joel stein is a dick

The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.”

Yeah. That’s Joel Stein in a short (but not short enough) rant called Adults Should Read Adult Books written for the New York Times. Stein says, “I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like… I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read ‘The Hunger Games’ when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”

It can’t be easy to be such a pompous dick. It must take a great deal of practice, so I’m willing to give Stein some credit for his dedication. And I wouldn’t want to deny him the right to object to any genre of literature; after all, I’ve been known to make the occasional disparaging comment about Romance fiction. But I’d never suggest there’s anything wrong with somebody who chose to read Romance novels. Stein’s absolute rejection of the value of Young Adult fiction isn’t what makes him a dick. That just makes him ignorant.

No, what makes Joel Stein an Olympic caliber dick is that he sets himself up as an arbiter of what is appropriate for adults to read when he has written a soon-to-be-released nonfiction book called (and I’m not making this up) Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. The book is apparently about Stein’s panic at learning he is about to become the father of a son, and trying to discover what it means to be a ‘man’ by (and really, I’m not making this up at all) briefly engaging in testosterone-driven tasks. He spends three days (3!) in some form of military basic training, he spends a 24 hour shift with the fire department, he goes camping (with…and lawdy, I wish I was making this up…the Boy Scouts), he does some home repairs. In other words, he pays a fleeting visit to what he believes is the world of manhood in the hope that he’ll learn something profound about masculinity.

Then, in this wee little rant, he writes “You can’t take an adult seriously when he’s debating you over why Twilight vampires are O.K. with sunlight.” And that is what makes Joel Stein a dick.

Joel, bunkie, this is where you make your mistake. Men read Young Adult fiction and aren’t embarrassed by it.

find of the day

If you judged only by the number of morels plucked from the soil, then my first morel hunt of the season was an absolute bust. I saw one small grey morel, no larger than the first knuckle of my thumb. I found three times that many ticks on my clothes–so if this was a tick hunt, then it would have been slightly more successful.

However, if you just count it as a walk in the woods, it was an unqualified triumph. I went with my brother Roger Lee, who may be a tad too impatient to be a good mushroom hunter but has a nicely cavalier attitude about being in the woods. Some people hover around you when you’re in the woods–afraid to get too far away from you, afraid you’ll get lost or they’ll get lost. Roger Lee just wanders off with the casual assumption that somehow you’ll manage to meet up again somewhere. I like that.

It was Roger Lee who made the Find of the Day. A tipi frame, almost camouflaged by being as bare as the trees around it. Centered below the frame was a small circle of rocks to serve as a fire-pit. Clearly somebody had camped there in the not-too-distant past; the need for a fire suggests last autumn or possibly even during the winter. The tipi was in a good spot–protected from the wind, a few yards away a small brook, isolated from view, far enough from the road to be inconvenient to find but close enough that fifteen minutes of steady walking would get you there.

But the tipi frame wasn’t the Find of the Day; that was just an interesting object. The woods are full of interesting objects–things that are thought-provoking but not particularly surprising. That’s one of the many reasons to walk in the woods.

No, the Find of the Day was lurking a short distance away–maybe fifteen yards–hidden inside the hollow trunk of a dying tree.

The tree itself was an interesting object. It was bent and broken–maybe the result of an old lightning strike, maybe from some sort of rot, maybe ice damage, maybe an infestation of beetles–who can say? But it was bent and broken open, and the interior of the trunk was hollow.

The natural thing to do with a bent, broken, hollow tree trunk, of course, is to look inside. Which is exactly what Roger Lee did. You’d have done the same thing your ownself, you know it. What he saw inside, that was the Find of the Day.

I’ve written elsewhere about my fascination with a chunk of curbing wrapped in a length of red PVC wire. That object must have struck a chord with people, because since then I’ve received a number of emails from people describing similar found-objects, sometimes with cameraphone photos showing bits of concrete bundled in ribbon or stones tied up in wire like some sort of primitive holiday package. I find them all strangely fascinating.

This is what was tucked away in the hollow of that bent tree:

I’ve no idea what this bluish stone is, although it appears to have been shaped at some point in the past. I’ve no idea why a length of twine is so tidily coiled around it, although the condition of the twine suggests it was done fairly recently. And I’ve no idea why it was stashed n the hollow of a dead tree trunk, although it clearly was stashed; it didn’t just wind up there by accident.

Somebody did this purposefully. Somebody deliberately placed the stone in the hollow of the tree, and just as deliberately encircled it with a length of twine. Most likely it was placed there by whoever was camping in the nearby tipi–but that’s just an assumption.

