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The Hair on the Hill

I wrote this piece for the East Bay Express back in 1995. Though it might be a bit dated in some ways, I think it’s still relevant when thinking of Hillary Clinton past and present, now that she’s running for Prez herself.

link.hillary.clintonLike many women, the real reason I voted for Bill Clinton was Hillary. Unlike most women who did so, however, I did not vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton because she would present to the world an image of a smart, independent American woman; nor did I vote for her because of the feminist influence she’d wield in the White House. I shamelessly confess that the reason I voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton was her hair.

That’s right–that bad hair of hers, trailing haphazardly behind a simple black headband, was a source of comfort and validation to me. Hillary’s uneven strands were refreshingly honest after Nancy Reagan’s inanimate bubble. Oh, sure, we had Barbara Bush’s silver wind-tossed curls for a few years, but let’s face it, I couldn’t relate. As a fortysomething woman, I could better identify with Hillary’s badly colored barely styled mop. I imagined that, like me, Hillary had probably spent years searching in vain for a flattering hairstyle, and had finally abandoned the effort: she’d stopped trying to force her hair (and by extension herself?) into shapes that hair was never meant to assume.

I too had finally relinquished the dream of ever having a real “do.” The last in a long line of coveted hairstyles had been Candace Bergen’s: my elusive goal in mid-life was to look, hair-wise, like Murphy Brown. When I presented this proposal to my hairdresser, who has endured more abuse from me than anyone in this lifetime should have to put up with from anyone, she pointed out that Bergen is continuously shadowed on the set by someone wielding a comb and a can of hairspray.

As a more feasible plan, she suggested a bob. In utter despair and frustration I agreed to let her cut it: for the first time in over a decade I would take the plunge, or rather the reverse, and let my hair end well above the shoulder line. After the deed was done and I looked in the mirror, I let out a blood-curdling shriek that put my completely demoralized hairdresser out of commission for a week.

With a few snips of her deadly shears I’d gained 20 pounds. My chin hung lower, my neck bulged eerily, my eyes had narrowed. Though everyone in my life insisted that I looked “sophisticated,” for the next six months I was inconsolable.

My tresses grew back to their normal state of unmanageability right around the time of the ’92 campaign. My spirits soared when I got a load of Hillary in her black headband: her mess gave me permission to keep mine. Most significantly, she seemed nonchalant about unsophisticated hair. It didn’t prevent her from wearing tailored suits or even drawing attention to the situation by donning a chapeau. Liberated at last, I stopped getting trims. I threw out all my ponytail holders and those plastic combs that I’d never really learned how to use. I bought a plain black headband and let it flow.hillaryclinton

And then my role model betrayed me by getting cut and poufed. My life has not been the same.

It’s easy to guess how this disaster came about: some suave political handler told Hillary that growing up meant shaping it up. He (I’m sure it was a he) probably told her that in these times of fervid debate around health care, the nation’s First Lady ought to have healthy looking hair. But whose standards determine health when it comes to hair? After all, she had to have used a ton of hairspray–decidedly unhealthy– to maintain that bulbous sculpture she sported the night of the big health care speech.

Since then, Hillary’s hair has undergone dozens of permutations. Some of them are really just a variety of the headband bit; others more complex. I concede that she frequently appears more “with it,” now: she looks a lot less like an insouciant hippie undisturbed by extramarital affairs, and more like a public policy maker. But with no more bad hair days, Hill just isn’t someone I could comfortably sit down with to commiserate, not only about our hair, but also about our men, our kids, our jobs. Whereas before she looked like someone I’d go to for advice, now she looks like someone I’d have to pay for it.

So I’m not sure how I’ll vote in ’96. After all, a lot can happen to a woman’s hair during a Presidential campaign. She could decide to get a perm, another solution I periodically consider. She might even let it grow out.

Or she might win my vote by including treatment for the hair impaired if national health reform ever becomes a reality.

Hillary Present

Hillary Present

Moi, Present

Moi, Present

Bill Maher, Islamophobia, and Political Correctness

 

FSM

Breaking News! Bill Maher, host of Real Time and the now defunct Politically Incorrect is politically incorrect!

