of Paine “another deplorable example of politicians distorting history to advance themselves and their shadowy supporters” and said that Paine “hardly is apt in Romney’s case.”

“For me, that’s the real story here — that Romney and his audience apparently have no clue to what a searing liberal freethinker Paine was,” said Scheick.

Don’t you just love the description “searing liberal freethinker”?  I might also add the man was a well-known critic of organized religion.  That’s hardly a combination of attributes for a leader that  you would think a Republican presidential wannabe would want thrown around these days.  I remember reading a biography of Thomas Paine in high school and thinking “wow”.  At the end of his days, Thomas Jefferson was one of the few folks that would even speak to him.  He was that scandalous. It is pretty well known that he moved from being a deist into the realm of atheism by his end days.  His most famous work is Age of Reason but he is also well known as a pamphleteer or the equivalent of a 18th century blogger.

What you may not know is that he was one of the most ardent and earliest supporters of emancipation for women.  One of his most famous works is called: An Occasional Letter on the Female Sex and includes many examples of how women have been subjugated to men.  Here, Paine channels his inner female to argue for emancipation.

If a woman were to defend the cause of her sex, she might address him in the following manner:

“How great is your injustice? If we have an equal right with you to virtue, why should we not have an equal right to praise? The public esteem ought to wait upon merit. Our duties are different from yours, but they are not therefore less difficult to fulfill, or of less consequence to society: They are the fountains of your felicity, and the sweetness of life. We are wives and mothers. ‘Tis we who form the union and the cordiality of families. ‘Tis we who soften that savage rudeness which considers everything as due to force, and which would involve man with man in eternal war. We cultivate in you that humanity which makes you feel for the misfortunes of others, and our tears forewarn you of your own danger. Nay, you cannot be ignorant that we have need of courage not less than you. More feeble in ourselves, we have perhaps more trials to encounter. Nature assails us with sorrow, law and custom press us with constraint, and sensibility and virtue alarm us with their continual conflict. Sometimes also the name of citizen demands from us the tribute of fortitude. When you offer your blood to the State think that it is ours. In giving it our sons and our husbands we give more than ourselves. You can only die on the field of battle, but we have the misfortune to survive those whom we love most. Alas! while your ambitious vanity is unceasingly laboring to cover the earth with statues, with monuments, and with inscriptions to eternize, if possible, your names, and give yourselves an existence, when this body is no more, why must we be condemned to live and to die unknown? Would that the grave and eternal forgetfulness should be our lot. Be not our tyrants in all: Permit our names to be sometimes pronounced beyond the narrow circle in which we live. Permit friendship, or at least love, to inscribe its emblem on the tomb where our ashes repose; and deny us not that public esteem which, after the esteem of one’s self, is the sweetest reward of well doing.”

As I said, it’s really hard for me to imagine Willard thinking that he is quoting Paine.  He obviously knows not what of he speaks in many ways.

 Sabrina Rubin Erdely has written an incredible account of the “One Town’s War on Gay Teens” in this month’s Rolling Stone. The town is none other than Anoka, MN who is represented in congress by the dread Pirate Bachmann and her faux therapist, closeted husband Marcus. The personal stories of several teens is detailed and gut-wrenching. So much for Minnesota nice.

Against this supercharged backdrop, the Anoka-Hennepin school district finds itself in the spotlight not only for the sheer number of suicides but because it is accused of having contributed to the death toll by cultivating an extreme anti-gay climate. “LGBTQ students don’t feel safe at school,” says Anoka Middle School for the Arts teacher Jefferson Fietek, using the acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. “They’re made to feel ashamed of who they are. They’re bullied. And there’s no one to stand up for them, because teachers are afraid of being fired.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have filed a lawsuit on behalf of five students, alleging the school district’s policies on gays are not only discriminatory, but also foster an environment of unchecked anti-gay bullying. The Department of Justice has begun a civil rights investigation as well. The Anoka-Hennepin school district declined to comment on any specific incidences but denies any discrimination, maintaining that its broad anti-bullying policy is meant to protect all I students.

