Sunday, February 20, 2005

Folding Star interviewed by C.I.

We had an interview planned that fell through at the last minute. And we were hoping as late as midnight Saturday night, we'd have it. Just before midnight, noticing the gaping hole that would be left in this edition, C.I. of The Common Ills started making a list of people we could interview.
Since we were highlighting A Winding Road, Folding Star was at the top of our list. And since we were unable to get an entry we were working on to come together, C.I. agreed to interview Folding Star. We thank them both. And we think you'll really enjoy this interview that they conducted via e-mail. We think it sets a new standard for our interviews and may end up enlisting C.I. into doing more of them for us. And we thank Folding Star for agreeing to this unplanned, very last minute interview. Without the two of them, there would be one less feature in this edition.

Folding Star interviewed by C.I.

We're talking with Folding Star of A Winding Road who started blogging on January 2nd of this year. You're coming up on your second month full month of blogging. What's been the biggest surprise for you?

Folding Star: I guess the biggest surprise is how much I've had to say! I really thought, when I first started, that I might end up deleting the whole blog after a week or so just out of a lack of interesting things to talk about. I wasn't sure that what I had to say would be enough to do a daily blog. As it's turned out, there are days when there's almost too much to talk about for one post a day. The other surprise has been finding a focus. When I started, I thought I'd just talk a little about whatever crossed my mind, politics, books, music, current events. I didn't plan to focus on the Senate. It just sort of happened.

And you still do write about books (every Saturday you do a book chat) and music but your focus has been on the Senate. You wrote about when you were a child, you used to think about ending up in the Senate. And you noted that back then you weren't aware of how much money played into campaigns. What are your hopes regarding campaign finance reform?

FS: I dream big when I think of what our political system COULD be. We need to take the money out of politics. It's that 'simple'. Campaigns should be publicly funded and limited to a set amount. No campaign should be a multi-million dollar affair. That's corrupting in and of itself. If there was public funding of campaigns, and I believe if I'm not mistaken the state of Arizona has taken some steps in that direction, and each candidate was allowed free time on the public airwaves to discuss the issues,we'd see negative campaigning drastically reduced. We'd see actual issues discussed, things that are relevant to all of us, but never seem to be more than a cursory mention between personal attacks in politics as things are now. Those are my hopes. Publicly financed campaigns with free air time for the candidates to discuss issues. Eliminate the big money, and you reduce corporate influence drastically. But, in the short run, I'm forced to be a realist. In that sense, my hope is that the work begun by the McCain-Feingold reforms is just the beginning of more serious reform.

You're talking about free air time and how that would provide time for things to be actually discussed. Am I correct in sensing that you weren't impressed with the press coverage of the 2004 campaigns?

FS: You're very correct. I think if you asked the average person on the street to sum up the issues of the 2004 Presidential Campaign, they'd mention swiftboats, whether or not medals or ribbons were tossed, and flip flopping. It was so ridiculous. Here we are in what many of us regarded as the most crucial election of not only our lifetimes, but probably in the history of this country, and the press isn't focusing on the dire state of our economy, on jobs lost to overseas sweat shops, or on the very real problems of our new 'shoot first, ask questions later' foreign policy. There was no substance at all. People claimed that Kerry didn't really stand for anything, they never heard him discuss the issues. Of course they didn't, not if they were watching mainstream news coverage or reading mainstream newspapers! I saw Kerry speak more than once on CSPAN and he discussed nothing but the issues. But the media didn't care about that. And as for political campaign ads, what can you get across in a 30 second spot? With the media not doing its job, the public doesn't have a clue what the candidates really stand for. All they know is what they see in attack ads and what passes for campaign coverage in our sorry media. So giving the candidates a chance to actually sit down and talk issues on TV, for free (the public owns the airwaves, after all), would be revolutionary at this point. We've got to take things out of the hands of the media and the campaign ads.

And is doing your own blog part of taking things into your own hands? I know you gave a heads up on a bill this week that I don't think a lot of people are awareof. (The New York Times, for instance, hasn't had a reporter covering the bill.)

