Suffer the little children

I have no opinion about KinderGuides, which publishes picture books based on works of classic literature designed for 6-10 year-olds. So far, they’ve got “On the Road,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Their version of Kerouac classic does not mention drinking, drug taking, casual sex, unacknowledged homoerotic thoughts, or unsafe driving.

It is, apparently, like an adventure story, with some talky guys involved in G-rated hijinks. I haven’t read it, so (as I say) I have no opinion about it. As to whether classic novels should be repurposed as kid’s books — well, if I came out against it, I would also have to oppose movie versions of books, television mini-series based on books, satire and pastiche, interpretive dance and murals, and so forth. And I don’t oppose those things, so I cannot oppose kiddie books based on adult favorites.


Also wants to learn where Zaphod Beeblebrox is

Apparently, the issue of whether Holly Golightly was a prostitute (and she was, of course) is not brought up in little people’s version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so apparently she’s just a high-spirited girl with an independent income. Who…well, it’s hard to see how a version of the story without the sexual tension would interest anyone, much less a seven-year-old girl. But what do I know? If I knew how to write successful children’s books, I’d be living on Maui, importing celebrities for raucous  games of strip poker, and making personal appearances with stuffed toys bearing the likeness of Maybe Henry, the hero of my ghost/adventure series The Maybe Gang.

“The Maybe Gang Meets The Headless Horseman” has been translated into 13 languages. But I digress.

Nor do I have an opinion about Cozy Classics (I am not making this up), the book series that reduces classics to just 12 words. (Real example, for “War and Peace”: “Soldier friends run dance good-bye hug horse boom! hurt sleep snow love”). This seems more like a conceptual art book for adults rather than a real kid’s series, but apparently many parents are buying them and leaving them around the playroom for their offspring to find.


Also wonders what happens to the ducks in Central Park in the winter

Still, not everyone was happy. One Amazon reviewer described the Cozy take on “Jane Eyre” as “weird, dark and not the most appropriate for kids who are reading board books.”

Well, (a) it’s a book in which a madwoman locked in the attic is a central plot point, so what were you expecting? and, (b) who says kids don’t like dark books? Some parents seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child. Sure, there are innocent childhood delights, and wonder at unexpected things that adults are too jaded to appreciate, but there’s also fear, lots and lots of fear, and many mysterious threatening things, some of which can be put down to wind during a rain storm, and some of which can be put down to abusive drunk dangerous parents.

We don’t live in a totally sunny world, and our kids live in the same world we live in. Nothing can protect them from darkness and weirdness, certainly not dark weird people like us. The Grimms were right: Children need stories that tell them they are not crazy, that homicidal wolves and wicked stepmothers are indeed part of the landscape, whatever Sesame Street says.

What did I love most when I was 7 or 9? Edgar Allen Poe stories, for one — “The Pit and the Pendulum” I found particularly enthralling, and when I realized what was going on in “A Cask of Amontillado,” I was genuinely thrilled. Plus lots of gore and soupçons of sex (sex!) in science fiction and murder mysteries; hints about dark secrets as yet unexplored. My whole life was sort of a murder mystery; I kept trying to figure out what happened to my dad.

My, that turned weird all of a sudden. Proving my point.

Lemony Snicket understands that. J.K. Rowling understands that. What do people think is going on in Harry Potter, anyway? A very evil entity kills Harry’s parents, and he spends seven books seeking bloody revenge. Plus, there’s Stephen King. He writes books that young people read, whether they are appropriate or not.

(My experience: Calling something “inappropriate” is a sure-fire marketing tool. Big cover blurb for “Flesh Eating Zombies of the Apocalypse” goes like this: “It’s inappropriate! — Your parents.”)

Wonders if she too is being borne back ceaselessly into the past

May I make a serious point? I think parents are way too fretful about what their kids read. With some obvious exceptions (let ’em watch pornography in secret, as God intended), parents should just open the keys to the library and let ’em browse. And when the kids hit the Internet, it will be time to acquaint them with the real facts of life — people lie. Unwitting people repeat the lies. Don’t be caught! Think for yourself! And when your kid asks you for cites on some unsupported piece of bullshit you’ve just promoted, you can congratulate yourself on having done your job well.

If your kid is a smart-ass, so much the better.

