Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Eric Stone's story: " ME AND OBAMA'S MAMA"

Stanley Anne Dunham Suntoro

David Seaton's News Links
The Internet is nothing if not serendipitous. My wife, who is a painter and a graphic artist, was running a search in Google images, using the string, "kitsch". An amusing photograph of a little statue of Chairman Mao accompanied by the "see no, hear no, speak no" monkeys turned up and she followed the link, which led her to the blog of a writer, Eric Stone.

"Hey, take a look", cried my better half, "you'll be interested in this, here is somebody who says he knew Obama's mother". She was right, I was interested.

The personage, the myth of Barack Obama has been so carefully stroked, stoked and crafted, that to bump into anything spontaneous, unrehearsed and untainted by manipulation anywhere around it is a real find. Like a collector of rare beetles or old 78s, I was galvanized.

Here are some quotes, if you want it uncut, you can read it here.
(snip) I met Ann Sutoro when I was working for Asian Business magazine and interviewing people for a cover story on what the private sector can do to help alleviate poverty. She was an economic anthropologist working for Bank Rakyat Indonesia, the rural development bank of the country. She was in charge of the bank's microfinance program.(snip) I liked her, a lot, the moment I met her. We became friendly and for several years, whenever I was in Jakarta I'd give her a call. We'd have a drink, a meal, hang out talking in her beautiful house in Jakarta. She had a great, quirky, sense of humor, was kind and decent to a fault and was just plain whip smart, one of the sharpest people I've ever known. I envied her her job, admired her tremendously and always looked forward to seeing her.

She died of cancer in 1995 and it was a tremendous loss. I've thought of her often over the years. Whenever the subject of great things to do with one's life comes up, I always trot out the story of Ann Sutoro.(snip) Today, I was trying to think up a subject for this blog entry and (...) I thought I'd write about a few of the world's best jobs, so Ann immediately popped into my head. Just for the hell of it, I googled her, not really expecting to find much, if anything. What I found out is that she was Barack Obama's mother.

There's much that I like and admire about Obama. But, as with all politicians, there is also much about him that makes me suspicious and nervous. But I do know one thing for sure. He comes from a very good family. At least on his mother's side.
I know nothing at all about Eric Stone so I read further. The entry preceding the eulogy to Ann Suntoro was also a eulogy, one to the late Albert Hoffmann, the inventor/discoverer/synthesizer of LSD. Mr. Stone writes:
The first time I took LSD was in September 1966 (I was fourteen), about two weeks before it became illegal in California. I had traded a UCLA professor a bag of mediocre Mexican pot for a dosed sugar cube. Over the next three and a half or so years, I probably took acid between two and three hundred times. It was easy to lose track.(...) here's what LSD did for me.

It made me, mentally, stronger. I guess in the Nietzschean sense of "what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger." I don't fully believe that. Some of the things that don't kill you, can maim you. But still, in some of my most formative years I dealt with a lot of really strange and challenging stuff in a wide variety of circumstances. No matter how bizarre the world around me got, or at least the world as I was seeing it, I learned to cope with it.(...) It helped give me a great deal of tolerance for things that might otherwise strike me as weird, strange, abnormal. I hardly think of anything as abnormal or normal anymore. When something seems weird or strange, I find it more interesting than threatening. That helps my powers of observation.(...) Who knows if I killed off a bunch of brain cells or not? Maybe I could have been smarter or saner. I don't know and I don't care. I'm smart and sane enough as I've ever needed to be. Either that or deluded enough to think that I am. And so far at least, I've escaped the attention of the nice men in the white coats.
I am a dues paying member of my generation and anything smokable I smoked in those years, but so many people I knew at that time were so badly damaged by acid that I gave it a wide berth. I would say to any kid even today, especially today, "never swallow a chemical somebody hands you in discotheque." Acid still makes me nervous after all these years.

After reading Mr. Stone's lysergic panegyric, I began to think that the eulogy to Obama's mother was a plant by the Republican National Committee. Don't think the Roves of this world aren't already circling around in sky on all of this. Attacking the Obama myth has got to be their strategy, because there is hardly any record to attack.

