Joan Didion is Betty White

culture, politics, writing

Christopher Cocca

Last week, before I knew she was the new face of Celine (or before I knew what Celine was, to be honest), I shared Joan Didion’s “At the Dam” in the Required Reading feature here.  I was taught this essay, and I teach it.  Not because Joan Didion is uber-fashionable at the moment, but because it’s really good.

Flavorwire’s Elisabeth Donnelly has an interesting piece up today trying to take the pulse of the growing Didion-as-icon trend.  Donnelly quotes Haley Mlotek in what feels like an especially prescient observation:

As she puts it, citing Joan Didion as your idol says that:

…we’re cool, that we’re educated, that if we are not young and white and slender and well-dressed and disaffected and sad and committed to the art of writing as an arduous and soul-sucking process that must be endured yet Instagrammed simultaneously, then we will be, at least, as close as possible to those identifiers even if it kills us.

Fair? True?

We’ve also been doing this with Leonard Cohen.  Citing him as your idol signals different things, but the desire to look back and hold up great talents in their later years is nothing new.  We do it, of course, with Betty White.  We probably would have done it with Bill Cosby soon.  I for one am not sure why we don’t do it with Dick Van Dyke or Marianne Faithful.

Head’s up: New York Magazine, a mere four hours ago, has issued a warning that loving Joan Didion is a trap.

 

Why Does the President Want Free Community College?

business, culture, economics, politics

indexA few years ago, Mark Cuban gave what he called “soapbox advice” to the Occupy Movement by way of a long blog post.  In it, he also talked about the idea that college loans had basically become predatory.

Since then, I’ve noticed out-of-area colleges advertising on billboards like never before.  All of the marketing going on in higher education has solidified my view that higher education is truly in an unsustainable market bubble.

For that reason, I support the President’s plan to make community college free.  He’s deflating the bubble before it bursts. He’s also right to say that we need more people in essential professions than the current way of doing things can reasonably produce.  And Cuban’s right about loan debt precluding recent grads, or grads 10 or more years out of college, from participating in the economy.

The system of pricing and paying for higher education is broken. Like the broken housing market before it, it’s leading more and more people to economic calamity with a sort of “trust us” je ne sais quoi. Before he’s through, I expect Barack Obama to enact the largest presidential pardon in history: the near total forgiveness of outstanding student loans according to some qualifying formula.

The Search Term School of Political Philosophy: Lightning Round

music, philosophy, politics

Someone got here today by searching “politics spirituality soulmate.”

Briefly, what we can tell you is this:  ancient Greek thought in certain schools posited the idea of the soulmate as that broken-off piece of you that, when beheld by you, brought you into wholeness and lifted you and your beloved to a beatific vision of the Divine, or of the Ideal Forms.  Notes Plato in The Symposium:

“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”

 

Recently, I saw a headline that said growing up was basically about realizing three things:  there are no soulmates, there are no grown-ups, and it’s okay to not like jazz.

In either case, we’re left to wonder if it’s better to have or to hold in tension, and to make wild guesses about where art comes from.   These things are all related, they all feel informed.

 

 

 

The Columbus Day Thing

advocacy, culture, Italian, Italian Americans, politics

Remember when Kay lambasts Michael about “this Sicilian thing?”

My Southern Italian roots are Campanian, but you get the point.

I hate the nickname of the Washington, DC football team.  I think it’s a slur and shouldn’t be used.

I hate the Columbian Exchange.  I hate how Columbus himself thought of and treated indigenous people.  I hate how many of the actual founders of this country felt about the indigenous people of this continent and the indigenous people of Africa.

I want a progressive, literary Italian-American to tell me how to feel about October as Italian Heritage Month.

But I also want progressive WASPS, Italian-Americans, and everyone else to be honest about the degree to which Anti-Italian and Anti-Italian-American tropes are widespread and acceptable in everything from journalism to children’s television.

I get it.  We’re white. But we’re not named Smith or Jones or Rogers or some other thing from the Shire.  We are without a doubt privileged because of our whiteness, even if our whiteness has only been wholly accepted in the third or fourth generation. We’re not hated the way other non-WASP people are, but we’re still gangsters and clowns and cartoon plumbers.  As originally olive-skinned, non-Anglo whites, we benefit from the disassociation of “American” from white.  Columbus Day was meant to cast us in proud contrast to other whites, Anglo whites, the same ones casting us as idiots, wop-shaming us as a matter of practice and policy.  Columbus Day is full of these kinds of ethnically, racially charged ironies.  As human beings, Italian-Americans ought to despise the evils inherent to the Colombian Exchange. I’m sure most of us do.  We struggled as Other for over a century, a situation mitigated and frustrated by our fringe position within canonical whiteness. Here we share much with Irish-Americans, even if they had an easier time WASP-passing sooner because of language and hue.

How should we celebrate our historical struggle without becoming the locus of marginalizing power ourselves?  Should we get a pass on Columbus, or should we lead the charge in finding an alternative icon for ourselves, for the spirit that brought our ancestors here, and our shared belief in what American can be regardless of what it sometimes is?

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Allentown won’t have its ‘miracle’ without affordable housing

advocacy, economics, justice, politics, spirituality, writing

Please click through to my recent op-ed in The Morning Call.

 

“In the wake of John Tarbay’s death at the Hamilton Street Bridge, just yards away from the Allentown Rescue Mission and not far from other agencies, a familiar chorus from social service providers and even some activists is likely to emerge: “Someone like John just didn’t want to come inside,” or “John was a ‘rough-sleeper.’ We tried,” or “John was this, that, or the other. John couldn’t live by the rules of society, or didn’t want to.”

All of those things may be true.

With the worst winter in memory finally behind us, it’s tempting to let the calls that more be done for Allentown’s and the Lehigh Valley’s homeless subside. It’s tempting to forget that “not being able to live by the rules of society” is obviously another way of talking about mental health, and mental health issues are the reasons most folks are on the street…”

Read more:

100 Homeless Tent Cities Across America? Try 1000. Maybe More.

advocacy, economics, justice, politics

“the shelters…there’s just not enough room.”

http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/16/pf/tent-city/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

The guy who says “this is a conscientious choice” (people LOVE living in tent cities!) is part of the problem.

100 tent cities across America? Try 1000. There are at least 3 in the Lehigh Valley. I doubt we own 3 percent of this issue.

And yes, the City of Allentown is shutting them down, even though there’s really no place for people to go.