I would like to get your feedback on the subject of those who end up in Hillary's orbit. Can you conceive of a strong, leader-type male ever working under her? An alpha, if you will. And if the answer is no, then why do you think that is?
The men you always see under her are to a person passive-aggressive, sadistic, mean, little, petty beta-male pieces of work who would not naturally succeed in a common male-type hierarchy. By that I mean an environment that values straightforward achievement rather than the darker political arts.
That statement is in no way meant to exclude women. In fact, I work with many women who succeed just as well in this environment. It is just a shorthand for an environment that values achievement and straight talk. Hillary's persona is simply not compatible with another strong will, male or female -- but definitely male, and that itself is a big red flag.
What kind of person would go to work for a Clinton in the first place? A naive true-believer? Everyone knows what they would be getting into: constant war rooms, personal attacks, spin, daily damage control, a boss prone to temper tantrums, placing your own integrity out on the ledge as a shill for a fundamentally dishonest person. I would argue that nobody who hasn't already sold their soul years ago would ever want to be a part of that mess.
Agoura Hills, Calif.
You have succinctly expressed one of the most unsettling aspects of Hillary Clinton's character and modus operandi. There is a strangely static and claustrophobic quality to the fiercely loyal cult she has gathered around her since her first lady years. Postmortem analysts of this presidential campaign will have a field day ferreting out all the cringe-making blunders made by her clique of tired, aging courtiers who couldn't adjust to changing political realities. Hillary's forces have acted like the heavy, pompous galleons of the imperial Spanish Armada, outmaneuvered by the quick, bold, entrepreneurial ships of the English fleet.
I agree that the male staff who Hillary attracts are slick, geeky weasels or rancid, asexual cream puffs. (One of the latter, the insufferable Mark Penn, just got the heave-ho after he played Hillary for a patsy with the Colombian government.) If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say Hillary is reconstituting the toxic hierarchy of her childhood household, with her on top instead of her drill-sergeant father. All those seething beta males (as you so aptly describe them) are versions of her sad-sack brothers, who got the short end of the Rodham DNA stick.
The compulsive war-room mentality of both Clintons is neurosis writ large. The White House should not be a banging, rocking washer perpetually stuck on spin cycle. Many Democrats, including myself, have come to doubt whether Hillary has any core values or even a stable sense of identity. With her outlandish fibbing and naive self-puffery, her erratic day-to-day changes of tone and message, her glassy, fixed smiles, and her leaden and embarrassingly unpresidential jokes about pop culture, she has started to seem like one of those manic, seductively vampiric patients in trashy old Hollywood hospital flicks like "The Snake Pit." How anyone could confuse Hillary's sourly cynical, male-bashing megalomania with authentic feminism is beyond me.
I have no idea whom I will vote for next November. Everything is open to me, and I am watching, listening and thinking. Regarding your comments on Sens. Clinton and Obama in your most recent article, I thought you were a little tough on Hillary in that you did not discuss any of Barack's shortcomings. No mention at all that the man who claims he will clean up Washington, D.C., was involved in a real estate transaction so questionable even my 7-year-old understands the implications.
Sen. Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School, claims he did not break any laws, that he was only guilty of being "boneheaded." If I were Sen. Clinton's campaign manager, every ad would have the video of Sen. Obama saying that over and over. He claims his judgment is so good that he knew we should never have gone into Iraq, yet he had no qualms going into the real estate deal with Mr. and Mrs. Rezko. No mention that he has very little experience in politics.
I look for experience when I select my doctor, my CPA, my dentist, my child's teacher. Why can't I ask for some in my president?
Obama's Rezko embroglio is certainly troublesome. But the splotches on Obama's record are few and relatively minor compared to the staggeringly copious chronicle of Clinton scandals, a mud mountain that the media have shown amazingly little interest in exploring during this campaign cycle. For all their grousing about media bias, the Clintons have gotten off scot-free over the past year from any kind of serious, systematic examination of their sleaze-a-thon history from Little Rock to Foggy Bottom.
