Being Rid of Hillary

Hillary Clinton

No one is looking forward to today’s announcement by Hillary Clinton that she will withdraw from the presidential race more than I. (Okay, maybe Barack Obama; but I’m a very close second.)

Ms. Clinton appalls me, and has ever since she first started running for president back in 1999, as she triangulated her way through conservative upstate New York to earn her Senate-seat-launching-pad. Or before then, during her husband’s presidency, when her delusional, ham-handed political instincts offered a precursor to the Bush-Cheney cult of secrecy, and reminded the rest of us that the cover-up is often worse than the alleged scandal. I find her to be the archetypal politician: a person who believes in nothing so much as their own accession to (or retention of) power, and who will say or do whatever is required in the service of that belief.

I loathe Ms. Clinton. But I also abhor the way in which she has been treated during her impressive (if often impressively Machiavellian) campaign for the presidency, and what that treatment continues to say about America.

Throughout the primary election season, Ms. Clinton drew America’s ubiquitous sexism into plain view: from demeaning hecklers shouting the unfunny laugh-line, “Iron my shirt!” at her rallies to internet sales of the Hillary Nutcracker (featuring “stainless steel thighs to crack the toughest nuts”) to the more subtle, and more pervasive condemnations of such gender-tied trivialities as the quality of her voice and her colorful pant-suits. Her toughness and affection for the political low-road were characterized as stridency and bitchiness in a way no male candidate ever would have been described. Granted, Ms. Clinton’s pig-headed narcissism and brass-knuckle tactics have been frequently breathtaking, particular toward the end of the campaign; but her hideousness in no way mitigates the descent of the national dialogue into the pernicious realm of ugly gender tropes.

Throughout the extraordinary democratic primary season, we have been forced to confront the twin specters of racism and sexism. But the issue has generally been raised –- explicitly by political commentators; in awkward circumlocutions by those shamed that this debate could still be possible in the twenty-first century; and with pointed, repeated, venal insistence by the Clinton campaign itself –- like this: would Americans be more likely to vote for a white woman or a black man? Leaving aside the talents and weaknesses of specific individuals concerned, most people have concluded, as the Clinton campaign never tired of reminding us, that a white woman is generally more electable in America than a non-white candidate. The wide consensus is that, in the privacy of the voting booth, the vestigial racism is stronger than persistent sexism.

And yet, sexism enjoys a lingering public tolerance that would be unthinkable with regard to racism. Can you imagine a heckler at an Obama rally shouting, “Pick my cotton!”? Or the Hillary Nutcracker company selling a figurine of Mr. Obama in pickaninny caricature? Of course not. It would shock the national conscience. We may not vote for him, but we will go to great lengths to disguise our bigotry.

Whereas, with Ms. Clinton, a large and visible segment of American society feels no compunction about denigrating her with time-honored gender slurs.

As always, I find myself completely out-of-step with America. Only in the direst situation can I ever imagine myself voting for Ms. Clinton; and I take great satisfaction in the fact that a sufficient number of others also distrust her so as to bring an end her candidacy. But every time I hear someone call her a bitch or a hysteric, or describe her as emasculating, I cringe.

All of which makes me extremely relieved that Ms. Clinton is finally receding from sight. There is unwanted, unpleasant ambiguity in consciously despising her as a politician and subconsciously wanting to see her rise above the stain of American sexism. Her withdrawal gives me a substantial emotional reprieve.

With today’s formal announcement, both the repulsive Ms. Clinton and the repulsive memes of sexism will vanish from the presidential contest. Sadly, both will continue to be powerful forces in American life for a long time to come.

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19 Responses to “Being Rid of Hillary”


  1. 1 adammackwright 7 June 2008 at 11:34 am

    Thanks for the comment…and i think your post is very succinct. I missed that point in my post, but i did feel a bit drawn and quartered trying to balance my dislike for the candidate and the hope that she could rise above the low-lying denigrations of her detractors…thanks for articulating that for me.

