I have read Joe Hoover’s “A Figure in Black and Gray” [March 2010] at least two dozen times, and still I haven’t tapped out its beauty and meaning. Having left Catholicism a long time ago, I am rarely drawn to writings about my former faith. Though I’m now a Unitarian, it heartens me to know of such depth within a Catholic on the way to priesthood, and I can only imagine the good he will produce. I am awed by Hoover’s awareness and authenticity. He calls me to a wider consciousness. I hope he continues writing, and that The Sun will publish him again.
“You Always Call on a Sunday,” by Jackie Shannon Hollis [March 2010], is exactly why I love this magazine. There is no hidden meaning in her story at all, just the truth as it should be written: graphic, heartbreaking, and real. That essay was straight from the heart, and I understood every last bit of it.
D. Patrick Miller’s great interview with Tim Farrington on creativity, depression, and the dark night of the soul [“Till Morning Comes,” March 2010] reminded me of my annual, angst-ridden decision to renew my Sun subscription. Like some readers, at times I’m overwhelmed by the pain, negativity, and suffering of the writers. Then — often in the same piece, by the same writer — I’m ambushed by hope, change, empathy, and compassion. And of course I always read Sy Safransky’s Notebook hoping to find that Norma has finally slapped him upside the head and awakened him from his male, middle-aged slumber.
Sign me up for another year.
I loved Richard Lange’s short story “The 100-to-1 Club” [March 2010]. As one who spent half his life on the wrong side of the law, I can attest that the knock-around voice is pitch perfect. Kudos to The Sun for publishing it and to Lange for writing it.
Anna Blackshaw’s interview with economist Dean Baker [“Busted,” February 2010] offered a typically leftist perspective that greedy lenders, market deregulation, and hapless consumers were to blame for the housing bubble and subsequent economic crisis.
I’d like to know which former regulations Baker thinks should still be in play. Is it the prohibition that prevented banks from operating across state lines, which was repealed in 1994? Nationwide banks have been a huge boon to consumers and are far better able to balance risks, which has helped keep the situation from spinning even more out of control. Maybe Baker is referring to the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act that prevented banks from engaging in securities business? President Bill Clinton, who signed the repeal into law, recently said, “I don’t see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis.” Or was it credit-default swaps, deregulated in 2000? Many policymakers, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin among them, argued that regulating them would have done more harm than good.
What’s most astounding is Baker’s failure to mention Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, arguably the biggest contributing factors to the meltdown. These two government-sponsored entities were riddled with accounting and corruption scandals and were gobbling up subprime mortgages at an alarming rate, bringing bonuses to their executives and huge risks to the taxpayers, who were backing those loans. Adding to this was the Community Reinvestment Act, which strong-armed banks into making loans to anyone regardless of credit history, all in the name of social justice. Attempts to address this were rebuffed by Democrats in Congress, our current president included, with Representative Barney Frank saying, “I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.”
This blatant social engineering completely distorted the housing market. Yet our lawmakers have decided to extend even further the amount of debt Fannie and Freddie are allowed to incur, while calling for still more low-income housing loans. We are doomed to repeat the past.
Dean Baker responds:
I didn’t actually blame the housing bubble on deregulation, although I believe that what allowed the bubble to grow to such dangerous levels was the unbelievably inept economic management of the Fed and the Bush administration.
I don’t object to interstate banking, although I do have problems with the “too-big-to-fail” banks that were created. Repealing Glass-Steagall was not responsible for the crisis, but taxpayers are now guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars in risky trades by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as a result of this repeal. And the proliferation of unregulated credit-default swaps worth hundreds of trillions of dollars in face value absolutely was a problem and cost taxpayers dearly with the collapse of AIG. I am not sure why anyone is supposed to be impressed that Clinton and Rubin, the engineers of these acts of deregulation, still support them.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did behave badly in the bubble years (they bought mortgages of homes purchased at inflated prices), but the private banks were the real culprits. Fannie and Freddie did not securitize the subprime junk that later collapsed in value. This was done by Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and the highly paid Wall Street crew. Fannie and Freddie subsequently bought into this sector, not because of the Democrats in Congress (who were in the minority at the time) but because they were losing market share at a frightening pace.
The real story here is pretty clear. The Wall Street brokers were stuffing their pockets until the music stopped and everything collapsed. Trying to blame poor people and those who wanted to help them doesn’t pass the laugh test.
My initial reaction to William James’s “What Makes a Life Significant” [Dog-Eared Page, February 2010] was scorn. After breathlessly describing how high, and yet strangely unsatisfied, he felt during his week at Chautauqua, James is awakened to the value of “the common life of common men” by watching one labor. (Aren’t they wonderful, the way they sweat like that?) Did James think those workers were “unexpectant of decoration or recognition” out of altruism? In recognizing workers only in heroic or romantic terms, he fails to see the true reality of their bleak existence.
But at least he saw them! At least he dared to look. That gave me the feeling that he would evolve further. So I read more about him, and he did.
The William James excerpt deals well with the difference between the utopian and the real. The piece called to mind my Irish grandfather, who was an iron worker and helped to build the early skyscrapers in Chicago. When he died on the job, my grandmother went to work in a garment factory, and my mother dropped out of school at fourteen to work in a candy factory to support the family. Mom was an avid reader by that time, and she educated herself at the public library. They were determined to build a better life for themselves and for us.
When I was working on my dissertation and tempted to quit, I tapped into their courage and fire. To borrow Robert Pirsig’s word from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, they had “gumption.” They kept doing the hard work. They got me through.
Megan Kruse’s essay “Constellations” [January 2010] beautifully describes some of the pain and challenges of helping those who have difficulty breaking out of destructive patterns and relationships.
Though Kruse was careful to point out that she was not a professional, at one point she implies that she was a social worker: “I feel burnt out . . . the social worker’s curse.” This is a common and unfortunate misconception. A more appropriate title for Kruse’s position is “caseworker.” “Social worker” is a professional title in the same way that “physician” and “lawyer” are. Social workers must have at least a bachelor’s degree; most have master’s degrees, and many have postgraduate clinical training and professional licensure. And while no amount of education can completely protect one from occasional feelings of “burnout,” social-work training does directly address the problem Kruse came up against: how to help others while keeping boundaries that are necessary and beneficial both to client and social worker.
Megan Kruse responds:
Dalal Musa’s letter points to a bigger issue that I only begin to touch on in the essay. It’s true that if I had been trained as a social worker, I may not have experienced burnout so quickly or at all, but the fact of the matter is that many people in the field of domestic-violence intervention don’t have that training. Human services across the board are undervalued and underpaid; domestic violence is an extreme example of this, despite the pervasiveness of the problem and the fact that services save lives. I suspect this is because it is considered a “women’s issue.”
I was disturbed by so much violence against women in the January issue. Both Megan Kruse’s essay “Constellations” and Tatjana Soli’s short story “The Sweet and the Salt” had central themes of violence — particularly sexual violence — against women, and the Readers Write on “Narrow Escapes” was full of near rapes. I appreciated each of the stories individually, but having them all together like that was too much. I felt beaten down after reading the issue, and I suspected that you were not caring for your readers, particularly your female readers.
I am not one of those people who thinks The Sun is too dark and sad — I love how the authors’ experiences break me open. But the violence against women in this issue left me feeling scared and closed.
I love The Sun, especially Readers Write. The only problem is that it ends too soon. So I’ve developed a practice: After reading each piece, I sit back, close my eyes, and let the images and feelings wash over me. Often some tears fall. I’m grateful for the authors’ honesty and look at their names and say a silent thank-you before I move on to the next brief window into the life of another person.