And finally: What you do when your kids are around is far more important than anything they read. Inevitably, it is your behavior they are copying — not the behavior you recommend, but the things you actually do. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and you’re the tree. Water, prune, fertilize, don’t commit murder. The metaphor just broke down. Writing is hard.

The way to make sure that your kid is a good person is to be a good person yourself. Or as Cozy Classic might put it: Child watch kindness generosity imitate help homeless heal kiss grandma read books!


A whole damn column without Donald Trump. That felt good, didn’t it?

Does not care at the moment who John Galt is

Photography by Tracy “I have too many children!” Johnston

Useful services by Michelle Mizera









A call to, well, a lack of inaction

This is a column about our new president, Voldemort. My colleague Ms. Johnston has not photographed Mr. Mort, so in his place she offers photographs of the people mostly likely to be screwed over by the new administration: The poor.

I assume by now that you have gotten through four of the five stages of grief. You’ve passed through denial (“No he’s not”), anger (“but he’s a stupid racist self-promoting narcissist”), bargaining (“dear God, I’ll stop smoking if Trump is impeached”) and depression (“I’ll just go lie down until 2020”). I trust you have not reached acceptance, because the Donald Trump presidency must always be resisted. If we give up, we abandon our principles.

Also, we abandon our friends. A lot of them are not moving to Canada; a lot of them are going to hang around and await developments. They’re going to find something to do. They’re going to fight.

But how? This column is about that.

The Trump presidency is a different kind of animal. It is rooted almost exclusively in lies and bigotry. The People of the Left clearly thought they had put a lid on that sort of thing, what with wide acceptance of abortion rights, gay marriage, voting rights and all, but they hadn’t. They hadn’t considered that lies and bigotry could get a president elected. Surprise!

The Left was, lets face it, smug. They didn’t read the signs; they didn’t read the prophecies of many political philosophers. A totalitarian America is a real thing now. All the rules have changed. What do we do to resist? How do we do it? What would it look like?

Let me say right here, despite the immense power granted to me by merely having a blog, I have no idea what the answer is. Below are some thoughts and notes that might help us (or anyway, me) figure that out.


There is a #resist hashtag, but the people who employ it on social media seem to be uncertain what it means. Resist — by joining our march for justice. Resist — by refusing to buy Ivanka Trump products.  Resist — by signing a petition to (a) pardon Chelsea Manning, (b) demand recess appointments of judges blocked by Congress, (c) investigate Putin-Trump ties, (d) protect a woman’s right to choose, (e) urge California to secede, (f) support those Rockettes who resisted an invitation to the Inauguration. And so on.

Do people think that petitions will be read by anyone in the Trump administration? Do you think they will pay attention to a march down Main Street in any town in California — or New York, or Oregon? I said this to my friend D, who reminded me that public pressure — marches, petitions, speeches — changed the administration’s view on Vietnam. The ending of that war was a mess, but at least enough people agreed that it should end.

All the United States presidents, probably since Andrew Jackson, came from and believed in, more or less, the political process. They’d toiled in its vineyards; they believed in its assumptions, even as they sought to avoid them. They believed, for instance, that telling a lie was a bad idea. They believed that the machinery of government was necessary to provide the things that people need. They believed that presidents are required to seek reliable information on which to base decisions. They believed, however imperfectly, in freedom.

So something like an massive anti-war movement had an effect. The burden of public opinion could not be ignored, because winning elections required voters. Plus, the idea of a moral imperative was understood, however dimly, by the majority of politicians.


Donald Trump doesn’t believe in any of those things. He disdains all ideas that he didn’t understand, or that didn’t apply in his egocentric worldview. And he really doesn’t care about citizens, other than conning them into voting for him. He can’t even bring himself to pay his workers their agreed-upon fee. He and his Republican colleagues do not care who suffers in their mania for low taxes and decreased regulation. Why? Because they won. The most important thing to Trump about his victory over Hillary Clinton was the very winning of it. And of course he has to claim that the victory was larger than it actually was.

So what about direct action? What about taking to the streets? Fine. Black Lives Matter has opened a lot of minds — none of them, alas, belonging to the people who will soon govern the country. Also, there are many nutjobs in this country who would like nothing better than a civil insurrection. There would be blood; lots of blood. Worse, there would be subsequent repression. You like freedom of speech? Fine  — just as long as you confine it to (a) sports, (b) the drug problems of child stars, (c) iPhones.

