Interview: Denver

Denver is one of my oldest friends. Autodidact, inveterate populist and rebel, Denver grew up (like me) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has since lived in Dallas, Washington, D.C., Madrid and, most recently, Manila. This fall, he’ll take a break from his globetrotting to pay his journalistic dues at the Tulsa World. He runs the political blog Deebsneebs.

1. Are you proud to be an American?

No, but I can’t say I’m particularly ashamed, either. I don’t think of myself as an American first, as it were, but as a person who possesses the character traits and set of experiences that I do. A nation is an imagined entity without discernible borders (socially and, quite often, geographically), and I don’t put much stock in the idea, except as a tool for political organization. There’s a lot about America that I admire, a lot that I appreciate, enjoy, and so on, and, of course, a great deal about the place that I’m not particularly fond of, a great many positions, rules and actions, politically and culturally, with which I disagree very strongly. But I’m not an American in any precise sort of way. I’m not sure anyone can decide on where ‘America’ ends and begins culturally, or even geographically and politically.

I’m certainly American, but only in a vague sense, and as such I don’t tend to think in terms of shame or pride with respect to that designation. All that being said, I’m definitely an American in some political sense, and my home, family, and friends are in America. If the proverbial shit hit the fan, I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.

2. You just spent the better part of a year living in the Philippines. Where were you and what exactly is going on over there? Would you go back?

I was living in Manila (Quezon City, to be exact), doing a number of things which mostly amounted to freelance journalism and a long term study of the activity of small political parties in the House of Representatives.

The Philippines is as complicated a place as any, which is to say that it is very complicated, but especially so in the case of the PI, I think. Their post-colonial renegotiation of self, as one of the longest held Spanish colonies in the world (it went down with the last Latin American holdouts, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and was survived only by the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, in Northwest Africa, which are now occupied by Morocco), and as an American colony until after the Second World War (and arguably until the early 1990s), is very complicated. Because many Filipinos speak at least a little English, and because they tend to love shopping malls and mass-produced baubles, the Philippines has an awkward, and one-sided, cultural proximity to the United States.

For example, on Desperate Housewives last year, a character made a semi-direct disparaging comment about Philippine medical schools, which resulted in national uproar in the Philippines, with the Senate issuing a resolution and the President holding a press conference demanding an apology.I don’t think either the writers of Desperate Housewives or their audience would be entirely confident identifying which hemisphere the Philippines is in. With 117 mutually unintelligible languages, resentment or apathy in many provinces toward the far away central government in Manila, and a people who, if one paints with inappropriately broad brush strokes, might be abridged into a favorite Filipino aphorism, ‘Bahala na,’ which translates roughly to ‘Fuck it, dude, let’s go bowling,’ the Philippine archipelago has no sense of itself. It is the epitome of a post-colonial society trying and failing to figure out what it is.

And yes, the Philippines is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, full of kind and gentle people, a few of whom remain good friends, and I would love to go back.

3. Which would you rather study and why: ancient Greek or modern Greek?

I value languages for utilitarian reasons. I like the idea of getting the most bang for my buck, as the feller says, when studying a language, and for that reason I’m not particularly interested in either ancient or modern Greek, when Chinese, Russian, Farsi (Persian women trump the numbers issue here), French, Portuguese, and a zillion others have yet to grace my palate. If I had to choose between the two, though, I’d take my classes in the Classics department. Ancient Greek comprises such an important part of many modern languages, including my own native tongue, the Celtic-Franco-Germanic pidgin we call English, that learning it would be helpful in better understanding many of the languages in common circulation today. Also, reading The Odyssey, an odyssey upon which I am just now embarking, in the original Greek, would, I suspect, be a supremely edifying experience.