  2. 2 Eric 8 June 2008 at 10:59 am

    Well said and I agree with your view to a degree. I don’t agree that it’s only been in the voting booth racism. While sexism may be more overt and easily identified w/ trivial remarks, etc. There were plenty of racist incidents in the public. While many may not view Wright incident as racist, I do, in part because the same attention wasn’t placed on people like Hagee. In addition, African Americans and others that speak up are often trivialized and deemed as angry or unAmerican, without a thought into what they are saying or understanding the history of their words. Racism in this primary has been in the voting booth, but out of it, it’s been more subtle and hidden.
    With her defeat, the focus has been on sexism, which is good for America and good for feminism. However, i will still say that their focus on sexism as the reason for her defeat is ignorance. Both candidate competed in a system that is inherently unfair to both candidate. The fact that Barack won doesn’t mean racism is somehow not as bad as sexism. My issue with her supporter lies in their refusal to analyze her campaign in a rational and logical way, instead they focus all their attention on sexism.

  3. 3 mbjesq 8 June 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Eric:

    I agree. It is pathetic that so many of Ms. Clinton’s supporters — including many who backed her candidacy principally expressly because of feminist identity-politics — are unable to appreciate that many of us who would love to see a woman president wouldn’t nonetheless be loathe to have Hillary Clinton be that woman.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  4. 4 millyonair 9 June 2008 at 9:50 am

    Mark,

    I think this is the best essay I’ve ever read, about anything. You were able to put into words the vague kind of discomfort I had about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. As a woman, I felt like I should be supporting her, because, by God, if a woman couldn’t count on other women to champion the idea of a female president, then who the hell else would ever vote to make such a thing a reality (except, of course, the enlightened few, like yourself). But I felt like a traitor, because I didn’t WANT Hillary to be president. It was a cruel twist of fate, really, getting what I’ve wanted since I was a little girl (a serious female presidential candidate) and then having her be every bit as power-grubbing and uninspiring as all those other old gray-headed dudes who have held office since the beginning of America. Plus, it would have been nice to see a woman get there on her own, without Hubby’s foot propping the door open for her.

    Great essay. Loved it!

  5. 5 smita 10 June 2008 at 12:06 pm

    My own determination not to vote for Ms. Clinton came the day she authorized the Iraq war. Her calculation was so blatantly obvious: If this war turned out to be a cakewalk like Desert Storm, she would never live down voting against it.

    But I have to disagree with Eric on one point. The deck was not equally stacked against both candidates. Most reporters actually had a strong preference for Mr. Obama, often matched with an equally strong dislike for Ms. Clinton. (This type of unconscious preference among reporters was blamed in retrospect by some journalists/political experts for Gore’s loss to Bush.)

    Here’s a nice AP article that highlights one example of this skewed coverage and its impact on the campaign: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hSB_D0aKwZZGIfxKlVbrLuDFNNvgD916ANO00

  6. 6 Amit 10 June 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Actually, “The Daily Show” showed a “collage” of clips from last year (I think) when reporters were gung-ho for Clinton, and predicted her victory and Obama’s demise when the primaries started. From that, it went to giving Obama a coronation, and all the sexism toward Clinton, then Rev. Wright controversy and so on. These so-called media “pundits” are nothing but flakes who don’t even do enough to justify their income.

  7. 7 smita 10 June 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I totally agree with your opinion of pundits, Amit. In fact, a researcher, Phillip Tetlock, once compared the prognostications of the political “experts” to how things actually panned out. He found the expert’s predictions no better than those of an person of average intelligence. In fact the more prominent they were, the more likely the experts were to be wrong (and, of course, those mistakes are rarely acknowledged or corrected). His book is called “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (And yes, I am completely mortified to find myself quoting “experts” in my earlier post – it was a few journalists rehashing the 2000 campaign some months later :)

    But what I was referring to is how reporters’ personal like/dislike for a candidate can color the entire campaign.

    This is totally independent of ideology and happened with Bush/Gore where Mr. Bush was the friendly, fun-to-joke-around-with guy while Mr. Gore was comparatively stiff and aloof. The reporters covering Mr. Bush liked him and unconsciously their coverage of him tended to be more positive. The reporters covering Gore didn’t like him and, in their eyes, he could do nothing right so the reporting we got was colored with that perspective, hence such nonsensical stories as his supposed efforts to become more of an “alpha male,” etc.