So, economic boycotts. Fine by me. But let’s get smart and confine it to a few egregious corporations. In the past, the boycotts were about, say, grapes, or Nike, or apartheid. Now people are talking about boycotting GiantCorp because the CEO has agreed to serve on Trump’s task force on  trade policies. Do you boycott GiantCorp? Or do you boycott American arms manufacturers, or oil companies that deny climate change,  or Ivanka’s damn perfume? Or something else. It’s pretty chaotic out there in #resistville.

Or do we just throw cream pies at James Inhofe? I have to say, that’s a very good idea.

I don’t think we can trust the Democratic Party. They don’t seem to have a clue, and attempts by younger members (or older: See Sanders, Bernie) to rethink the party have been blocked by the elderly Old Guard. (I can say “elderly”, because these folks are older than me. Nancy Pelosi: 76. Harry Reid: 79; Dianne Feinstein: 83. Just like black people can say the n-word, I can toss around ageist stereotypes. Because old wealthy entrenched white people: Hardly ever a good idea).

All through the final week of the campaign, it was clear that an information war was being waged, and we were losing. During that time, I got at least 10 emails a day from Hillary or her close associates. They wanted money. More money! I figured they had enough money — a lack of money was never blamed for Hillary’s defeat. What they needed was a clue. They would have needed a clue even if they’d won.

I even distrust organizations like MoveOn. They wanted a lot of money too in the closing weeks of December. Their emails were little miracles of scare headlines. If you’re giving money, choose organizations, preferably local organizations, that do good directly. Rather than the corrupt and toothless Democratic Party, I prefer the Alameda County Food Bank, or the Woman’s Community Health Center, or High Country News, or (goes without saying) Planned Parenthood.

In 1856, the Whig Party, which had elected four presidents (none of them notable), finally dissolved. Some of its members (like Abraham Lincoln) quit politics entirely. Out of the Whig ashes rose the Republican Party and its first president, that Lincoln chap (whose retirement was short-lived).

What I’m saying is, the dissolving of a political party is not unprecedented. Sixty-three million people voted for Hillary. Throw out 20 million on general principles and you still have a Fabulous Party base of 40 million, and if each of those people gave $1, we’d have coffers. Coffers! Then we could recruit a bunch of Jewish socialists and rule the world! Just joking. We’d need black socialists as well.

Vote Fabulous! Because we understand how special you are.

Seriously: Forming a third party is really an idea worth thinking about.

For a while there, I was thinking about education. The people who don’t believe in climate change can surely be swayed, I thought. Yes, there’d have to be a new kind of messenger, but it could happen. Or maybe people who didn’t understand the nature of the kleptocracy could be encouraged to look at it anew. Or maybe a small tutorial on why voting against your own interests is historically a bad idea. Or why dismantling Obamacare…you get the idea.

I proposed this idea to my friend C. She said: “Fuck ’em. They had their chance.”

C is African-American. Can you imagine how fed up black people are in the era of Trump? Can you feel the anger when you walk along the street? Trump voters are well beyond the last straw. (Slavery was probably the true last straw). I don’t think they’re in a conciliatory mood. But that’s not the business of white people now. We have a different task: We have to protect the rights of black people, poor people and immigrants first, because they’ll be the first real victims of a Trump presidency. Trump respects power. Bad news for the powerless.


I have one idea. It’s mostly for me, but it may have broader implications. I have a lot of retired or semi-retired journalist friends. We have skills; we know stuff. Perhaps we could offer our services to ProPublica or CIR, to research things, interview sources, wait in corporate offices for hours until someone agrees to meet with us. Or maybe we could offer our services to law firms engaged in worthy lawsuits.  We could file FOIA requests or track down timorous scientists or whatever they need.

I think maybe we need to use more than our feet or our voices or our money. I think we need to use our skills. I think we need to be maximally useful in the fight against tyranny.

I know there will be defeats. I know there will be cynicism and hopelessness. There are large monsters out there, and they have teeth. There are evil powers we can’t even imagine. There will be fireballs and dragons.

In other words, it’s an adventure. We’re like a bunch of Frodos, or an army of Luke Skywalkers, or 40 million Harry Potters. We should sing songs and tell stories around campfires and stand shoulder to shoulder when the bad shit comes down. There is bliss in fighting a totalitarian idiot — and shame in sitting out the battle. Be joyful!

Change happens. Change always happens.



Photography by Tracy Johnston

Continuing useful help by Michelle Mizera