Tuesday Reads: A Mixed BagPosted: April 12, 2016
For absolutely no sensible reason, I’m illustrating this post with photos of Boston in Spring. It’s not like this yet, but it will be soon. My post won’t be particularly organized, just a mixed bag of stories I wanted to share. My brain just isn’t working as well as I’d like and my thoughts are not organized at all. I’m feeling a lot better than I was a week ago, but I’m still tired and spacey. I have two more days on the antibiotics, and I’m really hoping it will be uphill from here on.
It’s been a long time since Richard Nixon was president, but his effects on our country and its politics still linger. Quite a few books have been published about him recently, and The New York Review of Books has an interesting long review of several of them by historian Robert G. Kaiser: The Disaster of Richard Nixon. I just want to highlight one section of the article that describes how Nixon used the Vietnam War to win the 1968 election.
Vietnam was the defining issue of Nixon’s presidency, as he knew it would be. Months before he became president, Nixon assured H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, his closest aide, that “I’m not going to end up like LBJ, Bob, holed up in the White House, afraid to show my face on the street. I’m going to stop that war. Fast.” Antiwar protesters had driven Lyndon Johnson into early retirement, which allowed Nixon to become president. Nixon played to the country’s war weariness in his 1968 campaign, implying that he had a plan to end the war.
But he had no plan. Ironically, even before he took office Nixon personally sabotaged an opportunity he might have had to avoid Johnson’s fate. The books under review suggest that this is one of the stories that will continue to stain Nixon’s reputation.
In late October 1968, when Johnson’s negotiators in Paris finally reached an agreement with North Vietnam to end American bombing and begin negotiations on a political settlement, Nixon took an enormous personal risk to derail the peace talks before they could begin. At the time, polls showed that Hubert H. Humphrey, Nixon’s Democratic opponent and Johnson’s vice-president, was rising fast—so fast that Nixon feared he might lose the presidency because of the peace deal. So he performed a dirty trick that foreshadowed many more to come.
For months Nixon had worried about a last-minute deal, or appearance of a deal, that would boost Humphrey. In July he opened his own channel to Nguyen Van Thieu, the president of South Vietnam. As his intermediaries to Thieu Nixon chose his campaign manager, the New York attorney John Mitchell, and Anna Chennault, the exotic, Chinese-born widow of Claire Chennault, a former US Air Force general who led the Chinese Nationalist air force during World War II. In a secret meeting (Nixon loved secret meetings) in Mitchell’s New York office with Chennault and Bui Diem, Thieu’s ambassador to the United States, Nixon explained that when he had a message for Thieu, he would give it to Chennault, who would convey it to the ambassador to forward to Saigon.
Read much more at the link.
Did you hear about the brouhaha over famed journalist Gay Talese’s appearance at Boston University last weekend? The Boston Globe reports: The backlash over writer Gay Talese’s comments at BU.
Speaking at a conference at Boston University on Saturday, the legendary journalist-turned-author struggled to answer a question about female writers who inspired him.
He mentioned Nora Ephron and Mary McCarthy, followed by an awkward silence. Finally the 84-year-old writer blurted out: “None.”
Talese went on to explain that women writers of his generation did not like to talk to strangers and that prevented them from taking on tough subjects.
The response seemed to stun many in the audience at BU’s Power of Narrative Writing conference. One person shouted out “Joan Didion” as a potential female author to admire, while others took to Twitter to criticize Talese….
Talese’s controversial remarks were soon trending on Twitter, as journalists quickly turned to the social media site.
After his keynote speech at the conference, Talese went on to insult New York Time Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones. Richard Prince at journal-isms:
“Immediately after his keynote, Talese walked over to attend a private luncheon for speakers. He met Nikole Hannah-Jones, who has won widespread acclaim for her coverage of racial segregation in schools and housing.
“Hannah-Jones delivered Friday’s keynote address, launching the conference. But when she was introduced to him as a New York Times Magazinestaff writer, Talese was more curious about how she got her job.
“ ‘He asked again if I was actually a staff writer. And I said yes,’ Hannah-Jones told me by phone on Monday. He asked her how she got hired for that job. ‘I said they called and offered me a job,’ she recalled. ‘He asked me who hired me, why was I hired?’
“Hannah-Jones said she was the only Black person in the room.
“ ‘I felt defensive,’ Hannah-Jones recalled. ‘I feel like I’ve been explaining why I’m in a room where apparently people think I’m not supposed to be most of my life, so I know when someone is asking me that question.’
“The conversation moved on to other topics. But at the end of the luncheon, Talese asked Hannah-Jones something else.
“ ‘I was talking with another woman journalist,’ Hannah-Jones recalled. ‘We were trying to figure out what session we were going to go to next, and that’s when he asked me if I was going to get my nails done.’
On Twitter, women shared the story about Talese from Gloria Steinem’s 2015 memoir:
One day, trying to cover Bobby Kennedy, she found herself in a taxicab between Saul Bellow and Gay Talese. Talese leaned over and said to Bellow, “You know how every year, there’s a pretty girl who comes to New York and pretends to be a writer? Well, Gloria is this year’s pretty girl.” Steinem didn’t object at the time; she was too embarrassed and reluctant to express anger. Decades later, in the telling of the anecdote, she metes out a justified revenge.