So say students at UC Berkeley, who are petitioning the administration to rescind Maher’s invitation to speak at their December commencement, claiming Maher “is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for.”  Over 4000 have signed the petition. To sign a counter-petition, click here.

Maher has been accused of bigotry and racism elsewhere as well, for his jokes and comments on the Muslim religion, to wit: “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing.” The students’ petition calls this “hate speech.” I call it the truth.

Bill Maher is one of the world’s most ardent atheists, and gives equal time to all religions. As noted on SF Gate, “Maher, along with Oxford professor Richard Dawkins and the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, are among a group of prominent atheists who have taken a no-holds-barred approach in their outspoken disdain for religious doctrine of all faiths.”

As Maher once said, were he alive during the Crusades he’d be raving primarily about Christianity—which he still does—but he’s living now, when ISIS is beheading people. “Islamophobia!” scream his critics.

Well, count me in as an Islamophobe: whether it’s coming straight from the Koran or a perversion of the religion, had I been born in one of many burka_2679987bpredominantly Muslim countries I’d have to go out covered from head to toe and could be stoned to death for adultery. As a Jew I wouldn’t have visited Germany during Hitler’s reign; as a woman I won’t visit Iran now.

Oh, but the politically correct cry self-righteously, we must respect religious customs! Why? Why should I respect any religion that treats women as pariahs? It’s time we stopped this hands-off bullshit of forgiving misogyny and oppression in the name of religious doctrine. For the record, I’m also critical of Orthodox Judaism for barring women from certain religious ceremonies, the morning prayer in which men “thank God I’m not a woman,” and the baffling, bizaare custom of making women shave their heads and wear wigs. As for the Catholic Church, it continues to ban abortion and even contraception, damaging millions of women (and men, and children) with outmoded, antisex edicts.

Ironically, it’s primarily liberals who toss around this term Islamophobia. “Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles,” Maher said during a round-table discussion. “But then when you say in the Muslim world, this is what’s lacking, then they get upset.”

Bill Maher might just end up with a fatwa on his head, like Salman Rushdie who lived in hiding for years, like the cartoonists who portrayed Allah unfavorably, like the filmmaker who was murdered for doing the same. If that isn’t intolerance in the name of religion, I don’t know what is. Why should we respect it?

 

 

Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones RIP

BARAKA-LargeAmiri Baraka, formerly LeRoi Jones, died today at the age of 79. Baraka was a poet, a playwright, and a political activist. Rather than write about my feelings towards Baraka or how and why they changed over the years, instead of doing the IMeMine routine, I decided to post one of his poems, saved a lifetime ago when I tore it from the pages of the Village Voice. Re-reading it I fell in love with his work all over again.

For Baraka’s bio, facts, photos, politics, and controversies, Democracy Now is doing a whole hour on him today, and numerous other sources of information abound.

When We’ll Worship Jesus
Amiri Baraka

We’ll worship Jesus

When jesus do

somethin

when jesus blow up

the white house

or blast nixon down

When jesus turn out congress

or bust general motors to

yard bird motors

Jesus we’ll worship jesusimages

when jesus get down

when jesus get out his yellow lincoln

w/ the built-in cross stain glass

window & box w/black peoples

enemies we’ll worship jesus when

he get bad enough to at least scare

somebody—cops not afraid

of jesus

pushers not afraid

of jesus, capitalists racists

imperialists not afraid

of jesus shit they makin money

off jesus.

We’ll worship jesus when mao

do, when toure does

when the cross replaces Nkrumah’simages-1

star

jesus need to hurt some a our

enemies then we’ll check him

out, all that screaming and hollering

& Wallering and manking talkin bout

jesus, jesus in a red

check velvet vine & 8 in. heels

jesus pinky finger

got a goose egg ruby

which actual bleeds

jesus at the apollo

doin splits and helpin

nixon trick niggers

jesus w/his one-eyed self

tongue kissing johnny carson

up the behind

jesus need to be busted

jesus need to be thrown down and whippedimages-2

till something better happen

jesus aint did nothin for us

but kept us turned toward

the sky (him and his boy allah

too, need to be checked

out!)