FS: It is a way of trying to take things in my own hands, yes. I was down, as I'm sure all progressives were, after the election. But the more I thought about things, the more I realized that we actually did a remarkable job, overall, of turning out the progressive vote and in getting new voters registered and to the polls. We're building the foundation of a real movement. But we've all got to do our part. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I personally could be doing more. Other than in private discussions with friends, I'd been largely silent on issues. I could bemoan the lack of real news from morning to night, and that's not going to make a difference. But if I start speaking out, it does make a difference, however small. Every voice matters. To quote Howard Zinn, "You can't be neutral on a moving train."
I just decided that 2005 was the year I started speaking out. And if I can cover something that the mainstream press is ignoring, great. What I'm offering is essentially my opinion on the facts. I'm not an unbiased news source. But maybe, as with the Count Every Vote Act, someone will read what I've had to say and then look elsewhere for more info. And if they notice the lack of press coverage, maybe they'll send an email to the Times saying "What gives?" And maybe the Times will be that much more likely to cover real news afterwords. It's a ripple effect. But either way, I'm speaking out, and that's what matters. We all need to be speaking now. We need to remember that this is our Country and that everything that's being done is being done in OUR name. If you're not okay with that, start saying so.

It is a ripple effect and that's a point you stress on your blog. I'm thinking of your post regarding Randi Rhodes' advice to the Dem Senators. But I'm also thinking of this from your essay on the Senate:

One of the key fights of the early progressive movement, though, was for direct election of United States Senators. And it was a fight that was won. So, less than a hundred years ago, we managed to bring the Senate that much closer to the ideal with a bit of electoral reform. So reform is possible, and I hold out hope that by making electoral changes, we can open the Senate up to the sort of people who should be serving in it.

You mentioned Zinn and I'm wondering how his writing has spoken to you and if its given you any sense of a history that we aren't often provided with?

FS: Perfect question, because just today I've been re-reading some of Zinn's People's History of theUnited States. Zinn is able to show us just how much history glosses over. How much it's written with a goal in mind. Essentially, that goal is to keep us all happy with the status quo. We're taught this golden history of our country that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.
It ignores so much of what the everyday, average people went through, fought against, and most importantly, fought for.
When change does come, the official record tries to paint it as if the change was given out of the goodness of the powerful's hearts. They ignore the struggle, or gloss over it. Thus, women who had to fight for many decades for the right to vote are said by history to have been 'given' the vote. President Lincoln, who freed the slaves as a last resort and because it benefited the Northern elite, is given to us by history as a saint among men who knew it was morally right to free slaves and even went to war to do so.
Zinn has shown me above all that the common people, you and me, are the ones who make things change. We fight for, we force those in power into bending to our demands. It doesn't get written that way, because they want to keep the average person from realizing how powerful we truly are.

That's a very powerful comment on Zinn. I'd like to believe that we could access that power, but I'm thinking of your post Friday, the part on Negroponte, and I'm in agreement with you over the disappointment regarding Senator Rockefeller's comment. I don't know if you're familiar with Sting's music but after meeting the victims of torture from all over the world on an Amnesty tour of 1986, he wrote a song focusing on Chile called "They Dance Alone."

Why are these women here dancing on their own
Why is there this sadness in their eyes
Why are the soldiers here
Their faces fixed like stone?
I can't see what it is that they despise
They're dancing with the missing
They're dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They're dancing with their fathers
They're dancing with their sons
They're dancing with their husbands
They dance alone.

I think about that song and about Honduras (among other places) and wonder where is the outrage over Negroponte? Do you think that we're growing immune to the outrage and would you see Chertoff and Rice's confirmations as making Negroponte potential confirmation any easier?

