Weekend Madman

Friday-Sunday, January 13-15, 2006



A Personal Note on Gun Control

My husband and I just experienced a personal tragedy when our two best friends, who lived in Taos, New Mexico, and were environmental and political activists, were shot to death with an AK-47 as they slept in their bed on New Years Eve, by her son. He had spent a year in a mental hospital due to problems, and had been convicted of a couple of crimes, but was able to purchase an automatic weapon. He was suffering from mental illness, was on medication, and had suffered a pre-frontal brain injury as a child when he fell from a bunk bed. Use of methamphetamines, "cooked" with dirty chemicals and solvents in Mexico, was too much for him in his fragile state. Our friends never stopped in their efforts to help him, and Joe had taken him into his solar home building business, teaching him a useful skill, took him sailing off San Francisco a few months ago. However, this "free trade" with Mexico of a very dangerous drug, coupled with the ease of obtaining an automatic weapon with no background check, allowed a momentary rage to turn into a tragedy. Joe had built homes in Nicaragua, installed solar panels on a hospital in Vietnam which didn't have electrical power, built hundreds of homes "off the grid" in New Mexico, which used no electricity except for solar power and had systems to catch rainwater and use it and reuse it. He worked tirelessly for others, for political causes, environmental causes and to keep the Taos valley free of a nuclear power plant. We need gun control with background checks.

-Pat Thompson

The Real Threat Grows

Iran snubs the United Nations and NATO and will build a nuclear bomb. The reason is easy to see: with the US engaged in a never-ending conflict in Iraq, we have nothing to threaten Iran with other than, well, threats.

This past week, Iran removed UN seals on their uranium enrichment facility right dab in the middle of their country. The world community is against this. Iran is a danger and no one, other than Iran , wants them to have a nuclear weapon.

I hear things like "economic and UN sanctions" as ways to keep this growing middle-eastern threat at bay, but does anyone in their right mind believe that?

Up until a few years ago, Iran's youth was looking toward the west for clothing, music and other things western world kids enjoy. The administration of "G"lobal "W"arming Bush has helped drive them further away.

"Our nation doesn't need nuclear weapons. You can use nuclear technology in several ways, and we want to do so peacefully,"
-Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man suspected as being one of the US hostage takers over a quarter century ago

"The time of using language of bullying and coercion ... is over. There is no evidence to prove Iran's diversion (toward nuclear weapons)."

I disagree (duh). The Iranian president's word and actions scream of his hostility toward the West, and especially Israel.

China won't lift a finger toward stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons. They buy a most of their oil from Iran. And Russia helps them build their nuclear reactors.

"I recommend to them (the West) to try to understand the Iranian nation and government. Otherwise you may do something that will make you regret it,"

We already regret it.

The questions are these: Would Iran have elected (appointed; selected; whatever) such a hard-liner in the first place had the US forces not been so deeply involved in Iraq? Would Iran dare to threaten a world power such as the US with a standing and ready Army available to strike as quickly as it struck Iraq and Afghanistan before it? I don't think so.

Unfortunately, the US now needs the European community to step up. With Iraq leaning toward an alliance with Iran, it will only keep US more busy in a nation we just "liberated" and will leave US open to a nuclear Iran.

Ask your Right-Wing friends this: Were they more afraid of an isolated non-nuclear Iraq in 2002 or a known terrorist sponsor like Iran, who is developing nuclear weapons as we speak, in 2006? Ask them "Do we feel safe yet?"

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

Everyone tells lies. We don't mean to, but we do it. Most of the lies we tell are small–we oversleep and lie to the boss about the reason for our lateness, we lie to our kids about why they got the less expensive toy for Christmas instead of the pricier one, we lie to protect the feelings of others, we lie to protect our own feelings. These small lies, we tell ourselves, don't hurt anyone. Not really.

Some lies are bigger and there's no equivocating about the pain they cause. George Bush lied about the reasons for invading Iraq and more than 2,200 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died because of it. Lies spread about John Kerry's war service likely cost him the 2004 election.

For the past week a tempest has been brewing in the literary world over the lies told by a writer, James Frey, in his best-selling book *A Million Little Pieces.*

Frey, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, wrote the memoir about his time in rehab and his experience with drugs and alcohol. The book is filled with gruesome details of his life as an addict, from vomiting to violence, and is very affecting as it explores one man's journey toward recovery. Many have called the book inspirational.

Among those who found it so was Oprah Winfrey. She was so affected by the memoir she made it the first non-fiction work recommended for her book club. Her endorsement made *A Million Little Pieces* the second-best selling book of 2005 (after the latest Harry Potter novel), raking in millions for both Frey and Random House, his publisher.