4. Respond to this passage on law from Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club: ‘A rule may be written down, it may express the will of the sovereign, it may be justified by logic or approved by custom; but if courts will not enforce it, it is not the law, and lawyers who bet their cases on it will lose.’ (p. 343)

I once had a fierce argument with my dad on this very issue, which frightened a waitress at Tulsa’s fabled Hideaway Pizza (old location) and marked an important milestone on my road to adolescent independence. I insisted that the Constitution of the United States says what it says, and means what it means, and if the Supreme Court gets it wrong then they are wrong and that is that. My father, an attorney and political consultant, argued that the Constitution says what the Supreme Court says it says. I would have none of it at the time, but I’ve come to realize just how right my father was.

That passage hints at the invisible foundation of Western Civilization. We may be nations of laws, but we are nations of laws because we agree to be, in one sense or another. And in those cases where the law is out of step with the Zeitgeist, or where the political will to enforce a law is not present for any reason, then for all practical purposes the law does not exist – and for what else does a law exist, if not for practical purposes?

In the state of Oklahoma it is illegal to gather in a barn after sunset, drink moonshine, place two terrified roosters with razorblades attached to their legs in a ring together and place bets on which will kill the other one first. On the other hand, in Hughes County, no elected official will get reëlected if he (or, rarely, she) takes a stand on behalf of the roosters, and sees to it that they be slaughtered at a Tyson’s chicken farm like a good chicken should, rather than die in glorious combat amid careening, hollering drunks. Sure, the ban on cockfighting may be a law in Hughes County, but it certainly ain’t the law.

5. Which would be worse and why: if, tomorrow, Africa (pop. 922 million) sunk into the ocean, or South America (pop. 375 million)?

Note to the reader: this is a variation on an old favorite game of Krapp’s, wherein the players sit around and ask each other who each would rather die, between two people close to him (mom vs. dad, brother vs. sister, friend vs. other friend). [‘Who Would You Rather Die?’ –K.] Yea, I know: twisted. Just a little personal info on our favorite Krapper in the blogosphere.

I’ll have to respond with some detached philosophizing. From a utilitarian perspective, of course, it would be worse if Africa sunk into the ocean, because more people would lose their lives, and by drowning at that, even considering the fact that a notable number of those people were dying anyway. However, by the same logic it would be ‘worse’ if SM Megamall, one of the world’s largest monuments to depraved consumerism, sunk into the ocean than if my house did, which doesn’t sit well with me. I am a communitarian but an ardent individualist, and I have to call the question itself into question. Worse for who? Worse for the Africans, of course if Africa goes, but the same would go for South America if the pontoons holding up that rock suddenly lost air.

In the final calculus, it would probably be worse if Africa sunk into the ocean, because more of it is landlocked, unfamiliar with the sea, and Africans haven’t had the same luck swimming north as have South Americans.

I am not a bad person.

6. What’s the most rowdy Supreme Court decision?

Tinker v. Des Moines. The court ruled that a high school was violating the first amendment rights of a student by forbidding her from wearing a black arm band expressing opposition to the Vietnam War. [Fist in the air]. As a high school rabble-rouser myself, I’ve always felt a connection to that decision.

Seriously though, Baker v Carr. The court ruled that the state of Tennessee had to follow federal requirements that it reapportion legislative districts every ten years based on the census. Prior to this decision the court refused to enter into such political questions, preferring to leave such issues to legislatures and other political bodies. Baker v. Carr was a landmark decision, paving the way for the constitution to guide political change in way that it never had before – that is, for the rights of the minority, for whom a constitution exists at all, really (and what a ‘minority’ is in this sense changes with each circumstance, of course), to be protected in political questions from majoritarian tyranny.

It also resulted in long overdue redistricting across the country, where decades-old trends toward urbanization were not reflected in legislative apportionment, such that the votes of citizens in rural counties, where voters tend to be more conservative, or reactionary, were, essentially, more powerful than the votes of urbanites, where people encounter diversity, and understand the sensitive place that the firearm has in urban society, for example. I place a lot of the blame for the United States conservative trend on federal questions on the fact that our Senate works in this way – the votes of citizens of rural states are valued more than the votes of citizens of highly populated states (Pop. of Idaho: 1.5 million = 2 Senators, Pop. of California: 36.5 million = 2 Senators). Changing this in the House was an important step toward a government that reflects the true will of the people, and one that paved the way for further democratization in the United States in the future.