we’ll worship jesus

when he get a boat load of AR-47’s

and some dynamite

and blow up abernathy robotin

for gulf

jesus need to be busted

we aint gonna worshp nobody

but niggers getting up off

the ground

not gon worship jesus

unless he just a tricked up

nigger somebody named

outside his race

need to worship you self fo

you worship jesus

need to bust jesus (& Check

out his spooky brother

allah while you heavy

on the case)

cause we aint gon worship jesus

we aint gon worship

jesus

we aint gon worship

jesus

not till he do something

not til he help us

not till the world get changed

and he aint, Jesus aint, he cant change the world

we can change the world

we can struggle against the forces of backwardnessimages-3

we can change the world

we can struggle against our selves, our slowness,

our connection with the oppressor,

the very cultural aggression which binds us to our  enemies

as their slaves.

We can change the world

we aint gonna worship jesus cause jesus don’t exist

Xcept in song and story except in ritual and dance, except in

slum stained

tears or trillion dollar opulence stretching back in history, the history

of the oppression of the human mind

We worship the strength in us

We worship our selves

We worship the light in us

We worship the warmth in us

We worship the world

We worship the love in us

We worship our selves

We worship nature

We worship ourselves

We worshp the life in us, and science, and knowledge, and transformation

of the visible world

But we aint gonna worship no jesus

We aint gonna legitimize the witches and devils

the spooks and hobgoblins

the sensuous lies of the rulers to keep us

chained to fantasy and illusion

Sing about life, not jesus

Sing about revoltuion, not no jesus

Stop singing about jesus,

Sing about creation, our creation, the life of the world and fantastic

nature how we struggle to transform it, but don’t victmize our selves by distorting the world

Stop moanin about jesus, stop sweatin and cryin and stompin and dyin for jesus

Unless thats the name of the army we buildiing to force the land finally to change hands.Unknown

And lets not call that jesus, get a quick consensus on that.

Lets damn sure not call that black fire muscle no inivisible

psychic dungeon

no gentle vision strait jacket, lets call that peoples army, or wapenduzi or simba

wachanga, but we not gon call it jesus and not gon worship jesus

Throw jesus out yr mind. Build the new world out of reality, and new vision

We come to find out what there is of the world

to understand what there is here in the world!

To visualize change, and force it

We worship revolution.

Good News New Year: Lynne Stewart Out of Jail

lynne_stewart_0Lynne Stewart, an attorney who defended political prisoners throughout her career, was granted  compassionate release on New Years Eve. Stewart, 74, has late-stage breast cancer and was serving a ten-year sentence for allegedly delivering a client’s communication to a group branded as terrorists. For more information on Stewart and her case, see The Center for Constitutional Rights,  CNN and Democracy Now. The latter link shows Stewart’s arrival at LaGuardia airport, where she was greeted by a bevy of family and friends — it’s a jubilant scene guaranteed to lift your spirits.

lynnestewart

Writers and Other Laborers

 

PayWriters

Ever since I began blogging in 2007 I’ve posted an annual Labor Day semi-rant defending the high salaries of baseball players (yes, defending them) and complaining about the economics of being a writer. Writers have much in common with baseball players—but not, unfortunately, the money. You can still read the baseball half of the post here , but I decided that since writers have far more in common with everyday working people in these dark economic times (actually dark political times), this year I’m leaving out the ball players to focus entirely on the writing segment of the American labor force.

It goes without saying that poets and writers do not make big bucks. What we have in common with baseball players, however, is wide misperception of our work. People seem to think that writers, especially those who don’t have a dozen fat books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble (e-books haven’t yet achieved the same status) don’t deserve to be paid, because we aren’t really working: writing, like baseball, is viewed by most people who’ve never done it as child’s play. They imagine writers as dilletantes who loll about all day in our pajamas fiddling with words. Unlike the factory worker or waitress or computer technician, we have fun doing what we do. Besides, what of any import have we ever contributed to society?womanonsofa

I readily admit that my work is not as laborious as, say, a day in the coal mines. I do, however, work hard, and like other workers I deserve a living wage—yet I’ve been shown over and over again that few people agree with this principle. For instance: several years ago I taught a creative writing class for seniors in the upscale apartment complex where I lived. I charged a mere $5.00 per class, after trying for $10 and nobody showing up. But wait—that isn’t the crux of this anecdote.

