Archive for the ‘Jon Carroll’ Category

The Projection Party, projecting

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Jon Carroll in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

Y’all have probably heard about this dispute surrounding Plan B, the so-called “morning after” pill ….

Plan B is a contraceptive, and there are people who don’t like contraceptives….

Janet Woodcock, who is the deputy operations commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, apparently told a group of agency employees, according to a memo written by one of them, that “we could not anticipate or prevent extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on ‘urban legend’ status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.”

So now we come to a phenomenon called “projection.” The most common way that we explain human behavior is to use our beliefs, motives and behavior patterns as a template. If I tell you, for instance, that all women hate men, I am really telling you that my life experiences so far have not been satisfying and that I have developed a theory about why that is true, and I have projected that theory on reality….

So if I tell you that a “morning after” pill will lead to sex-based cults, I am really telling you that a candid examination of my inner motives reveals that I would most likely start a sex-based cult if I could, and that urge scares me, so I will project my urges onto young people and their pharmaceutical choices, and announce that I have discovered reality and this is what it looks like.

It is my belief that projection plays a larger role in public life than is generally acknowledged — although, of course, I could just be projecting. I think that people who really fret that gays are going to “recruit” heterosexuals see in themselves worrisome urges that mean that they themselves might want to enlist in the gay army. I think if you look at the attitudes of the Catholic Church about sexuality and set them against the behavior of a number of supposedly celibate Catholic priests, you can build a case for large-scale, long-term institutional projection.

I’ve been raving about the Projection Party for years. These fuckers are constantly accusing their enemies/victims of doing exactly what they themselves do or want to do. It’s pathological, pathetic, and destructive. It pollutes the public discourse.

Family values

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Jon Carroll, in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, offers a very angry and personal take on the latest front in the culture wars: “gay adoption.”
According to the Catholic News Service, “Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese announced March 10 that it will stop providing adoption services rather than continue to comply with a state law requiring no discrimination against gay and lesbian couples who seek to adopt…. Prompted by a similar issue arising at Catholic Charities of San Francisco, a top Vatican official has said Catholic agencies should not be involved in adoptions by same-sex couples.”
To which Jon Carroll responded:

Last year the Ford Motor Co. started to buy ads in several publications aimed at gay readers…. Then the company got assaulted by the American Family Association, a creation of the Rev. Donald Wildmon, a clever right-wing agitator with a hate-based agenda. So Ford announced that it would stop advertising in gay publications.

But then, whoops, Ford reversed its reversal and said, never mind, it was going to advertise in gay publications after all. So then a representative of the AFA announced that it was reinstating its boycott. “We cannot, and will not, sit by as Ford supports a social agenda aimed at the destruction of the family.”

What a vile sentence. What a vile sentiment. What overbusy, underbrained worms these people must be. I am not yelling.

My older daughter is a lesbian. She is also the single mother of an adopted child, working to make and sustain a family with jaw-dropping tenacity. I am a member of that family, but she is the head of it. The idea that any part of her social agenda involves the destruction of the family is insulting and stupid. She adopted a child, which means that a child who would not have had a home now has one. It means that a child who would not have rested safely in a mother’s arms now does so. These are real family values, not the poison spouted by these thoughtless, gossip-mongering abominations.

All over this nation there are gay and lesbian families working hard to make a life for themselves and their children. I know a few of them. They could have done it the easy way, stayed in the closet and decided not to endure the hassles of having children, but they didn’t. They wanted a family. They wanted a lover and companion to share their lives with, and they wanted children to love. And for this they get insulted by cretins….

The people who hate America are the members of American Family Association and its ideological fellow travelers. They’re the ones who do not believe that all people are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these rights are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. They’re the ones who believe that this country was founded on hate and fear; they’re the ones who want the hate and fear to continue.

“Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s out picketing a funeral of a gay veteran.”

“Will he be home in time for the flute recital?”

“Your father is very busy, dear.”

I mean, render unto me a break. If your family feels so threatened by my family that you think you have to organize a boycott of a car company, then your family has problems my family can do nothing to solve.

In other news of religious evil, a man is on trial in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity. He faces the death penalty if he doesn’t reconsider.

Trial judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah told the BBC that Mr Rahman, 41, would be asked to reconsider his conversion, which he made while working for a Christian aid group in Pakistan. “We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him,” the judge told the BBC on Monday. But if he refused to reconvert, then his mental state would be considered first before he was dealt with under Sharia law, the judge added.