    I think the same factors were at play in the Clinton/Obama race.

  8. 8 mbjesq 11 June 2008 at 12:09 am

    Clearly we agree that the pundit class has influence in America far outpacing its acumen; and its role in the media-mix is not unproblematic, with most operating under the cover of “journalism”, whatever-the-hell that epithet has come to signify in recent times. Sure, the talking-heads displayed significant infection when it came to the sexism leveled at Hillary — particularly, not surprisingly, the Faux News commentators, Hillary’s big-league suck-up to Rupert Murdock notwithstanding.

    But the ugly phenomenon I was describing runs far deeper and more invidiously through American society than either reflected in the tasteless emasculation jokes of idiots like Tucker Carlson (“I reflexively cross my legs every time she talks”) or somehow taking root as a consequence of the influence of the punditocracy, which Amit and Smita describe and rightly decry. Look no further than the comment by Anonymous buried in the High School Reunion thread for a fine example. For reasons that mystify me, sexism is still a widely acceptable ideology in America; and this is reflected as much in the offhand jokes and insults of ordinary folk as in the ratings-driven, deliberately outrageous performances of media “personalities”.

    In a sense, this is yet another reason for judging that Hillary played-it-wrong in taking up the mantle of victimhood in the face of the ridiculous right-wing media gender-smears — which must have extremely little influence on the democratic primary, in any case — as opposed to taking on the bigger issue of rank-and-file sexism.

    It is also why Barack Obama should give the address I recommended here.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  9. 9 thatswrongnate 13 June 2008 at 5:33 pm

    what’s worse than hillary clinton?

    her legion of supporters that will now vote for mccain because obama beat her. somehow, it was a “sexist” win. what a bunch of wizards.

  10. 10 Anonymous 14 June 2008 at 10:28 am

    I’m a little late in adding my two cents to the discussion (I’m fully aware that that’s an invitation to take an obvious free punch) and it looks like my concurrence isn’t really needed. But there is an inflammatory, troubling analogy that’s been on my mind ever since the poor-Hillary-sexism business became “news.” Somehow I can’t shake the connection with a certain oppressed people that carry an admittedly tragic history going all the way back to Pharoah if not before. It’s the interpretation of every setback, every disappointment, every hurdle and burden, every slight no matter how unintended,every defeat as anti-semitism. No, I’m not a self-hating Jew so don’t go there.
    I mean, no matter what you think about Huckabee’s politics I’m pretty sure you don’t assign his slip of the tongue to racism or transform it into a psych 101 lesson about deep, subconscious thoughts. Whether or not you take Hillary’s assassination remark as planting an ugly thought, I just don’t see proof of sexism where Hillary is concerned. Sure sexism exists. Anti-semitism exists. But where she is concerned, I do recognize plenty of heavy reservations about Hillary the Person, not Hillary the woman.

  11. 11 smita 14 June 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Ah Anonymous – there is a certain “truthiness” in what you say.

    But the troubling reality is that plenty of people did have concerns about Hillary only and mainly because she was female and this was exhibited in some rather ugly ways. (I say that as someone who is not a Hillary supporter and never much of a fan of either Clinton.) But as long as that’s the case, we should all be concerned, regardless of whether we liked her as a person or politician.

    I also think there is still enough vitriolic antisemitism around that it seems premature to dismiss that as a concern.

    Though I agree with you that the self serving use of those “anti” charges is annoying and harmful.
    -s

  12. 12 Mary 25 June 2008 at 5:15 am

    I guess I am the one to differ here. I didn’t see a lot of sexism in the campaign…not nearly as much as I saw racism (much of it from the Clintons themselves).

    Hillary used the specter of sexism to rile up a bunch of really vindictive women (if you doubt this, visit the blog at hillaryclinton.com). And, there is some convincing evidence that her campaign planted the “iron my shirt” guys. And the nutcrackers have been around for a long time (and there are insulting distasteful items regarding Obama, as well).