Obama has actually served longer in public office than Hillary has. It's very true that he lacks executive experience, but so does she. Her bungling of healthcare reform, along with her inability to control the financial expenditures and internal wrangling of her campaign, does not bode well for a prospective chief executive. Beyond that, I'm not sure that your analogy to professionals like doctors, accountants and teachers entirely applies to presidents. There is no fixed system of credentialing for our highest office. On the contrary, the Founders envisioned the president as a person of unpretentious common sense and good character. Hillary may spout a populist line, but with her arrogant sense of dynastic entitlement, she's a royalist who, like Napoleon, wants to crown herself.
I too wish that Obama had more practical experience in government. But Washington is at a stalemate and needs fresh eyes and a new start. Furthermore, at this point in American history, with an ill-conceived, wasteful war dragging on in Iraq and with the nation's world reputation in tatters, I believe that, because of his international heritage and upbringing, Obama is the right person at the right time. We need a thoughtful leader who can combine realism with conciliation in domestic as well as foreign affairs.
Full disclosure: I have contributed small sums to Obama's campaign twice this year. I was lucky enough to see him up close as he spoke at a recent rally in the Philadelphia suburbs, where he answered policy questions in great detail. I was very impressed by his easy, relaxed authority and quick humor as well as his classy elegance. I'd love to have a woman president -- but slippery Hillary, stolidly pumping and pumping her narcissistic bellows like a steam engine, just isn't it.
You remarked in your column that John McCain demonstrated courage for enduring a prison camp.
Endurance and survival are of biological programming, and we can no more will ourselves to die, or survive, than can a tree in hurricane winds. There is no courage or bravery or "character" involved.
This man also, by his own admission in his book, broke the Military Code in respect to providing information to the enemy. He cooperated in televised propaganda, and he received separate and better treatment than the other prisoners by virtue of being an important person's son.
As the unfortunate Arizona constituent of Sen. McCain, I have watched in appalled amazement for years as such glorious though misplaced praise is heaped upon him.
What an interesting point you make about "biological programming" and human survival. Nevertheless, John McCain did endure terrible suffering and permanent disability in the service of his country. Though we should show due respect for that sacrifice, I certainly do not believe that McCain's traumatic experiences as a prisoner have any bearing whatsoever on his suitability to be president.
On the contrary, from what little I know of him via television, McCain strikes me as a glib, irascible hot dog temperamentally unfitted for the Oval Office. The camera is McCain's enemy: The closer it comes, the more ghoulish he looks. There's way too much subtext boiling there. And McCain's weirdly retro Stepford wife is no asset. I'll take the stylish, feisty, bare-knuckles Michelle Obama for first lady any day.
I could not help noticing that in spite of your complaining about Bush and Cheney you offered no alternative "plan" for Iraq. So I assume you simply want to pack up tomorrow and leave. Is not hindsight such a 20-20 proposition? Life is not as simple as the liberals would like it to be. This is a table you just can't decide like Vietnam to walk away from. Ever read about Fort Dix a day or so back? Do you think if we bailed out, these Islamo-fascists would suddenly give you a pass on being an infidel? Think about it. If that's possible.
Lt. Col. Patrick Turner
Camp Liberty, Iraq
Thank you very much for your question. Yes, alas, I do simply want to pack up and leave Iraq tomorrow -- though logistically the withdrawal of troops and equipment would take a year or more. In my case, there is no "hindsight": I repeatedly and publicly denounced the Iraq incursion before it occurred, and I believe that events have proved me right.
We have not defeated the "Islamo-fascists" in Iraq; we have simply created more of them around the world by radicalizing an entire generation of young Muslims. There is no finite number of terrorists whom we can neutralize through conventional warfare or a humiliating occupation. Neither do I believe that a genuinely stable democracy is in the near future for Iraq. The murderous ethnic and religious rivalries will seethe on and on, as they have in that region for 5,000 years. Let's get our troops out of the way and back home where they belong.
Our military should not be misused for neighborhood policing -- particularly in a treacherous arena where so few of our soldiers speak the native language. If we pull out our ground forces, we can and should reserve the option of aerial bombardment. Satellite surveillance can read the label on a tin can, for heaven's sake. The Iraq debacle is not worth another American life. And the billions of dollars going down that rathole should be invested instead in American infrastructure, education and healthcare.
I do not minimize the larger danger to Western culture and liberty: I believe that our conflicts with radical jihadists will drag on intermittently for a century or more. But like mercury, which splatters into tiny particles when you hit it, today's terrorism is too elusive for the cumbersome and outdated military tactics employed by the shortsighted Bush administration in Iraq.