Let’s vote in South Dakota

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

Molly Ivins on the South Dakota anti-abortion law:

The state legislature of South Dakota, in all its wisdom and majesty, a legislature comprised of sons and daughters of the soil from Aberdeen to Zell, have usurped the right of the women of that state to decide whether or not to bear the child of an unwanted pregnancy. THEY will decide. Women will do what they decide.


The South Dakota Legislature has made it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion under any circumstances except to save the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape, incest or to preserve the health of the mother. Should this strike you as hard cheese, State Sen. Bill Napoli, R-Rapid City, explains how rape and incest could be exceptions under the “life” clause. Napoli believes most abortions are performed for “convenience,” but he told The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer about how he thinks a “real-life example” of the exception could be invoked:

“A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl, could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.”

Jack Mingo, by way of today’s Jon Carroll column, suggests a way we can help:

Cultural ornament Jack Mingo (who was helped in his scheming by Erin Barrett) describes the situation: “Fewer than 400,000 people (in South Dakota) voted in 2004. We can assume that not all of them are boneheads. After all, only about 60 percent — 232,545 — voted for GWB. 149,225 voted for Kerry. A recent senatorial race was lost by the Democrats by only about 500 votes. If we could convince a mere 90,000 of the Californians, New Yorkers and other Blue Staters who have long been grousing about overcrowding and high living costs to move there, we could make a huge impact on national politics.”


Using facts gathered from Minnesota Public Radio (Minnesota abuts South Dakota on the east and has some interest in the politics there), he outlines his fiendish plan. The quotes are from MPR; the ideas are from his brain:

1. You don’t have to move to South Dakota to register. You just have to vacation there long enough to have a temporary address at a campground, motel or RV park. “In Hanson County, population 3100, more than 800 RV’ers are registered. Most have never stayed in South Dakota for more than a few weeks.”

2. You don’t have to be in the state when the vote takes place. “In South Dakota about 70 percent of the RV’ers registered to vote have requested absentee ballots.”

3. It’s legal. The law was deliberately written to make “RV voters” possible. It’s a law apparently designed to help the Republicans, but we can make it blow up in their faces.

4. The tactic I’m suggesting is already being used on a smaller scale by the Republicans. In Minnehaha County, says County Auditor Sue Roust, “there’s a slight Democratic edge in registration. Whereas with the RV’ers, it’s Republicans 46 percent, Democrats 27 percent.”


It’d take some work, but think of this: If we were successful, girls in South Dakota would no longer be required to ruin their lives because of one bad decision they made when they were 16. That would be a thing.

Jon Carroll re the WOSD

Friday, January 27th, 2006

Jon Carroll speaks sensibly about the War on Some Drugs again.
He starts off with a riff on The Law of Unintended Consequences, and then quotes a story from the New York Times: “The drop in home-cooked methamphetamine has been met by a new flood of crystal methamphetamine coming largely from Mexico. Sometimes called ice, crystal methamphetamine is far purer, and therefore even more highly addictive, than powdered home-cooked methamphetamine….”
Jon writes:

…as a friend of mine (who ran screaming from the room when I asked if I could use his name) said: “Gee, here I thought making it impossible to get decongestant would get rid of the meth problem, just like making it impossible to get effective cough syrup eliminated opiate addiction.”

Drug laws are now so entirely governed by fear that no one stops to consider the reason for the laws. It seems that everyone now has a story about a dying relative who was denied pain medication because the care providers were afraid that the person would become addicted. The person is dying! Who cares if the patient goes to the grave with a tiny opium habit? It’s not as if you have to pee into a cup to get into heaven.

Later: “…it’s history and money that are determining our drug policy,” then adds, “…it’s not really a policy at all — it’s a set of superstitions. The Drug Enforcement Administration policy boards are run by witch doctors. Almost everyone in medicine and almost everyone in law enforcement would agree with what I’m saying, but the penalties for public dissent are swift and harsh.”
As always, I encourage you to read the whole column. And for that matter, I encourage you to read him every weekday in the SF Chronicle or on The Gate. He’s smart, incisive, funny, and soulful, and he loves cats.

Jon Carroll on domestic surveillance etc.