    What really bugged me about Clinton was the way she used people I formerly admired to push the idea that Obama supporters are “cultists” and “haters.” A former friend (one who knows damn well how much thought and dismay were involved in my decision to not support the Clintons anymore) emailed me the Krugman column, and that was pretty much IT for a 50-year friendship. When I supported Edwards, nobody called me anything. All of a sudden, I was being called names, not only by Krugman, but by Gloria Steinem and Geraldine Ferraro and Ellen Goodman and a bunch of other people who used to seem trustworthy enough. What did I do to deserve it? Merely decided to support somebody else, somebody who —it turned out—was able to win.

    As for the sexism….my perception is that Clinton set playground justice back at least 50 years by her insistance on changing the rules near the end of the game. Girls will have to wait a good long time before they are welcome to play boys’ games with rules.

    A letter to “The Nation” sticks in my mind. The writer said that Obama’s having pulled out Hillary’s chair for her before one of the debates was proof that he is a sexist. Of course, if he hadn’t pulled it out, he would have been accused of being a rude and aggressive jerk. Same for her concession speech (actually not a real concession). Her supporters were criticizing Obama for not attending. But, if he had been there, he would have been accused of stealing her thunder.

    And how about the kid-gloves treatment after she failed once and for all to get enough delates…..what man would have been given time and space merely to SULK and be petulant?

    I think she has done more than her share of damage to the cause of feminism by highlighting and validating the same ugly stereotypes that women have been trying to live down for generations.

  13. 13 mbjesq 25 June 2008 at 10:21 am

    Mary:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    I think you are right that, with regard to progress in gender equality, there was far less transcendence in the Clinton campaign than is commonly accepted; and a good deal of actual damage as well.

    Ms. Clinton played within the rules of traditional identity politics. That was a strategic choice she made, not one that foisted upon her. In that respect, at least some of the sexist blowback was of her own provocation. To my mind, however, her poor choice (and very real culpability) does not justify the broad slice of garden-variety sexism on open display during the campaign. My point is not that Hillary was a political victim or that sexism actually cost her in the election, simply that the sexism she decried was ugly and real. And she played it for all it was worth. For all the criticism of her strategic team, I think she used the shameful us-verses-them politics of an anachronistic form of feminism to optimal political advantage.

    It is interesting that the Clinton team decided to play identity politics while the Obama team distanced itself from that strategy. There are a number of obvious reasons why that strategy might work for her and not for him. But the contrasting approaches also reflect the nature of the candidates in a fundamental, profound way. Mr. Obama’s post-racial politics reflect his optimism and idealism, and his determination to help America find the better angels of its nature. Ms. Clinton’s strategic decision revealed her calculating, selfish political amorality. I have no doubt — and the campaign gave us painfully plentiful examples — that she would say or do absolutely anything to get herself elected, no matter the broader consequences.

    The fallout from choosing a divide-and-conquer gender strategy is certainly that, for all the positive role-modeling (young girls seeing that they can be powerful politicians, the country can now visualize a “woman commander-in-chief”, etc.), her campaign did as much to undermine progress in American attitudes about gender as to advance them.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  14. 14 smita 2 July 2008 at 10:37 pm

    I think the real problem is that we pick our political leaders the way we pick a sports team: Once we have imprinted on them they have full claim to our loyalty and passion, no matter how often they fail or how poorly they perform. And we devote equal passion to hating the other side. (It reminds me of a pre-World-Series-victory Red Sox game in Boston where most fans seemed to be wearing “Yankees Suck” t-shirts even though they were playing the Diamondbacks that day.)

    We don’t pick other things that way. If I am shopping for a computer and decide to buy one brand, I don’t start hating all the competing brands. I don’t dismiss and disparage any features they have that my chosen model lacks. The same goes for cars and houses and most of the other weighty decisions we make.

    Of course, the campaigns are more exciting with a “good us vs. evil them” mindset–what fun is there in beating an opponent who also has good ideas and sound principles–but it hardly seems to make for a healthy political system.