I am writing an e-mail to thank you for your columns in Salon as well as your many books. Having worked in Iraq since 2003, I can tell you that your missives always serve to brighten the day even when things outside are quite dark.
I am most appreciative of your kind words, which any writer would be delighted to receive.
Many thanks to you and Steve Blum, who also wrote to make that point and to correct a reference in the same letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt: Blum notes that Roosevelt served as assistant secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson from 1913 to 1920. I found an excellent Web site detailing the military service of all American presidents as well as leading nominees for that office.
In your last column, you quote someone in "The Sorrow and the Pity" saying that "France had the only government in Europe that collaborated with the Nazis." I am confused by this absolute. Hungary, Romania, not to mention Italy, were not just collaborationists but cooperated with the Third Reich in contributing troops in vast numbers on the Eastern Front (Italy and other places as well), not to mention the complicity that went on in Hungary and Romania in the waning days of the war when the Germans sent most Hungarian and Romanian Jews to concentration camps.
Riverview Public Library
I cannot speak to the issue of troops supplied by those countries and must defer to your greater knowledge. However, if I am not mistaken, both Italy and Hungary refused to surrender their Jewish citizens to Nazi authorities for transport to concentration camps until the German occupation. Perhaps Salon readers will shed further light on this horrific chapter in European history.
I live in Nicaragua and am familiar with the expat community, and though I know this implicates Democrats, I think you will find this interesting from 2004. My in-laws are registered Ole Dixie Democrats from North Florida, and in 2004 they received two ballots each. Surprised, they asked another American couple here if they had received two. The husband, a registered independent, had received one absentee ballot, while his wife, a registered Republican, had not received an absentee ballot.
It is interesting, and I agree there needs to be some kind of oversight of this.
Wow, this sure stinks like week-old mackerel wrapped in soggy newsprint! Though I'm a registered Democrat, I've often been alarmed and disgusted by rumors of ballot manipulation by Democratic ward heelers in big-city neighborhoods, where even the dead vote. In past elections in some Democratic districts in Philadelphia, for example, the percentage of reported voter turnout has at times been suspiciously, stratospherically high.
Absentee ballots, in my view, should be more strictly limited and supervised. Their promiscuous distribution is an invitation to corruption. I have heard troubling stories from upstate New York, for example, about campaign operatives (of which party I don't know) taking absentee ballots into nursing homes and directing how they are filled out. In unscrupulous hands, this practice is unacceptably coercive.
A few years ago California aggressively promoted its "permanent absentee voter" (PAV) program, which by law is now called "vote-by-mail" but everyone still (mistakenly) refers to it as absentee ballots. Voters who register for the PAV program are automatically sent mail-in ballots for every election until they opt out.
This explains the bulk of the California absentee ballots. In fact, if you look at the statistics, 3.9 million voters were registered PAV by November 2006. So the 3 million-plus absentee ballots mailed in by Republicans and Democrats in this primary isn't surprising, nor is there anything sinister about it. While the press took pains to explain that Florida had a similar system, I never heard them say that California had a similar PAV system.
I agree that probably played a role in Clinton's California victory. But it also played a role in lots of other oddities. In my own family, my sister voted for Edwards and both my wife and I voted for Giuliani. We all mailed our ballots in before the Florida primary. Just look at the Feb. 5 results. In states with traditional absentee ballots like Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Georgia, Edwards and Giuliani only took 1 to 2 percent of the respective primary vote. But in California with its PAV, Edwards took 5 percent of the vote (170,000 voters) and Giuliani took 4 percent (116,000).
By contrast, the still-active Ron Paul took 4 to 5 percent of the primary vote in all the Feb. 5 primary states (excluding caucus states). This is pretty strong empirical evidence that there are no shenanigans going on with PAV ballots, just people voting early, that's all.
I'm sure Salon readers will be as fascinated as I was by your revelatory letter. I am most grateful to learn these specifics about California's vote-by-mail system, but they do reinforce my concerns about the potential for abuse. Why should mail-in ballots be automatically renewed? Surely people change residence or move out of state, thus leaving excess ballots floating around as easy targets for mischief. Given the importance of the voting process in our democracy, ballots should not be churned out like snowflakes blanketing the landscape. Voting by mail should be the exception, not the rule, and should require annual reapplication and renewal to keep things honest.