Friday, January 6th, 2006

In today’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle, regarding the revelations about the Bush administration spying on American citizens in blatant and unashamed violation fo the Constitution, Jon Carroll writes:

….what I can’t get is the Bush administration’s hysterical reaction to the revelations. A presidential spokesman named Trent Duffy said, “The fact that al Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications.”
(Al Qaeda’s playbook? Does it sometimes seem to you that the government is being run by retired athletic directors?)
But seriously, can you envision a terrorist picking up the New York Times and saying, “My God, men, the government may have been listening in to our telephone calls. Quick, let’s find another way to communicate.” I think probably they’ve figured that part out by now. I think the idea that the New York Times somehow leaked super-duper secrets to the enemy is ludicrous.

all the sports-metaphor moralizing has nothing to do with national security — it has to do with changing the subject. It ignores the biggest problem of all — that the Bush administration is just not very good at its job. It has mucked up the Iraq war, and it has attempted to silence all the generals and diplomats who have said so. It has imperiled the lives of Iraqis and Americans alike. It did manage to create the Halliburton full- employment initiative, but that does not seem like a large achievement.
The Sept. 11 commission, it will be recalled, issued its final report late last year. In it, it said that the administration had taken none of the steps recommended in its previous report. Beyond making passenger airplane travel safer, the Department of Homeland Security has done nothing useful. Laws designed to improve security have turned into engines by which midsize cities in the districts of elderly congressmen can buy shiny new fire engines.

The administration lives in a sort of fantasy world where petroleum consumption has no long-term consequences…. And the hurricane season would not have been as severe were it not for the changes brought about by global warming. The administration still treats global warming as some sort of zany hypothesis, when it has long since been accepted as fact by anyone really paying attention. And, lest we forget, the No. 1 cause of global warming is emissions from petroleum-burning machines.

Read the column here.

Brother Yoo explains it for you

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

When my head starts to hurt from the arduous mental gymnastics required to make sense of the Bush Admninistration’s actions and explanations, I often turn to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll.
Today is one of those days. Jon has given us an imaginary interview with a real dangerous man.

Perhaps you have been unable to follow the intricacies of the logic used by John Yoo, the UC Berkeley law professor who has emerged as the president’s foremost apologist for all the stuff he has to apologize for. I have therefore prepared a brief, informal summary of the relevant arguments.

Why does the president have the power to unilaterally authorize wiretaps of American citizens?

Because he is the president.

Does the president always have that power?

No. Only when he is fighting the war on terror does he have that power.

When will the war on terror be over?

The fight against terror is eternal. Terror is not a nation; it is a tactic. As long as the president is fighting a tactic, he can use any means he deems appropriate.

Why does the president have that power?

It’s in the Constitution.

Where in the Constitution?

It can be inferred from the Constitution. When the president is protecting America, he may by definition make any inference from the Constitution that he chooses. He is keeping America safe.

But isn’t there a secret court, the FISA court, that has the power to authorize wiretapping warrants? Wasn’t that court set up for just such situations when national security is at stake?

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court might disagree with the president. It might thwart his plans. It is a danger to the democracy that we hold so dear. We must never let the courts stand in the way of America’s safety.

So there are no guarantees that the president will act in the best interests of the country?

The president was elected by the people. They chose him; therefore he represents the will of the people. The people would never act against their own interests; therefore, the president can never act against the best interests of the people. It’s a doctrine I like to call “the triumph of the will.”

But surely the Congress was also elected by the people, and therefore also represents the will of the people. Is that not true?

Congress? Please.

Can the president authorize torture?

No. The president can only authorize appropriate means.

Could those appropriate means include torture?

It’s not torture if the president says it’s not torture. It’s merely appropriate. Remember, America is under constant attack from terrorism. The president must use any means necessary to protect America.

Won’t the American people object?

Not if they’re scared enough.

So this policy will be in place right up until the next election?

Election? Let’s just say that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. It may not be wise to have an election in a time of national peril.