7. I know that you’re a big Sam Cooke fan. What are your top three favorite tracks?

Oh damn. Ok, best effort.

A Change is Gonna Come
Fool’s Paradise
Tenderness

Also, all of the other ones.

8. You used to perform on stage and still occasionally appear in student films. What makes a good actor?

Honesty, I suppose. I find that I react most favorably to acting when I feel like the actor is being frank with me. Honesty may seem out of place, since what we’re talking about here, drama or pageantry, is sort of a socially accepted and glorified lie, but I am most comfortable, most drawn into the verisimilitude, when an actor strikes me as comfortable with the medium, fully accepting that this is not the recreation of reality, but a reflection of reality, or of something else, or whatever.

That isn’t to say that a good actor doesn’t ‘pretend’ to ‘be’ a character. I just mean that a good actor, for me, is one who plays a role without the airs of a showman. He just plays the role as he sees fit, and leaves it up to me to believe it or not. And, ultimately, I won’t believe it, of course, but if I become comfortable enough for that sort of hypnosis familiar to us all to set in, then I might believe it in some sense for a little while. Frankness, or honesty, on the part of an actor, puts me at ease in this way.

9. Is it possible to be in love with one person and sleep with another?

Of course, if everyone present has the necessary functioning equipment.

Is it possible to be in love with one person and sleep with another and still be in harmonious love with said one person? This is different question, friend Krapp. I tend to say no. Despite all the sexual liberation hoopla of the last century, we still have tens of thousands of years of human evolution to contend with. The one man-one woman thing is pretty rare in human society, but fidelity has always been involved in some way. Marriage, however it is defined, was not the brainchild of some patriarch sitting in a vacuum, conceiving of ways to keep women barefoot and pregnant.

The world is a complicated place, and we depend on agreements of varying kinds in order to navigate it, including agreements between people in which they express to one another that they find each other agreeable, they rather enjoy the sexual attention of the other, and they are willing to surrender some of their freedom for the assurance that the other person is on their team rather than someone else’s. The fact that expressions of union are often public, be they marriage ceremonies or Facebook announcements, is evidence of this. We are picking teams. Ultimately we’re all wandering around the in the dark, trying to figure out what these other creatures are really about, and to the extent that we can reach out and communicate with someone else that we’ll scratch their funny parts if they scratch ours, that we understand the need in life to take sides occasionally, and that we’re on their team, that they can count on us to be there, with varying degrees of assurance depending on degree of commitment – well, that makes life a little more bearable. We do it for a reason, and violating that bond is looked down upon… for a reason.

10. Besides the fact that he’s a Republican, why shouldn’t I vote for John McCain in November?

He’s so old. If it weren’t actually happening, it would make a good Onion article about how Americans are living longer, leaving a higher population of senile war mongers.

And, of course, there’s the reason that you have an excellent candidate to vote for on the other side – someone who, at the very least looks dramatically different from any president before, which counts for a great deal more than I think most people are willing to admit. The white devil I know has done a pretty piss-poor job over the last 50 or so years (200 years?), and I think I’d rather take the devil I don’t know, who in this particular instance doesn’t seem to be a devil at all.

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~ by ohkrapp on July 25, 2008.

5 Responses to “Interview: Denver”

  1. What about Black Kettle!?

  2. yea i had to leave a lot out: car crash, smoke hole, eagle scouts, train jumping. i think there’s going to have to be a second installment and i’m sure the vox populi will concur.

    i’m saving black kettle questions for YOUR interview, jj.. actually, e-mail me the mp3s now if you have them.

  3. Black Kettle needs its own write up, come on…

  4. true, i don’t think i can really speak for the kettle. I was just the bassist.

  5. re: question no. 8

    James Cagney’s approach to acting:

    ‘Walk into the room, look the other guy in the eye, and tell the truth.’

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