A great deal of rhetoric on "hate crime" is being spun by gay activists regarding the appallingly coldblooded murder of Lawrence King, the "gay" 15-year-old shot in the head at school. Terms like "LGBT students" and "the need for tolerance" are being flung around, with the boy being labeled "homosexul" even though he may have still been a virgin or simply alienated and confused by his upbringing. He regularly journeyed from his place of care to school dressed in high-heeled boots and makeup, something that will inevitably draw hostility from teenage boys, regardless of attempts at "positive reeducation."
Am I the only one who feels that these sentimental effusions are presumptuous, even distasteful? Clearly there were issues here beyond simple lack of understanding from a conservative society. There are many isolated and unhappy youngsters who make naive decisions in the way they present themselves and the company they keep.
But, of course, my distaste is an apparent symptom of my homophobia. People are "born gay," don't you know, and all attempts to object to the depthless flow of activist rhetoric or the silent collusion of those too scared to disagree are simply a method by which "homophobia" is perpetuated. If those of us who care to look beneath the surface of these issues could just shut our mouths, then these atrocious events would stop happening!
Exasperated in Liverpool, England
As a teacher, I was horrified by this case in Oxnard, Calif. On the basis of what has been reported, I feel that the school itself was clearly negligent in permitting a troubled young man to strike dangerously theatrical attitudes on school property and evidently even in the classroom. He was wearing pink lipstick and purple eye shadow and openly flirting with other boys. Were his teachers in a p.c. coma? Were they so drunk with utopian political rhetoric about "tolerance" that they were blind to a 15-year-old's psychological vertigo? Did they not pick up any hostile vibes among the students before they erupted into violence? And where were the boy's parents or guardians in all this? What role did home instabilities play in his dreamy gender yearnings? He needed protection against his own fantasies -- or rather his own creative imagination, which should have been channeled into art rather than into acting out in real life.
Like you, I think that the "born gay" thesis is a crock. P.c. ideology is usually simplistically social constructionist, but when it comes to gayness, biology currently rules the roost. Of course it makes no sense. As I have written in the past, homosexuality is an adaptation, the product of a multitude of social and psychological factors. I believe we are all born with a capacity for bisexual expression, which may or may not evince itself, depending on circumstance. Neither government nor religion has the right to intrude into private behavior, including sex. But it is perfectly reasonable to require orderly norms of dress and behavior in a public space like junior high school.
Finally, I continue to maintain, as I have done before, that the young should be granted greater civil liberties: Physically restless or nonconforming young people should not be imprisoned in school but should have the right to leave at age 14, with the door always open for return. Age segregation in crowded modern schools produces these combustible brews of provocation and shaming. Mix classes and grades, and organize education around specific courses, to which everyone has access according to aptitude or progress. Let there be a free flow of adults into high-school classes, thus forever altering the pressure-cooker power dynamics of adolescent angst.
I was reading an old newspaper and noticed that you did in-depth research on the life of Amelia Earhart. I know this may be a long shot, but do you remember in your studies anything to do with her automobile? The reason I ask is that my father owns a 1931 Franklin she purchased. I am always trying to locate more photos or information about her and this car. He has had the car for over 40 years. There is never any mention of her with the car by anyone of today's time. Again, I know it may be a long shot but I thought I would give it a try.
My obsessive Earhart project went on for three years in the early 1960s, when I was a teenager. I wrote nearly 300 letters of inquiry and spent Saturdays in the bowels of the Syracuse public library ransacking volumes of sooty old newspapers and magazines. I visited sites like Earhart's birthplace in Atchison, Kan., and the abandoned Opa-locka airfield in Florida where she took off on her last flight.
At a time when feminism was still dormant, Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn were my vision of bold, enterprising individualists who had been directly inspired by the women's suffrage spirit. Newsweek even published a letter from me in 1963 where I hailed Earhart for her achievements and protested the lack of equal opportunity for American women. Earhart's precedent was one reason I had so little patience with the maudlin victim feminism of the 1980s and early '90s.
