What we are reading — or what is reading us

Paragraphs, images, articles and links that pinged our radar and got us thinking. NOTE: After the December 2021 issue, WestVirginiaVille will be on hiatus until March 1, 2022.

Be Aware of this Cartoonist

SOURCE: Cartoon by Dan Piraro from his blog

If you only read the first paragraph of this column, I am putting this cartoon first so you’ll encounter it before you leave: “BE AWARE OF DOG: I’m not dangerous. I just appreciate the occasional nod of acknowledgment.” This sounds like a mission statement for many of us dogs barking away on the Interbahn. I check in frequently with Dan Piraro’s cartoons (website here; Facebook there.) He has a cracked way of conjuring alternate realities that recalls the breakout years of “Saturday Night Live” or the dense, pay-attention-or-you miss it double-take wordplay of Ted Lasso, the Golden Age comedy of Robin Williams (may he reside in peace).

No Axe-grinding Zone

The Paris Review, Winter 2021

I grew up reading the George Plimpton-era of The Paris Review. Which, if you read the legendary literary magazine and are of a certain age, did, too, since its founding editor hung around awhile (1953-2003). I just got the Winter 2021 issue in the mail and its physical expression has been tweaked: softer, more tactile paper and a size that fits more easily in a coat pocket or hand, as editor Emily Stokes notes. She goes on to cite author William Styron’s manifesto for the Review: The new quarterly should emphasize work not by critics but by “the good poets and the good writers, the non-drumbeaters and the non-axe-grinders.” Now, that is a good mission statement for us word-slinging editors cruising the Interbahn.

Worth the Paper

BLACK BY GOD: The West Virginian publisher Crystal Good, distributing the goods.

Speaking of paper, in addition to all the other reasons to respect the burgeoning expression of “BLACK BY GOD: The West Virginian,” founder Crystal Good has pulled off a feat in this era of the shrinking, stuttering, and shuttering of old-line newspapers. “BLACK BY GOD” began life digitally, but now also occasionally spins off paper-pulp issues (with a recent press run of 5,000 copies). You remember paper, right? After her Pulitzer Prize-winning success with The Color Purple, Alice Walker had this to say of what we should be publishing: “It has to be worth the trees.” Issue-by-issue, article-by-article, from photos to cartoons, “BLACK BY GOD,” pieces together a puzzle that portrays Black existence in West Virginia and Appalachia unseen in most mainstream media. Their work harkens back to the various heydays of a thriving, if intermittent, Black press in America. [Related article here.]

If the Creek Don’t Rise

New York Times, Oct. 17, 2021

If you live in West Virginia — or wish to fathom how the climate crisis is no longer coming, but is here — this Oct. 17, 2021 New York Times story is essential. The headline and subheading say a lot: “As Manchin Blocks Climate Plan, His State Can’t Hold Back Floods: As the senator thwarts Democrats’ major push to reduce warming, new data shows West Virginia is more exposed to worsening floods than anywhere else in the country.” Rather cheekily, the writers go on to visit Manchin family haunts in Farmington WV. They buttonhole relatives who themselves have been directly affected by the rising tide of rising water in West Virginia from our feverish climate. Say, Joe? “Hey Joe …”

Joe-mentum No. 1

Illustration by Jeremy Enecio from Nov. 7, 2020 Politico article

It is hard not be alarmed by media coverage of the Biden Administration (which to my eyes is playing reasonably well the difficult, Senate-jamming Sinemanchin hand it has been dealt). Yet as WaPo columnist Dana Milbank writes: “The media treats Biden as badly as — or worse than — Trump. Here’s proof. Meanwhile, Slate’s Lili Loufbourow ponders a kindred question: Why Isn’t Anyone Listening to Joe? I wonder about the lack of perspective on the billions — $6 billion in West Virginia, to be exact — soon to pour into needy states like ours from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Biden birthed. Was anyone, anywhere, anyhow in these past four years of TFG hellspace going to cut the Mountain State a check for $6,000,000,000?

Joe-mentum No. 2

Preston County WV highway, 2021. | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

That’s why it struck me as off that Mountain State Spotlight, one of West Virginia’s premiere new media upstarts, wrote its very first story about those billions with this focus: “Biden’s infrastructure bill will send a ton of money to WV for roads and bridges. But it’s not nearly enough.” I get that the Spotlight (whose work I esteem such as this WV vaccine law story in this issue and whose talented founders are former colleagues) wish to ‘advance’ the story by not just listing the billion-dollar goodies. Yet it’s also true that to a hammer, everything is a nail. Meaning, to an investigative outlet: Where’s the bad news beef? The story takes 25 paragraphs to get to these lines: “The infrastructure bill will certainly help …” The state is blessed to have the Spotlight on the beat (especially as the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s newly-turned Republican owner may cause the graves of Ned Chilton and Don Marsh to keep snow from collecting this winter with the heat generated by their spinning). The question I pose to to The Spotlight and other wakeful WV media is this: Where and how are 6,000,000,000 dollars landing in the Mountain State? And whose lives are those dollars changing?

