Ann Coulter and the R Word Ride Again!

In her book In Trump We Trust Ann Coulter has a chapter entitled: “Disabled Reporter Joins Media Effort to Create More Disabled Americans” (a giddy and generously flatulent title indeed) in which she writes about “The Donald’s” famous on camera imitation of NY Times reporter Serge Kovaleski who in fact, wait for it, is genuinely disabled. With the video rolling Trump made claws of his hands, flapped his arms and directly referenced Mr. Kovaleski. Coulter writes:

Trump denied knowing that Serge was disabled, and demanded an apology, saying that anyone could see his imitation was of a flustered, frightened reporter, not a disabled person. It’s true that Trump was not mimicking any mannerisms that Serge has. He doesn’t jerk around or flail his arms. He’s not retarded. He sits calmly, but if you look at his wrists, you’ll see they are curved in. That’s not the imitation Trump was doing—he was doing a standard retard, waving his arms and sounding stupid: “’Ahhh, I don’t know what I said—ahhh, I don’t remember!’ He’s going, ‘Ahhh, I don’t remember, maybe that’s what I said!’” 

Even a casual fact check showed that Trump did indeed know Kovaleski. His cruel pantomime was exact. It was vicious. Now Coulter wants us to believe that this was OK because Trump’s gesture wasn’t about a particular instance of disability—instead Trump was making fun of everyone who’s critical of him—they’re all imbeciles. And, according to Coulter, to make his point, lest his audience not be sufficiently alert, well, Trump just had to flap his arms and slur his speech and start babbling. Yes, he was doing a “standard retard” and apparently, according to Coulter, this makes the nefarious business OK.

As a disabled American I know a great deal about the “Standard Retard Complex.” Blind, wandering the playgrounds of childhood I was routinely called retarded and beaten by bullies who loved the “R” word—moreover the “R” word was always their opening gambit as even a six year old knows that once you’ve called a person “retarded” you’re free to do anything you want to him. You can dismiss him. You can punch him. You can push him down flights of stairs. You can put gum in his hair. You can poke him with sticks. You can push him to the ground and rub snow in his ears. You can follow him down the street chanting the foul poetry of scorn.

The examples above are entirely my own—I was a retard Ann. And to acknowledge your point dear Coulter-geist, they waved their arms and slurred their speech as they abused me.

For a disabled audience none of this is news. The disabled experience this and continue to experience it. Just last week a friend and colleague of mine who has a Ph.D. from Columbia University in Anthropology and is a noted human rights activist was followed in downtown Syracuse by a gaggle of boys as he made his way with his wheelchair. You guessed it. They called him a retard. Have you ever attempted to get away from bullies in a wheelchair? Have you ever tried to elude them when you’re blind?

“Standard Retard” is a lubricious phrase, oily, arousing ugly passion. For Coulter there’s nothing wrong with it—it’s no different than saying: “I’m gonna fuck you hard like you’ve never been fucked before, baby!” Hey! What’s wrong with that? That’s how tough men talk and tough women like it. Why I’ll bet retards would like it too if only they understood it. Duh! Wiggle arms. Make drooling mouth. Maybe drag a foot. The crowd loves it!

One suspects Coulter loves “retard jokes.” As a Retardologist I’ve heard them all.

Q. How do you get Ann Coulter to shut up?

A. Ask her about the etymology of the R word.

It of course originally meant to keep someone from doing something.

 

 

 

Placido Domingo…It’s that Kind of Day…

Why is it I prefer the voices of Placido Domingo and Jussi Bjorling over Pavarotti’s? Caruso was the greatest of them all. Jonas Kaufmann is a nice boy—very good looking, and more than passable though not as great as Bergonzi. You my blog readers shouldn’t care about any of this. There’s a world out there—a big scarified nasty place, lives short and brutish—Jesus, why should such punctilious amateur criticism mean a damn thing to you? Oh look at me this way: I’m giving you room to say what you like and don’t like and I hope you’ll join me.