But last week the Smoking Gun, an investigative website, revealed that many of the vivid details in Frey's book were merely that: vivid–but not factual.

Memoirists often elaborate on the truth of their experience for dramatic and literary effect; it's not actual history or biography, it is largely one's interpretation of one's own life.

And Frey is certainly not the first writer pilloried for lying in a book. In recent years several other best-selling authors have been caught in lies, like John Berendt, author of *Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil* or JT Leroy, author of *The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.* Berendt wasn't in Savannah when he claimed to be and Leroy, who claimed to be a male prostitute with AIDS was actually a young woman–the sister of a San Francisco musician who with her husband wrote the stories attributed to the mythical (and critically acclaimed) Leroy.

Esteemed and award-winning writers like Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Lillian Hellman have also been accused of inventing large portions of their memoirs.

When queried about Frey's lies, Oprah was succinct: "Although some of the facts have been questioned, the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book and who will continue to read this book." Winfrey added, "To me it seems to be much ado about nothing. What is relevant is that he was a drug addict who spent years in turmoil and who found a way to tell his story."

Frey's editor, Nan Talese, has also shrugged off the controversy, suggesting that unlike other works of non-fiction, memoirs can bend the truth–a lot.

But others are not so forgiving. Critics and other writers are enraged by Frey's deception, yet sales of his book have risen since the scandal broke last week and bookstores are definitely not receiving returns of the book by irate customers.

So what does it all mean? Are fellow authors just irritated that Frey made more money by lying than they did by telling the truth and critics annoyed that they were conned?

I read the Frey book last year after viewing the episode of Oprah on which Frey appeared. I have read all the books in Oprah's book club and have never been disappointed in one. I was not disappointed by the Frey book, either. But having read it, I understand exactly why people are in such a furor over the revelation that Frey invented or elaborated on so many details.
I have never been an addict, but my mother was addicted to prescription drugs and my father was an alcoholic (and once in recovery became a drug and alcohol counselor). I was in a relationship with an alcoholic for years and I have been close friends with several addicts.

I myself spent years going to Al-Anon to understand the addictions of those closest to me. My best friend of 30 years runs an agency that treats women suffering from substance abuse. It's an issue that resonates for me–as it did for Oprah. It is part of why I found the book so forceful.

The pivot on which Frey's memoir rests is his renunciation not just of drugs and alcohol, but of the programs that rehabilitate people from those addictions. Never having been an addict myself, I can't speak directly to the experience of kicking an addiction, but I have witnessed it in people close to me and it is a hellish experience. Frey made it seem simply a matter of choice.

And therein lies the impact of his deception. Because the immensity of the addiction–and concomitant violence–that he describes is all invention. Which means the difficulty of escape for him was that much less. Which means all the people who read his book for inspiration and help to kick their own addictions were lied to. And if they fail, each will feel it is a testament to his or her own weakness, rather than having been sold a little pack of lies. All those who read the book looking for parallels to their lives (and finding them with a sigh of relief) now feel exposed in a way Frey himself apparently does not.

Frey tried to sell his book to 17 different publishers as fiction before Random House took the book and suggested, strongly, that it be turned into a memoir. Was this the act of a desperate writer? No doubt. But it was also the act of a greedy publisher who, like Frey himself, has in no way apologized.

Lying has become such a commonplace in our society that we tend to shrug it off as immaterial. No one takes responsibility for lying. When Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA agent by the senior advisor of the Vice President, no one apologized for the lies. In fact, the Vice President proclaimed his assistant to be a man of conscience and values.

Except, of course, Scooter Libby was a liar and his lies damaged the country and our national security.

But if we don't hold our government responsible for lying, how can we hope to hold a desperate writer to a higher standard? James Frey was indeed an addict and an alcoholic. He was drinking and drugging himself to death–his parents and siblings attest to this as do many others. But what does it mean that he had to so embellish his already terrible story to get it published?

President Bush never finished his National Guard service; he not only evaded service in Vietnam, he evaded service here at home. But rather than take responsibility for that slackery in his youth, which many might have forgiven had he acknowledged the truth and apologized, he instead orchestrated a campaign of lies against his opponent, John Kerry, a genuine war hero who not only served in Vietnam and was wounded there, but who saved the lives of others under his command.

The peril of lying is that its addictive and pandemic: telling one lie makes it easier to tell another and another. Watching others lie makes it easier for *you* to lie. And soon lying is the norm, rather than a scurrilous exception.

