You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

April 07, 2009

Eleanor Obama and the Decent Society

By: Aaron Datesman

Michelle Obama planted a garden and touched the queen and grew up about ten miles away from my current location and generally seems to take fewer sedatives than her predecessor. She’s the best first lady ever!

Or, not:

A few months later Don and I went to jail, not for riding the freights but for our draft refusal. After we had been there a short time, Mrs. Roosevelt went to Swarthmore College to speak to the students. My brother, Fiske, was a student there and part of the welcoming committee that had lunch with her. When she heard his name, she asked if I was his brother and then pumped him for news of me. She also said, “When you write Dave, tell him that I admire him. Tell him I think he is right in the stand he has taken.”

This quote is also from From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter, which is now my favorite book. I have been thinking about Bernard’s recent post, and I would like to offer an affirmative suggestion for The Decent Society. I want to live in a society where the First Lady not only harbors moral objections to war and violence, but has the stones to say so.

Posted at April 7, 2009 11:09 PM

Urm. I hesitate to criticize, because it's been a while since I read that, and I didn't read it too carefully in the first place. In fact, it's possible when I say this I'm thinking of a completely different autobiography. But as I remember it, from time to time the books suggests he's overly self-congratulatory. Indeed, that section strikes me as being less about Elanor Roosevelt and more about how snazzy he is.

That said, there are worse flaws a person can have than being self-congratulatory. (I remember when I mentioned that to Daniel Ellsberg, and he told me, "Jon, only people who are especially sensitive and wonderful point that out.")

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at April 8, 2009 12:18 AM

That book changed my life; I was just abandoning right wings views when I read "from Yale to Jail" as a young teenager and it completely changed what I wanted to do with my life.

A year or so after I read it I saw that David was going to speak at a weekend long conference in Lawrence Kansas. When I got a ride out there it was the first time I traveled by myself and was completely nervous to be with all these strangers. When the first day broke for lunch I quietly slipped into line when I felt an old man tap my shoulder. I remember him saying exactly "Hi, My name is David. Are you here by yourself? I'm here by myself, why don't you come eat lunch with me?"

I ended up having lunch with him, Tupac's just released from prison godfather and bunch of crazies from MOVE - that lunch is one of my fondest memories ever. David told good stories hunger strikes in prison. Sure the stories may have been a bit overly congratulatory - but I heard them from a nice old man kind enough to see that I was needing company.

Posted by: Abarenbe at April 8, 2009 01:01 AM

Jon, you're thinking of the right book. I think it serves a purpose, though. He's saying to the reader, this is what I gave up, but this is what I got in return. He came from a very privileged background, but still chose a life of labor, poverty, and jail due to his convictions.

I probably should have quoted the passage preceding the one I chose, in which he and other student organizers of a protest for the poor, minorities, and war dissenters were invited to have tea at the White House with Mrs. Roosevelt. John Lewis of the UMW was there as well.

The equivalent today might be if Michelle Obama invited Code Pink to the White House, with Andy Stern and Ralph Nader also turning up. I simply can't imagine this happening! My only point is how much more room there used to be for dissent at the highest levels in the culture.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at April 8, 2009 11:05 AM

Aaron, if Michelle Obama invited Ralph Nader to the White House, the entire pwoggiesphere would rise up and have a collective embolism. Pwogs could care less about their Plaster Saint bombing women and children in Pakistan, but they'd have an epileptic fit if Cynthia McKinney stayed over in the Lincoln bedroom.

Posted by: AlanSmithee at April 8, 2009 12:08 PM

Aaron and Jon, I don't know precisely what phrases you are reacting to but I must say this. I worked with Dave for a short while when I was a teen, on a Teach-In in Boulder in 1979. I was very impressed by his humility, in person. His writing is somewhat different, as anyone's, but mostly you are misreading him, I think. His style is just from a different generation--one lacking that peculiar recent allergy that abhors the appearance of being pleased with one's self. Today's culture shies away from honest expression of self-stated virtues, I think, partly because successful manipulation and spin are so prevalent as to have been elevated to virtue status. In Dave's time, I'd go so far as to say that earnestness was the virtue and false modesty was seen as the manipulation it is.

Posted by: Joel P at April 10, 2009 03:26 AM