I'm afraid I don't know more than you do about Earhart's car. But let me throw the question open to Salon readers. I will forward you whatever I learn!
I have wondered for a long time what your take is on the artistry and persona of Kate Bush, the singer/songwriter/visual artist from England, if you've had an opportunity to hear or see her work.
Bruce V. Bracken
I have enormous admiration for Kate Bush as a true artist who has done work of the highest quality in a dazzling variety of media. In the 1980s and '90s, I was irritated by the adulation given Laurie Anderson, with her cutesy postmodernist game playing, and I often protested that, as a performance artist, Kate Bush had infinitely more depth and vision. However, except for a few music videos, Bush was simply not as visible a presence in the U.S. as she was and is in the U.K. It has certainly been our loss. Ambitious young performers need to be exposed to her work.
Here from trusty YouTube is Kate Bush's brilliant, haunting song "Running up That Hill," with its skittering vocal echoes and ominous military tattoo. Bush puts on a boffo exhibition of her mastery of modern dance, and the whole thing ends in a surreal procession of Jungian masks multiplied in starkly high-tech corridors. Bush is a sorceress with a poet's instinct for the archaic and universal.
There is a documentary on YouTube (in 12 parts) that I think you would very much enjoy -- a 2002 BBC production on Luchino Visconti. It's wonderful!
This documentary, directed by Adam Low and narrated by James Fox, is absolutely superb! I loved every minute of it and am so grateful to you for forwarding the link for interested Salon readers. The Mahler Adagietto movement suffusing the program (from his Fifth Symphony) is heavenly -- though not all viewers of Visconti's "Death in Venice" were as enamored of it in that film as I was.
There is a glut of visual riches: the chilling, baby-devouring serpent in the ancient Visconti heraldic crest, based on a Saracen shield captured in the Crusades; the drop-dead gorgeous family palazzos in northern Italy; Visconti's stunning beauty as a young man; his unsettling 1925 self-portrait with his mother's face inside of his; his handsome long-term lovers, director Franco Zeffirelli and actor Helmut Berger; the ultra-sophisticated Claudia Cardinale and Charlotte Rampling aging fabulously; and best of all, a clip from Björn Andrésen's screen test for "Death in Venice. " (Visconti auditioned 1,500 boys for the role of Thomas Mann's androgynously charismatic Tadzio. Quel task, as Holly Golightly would say!)
For anyone wishing to hear the whole of Mahler's decadently evocative Adagietto, here is Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. And here are two different fan tributes to Björn Andrésen, whose Nordic angel-with-rock-star-hair Tadzio evidently had a huge impact on East Asian popular culture, including Japanese anime.
Recent work in human cognition has strongly suggested that people get imprinted or fixated on certain kinds of music in their teenage years, a pattern that shapes their musical taste for life. Guilty as charged. For me, it started with Beethoven's symphonies. Whenever I hear them, and let myself enter the moment, I can be age 14 all over again. Other composers on this short list: Handel, Mozart, Bach and Monteverdi. I bought a fantastic recording of Monteverdi's "Orfeo" around age 19, probably just under the age-appropriate limit for this kind of imprinting.
For me, "Orfeo" is one of the most nostalgic pieces we know of, and it's an emotional thing to come across a fine excerpt on YouTube, like this one.
The creators of these first operas, surrounded by ancient ruins, picking up the pieces of classicism, thought they were reviving ancient art, after a hiatus of many centuries. They were wrong about that, but it doesn't matter if the artist is wrong, provided he's convincing. "Orfeo" gives us total conviction. Bravo, Monteverdi.
For a native speaker of English, this YouTube clip also offers a glimpse of the marriage between the Italian language and song. Consonant follows vowel in a steady stream we can only dream about for English or German. Italian is musical before the notes are even added.
What rhetorical power! This effect is not reproducible in English, certainly not the trilled R's, which have a long pedigree, from before Cicero down to Castro and beyond in the present day. An analogous effect is to be found in all the Almodóvar films, where many of the characters, especially the women, spit out their dialogue in the same impressive way. This too has a long history, since Cicero on several occasions refers to the brilliant manner of speaking (and writing) of the aristocratic matrons in Roman high society.