Meanwhile, I continue to wonder if any Republican presidential candidate has read that bible they keep thumping.  Here’s the latest example of  audacious  insensitivity from Rick Santorum.

GOP contender Rick Santorum had a heated exchange with a mother and her sick young son Wednesday, arguing that drug companies were entitled to charge whatever the market demanded for life-saving therapies.Santorum, himself the father of a child with a rare genetic disorder, compared buying drugs to buying an iPad, and said demand would determine the cost of medical therapies.

“People have no problem paying $900 for an iPad,” Santorum said, “but paying $900 for a  drug they have a problem with — it keeps you alive. Why? Because you’ve been conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it.”

The mother said the boy was on the drug Abilify, used to treat schizophrenia, and that, on paper, its costs would exceed $1 million each year.

Santorum said drugs take years to develop and cost millions of dollars to produce, and manufacturers need to turn a profit or they would stop developing new drugs.

“You have that drug, and maybe you’re alive today because people have a profit motive to make that drug,” Santorum said. “There are many people sick today who, 10 years from now, are going to be alive because of some drug invented in the next 10 years. If we say: ‘You drug companies are greedy and bad, you can’t make a return on your money,’ then we will freeze innovation.”

Santorum told a large Tea Party crowd here that he sympathized with the boy’s case, but he also believed in the marketplace.

Then there’s “I don’t care about poor people Willard”.  Do these guys even think before they speak?  I really like this Pierce description in an article where he rips austerity a new one.  We have to be punished for suffering, for not surviving their financial abuses, and for not being patient enough.  Hallelujah  and trickle it down Big Brother!

The idea of poverty’s being a sin that requires ritual purification before redemption runs pretty deeply in this country. When Jonathan Edwards delivered his great sermon, Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God, I doubt whether even that unbending piece of Puritan iron realized how many of his fellow citizens would be so willing to be the servants of that god, seeking to punish their fallen brethren. There has always been a strong view in our politics that pain can purify the nation. Especially the pain of other people, less-worthy-people. Sinners.

We are falling like dim children, like the suckers we always are, to the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor, the have-less-and-lesses are being pitted against the have-littles, and the have-nots. That’s what Willard Romney’s been about the last couple of days. He wants to find a way to harness the fear people have of becoming poor to his advantage at the expense of the people who actually are. That is the basis of the entire public career of Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from Wisconsin, and the whole party has signed the guestbook into his little S&M parlor of a budget.

Speaking of Big Brother References, I just finished an interesting novel about religious cults, domestic violence and alternative realities called 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  I’m checking the sky for two moons these days.  I totally recommend it.  It’s literary.  It’s unusual.  It’s got marvelous character development and descriptions and a plot that is amazing.  Here’s the NYT review from October. Aomame makes the girl with the dragon tatoo look like a conformist and weakling.  It was a very long read and didn’t always capture me, but it is still worth the time. It starts out with what seems like two completely unconnected characters and events and then weaves all the connections from there on out.

One of the many longueurs in Haruki Murakami’s stupefying new novel, “1Q84,” sends the book’s heroine, a slender assassin named Aomame, into hiding. To sustain her through this period of isolation she is given an apartment, groceries and the entirety of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.”

For pity’s sake, if you have that kind of spare time, follow her lead. Aomame has the chance to read a book that is long and demanding but well worth the effort. The very thought of Aomame’s situation will pain anyone stuck in the quicksand of “1Q84.” You, sucker, will wade through nearly 1,000 uneventful pages while discovering a Tokyo that has two moons and is controlled by creatures that emerge from the mouth of a dead goat. These creatures are called Little People. They are supposed to be very wise, even though the smartest thing they ever say is “Ho ho.”

You can see the Times reviewer was not enthralled.  I was frankly happy to read something not so cookie cutter for a change. So, I guess that’s what’s on my mind these days since I’ve had plenty of bedrest and time on my hands. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?