I should say I grew up listening to opera. I had a shut in’s kind of childhood. I was either in the bomb shelter or the attic. And I listened to old recordings. That’s how it is with shut ins. When I was a college student I marveled at the improbable fact I was living in the age of both Domingo and Pavarotti. I heard them both. I also heard Jose Carreras, Alfredo Kraus—all at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. So there it is. I earned my opinions by being a fan. What I’m getting at is that over time I grew to feel that Luciano Pavarotti’s voice, as rich and soaring as it was, contained a strange quality, especially in the mid register—what I can only call a kind of “bleating” which I’ve never been able to un-hear, having heard it. He came to be known as “the King of the High C’s” and there’s no doubt Pavarotti could soar to high notes as assuredly as “the Great Caruso”—but it’s the middle range where much of what a tenor must produce and over time I came to appreciate the smoothness and control of Placido Domingo, who even today is my “go to” guy when I’m listening to opera recordings that aren’t vintage.

Why am I bothering you with this? I don’t know exactly save that I admire Placido Domingo tremendously and felt like writing it today on my blog. My favorite recording of La Boheme is with Domingo and Montserrat Caballe. If you’ve not heard it, download it. It’s probably even on YouTube. I’d be surprised if it isn’t. But the recording is really worth having.

I admit there are bigger issues to discuss today. The shooting of an unarmed deaf motorist has me all shook up. Bombings in Aleppo. Hospitals ablaze in Syria. How can anyone bother with opera?

Well, a shut in has to soothe himself. Herself. They-self.

Here, because you’ve read this far, is a lovely moment from La Traviata, Domingo with Teresa Stratis, another one of my faves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR-MG9lcfXo

 

It is Early or Late for Different People

It’s a Mozart morning—not all of them are—there’s Suor Angelica or Gillespie, Dizzy; Caruso; even Peer Gynt. But this is a dawn for Piano Concerto #23 in A, K 488, it’s second movement breaking my heart the way it first broke it when I was a boy. Dangle a heart—there’s flying in our lives. Drop it like a sucking wave—there’s so much sorrow. A little boy with bandages on his eyes listens beside a record player, A late summer’s day…

**

How early did he know himself? Very. Don’t you understand what Mozart does?

**

It’s the adagio kills me.

**

It is late or early for different people

I am without a name

Others talk in the smoky railway car

Morning sun—the loneliest physics—

My feet shift under the seat

As though my toes

Stitch seams on carpet

How one makes poems from nothing—

A train, a few flickering points—

Don’t cry body, we’re going someplace

**

Finnish poet Tua Forsstrom: “Nothing terrifies us more than the godforsaken places”

I don’t know about this

When I think about it—terror and nothing sacred, I think less of the outer world and more about my bones

She would say: godforsaken means bones too…not just ruined orchards…

But the bones invented godforsaken in their private sphere

**

Well well

I didn’t have much when I came

Don’t have much now

I do have a well worn record of “Swan Lake” which you can have if you like

**

I like black currants

 

 

A Fish Called Oswald: A Donald By Any Other Name

“Jump!” says a fish to the other fish. When some actually do they’re carried off by hawks. You can’t trust everyone in a school. There’s also the adage: “fish stink from the head” but that’s a story for another day.

The problem, such as it is (it’s more than a problem really) has to do with failing to distinguish the difference between impulses and facts.

For a start, the eyes are deceiving. The sun sure looks like it orbits the earth. The famous “Zapruder Film” certainly appears to demonstrate Kennedy was killed by multiple people. “Jump,” says the conspiracy fish, and fishes leap.

You know all this. Why should we entertain the matter? Well for one thing, hordes of Mexicans are not crossing America’s borders and raping people. JFK was really killed by a single psychotic man who was given every opportunity to be a good citizen both in the United States and the Soviet Union. Only Cuba had sufficient sense to reject him.

We feel things and imagine they must be true. Bigots are especially prone to feelings. Trump’s supporters believe everything The Donald says—that President Obama was born in a hut in Kenya, that Mexicans are murdering Americans in droves, that Muslims are a threat to our very survival. Since none of these things are true let’s think about conspiracy theories for—oh, about one minute.

All conspiracy theories rely on the truth being uninteresting. Donald Trump could conceivably run a campaign about serious economic ideas but of course that’s not captivating. In point of fact he has no interest in fixing anything about the American economy. It’s better if you can get the easily misled to jump. And easier.

I remember as a college sophomore in the mid 1970’s sitting up late and arguing with a guy in my dorm who “knew” that JFK was killed by Lyndon Johnson. He talked about “the Yankee-Cowboy Theory” as I recall, and nothing I said about ballistics, fingerprints, forensics, and the ugliness of reality had any impact on him. That was my introduction to conspiracy and pathos as a way of life.