What Is the Story?

Flight or Fight

It is certainly true the Republican Party — or the Trumpublican party, since the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower has left the stadium — is brilliant at one thing only: message discipline. Unlike, say, Debbie-downer Democrats and Progressives. I direct you to one of my go-to politico-commentators, Kevin Drum, who recently posed a pertinent question: “Why are Democrats so downbeat these days?” He’s not talking about happy-talk, Pollyanna blather, but the strategy of messaging and mood. The whole thing is worth 5 minutes of your life, if only because a media tsunami that inaccurately portrays a failing Biden Admin could become a self-fulfilling prophecy of perception — cheered on by the potent FOX-powered fog-of-disinformation machine. And if Trumpublicans — and their yet more odious street-fighting, say-anything Trumpthuglican variants — gain a wing of Congress in 2022, paralyzing it more than they already have, the American Republic may be permanently grounded.

Winter Is Coming. And Fire …

Kevin Drum writes: “Democrats act as if they’re the establishment while Republicans act as if they’re the revolutionaries. It’s hard for establishments to be happy. They can be satisfied, perhaps, if things are quiet, but that’s about it. When they feel like they’re slowly losing ground, they practically exude pessimism.” I thought of those lines when I encountered a Facebook comment this week by an old-school, esteemed former media titan with West Virginia connections. He writes: I never had kids, purposely, for concern that they would be left in a world of agony and doom — our world — the one we created — the one that is about to perish — that is the world that today’s kids are inheriting as it burns up and burns them to a horrible death in its undoing. Um … okay, says I, reading this, reflecting on my 30-something and 20-something offspring writhing in a lake of hellfire. I weakly typed back: I will leave you to your agony and doom forecasting …

Tears of the Wise

Rome, the Eternal City. Photo by Mauro Grazzi on Unsplash

My buddy, Advocatus Peregrini (represented in this issue with some left-handed parenting advice), typed a better answer in the comment below mine:

‘”Well, every generation since 1945 has had the means of their termination -— their own Armageddon — but so far the few sensible heads that remain have prevailed. The simultaneous collapse of our climate and our society under the pressure of greed and the demand for constant, ever-accelerating growth may yet do us in. What we are thinking now must be similar to those who stood in the debased and deserted forum after Alaric sacked Rome. There will be horrors, and the tears of the wise will mingle the blood of fools. The innocent will suffer things that we will refuse to remember, and no one will escape without paying the price of some great crime. But humanity has managed to paint itself into a corner before, and has paid the consequences in blood. The cleverest, most vicious, and most loving ape has always found a way. And always will. Until we don’t.

Dread and Not-dread

A different kind of fire. Tucker County WV dawn, October 2021 | WestVirginiaVille.com photo

As more of us awaken to fear of climate change sacking human and animal life, we must grapple with how to shift from “visions of horrible death,” which lead to resigned gloom, into states of mind that make it seem possible to do something. The recent WIRED article “How to Not Melt Down Over Our Warming Planet,” considers “how you can stay focused and active in the face of dread.” The story quotes my WV Climate Alliance colleague Cheyenne Carter, a vibrant, 24-year-old soul who’ll inherit whatever bad or good decisions we make right now. She is plain-spoken and unreserved in calling out Joe Manchin, even while joining the ‘Na Na Na Chorus’ in the climate action music video “Hey Joe,” to try to harmonically get through to the man. Says Cheyenne: “I’m hopeful seeing leaders who care come together, and I have a pit in my heart and stomach thinking that humanity probably doesn’t have much longer on this earth.” But, then, there she is — back in action. Still rambling the outback as she did growing up in the Randolph County, West Virginia hills. Still being healed by an imperiled Nature she is committed to serving the best that she and we climate-focused mates can. Still in the field. And in the fields.

The Role of Defiance

NASA photo of the Earth from above the Moon.

The WIRED article features a Q-and-A with Maria Ojala, a psychologist studying climate anxiety. “In facing a challenge on the scale of climate change,” she says, “we need to be active even though we don’t have total control.” Relationships, Ojala notes, “are so important for meaning and purpose, to be good to the environment, to help other groups of people, and have a higher purpose that is outside your own self. And being collectively engaged — active together — can be its own source of meaning, even when things are difficult. We don’t like these negative emotions, but even if it looks really dark, we cannot give up. Because hopelessness is, in a sense, the easy way out. We can be pessimistic, but we must still force ourselves to be hopeful so we can engage. We must have defiant hope.”

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One Comment

  • John W. Doyle

    Concerning the article “The role of defiance”: Welcome, activists. Some of us are in it because they have hope, some of us are in it because they don’t.

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