The death penalty: I’m against it

Monday, December 12th, 2005

Here in California, we are plunging toward another rendezvous with destiny: Stanley “Tookie” Williams is scheduled to be executed tonight. The newspapers have been filled with bloodthirsty op-eds demanding closure on behalf of the victims’ families, and on the other side of the question we’re seeing stories of redemption: the founder of LA’s Crips gang has remade his life and become a powerful and effective advocate of choosing not to live the gangsta life.
My position on the death penalty is simple: I want the power of the state to be strictly circumscribed, and the right to take a life falls outside what I think should be permitted.
As he so often does, my friend and neighbor Jon Carroll makes my case eloquently in today’s column:

I think subjective judgments about character are not really relevant in death penalty cases. To believe that they are relevant is to believe that uncharismatic, untalented, surly and/or mentally retarded death row prisoners are not worth saving, while a really cool guy is. Are we saying that it’s OK to kill sneaky little weasel-faced people and not OK to kill handsome, intelligent, well-muscled people? It’s fine to construct a hierarchy of character if one is, say, choosing a mate or a president. It certainly may be more convenient for advocates if they choose a guy who can speak well for himself and has done many useful things. But that’s not the point.

The death penalty is wrong because the state (which is to say: us) should not be involved in killing people, particularly in cold blood. To kill people because they killed people — it doesn’t make any actual sense. A society should be slightly more civilized than its sociopaths. Revenge is an understandable emotion. Greed is an understandable emotion too, but stealing is still not legal. The death penalty does not deter and it does not cure.

I do believe people can change and souls can be redeemed here on Earth. But I don’t know enough about Tookie Williams to know if that’s what is happening here.
All I need to know is, the state should not be in the business of killing people. Period.
There is also the plain fact that courts and juries have sent innocent people to the Chair many times, and that matters, tool. Mark Fiore makes this point in his animated op-ed, Pokie the Punisher.
Update: Schwa denies clemency with the blandest of statements.

“After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency.”

Update: Another Schwa quote:

“Is Williams’ redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?” Schwarzenegger wrote less than 12 hours before the execution. “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption.”

How does a guy who maintained his innocence from the start plead for clemency from a system that demands a confession?
In the WELL, where I hang out with a lot of smart people in a variety of professions, we have a criminal defense lawyer raging bitterly about the use of “jailhouse snitches” in trials:

I fucking HATE jailhouse snitch convictions. Jailhouse informants should not even be allowed to testify unless the judge informs the jury both before and after the testimony, and again at the end of the trial, that those asshole rats have “a motive to lie,” as some requested defense jury instructions say. They only do that regularly in Canada. But in federal court you can sometimes get a milder instruction — BUT ONLY IF YOU ASK FOR IT. Having read many, many trial transcripts over the past 20 years or so, it seems to me that too many so-called defense lawyers are too ignorant or
too chickenshit to at least ask for such an instruction.

On that basis alone, the death penalty should be eliminated. Too many people with too much to gain from pressing ahead despite doubts, coercion, and exculpatory evidence.
Again, I don’t know the details of the Williams case so I can’t decide whether or not he deserves to die. But I know I don’t want the state deciding that. Put him away for life if that’s what the jury decides, but that should be the limit of what is done in our name.
As my friend Emily said, “the state should not have the power to kill people until/unless we have a perfect justice system.”

Greil Marcus-Jon Carroll interview (1997)

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

When Greil Marcus’ book Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes (later reissued as The Old, Weird America) came out in 1997, I invited the author to appear on Dead to the World to talk and play records. Our mutual friend, San Francisco columnist Jon Carroll, got his advance copy and emailed me just to say he thought the book was wonderful. The light bulb went off over my head and I asked Jon if he would like to interview Greil for DTTW. Both men liked the idea, and the resulting conversation – recorded on May 3, 1997 in my living room and broadcast on KPFA on May 7 – was magnificent. The musical examples are terrific, too.
Prompted by a conversation in the WELL, I ripped the interview and posted it. You can download the 22 segments (totaling an hour and 56 minutes) here.
(If someone can teach me how to set it up so the files will stream in order, please email me and I’ll make it so.)

Grandchildren: more powerful than wives

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

Jon Carroll has written about his granddaughter quite wonderfully over the years. He recently abandoned the “WPMG” ( World’s Most Perfect Grandchild) sobriquet and gave her the pseudonym “Alice.”
Last month he wrote about taking her to the do-it-yourself coin-op car wash.
Today, they’re back at the Car Wash:

Now, here’s the confession I must make — before I started spending afternoons with Alice [the artist formerly known as World’s Most Perfect Grandchild], I was not so big on washing my car. I know my lack of care detracted from the resale value of my automobiles, in addition to embarrassing my wife and friends, but I just … you should see my office. I just don’t have the love of neat that is frequently touted as a necessary character trait. I started cleaning the inside of the car only after Alice started giving me grief about it.
Grandchildren: more powerful than wives. No one mentions that, but it’s true.