    If pols couldn’t just count on voter loyalty based on family history and demographics. If they had to compete for our votes on their ideas might that make them more accountable? If liberals, instead of just bashing Ms. Clinton for her Machiavellianism, started talking about how they prefer Mr. Obama but liked her health plan better than his, could that pave the way for a better solution to our health care problem?

    Just wondering….

    -s

  15. 15 mbjesq 3 July 2008 at 1:06 am

    Smita:

    Your greater point is excellent; but it is not well illustrated by your chosen example.

    Ms. Clinton is not detestable simply because she ran (and ran ugly) against Mr. Obama. She was thoroughly loathsome before intra-rivalry fanaticism could operate to polarize opinion. I, for one, found her disgusting long before I knew who-the-hell Barack Obama was, much less decided that he’d perhaps make an excellent president. She was a clear-and-present disgrace well before her husband ever left the White House, let alone before her own pursuit of it.

    So, sure: nice health care plan. Talking substance and appreciating good ideas irrespective of their sources are two things our politics sorely needs. But another thing it needs, in my opinion, is for the electorate to be smart in their appraisal of the people running for office. This means not electing George W. Bush, a clear simpleton and lifelong fuck-up, just because you might “rather have a beer with him than Al Gore” (to use an oft-repeated line from 2000). And it means rejecting Hillary Clinton — and doing so in the strongest possible terms — because she is an amoral political shape-shifter, for whom expediency and will-to-power are first-principles, notwithstanding that she is smart, well-informed, and otherwise capable.

    In a democracy, perhaps we have a responsibility to each other to loudly renounce those who are repugnant and would harm us, just as we celebrate those who exemplify our higher ideals and have the potential to inspire us to rise above ourselves. Maybe in politics, where there is so much at stake, it is not only okay to hate the hateful, it is important.

    Wonder no more.

    MBJ

  16. 16 mbjesq 6 July 2008 at 5:45 am

    Come on folks! I have given you a pretty good opening by advancing the highly contentious position that the language of hatred has political utility beyond its obvious ugliness. This strikes me as an extremely vulnerable argument, especially against an attack based on the power of a totalizing dialectic within a positive, affirmative political discourse.

    And there is another odd aspect I don’t quite understand at the moment: my argument that the juvenile urge to dis (rather than simply to dismiss) the adversary has a valid function within the democratic process seems more secure than my off-handed normative assessment that it is “okay”. Anyway, there seems to be plenty for you to work with.

    Though I responded Smita’s post in a rather breezy way, I think the issue is far from trivial. And I would love to be wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  17. 17 smita 6 July 2008 at 11:02 pm

    MBJ,

    You, of all people, know that the strongest arguments are built around the “worst case scenario.” How could I have used any lesser example?

    And though I admire your lawyerly gusto for the argument, it seems to me you’re out on a rather narrow twig here, not to mention in very poor company.

    While sympathizing with your reasons for despising Ms. Clinton and appreciating that many people have misgivings about her, I think few outside the Republican right hated her with much fervor until she began her run for the presidency.

    But surely she deserves some credit for the many years of familiarity that have bred our contempt. In contrast, Mr. Obama stands before us with a beautifully clean slate.

    But Mr. Obama is a politician too, and willing to jettison ideas as well as friends when they threaten the stability of his craft as you have noted here and David Brooks does here. More recently he has voted for the FISA bill, causing a mini uprising on his own website, and fumbled in explaining his Iraq policy. All of these things will be wielded against him by his opponents with the same passion and gusto of your criticisms of Ms. Clinton.

    Which brings me back to your point that hate is somehow a necessary and constructive part of the political process. Apart from the fact that is a favorite tool of the Bushies (hate those evil-doers and the latte-sipping liberals who want to take away your guns and force you into homosexual marriages) and in contrast to your optimistic vision of the new kind of leadership offered by Mr. Obama, it seems inherently counterproductive in a world where no one is perfectly good or perfectly evil (with Mr. Chaney as a wonderful exception).

    Sometimes even the bad guys do good things (e.g. Lyndon Johnson pushing through the civil rights legislation) while the good guys fail (e.g Jimmy Carter, Dalai Lama, etc.).

