I’ve had like, twenty emails this afternoon, people saying they heard me on NPR, and: the hell?

So here’s the skinny:

Every once in a while a journalist will do a human interest story on accent, so-called accent reduction, accent discrimination, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which protects you against discrimination in employment on the basis of traits linked to protected categories.)

accent — native language — national origin

National origin is protected.

Language subordination and language discrimination were my areas of expertise when I was still an academic. Once in a while I get asked to be an expert witness in Title VII cases. Usually I just write a report and it ends there. Only once I actually had to testify. And once in a while a journalist calls.

I do telephone interviews maybe twice a year for radio programs, but mostly they are local and not national broadcasts. I haven’t even heard this one. I tend to avoid them because they condense a half hour interview into a few soundbites, and often (not always) what I was trying to say gets mangled.

So that’s that.


that’s not that. I just listened to the report. I feel the need to state publically what I just said to Richard Gonzales in writing:

[your report] was a nicely put together piece, but (you know that was coming) I find it unfortunate that the overall impression was that accent reduction classes are a viable proposition. The assumption that accent can/should be reduced wasn’t really questioned. My guess is that these action reduction people will get more business based on this report.

So again it’s a case of the people being discriminated against having to change, rather than any effort to educate and rehabilitate those who are doing the discriminating.


edited to add the mp3 of John Doe #24; please let me know if it doesn’t work, as this is the first time I’ve tried to embed an audio link.

I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m agnostic, and that I prefer science to religion when it comes to trying to sort out the big mysteries. Also, it’s probably clear that I don’t pray to any god or gods, and that I don’t believe in life after death. Now, the idea of life after death is appealing, but I can’t find a way to make myself believe in it. I love the whole world view that goes along with reincarnation, but in the same way I love the idea of Oz. A wonderful story, but no more than that.

On the other hand, I am cautious enough and maybe intellectually curious enough to admit that many things in the universe are beyond human understanding. Which is akin to saying: maybe there is some kind of greater intelligence out there, steering things. But if so, it’s happening in a way that’s completely beyond the confines of my brain.

And on the topic of the brain: it’s a big mystery. So much we don’t understand. So I’d have to say that I am open to the possibility of extra sensory perception, but to be really convinced I’d need some hard data.

What’s all this about, you’re wondering. I do have a point.

I don’t believe in life after death, which means, logically, that I don’t believe in ghosts. And I don’t. Not in the sense of the spirits of the dead hanging around on earth, sometimes making themselves known. Waiting to move off to another level of being. Nope, none of that works for me. It strikes me as both sad and fitting that a human being lives out a life, gathering information and sensation and experience, and then all that dies with him or her and soaks back into the earth. I don’t believe my father’s ghost is still on this earth, though I would like it if it were. If he were nearby watching, and commenting, that would make me feel protected in the same way a small child feels safe, lying in bed at night hearing adults talking in the other room.

So I don’t believe in ghosts, but here’s the thing: my characters often do. Ghosts pop into my stories on a fairly regular basis. They are as talkative dead as they were alive. Hannah has experienced this. In Homestead there was one particularly stubborn ghost, he just couldn’t stay out of things. He was absolutely real, in that story, for those characters and within that context, he was and is real to me too. He surprised me and made me oddly happy. As if a wild animal approached without warning to offer a paw in friendship.

The point is, in telling stories characters take on life, and the things they believe and know take on a kind of life as well. It’s vaguely schizophrenic, believing/not believing self/other all in one, but that’s part of the draw of writing. That ability to experience things through your characters that are less available to you in the mundane day-to-day.

Write this whole odd post off to (1) weariness; (2) general worries; (3) way too much Mary Chapin Carpenter. John Doe No. 24 always puts me in one of these moods. I think about him often. From the book about his life, this summary:

Police found John Doe No. 24 in the early morning hours of October 11, 1945, in Jacksonville, Illinois. Unable to communicate, the deaf and mute teenager was labeled “feeble minded” and sentenced by a judge to the nightmarish jumble of the Lincoln State School and Colony in Jacksonville. He remained in the Illinois mental health care system for over thirty years and died at the Sharon Oaks Nursing Home in Peoria on November 28, 1993.

Deaf, mute, and later blind, the young black man survived institutionalized hell: beatings, hunger, overcrowding, and the dehumanizing treatment that characterized state institutions through the 1950s. In spite of his environment, he made friends, took on responsibilities, and developed a sense of humor. People who knew him found him remarkable.