Read the whole column.

What a marriage needs

Saturday, October 1st, 2005

This is another excerpt from Jon Carroll’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Sometimes Jon just nails something really important in a single sentence. Like this:

Maybe that’s what a marriage needs — both parties figuring they married up.

It’s from his column of December 17, 2004. Marriage is one of the subjects he does best. Here’s a longer excerpt:

I have been watching her covertly for 28 years now. I have been marveling at her presence in my life. I heard a good line in a bad movie: “I’m not in your class. I am so far from being in your class that, if your class were to explode, I would not hear it for three days.” That’s the way I feel; she’s out of my class, and yet here she is.
Maybe that’s what a marriage needs — both parties figuring they married up. There’s got to be a little shock and awe in any long-term relationship, lest it threaten to be routine. Of course, a lot of it is routine anyway, but not all. Just when it’s time to take out the garbage — a little shock, a little awe.

Wildcam: watering hole in Botswana

Monday, September 19th, 2005

In his column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Jon Carroll talks about National Geographic’s new Wildcam – “a live video feed from a remote watering hole in Botswana. You can watch elephants, wildebeest, giraffes, baboons and ostriches coming down to feed, interacting in interesting ways, hanging out.”
From the Wildcam site:

Embark on a quiet adventure and watch wildlife gather at Pete’s Pond. Baby baboons scurry in the dust. Wildebeests push and shove to make room at the watering hole. Warthogs wallow in the mud. Catch these moments and more in these video clips.

Jon goes on: “The best viewing hours are in the middle of the night [Pacific] time, but as it gets into the summer months down there, there should be more action from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., so you can wake up to a wildebeest.”
The whole column is worth reading. That’s true of pretty much every Jon Carroll column. He’s in the Chronicle Monday through Friday.
Update: More information about “Pete’s Pond”

“We think we can spot phonies…”

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

Another fine Jon Carroll column in today’s SF Chronicle:

…. We think that we can spot phonies, people who are playing against type for nefarious reasons. Usually we can’t, which is why con games are still popular; people always overestimate their ability to judge character. There are dozens of academic studies suggesting that people cannot tell a liar from a truth teller, even though they’re sure they can. The more accomplished the liar, the truer that is — you may be able to spot an 8-year-old boy stretching the truth, but good luck with a 40-year-old stockbroker. If he wants to fool you, he’ll fool you….

It occurs to me then to wonder how much of reality I have been missing. I often accept the shorthand; I often take people at their word. I find, looking back on my life with increasing discomfort, that too often I have been impressed by people who were seeking to impress, rather than people who were impressive. I have been dismissive of people who were awkward rather than stupid. The more I think about it, surrounded by a swirling mass of people who are all, no doubt, visionaries or villains of incredible complexity, the more uncomfortable I become….

Writers and critics…

Thursday, August 11th, 2005

Excellent column by Jon Carroll in the August 10 San Francisco Chronicle.

I still read criticism of books I will never read. I suspect lots of people do. Part of it is to get a gloss on the culture — ah, Bret Easton Ellis, looks like I won’t have to crack the latest novel either — but also to listen to the sound of thinking. It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing — opinion isn’t really the point of criticism, although that’s what everybody takes away from it — it’s about watching a thesis being developed, about watching an idea being defended.

I read reviews of books I’ll never read, too. The New Yorker‘s book reviews are long and thoughtful and informative. Jon again:

Writers have a reason for writing what they do and how they do. Good critics can unearth the reasons, or perhaps even find reasons the writer had not thought of. (An accomplished critic can always make a good book better; a good critic is part of the chain of meaning).

One of the many things I learned from the late Jerry Garcia was that being interviewed is an opportunity to learn something about yourself. There are things you know and do but you don’t really think about them until you have to put them into words for someone else.
One of my complaints as a musician trying to become more visible in the world is that it’s hard to find writers and journalists who will engage my work critically; I guess that will come as I become more well-known. It is always interesting and almost always illuminating to learn what someone else thinks I’m trying to say. Of course, sometimes it’s annoying, but what the fock.
My newest song, “Who Will Save Us from the Saved”, doesn’t need much interpretation. But there are other songs in my canon that don’t yield up all their meaning on the first listen, nor the first ten.