FS: Those are haunting lyrics. I don't think it can be said that we've grown immune to the horrors of Honduras and elsewhere. For us to be immune to them, they'd need to be very present in our daily lives. We'd need to look them in the face and shrug our shoulders.
We don't do that. At least, the average American doesn't. Those in politics are a different story, sadly. I think the problem is that Americans haven't got a clue as to these realities. The press doesn't cover these things, not really. Take the Iraq War. Americans have no idea of the horrors. None. Everything is sanitized down to facts and figures. How do you comprehend the bloodshed and destruction if you don't have to see it? Vietnam aroused the disgust and horror of Americans because they saw it live on their televisions. They weren't immune then and they're not now. They're just safe in their own world until you bring the realities home to them.
And this Administration and it's lapdog media is masterful at keeping that reality at bay. They don't even show the coffins returning home, let alone the horrors visited upon the citizens of Iraq.
The Abu Ghraib pictures began to open people's eyes, and I think it's inevitable that they'll be opened even further and the outcry will grow. But with things like Honduras, most Americans haven't got a clue. They're not awake to these realities yet, just as they're not fully awake to their own power. We're a slumbering populace. The disgusting thing is the politicians who DO have a clue, who know what happened, and who don't do anything about it.
I do think Negroponte will be confirmed with very little resistance. If these Senators confirmed Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzales (with some show ofresistance on both) and completely looked the other way on Chertoff, Negroponte is a shoe in. Especially given his own confirmation just last May to be Ambassador to Iraq.
What we need to do is start holding our elected officials accountable. They're scared of being too controversial, most of them. They've seen how Bush and co have been able to twist votes. And if they vote against a Director of National Intelligence, they'll be labeled weak on National Security.
We need to hold them accountable and tell them what we want of them. They're there to represent us. If we don't like the job they do, we can vote them out. We have the power, if we'll just wake up to it. But there's a lot we need to wake up to.

Those are some solid points and your comments about the visuals reminds me of something Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive told Matthew Rothschild in "America's Amnesia" for The Progressive.

"If we had photographs of what our so-called allies in Honduras and El Salvador and Chile were doing based on training they had received from us in the 1960s,1970s, and 1980s, the American public would have been even more horrified."

In the same piece, Rothschild makes the point that "memory is a prerequisite for morality."
Is your discussing Negroponte or how the government's case against Lynne Stewart smacks of an earlier time (McCarthyism) your way of attempting to help us remember? What I'm getting at is you do a number of historical pieces and I'm trying to figure out if that just happens or if it's intentional on your part?

FS: Well, it's a mixture of both, really. I think we have to know our own history if we're going to have any sort of a future. Gore Vidal has referred to this country as the United States of Amnesia, and he's not far off from the truth. It benefits those in power- economically, socially, or politically in power- to keep the rest of us from knowing our true history. It benefits them to keep us ignorant overall, actually. That's why our schools today are adept at training us to memorize textbook answers for tests and nothing more. No critical thinking skills are developed. If they were, you'd have a population that was more quick to question power, to realize their own power. I remember the first biography I ever read. This was elementary school and it was on Abe Lincoln. It fascinated me. I think that kicked off my desire to know more about everything. Of course, in and of itself, that biography was a huge work of fiction aimed at presenting that myth of a golden history. But it still got me curious. And that's what people need. Before they can know their history, they have to be curious about it.
Nothing in our society today fills us with curiosity towards our history. Instead, we're supposed to be curious about celebrities personal lives. So when I write about some aspect of history, it's because it has fascinated me, but it's also because I'm hoping to spark people's curiosity. There is such a wealth of information in our libraries and online that's just waiting for us.
To understand who we are, we need to know who we've been. Not just the textbook version, but the real story, or as close to it as we can get. To know our history is to know our power.

You've noted the power of our public libraries and bemoaned the budget cuts they're experiencing. From your book chats on Saturday, we know you're a long time reader. Do you remember the first time you visited a library or checked out a book?

FS: My first library was the library of my elementary school. In Kindgergarten, we'd go there once a week to be read to by the Librarian. The Easy Section was in this little alcove all it's own, and that's where we'd sit on the floor and listen. At the end, we were able to each choose a book to check out and take home for our parents to read to us.
It was all very exciting. When I learned to read the next year, it was even more exciting because I could take them home and read them on my own. Surprisingly enough, I didn't go to a public library until I was 11 or 12. I constantly had books checked out from the school library and neither of my parents, though both readers, have ever been big users of the public library.
So I remember that experience very well, when my mom took my younger sister and I to the public library for the first time and got us library cards. I became a regular after that. The school libraries just couldn't compete! I'm a regular to this day of my public library. I'm usually there once a week.
If you stop and think about it, how amazing is it that we all have access to these books and other resources? It's just incredible. They need to be protected because they're truly a front line in the battle to keep us all placid and content with the status quo, to keep us unquestioning and unenlightened.
I think everyone should be using public libraries, from cradle to grave. They're an incredible benefit and resource and one that we need to fight harder to protect, especially now.

