February 28, 2005

All the negatives have been destroyed

* Top TenConservative Idiots. excerpt:

2. George W. Bush

Best Attempt At Keeping A Straight Face Considering The Circumstances: Our Great Leader was on a European vacation last week, and what a jolly time he had! After deciding that spending most of his first term publicly scorning the French and Germans wasn't very good foreign policy, Bush tried to make nice by sucking up to Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder and, um, accidentally insulting NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Of course, having learned that invading a country without any international support doesn't often bring the best results, it did appear as if Bush was just trying to get the Yurpeans to help out with his next invasion. Not that there's going to be another invasion, let me make that clear! Why, Bush said just last week that it is "simply ridiculous" to think that the US might invade Iran. Five seconds later he followed up with, "Having said that, all options are on the table." Including the simply ridiculous options, apparently. Bush also took the time to visit with his old friend Vladimir "Pootie-Poot" Putin, where he had a bit of a rough time. During a press conference, an obviously confused Bush offered up this interesting statement: "I live in a transparent country. I live in a country where decisions made by government are wide open." Right... so you'll be telling us who was on the Energy Policy Task Force, then? Or why your administration finagled all that "evidence" about Iraq's WMD capabilites? Or who outed Valerie Plame? Or who was responsible for the Jeff Gannon scandal? Or... oh, forget it.

* Ian Frazier on the life of William Zantzinger, who struck and killed Hattie Carroll, a black barmaid, with his cane on February 9, 1963. She died that night; he got six months. Bob Dylan wrote the protest song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll in response to the murder. excerpt:

"As I listened, I noticed the tense of that verb. The Lonesome Death was perhaps Dylan's most journalistic song, nearly contemporary with the events it chronicles. Hattie Carroll died on February 9; Zantzinger went to jail on September 15; Dylan recorded the song in New York City on October 23, all in 1963. The immediacy of that 'owns' got me wondering about the actual event, and about its consequences working themselves out through time.

"For example, William Zantzinger: What happened to him? Does he own that farm today? Zantzinger is, it turns out, an amazing guy. In the semi-rural part of Maryland where he still lives, many people know his name. If you mention him to someone working in property, the antiques business, the legal profession or law enforcement, you get a reaction. People don't want to talk about him, or they do, or they want their names left out of it, or they shake their heads and laugh; they never have to be told who he is. Many say he's a wonderful person, always polite and smiling, a good friend. Because Dylan's song made him a 'story,' in the news sense, reporters come to Charles County, Maryland every so often to see what Zantzinger is up to now. They are usually surprised, as I was, that he is hard to summarise."
"What Zantzinger did next got his name back in the news. He knew that the county now owned the properties, but the renters, all poor and black, did not know. Counting on a lack of attention all around, he simply went on collecting rents as before. Even more enterprising, when tenants fell behind on their rent, he filed complaints against them and took them to court. The county court, in calm and bureaucratic ignorance, heard the cases. And to put the cap on it, he won.

"Eventually, local authorities caught up with him. In 1991, a sheriff's deputy arrested Zantzinger on charges that included fraud and deceptive business practices. A number of newspapers, the Washington Post among them, did stories about this latest chapter in the Zantzinger saga. The houses he had been renting were such disasters - run-down shacks without plumbing or running water - that they embarrassed the county and gave traction to local fair-housing advocates. All the same, a few tenants came forward to speak up for Zantzinger, saying that without him they would be living on the street. When the judge sentenced him to 18 months on work-release in the county jail, 2,400 hours of community service and about $62,000 in penalties and fines, there were people in the courtroom who cried.

"Zantzinger reportedly now lives on a farm in neighbouring St Mary's County. People say he's had a few health problems; he's a big man, 6ft tall and heavy, and he is 65. They say he still owns a lot of rental properties, some as run-down as Patuxent Woods. (He doesn't talk to reporters, so I never found out for sure.) Candice Quinn Kelly, a former housing activist in La Plata, Maryland, told me: 'I was on the other side from Zantzinger in the Patuxent Woods situation. In fact, it was our organisation that uncovered his fraud to begin with. Maybe I've mellowed or sold out, but I don't see things as clear-cut as I did then. Billy Zantzinger provides housing to marginal folks nobody's going to give a lease to, because they don't have a job or a rent deposit or a bank account or whatever. I learned that you can offer people tons of help and they still can't get out of poverty. Billy rents to those people anyway. Since Patuxent Woods, I've met him and talked to him a couple of times, and I feel strange saying this, but Billy Zantzinger is really a very nice man.'"
"Listening to The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll today, you can hear Dylan shouting against exactly this blindness. The song he wrote took a one-column, under-the-rug story and played it as big as it deserved to be. Dylan's voice sounds so young, hopeful, unjaded, noncommercial - so far from the Victoria's Secret world of today. Even the song's title is well chosen: Before I went to Carroll's church, I had not quite understood why her death was 'lonesome.' But of course, as Rev Jessup noted: 'Not one of those people stood up for her.' In a party full of elegant guests, Hattie Carroll was on her own.

"If it weren't for television and videotape, we would not know how powerful the march on Washington, or Dr King's speech, really was. And if it weren't for Dylan, nothing more would have been said about Hattie Carroll."

* "As beings capable of imagining and producing fiction, we go toward things that are not there and whose evocation demands to be supported by the complicity of a language less freed from itself, more realized... As prosaic as prose is and as close to banal life as a story is, language undergoes in it a radical transformation, because it invites the reader to realize from the words themselves the understanding of what happens in the world offered him, and whose entire reality is to be the object of a story. We like to say of a reading that it holds us; the expression answers to this transformation: the reader is in fact held by the things of fiction that he grasps, given by the words; like their own characteristics, he holds on to them, with the feeling of being enclosed, captive, feverishly withdrawn from the world." - Maurice Blanchot [via]


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