All I know is that this is strange and lovely and it moves me in some peculiar way. The Irish have a saying: Níl sa saol seo ach ceo is ní bheimíd beo ach seal beag gearr. It’s a misty old world and we’re only in it for a short, sharp while. It’s stuff like this that keeps it sharp.

an innocent man

This is going to be an unpopular thing to say, but it has to be said at some point. George Zimmerman–the man who unquestionably shot and killed Trayvon Martin–is innocent.

This is a fundamental aspect of the U.S. Constitution. Every citizen who stands accused of a crime must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. This isn’t some legal nicety we can overlook simply because it’s unpopular. If the presumption of innocence has any value at all, it has to apply to everybody–even George Zimmerman. It’s true that standard only applies to juries, but when you hear somebody say Zimmerman ought to be tried and punished, they’re basically saying the Constitution shouldn’t apply to people they don’t like. And that’s fucked up.

So there it is, George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin and wherever he is right now, he’s an innocent man. I hate to say it, but he’s probably innocent in two ways. He’s presumptively innocent and may, in fact, be not guilty under the law. According to Florida’s statute 776.013 (3) – Justifiable Use of Force, Zimmerman may never have his innocence challenged. It’s very possible he’ll never be charged with a crime. The law clearly states “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.” The way the law is written, it’s very nearly a license to kill–and indeed, ‘justifiable’ homicides in Florida have increased threefold since the law was enacted.

We can’t know with any certainty what took place in the final few moments before George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. But we can make some educated guesses based on what we do know. We know what Zimmerman told the police during his 911 call. We know, for example, he was unreasonably suspicious of Martin. We know he was following the young man, and continued to do so even after the police told him he shouldn’t. We also know Trayvon Martin knew he was being followed and was nervous about it. We know Zimmerman prejudged Martin (“These assholes, they always get off”), and we know he felt antagonistic toward Martin (he called Martin either a “fucking coon” or a “fucking goon”).

That’s what we know. We can surmise Martin felt threatened by the man following him and decided to confront Zimmerman. We can surmise Zimmerman felt threatened by the confrontation and so pulled his weapon. We can surmise Martin felt threatened by the weapon and may have struck Zimmerman in self-defense. And we can surmise Zimmerman felt threatened by the assault and shot Martin in self-defense.

The way the Florida law is written, the last person to survive feeling threatened is innocent.

Trayvon Martin was innocent in reality. George Zimmerman is innocent under the law. The people who aren’t innocent are the members of the Florida legislature who enacted this stupid fucking law.

There won’t be any real justice for Trayvon Martin. There won’t be any justice for George Zimmerman. The only possible justice that could come out of this tragedy is if the good people of Florida rise up and force their legislature to repeal the law, and maybe vote out the idiots who thought the law was a good idea to begin with.

But this is Florida, where guns don’t kill people–people kill people. And in Florida, you can get away with it.

a pathetic, fearful little man

Rush Limbaugh is a coward. He hides behind the title ‘entertainer,’ which he believes gives him cover for making the most reprehensible and offensive remarks. That title also gives timid Republican politicians cover; they can dismiss the things Limbaugh says as outrageous while claiming it’s just entertainment.

It’s a convenient lie that nobody believes—including the people who speak it.

Rush Limbaugh is a coward, and like so many cowards he’s a bully when given the opportunity. He sits in a small sound studio, protected from the outside world, insulated from reality, and from that safe vantage point he mocks and jeers at people who disagree with him. He surrounds himself with sycophants and toadies, people who adore him because he’s found a safe way to say the ugly things they think.

Rush Limbaugh is a coward and a bully, a contemptible and despicable person. But behind all the bluster and bloviating, Limbaugh is also a pathetic and fearful little man, deeply inadequate—and he must be painfully aware of that. He must be terrified that others may recognize his fear and inadequacy. It would be horrible, I think, to be so afraid of so many things.

This isn’t to suggest Limbaugh is deserving of our empathy or compassion. He’s not. But one difference between us and Rush Limbaugh (one of the many differences) is we don’t reserve our compassion and consideration just for those we think are deserving. That would be a cheap sort of compassion.

Rush Limbaugh is a coward and a bully, and as much as I despise the man and the many horrible things he says, I can’t help feeling a grudging sort of sadness for him. In the words of the poet Mr. T., I pity the fool*. But I can’t pity him very much.


* To be more accurate, the phrase “I pity the fool” originally came from James Merle, an Autobiograph, which is a novel written in 1864 by William Black. He wrote: I pity the fool who marries and yet imagines he may be a great man. That seems to apply to Rush Limbaugh, who has married four times and so must want to believe he’s four times a great man. In fact, he’s merely four times a fool.