    Wouldn’t we would do better to treat our pols like a high-end product we are thinking of buying than like sports heroes? After all, consumer choices seem to drive an upward spiral of innovation and improvement whereas our current way of choosing our leaders seems to push in the opposite direction.

    Still wondering….

    -s

  18. 18 mbjesq 7 July 2008 at 7:28 am

    Smita:

    I almost like the consumerist model you propose. God knows, we pay inordinately more attention to making the material acquisitions we vainly hope will happily augment our pathetic lives than to the selection of the leaders who will shape the economic and social landscape.

    But is it enough simply to say that we should be smart shoppers? Doesn’t this all depend on the flow and content of the national discussion? My point was that, perhaps, the passion of disgust (when backed by a semblance of fact-based argument) might be a useful mode in the shopping process. I think my argument is still vulnerable on moral grounds; but I don’t think you’ve made the case.

    And I hasten to add that a large proportion of sports fans have an impressive, detailed familiarity with the significant talents, qualifications, and performance histories of their favored teams and players — often backed by stunning statistical authority. By contrast, the average American voters have only the vaguest, largely misinformed understanding of their candidates, formed not by political “batting averages” but by the gestalt established in the mainstream media. Maybe the sports fan model is, indeed, the right approach after all. Knowing, for example, that Alex Rodriguez hits under .200 in post-season play allows for fair criticism of his “clutch” performance, even as one must otherwise acknowledge his exquisite career average with runners in scoring position and his future Hall of Fame stature. Baseball fans might be titillated by the fact that his wife has filed for divorce because he was fucking Madonna; but their assessment of him as a player is based on an extremely well-informed and nuanced assessment.

    Finally, I am having trouble swallowing your assertion that only Republicans loathed Hillary before her presidential ambitions manifested. True, I didn’t argue that she murdered Vince Foster, as Newtie’s cadres did. But anyone who knew me in those days was well aware of my feelings, and I’m pretty sure I was not the only liberal who never could stand her. She always gave us plenty to hate and little to love, even when she was nominally nothing more than Bill’s “two-for-one”: her innocuous, but somehow telling misdemeanors like Tammy-Wynette-and-cookie-gate; her political botching of health care reform; her scandalous (and scandal-making) handling of non-scandals such as Whitewater (and the non-production of Rose Law Firm billing records) and travel-gate; and her deft escape from the potentially real felonies of file-gate and insider cattle futures trading. Just to name a few things springing immediately to mind.

    I looked back on my blog, which started in November 2004 and has never been heavily political, to see if there were early references to Hillary and I find at least two in 2005, both displaying clear antipathy: How the Republicans Will Save America and These Colors Don’t Burn. These were penned well before she declared her intent to run for President (indeed, before her 2006 Senate re-election campaign) although long after her presidential ambition was clear. Anyway, she sucks — and that is not something that only became obvious in her scummy presidential primary campaign.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  19. 19 smita 7 July 2008 at 8:44 am

    MBJ:

    I never said you weren’t prescient.

    But I don’t think most people hated Hillary with much passion till she became one of the horses in the race. Now the feelings around her are so polarized that those who hate her will tend to oppose anything she advocates, even if it is actually good. And many of those who supported her will transfer the agony of their defeat into an abiding mistrust of everything Mr. Obama does or stands for. That’s hardly a constructive platform from which to govern a country.

    Your point about how well informed sports fans are is interesting, but how many fans stop supporting a losing team? How many people punish inept management by shifting their allegiance to a more effective franchise? (There is also an interesting difference between how people support an individual athlete vs. their abiding passion for the brand.)

    But ultimately, a batting average is much easier to quantify than a vote on the FISA bill granting immunity to the telecom companies that enabled the government’s illegal eavesdropping. And the rewards in sports are more immediate and definitive. At the end of the game you have a clear winner and strategies and talents are either vindicated or refuted. In politics, winning is just the first step and the real implications of the winner’s performance in office often only become clear years later (except, perhaps, when they are as colossally bad as the current administration).

    Cheers!
    -s


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