I didn’t mind the pennies too much since I love teaching and hoped that by doing it I’d get my name out and attract clients to my writing services . Sure enough, I soon received a call from one of my students’  friends who was working on a memoir and needed help. This is just my line! Helping another writer structure her work, eliciting someone’s story and talent, editing her words and sentences–this is my favorite kind of work. Besides which, this woman’s story held elements of fascination for me, and we talked for a good half hour. I told her how I work and explained the process by which I’d help her complete and revise her book, and also advise her on publication routes. We scheduled an appointment for our first meeting. Before we hung up I said, “The only thing we haven’t discussed is my fee.”

After a moment of dead air she said, her voice dripping with outrage, “You mean you charge for this?”Money-Tree

I had never met this woman. She didn’t know me. She called me out of the blue and actually thought I’d be glad to donate my time, experience and skills out of the goodness of my heart. Can you imagine calling a car mechanic, or a piano tuner, or any other skilled professional expecting free service? This incident still knocks me out when I think of it—and believe me, I’ve run into dozens more like it.

Okay, that’s “creative writing.” So let’s talk journalism—surely a profession, no? Except for the few journalists who live at the top of the heap—those who publish in Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, for instance—we’ve never been paid fairly. Before the online phenomenon burst into life,  I wrote for magazines and newspapers, earning $50 here, $100 there, sometimes a whopping $800. I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and even the SF Chronicle, with an occasional coup such as once for Mother Jones.  Since the coming of the Internet, however, I cannot believe I complained about the low pay.

pay-here2With all these entrepreneurs getting rich online, we writers thought our rate of pay might also rise. Instead, things went from bad to woefully worse. Go onto the job sites—Elance, Guru, Media Bistro—and browse through the ads; go ahead. Online employers offer $10 or $20 for 500-word articles of the kind that once brought in $100. They want ghostwriters to do 300-page books for $500. My proposals are consistently rejected for fee estimates that are “too high.” Recently someone wanted an editor to put together an erotic anthology. You’d think since I’ve done a dozen of them I’d be a shoo-in. Not! Knowing they’d never pay it, I lopped off half the $3000 I used to get for the same work—and was rejected once more because it was “too high”.

I’ve gotten nasty emails telling me I’ve got chutzpah asking for so much money—and I give back as good as I get, with my own workers’ rights messages. One reasons they get away with paying so little is that the Internet makes it seem as if anyone and everyone can write, and all writers are created equal. There’s always a newbie or incompetent willing to write for bubkes. You may have noticed the quality of online writing, or rather lack of same.

Writer4I’ve done online work that, when I added up my hours, paid less than minimum wage. A few months ago I began editing manuscripts for  a publisher who paid $75 per. Each manuscript took me 15 to 20 hours. After I did four of them I calculated my earnings: $3.75-5.00 an hour. When I asked for more I was flatly refused, and the publisher stopped sending me work. Was I better off with $75 or with nothing? I imagine other writers ask themselves this question, and must sometimes answer by continuing to work for less than minimum wage.

Speaking of other writers, I am not alone. I’m not the only one who can’t make a living at this anymore. While it was hard ten or fifteen years ago, many of us managed to eke out an impoverished existence. We can no longer do even that. To expand my base of colleagues, the same goes on these days in the fast food industry, retail establishments, corporations, small offices, non-profits, upscale restaurants, hotels—name an industry and the people who work in it are doing 40 or more hours a week, have two or three jobs, and yet have to sleep in their cars WallSt.Protestsor worse;  they jump through hoops for food stamps (a whole other topic); go hungry so their children can eat; and let us not forget mothers, who get paid for none of their work (another whole topic: next year). We’ve heard the stories and we know the causes. We’ve demanded change in a million ways. Will it ever come? Will people ever make a living by honest labor again? I don’t know.

Happy Labor Day to all my writing compadres and other workers! Enjoy taking the day off—if you can.