Award-winning journalist Dave Bakke reconstructs the life of John Doe No. 24 through research into a half-century of the state mental health system, personal interviews with people who knew him at various points during his life, and sixteen black-and-white illustrations. After reading a story about John Doe in the New York Times, acclaimed singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote and recorded “John Doe No. 24”
and purchased a headstone for his unmarked grave. She contributes a foreword to this book.

As death approached for the man known only as John Doe No. 24, his one-time nurse Donna Romine reflected sadly on his mystery. “Ah, well,” she said, “God knows his name.”

first amendment, remember that?

via the ever radiant and vigilant Robyn Bender, this link to a boingboing story about police shenanigans on a Florida college campus.

Imagine you’re a college student. You write short stories. You experiment with style and tone. You post your stories on the internet. One of the stories you post is about somebody who murders two people and then joins the army.

The phone rings.

Voice: You the guy who wrote ‘I am Ready to Serve My Country‘ and posted it on LiveJournal?
You: Um, yes, that’s me.
Voice: We’d like you to come down and give us a hair and sputum sample, oh and, fingerprints.

It’s true. The campus police wanted to compare the student’s DNA and fingerprints to evidence from unsolved murders going back ten years. And why? Because he wrote a short short (three paragraphs long) about somebody who kills two people.

The student refused. Interviews were conducted, with the student, with the student’s professors. A recurring theme in the questions posed by the officers: Did the faculty really think it was appropriate for students to be writing this kind of thing?

Apparently these college police think they have something to contribute to the curriculum.

Now, I’ve got some questions too: what are they doing reading internet stories anyway? No shoplifters to nab? No parking tickets to write? And in the spirit of the thing, I’m wondering who else they’re pressuring for DNA and fingerprints. I wonder if they’ve ever heard of the ACLU, or if maybe the (so called) Patriot Act has gone to their (so called) heads.

since that worked so well…

Thanks to everybody who let me know about The Trouble with Angels. It seems like people in their thirties or older have a pretty good chance of knowing it, so I’ll keep the reference. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is out on DVD.

It seems like they bring out another dozen old movies on DVD every week, but if there’s rhyme or reason in the order, I can’t figure it out. I was pleased to find TwA on DVD, but there’s a whole list of other movies I own on VHS and would like to buy on DVD, if only they were available. Two that come to mind right away are Yanks (1979) and Reds (1981).

Yanks-filmYanks was directed by John Schlesinger and had a stellar cast — a young Richard Gere as one of the thousands of soldiers sent to England for training before the Normandy invasion — Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane, Rachel Roberts, Tony Melody. My parents-in-law, who were in their early teens during the war in England and who have very high standards when it comes to films that deal with this period, loved this movie for the details. I liked pretty much everything about it, but especially the love story. Unfortunately it’s still not out on DVD, and my VHS tape has seen better days.

coverReds is also a movie I like a lot — in fact there are some elements of it that I adore — but some elements don’t work for me at all. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of John Reed, who was a radical American journalist and early member of the Communist party. He’s best known for his non-fictional account of the Russian revolution (Ten Days that Shook the World is available on-line as a free etext through Project Gutenberg, here). This film adaptation of his story stars (and was directed by) Warren Beatty at the height of his box office appeal. The rest of the cast is pretty spectacular, with the exception of Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant. But in spite of her performance (which reminded me of Annie Hall; all her performances do) the rest of the cast really did keep the movie well above water. In addition to
Edward Herrmann as

Max Eastman;

Jerzy Kosinski as

Grigory Zinoviev;

Jack Nicholson as

Eugene O’Neill;

Paul Sorvino as

Louis Fraina;

Maureen Stapleton as

Emma Goldman, the first hour of the movie really struck me for the short interviews with the people who actually knew John Reed and Louise Bryant and who were active during the period in question, in journalism or politics. henry-miller

These interviews really make the movie, in my opinion. They include everybody from an irrascible older

Henry Miller (People fucked back then just as much as they do now. We just didn’t talk about it as much),

Dora Russell,

Scott Nearing,

Rebecca West,

Will Durant,

George Seldes,

Dorothy Frooks, to the comic genius

George Jessel.

The movie is beautifully filmed and edited, the scenes in Russia during the revolution most especially well done, and the ending (highly fictionalized) moving.

Reds-filmWhen this was shown in the theaters in 1981, it was with an intermission. (They used to do that with long movies. I remember intermissions for The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady, for example.) I saw Reds in Evanston, Illinois when it came out. When the lights came up at intermission time, one old lady sitting right in front of me turned to her companion and said, “You know dear, I don’t think they’re Republicans or Democrats.” I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting into laughter.

I really liked this movie for many reasons (not least the fact that it made me learn more about the history of the time and events in question) but again, it’s not available on DVD.