Sublime! I am thrilled to share your marvelous discovery with Salon readers. With the aid of my esteemed emeritus colleague Kent Christensen, an opera expert nonpareil, I learned that this video is from a 2002 performance in the Gran Teatre in Barcelona, Spain. Jordi Savall is conducting, and the Italian baritone Furio Zanasi is singing the part of the legendary Greek poet Orpheus. I love the in-profile ring dancing, which looks like an Isadora Duncan re-creation of Greek ritual. And kudos to the costumer who designed those supple, bouncy dancers' tunics -- exhilarating!
Professor Christensen found another clip from the same performance -- Savall's wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, exquisitely singing the part of La Musica (personified music) with beautiful formal hand gestures. Savall himself, looking like a medieval alchemist, is seen entering the theater to Monteverdi's rousing, brassy prelude. "Orfeo" was first performed in 1607. What music, art or literature being produced today will still be as fresh as this 400 years from now?
Thank you for saying what I've been thinking for the past few years about the Oscars. That so many of the women have made themselves un-feminine, completely un-original and without personality, thanks in part to all that over-exercise that seems to be required by today's female stars.
Years ago, I wanted to write an article about my mother's diamond earrings. My father, the late producer Tony Owen, had given my mother, the late actress Donna Reed, a stunning pair of Ruser diamond earrings to celebrate the success and the fifth anniversary of "The Donna Reed Show" (which was the result of their collaboration). When Mom passed away in 1986, she left the earrings to us kids. They sit in a bank box. And when I think about selling them and look at most of the women in Hollywood today -- I can't imagine.
I really enjoyed your tirade and your invocation of the great foreign actresses, many of whom I too love -- Julie Christie being one of my all-time favorites.
How delightful to receive your support! My baby-boom generation thought of Donna Reed as the serene, perfectly coifed, 1950s über-mom, so her long and distinguished career was a fascinating discovery for many of us. She had already made 40 films before "The Donna Reed Show," and she had won an Oscar for best supporting actress for playing a prostitute in "From Here to Eternity" (1953). Her TV image, however, was deservedly iconic, limiting as it may have seemed to her in her later career. How emotionally centered and authentically womanly Donna Reed's persona was -- compared to that ditzy passel of screeching jaybirds tatted up in designer rags at our increasingly mundane awards shows.
Let's forget about politics for a minute. What did you think of Madonna's new face at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions?
Sigh. You do put a gal on the spot. Madonna fans of the world (among whom I number myself, despite my sniping) should view her as a very grand architectural monument in slow stages of repair and restoration. As with the bitterly controversial cleaning of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, we will all have our opinions about whether the conservators have gone too far or not far enough. But Madonna's still out there kicking, so she needs as much lamination as she can get. We don't want her retiring like a creaky recluse to her flat, as her role model Marlene Dietrich had to do at the end in Paris. So go for it, Madge, but we won't be surprised if one of these days you smash into a thousand tinkling shards right onstage.
Speaking of Madonna, Woody Hochswender (author of "The Buddha in Your Rearview Mirror") wrote in to confirm that yes, Norman Mailer was indeed hired at mind-boggling expense by Esquire magazine to interview Madonna after she refused to be interviewed by me way back in 1994. The result was a cover story of astonishing emptiness and mediocrity. Hochswender says: "Editorial lapses of this sort are what have led to the downward spiral of men's magazines, once influential voices in our intellectual life."
Many thanks to the Salon readers who wrote in with candidates for the mysterious Greenwich Village pizza parlor that I asked about. Unfortunately, there is no consensus. John's and Frank's have been nominated, but so has La Marionetta -- whose name might suggest the Commedia dell'arte wallpaper that I remember so vividly from early childhood. If anyone else has ideas, please advise!
The Guardian's long-running Q-and-A was with me last weekend. When asked which living person I most admire, I replied, Germaine Greer. The living person I most despise: Dick Cheney.
On Thursday, April 10, I will be giving the keynote address for a conference, the Legacy and Future of Feminism, at Harvard University. My lecture, "Feminism Past and Present: Ideology, Action and Reform," starts at 8:15 p.m. in the Science Center. All conference events are free and open to the public.
Camille Paglia's column appears on the second Wednesday of each month. Every third column is devoted to reader letters. Please send questions for her next letters column to this mailbox. Your name and town will be published unless you request anonymity.