That’s of course “the thing”—belief in conspiracy depends on feelings—unexamined, fact-proof, and always self-serving. Let’s say for the sake of argument your life sucks. You feel it. It’s a daily struggle you have. Everything is wrong, even under your skin. It must be a force beyond you. They stole Camelot, killed the music, swiped your Mojo.

No one would say, “well Lee Harvey Oswald ruined my American fantasy,” since Oswald isn’t a coercive impetus, a strength, a force. Even if you have almost no critical thinking skills you can’t blame a lone nut for your misery. But if there’s a cabal, a secret society, an invasive horde, well then, you’re in good shape Sonny! You’ve been victimized! You’re not at fault if you believe America died on November 22, 1963 or your life has been destroyed because dark skinned foreigners do the jobs you and your children won’t do. If you’re miserable it has to be the product of someone else’s design. And there must be several conspirators, thousands, perhaps millions who are involved. How do you keep the fact that Barack Obama is a Muslim from Kenya hidden from the decent people of America? Millions are complicit. Don’t you see it? The sun orbits the earth. JFK was killed by his own driver. “Jump!” says The Donald.

The facts are of course touted by conspiracy nuts. My wife has been following a woman on Facebook who insists that if only those of us who distrust Trump would just watch a certain video, the smoke would be washed away, we’d see the truth, that The Donald is a messiah.

Trump’s supporters are wholly addicted to conspiratorial misery. Bigotry grows in such environments—I don’t think it always precedes the conspiratorial mindset…that is, you don’t have to distrust people of color or other minorities to hate yourself. But then, ah, how easy it becomes. You’re not a shifty little undistinguished ex-army corporal who couldn’t get into art school—you’re the purveyor of dark facts.

 

 

Disability in the Morning

Why am I such a sad man? Oh I’m funny alright. I can talk Dolphin like Robin Williams and imitate a medieval jester’s lavish chicken bone dance, but I’m sad. Some days I think it’s because of disability—a “dis-life” is a daily struggle and there’s no use pretending otherwise. If the attitudes of the able bodied don’t get you, the build environment will. Every cripple knows it.

My friend Bill Peace (who is paralyzed) and I often talk about the moments when, early in the morning, we sense respectively we don’t want to leave our houses. The spirit flags. Bill can see it coming: the ugly encounters with parking lot bullies who steal the handicapped parking; the smarmy waitress who says, “I don’t think I could live if I was in your situation.” These things really do occur almost daily. Blind? There are all sorts of miscreants waiting for you. “You can’t come in here with that dog.” “We don’t have time to make our software accessible.”

Whatever. And then one has to imagine the possibility that sadness precedes this life. We bring it with us. Born crying. We die crying, most of us. In the middle we’re supposed to smile.

Don’t get me wrong. I love smiling. I’m not against a good grin.

Sadness, conditional, part of mortality, is exacerbated by disability and there’s no way around it.

The politics of disability struggle keep me awake, literally, for I think about all the disabled who don’t have jobs. They don’t have jobs because there’s profound discrimination in HR circles. If you don’t think so, try this:

Apply for a job. When they call you, tell them you’re blind. You’ll be astonished at what happens next.

Longfellow said: “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

A consolation I think: few will call me cold.

Review: “Patient H.M. A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets”

Stephen Kuusisto

Book Review:

Patient H.M. A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

Luke Dittrich

Random House

While recently rereading Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity by Erving Goffman I was reminded of George Santayana’s observation that “sanity is a madness put to good uses.” Writers who seriously engage with mental illness or disability must necessarily aim for a forthrightness that’s unnecessary for “kiss and tell” biographies. (There’s no pensive candor in The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown.) Goffman details the circumstances of outliers and with strict passion. Defectives are among us. What does their presence say about the limits of social tolerance and the unspoken rules of normalizing engagement? Goffman notes:

“The attitudes we normals have toward a person with a stigma, and the actions we take in regard to him, are well known, since these responses are what benevolent social action is designed to soften and ameliorate. By definition, of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human. On this assumption we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his life chances. We construct a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain his inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalizing an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class. We use specific stigma terms such as cripple, bastard, moron in our daily discourse as a source of metaphor and imagery, typically without giving thought to the original meaning.”