And you also obviously believe in the power within books themselves. Saturday, you noted the finalists for the Man Booker Prize. Of the names on the list, I'm honestly only familiar with the works of Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Doris Lessing and Philip Roth. (I've read Updike, he didn't speak to me.) Someone e-mails you and writes: "I'm new to everyone on the list. Where should I start?" What do you tell them?

FS: Well, a lot of the names on the list were of author's who's work I haven't yet read myself. I've read Atwood, McEwan, Roth, Updike and Marquez. A few others have long been on my to read list. But a great many of them are authors I haven't had much exposure to at all.
Personally, I'd probably given a strong recommendation to Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan. They're both amazing writers who's work speaks to me on some level, a level that only reallly good literature can ever truly reach. But you never know what will speak to you as a reader. I've had books recommended to me by friends or family members who have just raved over them, but which I found to just be okay at best. Everyone's tastes are so different. So really, what I'd recommend, after a personal note about how much I enjoy the works of Atwood and McEwan, would be that they visit their library, see what's available from each author, and maybe take the time to read the opening paragraphs. It can be an arbitrary way of choosing a book. Some opening paragraphs will fool you. You'll think "Wow!" and then the book won't live up to the promise of it. Or, on the other hand, it will seem forgettable and the book itself turns out to be incredible. But if you're just browsing and want to experience an author you've never read before, that can be a fun way to sound them out, so to speak. When you find the one (or more than one) where you just don't want to stop with that first paragraph, you've found the one you should read. Really, though, I think the beauty of these sorts of awards is that they get people to move outside their own experiences as readers and try new writers. We all have our favorites, the ones where we wait impatiently for them to put out something new, but it's a big world and there are many incredible writers and incredible books out there. We hear about most of them, or stumble across them on our own, merely by chance. These awards up our chances of hearing about some amazing writers.

And your highlighting them allows them another shot at attention if someone missed the list when it came out. You've also highlighted a number of CDs, usually on Sundays. I was wondering if there's any CD you're really excited about currently or one that you're awaiting the release of?
FS: I recently bought the new Ani DiFranco cd, KnuckleDown. It came out a few weeks back and I already have every track committed to memory, I've listened to it so often. It's an incredible CD. I'm also waiting for the new Tori Amos CD, which comes out on the 22nd. I've practically worn out her Tales of a Librarian collection! I didn't get Scarlet's Walk until just recently, but it too is amazing and I'm really excited to hear what she's coming out with next.
Also, I used to be a big Matchbox 20 fan (still am, I suppose, I just don't hear much about them or from them) and I heard that Rob Thomas is doing a solo CD. I'mlooking forward to that, though I don't know when it's coming out yet. I always really liked Rob Thomas's voice and the very first Matchbox 20 cd was one which really was special to me, in a way, so I'm pretty interested to hear what he comes out with. I'm hoping the Indigo Girls will have something new before too long, as well. They're just amazing. I think I could follow them around from concert to concert like a groupie and be pretty content with life. At least in theory! In a lot of ways, though, I'm still finding my way with music as I go. So there's a lot to be excited about. A lot of old stuff is new to me. I'm new to Dusty Springfield, for instance, and Carole King. I've been listening to both of them a lot lately and they're just incredible.

Well you'll be happy to know that as we speak, TheThird Estate Sunday Review is assembling a cutting of Tori Amos' lyrics for the issue you're interview will appear in. You noted in an entry that you were giving up some performers as a result of their politics, the drawing the line post. Has that been difficult?

FS: That's great about the Tori Amos lyrics. Can't waitto read that. Actually, it's been easier than I thought it would be to turn my back on performers who are Bush supporters. With music, I've discovered (and continue to discover) so many new artists that there isn't as big a hole in my life as I might otherwise have expected from turning my back on Reba McEntire, for instance. There will be times when I'll catch myself humming a song of her's and feel sad when it sort of occurs to me all over again. But for the most part, I just think about what these people chose to support and that makes it easy. I don't want my money going to someone who's going to give it to Bush in favor of pre-emptive war, disastrous economic and social policies, and discrimination against gays and lesbians.
I think it's a decision we're all going to have to make. We on the left need to start making sure we're supporting others on the left. We need to think about where our money is going.

And that's a strong point to go out on.

FS: And thank you to The Third Estate Sunday Review for their interest.
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