Washington Post writer Marisa Bellak wrote: I was Gay Talese’s teaching assistant. I quit because of his sexism.
My disillusionment with the master of narrative nonfiction happened back in 1999. Talese was a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and I gladly accepted an offer to work with one of my literary heroes. Before the course began, I reread my favorites of his books: “Fame and Obscurity,” with its remarkable profile of Frank Sinatra, and “Unto the Sons,” the story of his Italian immigrant family.
Our fallout occurred just a few classes into the semester. During a 10-minute break, Talese asked me to make him a cup of tea. The request seemed vaguely demeaning and inappropriate. But I wasn’t really in a position to consider it. My hands were already full with a stack of handouts he’d asked me to photocopy for him. “I’m on my way to copy these,” I nodded toward the stack. “There’s a kitchen just through there, with a kettle on the stove and an assortment of teas in the cabinet.” Our class met at Penn’s Writers House, a lovely 13-room Victorian on the main campus walk that’s a make-yourself-at-home sort of space. Other students from the class had already congregated in the kitchen — I could hear laughter as someone finished telling a story. I assured Talese that they would help if he had trouble finding anything, and then I headed upstairs to the photocopier.
After class that day, we ended up revisiting the tea episode, and Talese berated me for refusing his request. One comment still sears. “You’re not perky enough for me,” he said….
With all the perkiness I could muster, I told Mr. Talese he could find someone else to make him tea and to help teach his class.
I probably spent too much time on that story, but I found it really satisfying to see Talese brought down a peg.
And now a tale of another woman hater. A judge has been forced to release court documents on Robert Dear’s interviews with police after he murdered three people and injured others at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. From The Washington Post: The twisted ‘dream’ of accused Planned Parenthood killer Robert Dear Jr.
Robert Dear Jr. had a hero, Paul Hill, the murderous leader of an anti-abortion group. He also had his enemies: President Obama, for one, who Dear refers to as the “antichrist,” and Planned Parenthood, for another.
And he had a dream: “When he died and went to heaven, he would be met by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him … for what he did because his actions saved lives of other unborn fetuses.” ….
Until Nov. 27, 2015, all Robert Dear had accomplished toward his dream, he told police, was to show up at an abortion clinic in South Carolina and place superglue in all the door locks at the clinic, “so they could not get into the building.” That way, at least, he would have “at least stopped any abortions from occurring” on that particular day and at that particular clinic.
But in late November of last year, Dear put on a makeshift metal vest, made of coins and duct tape, according to the documents, armed himself with four SKS rifles and two propane tanks, and shot up the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people, including Ke’Arre Stewart, 29, an Iraq War veteran who had been outside the clinic on his cellphone; Jennifer Tarkovsky, 35, a mother of two who had been at the clinic to support a friend; and Garret Swasey, a University of Colorado police officer who had responded to the incident.
Here’s a bit more about Dear’s idol:
Dear…was determined to emulate Hill, a Presbyterian minister and vocal antiabortion protester who opened fire outside an abortion clinic in 1994. He shot and killed John Bayard Britton, a 69-year-old physician who worked at the clinic, and the doctor’s escort, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel James Herman Barrett.
According to the documents, Dear said Hill “was somebody he thought very highly of.” He previously posted messages to Hill’s website and other online forums espousing his antiabortion and anti-government views….
Hill was executed in 2003, but a page in his name can be found on the domain of the “Army of God,” a Christian antiabortion organization.
A quote from Hill atop the page affirms from whom Dear derived his dogma: “In an effort to suppress this truth, you may mix my blood with the blood of the unborn.”
Did you hear about the woman named Cara Jennings who called Florida Gov. Rick Scott an asshole in a Gainsville Starbucks? The Daily Dot has an interview with her.
I understand that the video started recording after your conversation with Gov. Scott was already under way. What had been said before the video?
It started out very calm. I saw his profile and wasn’t sure if it was him. So I just said, “Governor Scott,” and he turned towards me. I asked, “Why did you pass that awful law last week that impacts women’s healthcare choices?” And he said, “I don’t vote on bills,” which is so incredibly disingenuous. If I didn’t understand the political process, at that point I would have thought, “Oh, I got the information wrong,” and I would have dropped it. But he didn’t even own up to the fact that he passed this bill.
So I said, right you don’t vote—but you have executive authority to sign bills into law. And this bill you signed into law is very harmful to women like me, who rely on women’s health services like Planned Parenthood. And he said, go to your county health clinic then.
So I have the governor of the state of Florida telling me which healthcare provider I should go to, in a coffee shop. I bought a smart coffee cup which is very cool at https://www.fastcodesign.com/90150019/the-perfect-smart-coffee-cup-is-here. Completely inappropriate. And basically where the video picks up is when I respond by saying, “You’re an asshole.”
Read the rest at the link.
So those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following?