Luke Dittrich’s book is about varieties of bias and concerns social class, neurology, madness, and oh yes, family secrets. (If Patient H.M. isn’t quite The Diana Chronicles, it will still hold considerable appeal for Oprah.) Dittrich relates the story of Henry Molaison who underwent brain surgery and lost nearly all his capacity for memory and became an invalid. Moreover H.M. as he was known by neurological researchers spent his adult life as the subject of medical inquiry. (Picture a man deprived of recollection spending his days answering questions in a neurology ward.)

The plot thickens as Dittrich’s grandparents are introduced. His grandfather was Molaison’s surgeon one Dr. William Beecher Scoville who Dittrich tells us: “removed some small but important pieces of Henry’s brain.” Set against Molaison’s post-operative life is another dark narrative—Dr. Scoville’s wife, Dittrich’s grandmother, finds herself committed to the “Institute of Living” formerly the “Hartford Retreat for the Insane.” The book gives a paratactic summary of two main victims and many secondary ones as H.M. was a medical experiment, the story a scandal and therefore ripe for a conspiracy of silence. This is a memoir about cover ups; the suborning of honesty and the destruction of desire. Dittrich notes that when Henry loses his memory he becomes asexual:

“The holes my grandfather dug in Henry’s brain caused many deficits, some brutal and stark, some more subtle. Among the things he lost, according to the scientists who studied him, was a capacity for desire. As far as they could tell, in the six decades between his operation and his death he never had a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, never had sex, never even masturbated. The returning strangers who flitted in and out of his life, the movie stars who flickered on his television, he received them all with perfect neutrality, and they left behind neither traces of memory nor pangs of lust.

“The operation,” one of the scientists who studied him concluded, “rendered him asexual.”

This is a book of stigma—hidings—neither brain surgery nor the asylum ameliorates or softens the realities of of abnormality. The story is familiar enough but Dittrich highlights the gradations of repression necessary if disclosures about mental illness are to be contained both within families and institutions. H.M. is poked and prodded for years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology without informed consent. Mrs. Scoville undergoes a host of brutal therapies (electro-shock, fever inducing baths, hydrotherapy) without any significant communication with her family—a matter that parallels Dr. Scoville’s indifference to H.M.’s suffering. Is it the destruction of desire or it’s absence altogether we’re observing? In the end Dittrich isn’t so sure. He does tell us that H.M. and Mrs. Scoville are much like the syphilis victims at Tuskegee—clear victims of a post-war medical industrial complex that still haunts the disabled today.

Dittrich’s prose is at its best when he’s either reimagining the past or using a journalist’s lens to show how lives can be reduced and squandered by medical and professional indifference. Less compelling are the moments when he buttresses the book with his own backstory—how he climbed ruins in Egypt—came down from the heights possessed of a desire to be a writer. The  memoir is sufficiently compelling without the well written but sophomoric marginalia.

 

On Talking Too Much on Social Media

My wife (who has a Roman shrewdness though she’s more cheerful than Calpurnia) says I’m posting too much political material on Facebook—she fears both for my wits and my reputation. It’s one thing to be known as a gadfly but really quite another to be seen as a pest. She’s right of course and in my better confessional moments I know I’m an annoying person. I tell myself it’s OK as I’m not intentionally vexatious, or I say I’ve good motives and recite them silently—I believe in civil rights for women, people of color, children, refugees, all the disabled, LGBT, religious tolerance, help for veterans, the poor—it’s a long damned list—animal rights, biodiversity. God help me, I’m also an ardent Jungian who thinks our very planet has consciousness.

It’s a firm list. As Cardinal Newman said: “We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.” I know my choices well. I’m also of an age when (again quoting Newman): “You must make up your mind to the prospect of sustaining a certain measure of pain and trouble in your passage through life.” Did you know what fights were proper? Did you accept the consequences? Admit you couldn’t be liked by the ablest, the bigot, the homophobe? You accepted the repercussions. There would indeed be a certain measure of pain. We’re answerable for what we choose to believe, whether we’re religiously inclined or atheists. We’re also answerable for the choices we make when it comes to speaking or not speaking. In an age of calculated victimization, when universal human rights are besieged on all sides, not speaking is a choice but one I fear for which I’ll be answerable. You too.

I so firmly believe this that I’m not inclined to self-imposed modes of sufferance, shrugs, distractions.

My wife is correct: I’m quite likely speechifying too much on social media. But I’m driven by the New Testament especially “the Beatitudes”—

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,

for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,

for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

Cornel West once wrote: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

I’ll take disapprobation over silence.