I'm sorry Frey lied in his book. Not because I feel duped, because I don't especially, but because the lies hurt Frey himself and hurt those who used him as an icon for their own journey to recovery. How recovered can Frey be if he can't take responsibility for his lies hurting others?

I'm also sorry that Oprah and Nan Talese, important powerful women with gravitas and influence, did not take this opportunity to tell the truth themselves–to acknowledge that although they were embarrassed at being conned, lying really isn't the way to success.

Or is it?

The message of the Frey scandal seems to be that lying really doesn't matter all that much. Random House hasn't withdrawn the book from stores–all they've done is insert a disclaimer in his second book. Frey hasn't been asked to return any money nor even been fired from his latest book contract.

I still teach George Orwell's *Down and Out in London and Paris* as well as Lillian Hellman's *Pentimento* in my college classroom even though each is, like the Frey, a lot more fiction than memoir: yet both books are considered classics and remain books I love.

Unlike Orwell and Hellman, Frey's book may fade into obscurity. Or signed copies may soon be worth thousands on eBay.

But here's the question we need to ask ourselves as a society in the wake of the Frey debacle: Do we care, as a society, about lying? And if we don't care, then haven't we just sentenced ourselves to lives of personal and political anarchy?

As the Frey scandal was breaking, I watched Sen. Arlen Specter [R-PA] chastising Sen. Edward Kennedy [D-MA] at the confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito. Specter denied having ever seen a letter Kennedy sent him. Kennedy not only produced the letter he'd sent, but Specter's response. Did Specter lie or was it just a case of that classic Washington euphemism for lying "mis-speaking?" If there is no standard of truth, then pretty much anything goes. If we don't hold a President accountable for lying us into a war, if we don't hold a chief of staff accountable for a lie that endangered national security, if we don't hold people accountable for lies that put the lives of others at risk–then who are we as a nation?

Frey's lies may only have cost one or two lives of addicts and alcoholics who when they couldn't follow his macho plan killed themselves, but Bush's lies have cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollar. Sam Alito's inability to tell the truth in his confirmation hearings may cost us a great deal more over a far longer time as he sits on the U.S. Supreme Court for life. Lies can and do kill; there are reasons to seek the truth.

As long as we accept the lies of others without consequence, we are doomed to bear whatever horror those lies impose on us as individuals and as a nation. Which leaves us all in a million little pieces.

In response to "the city I used to visit" and the following quote, Victoria Brownworth responds:

"From when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to visit,"
-George W. Bush making a case for the "bang-up" job that he did in New Orleans

Was he too drunk then or now to tell the difference? I know because it looks nothing like where I used to live, but then again, I lived in the ninth ward which was obliterated and has had no work done on it to date.

Quoting Specter

"I thought they were wrong,"
-Arlen Specter, regarding the Spy-Gate snoopong done by the NSA with White House approval

If you think they were wrong, then how could you endorse a candidate like Samuel Alito, Sen. Specter? Here is a man who feels that the president is "supreme" (that was Alito's word in describing the power of the presidency).

You can be sure that when Alito is confirmed (assuming the Democrats don't get up the nerve and filibuster the nomination - when the the Democratic party drop the jackass and start using the cowardly lion as their mascot?) there will be no question as to the legality of spying on Americans. The answer will be, "Sure, go ahead."

Due process will be thrown out. Political spying will be the norm. And when they claim that "it will only be done during a time of war." then I welcome you all to the "perpetual war."

How criminally hypocritical are these GOP senators? Well, they'll vote for the guy who will do away with all checks and balances, make the president's powers "supreme" and greater than any other branch of the government and throw away ost of the original Bill of Rights (except that "right to bear arms" thing). Even Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) questions the right of the president to allow spying while whole-heartily supporting a man like Samuel Alito.

These Republicans are going to make the House and Senate obsolete while making the president an emperor.

It is a necessity for the Democrats to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito. Doing so sends a message that the people of the United States really do have representation. I say, call their bluff. If the senate leadership wants to use the "nuclear (or is that nucular?) option" and throw away the filibuster then let them explain it away to the American people. If the Democrats don't make a stand here, there will be no other place to make a stand.

Someday, and maybe soon, the Democrats might win back the senate and the filibuster won't be an option for the "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party to use. What will the likes of Specter and Brownback say then? Someday there might be another Democratic president. What will the GOP say when he (or she) uses his (or her) "supreme powers" as he (or she) sees fit during "a time of war"?

Of course, if the GOP has its way, hey won't have to worry about that. after all, its becoming easier and easier to steal elections when you don't have to count the votes.

-Noah Greenberg

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-Noah Greenberg