I wonder why there is so much myth built around Obama's father, a minor Kenyan civil servant who had seduced a 17 year old girl and hardly stayed around longer than necessary to engender the candidate, somebody Obama hardly ever knew and why on the contrary there is so little interest among the Obamites in Obama's mother, who seems a truly remarkable woman, if a huge flake. Time magazine ran a gushing cover story about her and said:
Obama's mother was a dreamer. She made risky bets that paid off only some of the time, choices that her children had to live with. She fell in love—twice—with fellow students from distant countries she knew nothing about. Both marriages failed, and she leaned on her parents and friends to help raise her two children.

"She cried a lot," says her daughter Maya Soetoro-Ng, "if she saw animals being treated cruelly or children in the news or a sad movie—or if she felt like she wasn't being understood in a conversation." And yet she was fearless, says Soetoro-Ng. "She was very capable. She went out on the back of a motorcycle and did rigorous fieldwork. Her research was responsible and penetrating. She saw the heart of a problem, and she knew whom to hold accountable."(...) Born in 1942, just five years before Hillary Clinton, Obama's mother came into an America constrained by war, segregation and a distrust of difference. Her parents named her Stanley because her father had wanted a boy. She endured the expected teasing over this indignity, but dutifully lugged the name through high school, apologizing for it each time she introduced herself in a new town.(...)In the expat community of Asia in the 1980s, single mothers were rare, and Ann stood out. She was by then a rather large woman with frizzy black hair.

She and her daughter sometimes lived in garage apartments and spare rooms of friends. She collected treasures from her travels—exquisite things with stories she understood. Antique daggers with an odd number of curves, as required by Javanese tradition; unusual batiks; rice-paddy hat(...) Before her death, Ann read a draft of her son's memoir, which is almost entirely about his father. Some of her friends were surprised at the focus, but she didn't seem obviously bothered. "She never complained about it," says Peluso. "She just said it was something he had to work out." Neither Ann nor her son knew how little time they had left.
Being a huge flake shouldn't be such a problem, if every man and woman in the United States of America who had or has a flakey mother votes for Obama he'll be a shoo-in, he'd have my vote for sure, I would enter my late mother in a contest for flakey American women and give away weight and a head start. Mind you Barack Obama's mom had real cause.

Hell of thing, name a little girl "Stanley", hell of a thing. It's no joke to do something like that to a kid. I knew a girl once, a very intelligent, very pretty girl, raven hair, crazy-blue, Celtic eyes, whose father, a rich, brutal, lace curtain, black-Irish, son of a bitch, named her "Michael".... hell of a thing, hell of a thing. Like child abuse, maybe worse.

Obama tells his story very nicely, but I think he is leaving a lot out.

Is any of this important?

Everybody has got family. you can't choose them. I hear that McCain's father was not only a distinguished admiral, but also a nasty drunk. There must have been a lot of pressure on Johnny three sticks as a kid... so what. He's done so many things: good things, bad things, that the story he tells means very little, his story is just there... yez pays yer money and yez takes yer cherse.

Obama is his story, the story he tells, because he has never really done anything except tell his story and create his myth. The feeling I get is that Obama's mother was pretty flakey and that is his sore point, not dreams of absent Kenyans. Just another weird, unhappy American childhood. There always seems to be a nice little story to cover everything. It is his desire to push his mother's story to the background that is his weakness, not really the story itself. It is that weakness that will be explored in months to come. DS


Eric said...

Hi David. I assure you that my blog was no plant. I am not now, nor have I ever been a Republican. (Actually, I'm registered as an independent, but I tend to always vote for Democrats in elections, and will certainly do so in the coming election.)

My LSD blog entry was not meant to recommend that anyone drop acid. It was merely a statement of my own particular - and quite possibly particularly lucky - experiences with the drug. Perhaps I needed to make that clearer.

We read so much that simplifies the world, that I tend to enjoy stirring things up a little. I take great joy in the world's complexities, in writing about the other side of the usual story.

I think if you read through much of the rest of my blog you would quickly discover that there is little within it to bring any comfort to Karl Rove, GW, John McCain or anyone of their ilk.

I enjoy what I've read of your blog so far.


Eric Stone

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Sorry, nothing personal, you just gave a chance to riff, which I couldn't resist. I've got this idea that Obama is all smoke and mirrors and you gave me some keys to developing my theory. Obama's complex relation with his mother is the key to Obama, not any "dreams" of his father.

aimai said...

I find this obsession with "outing" Obama's relationship with his mother kind of strange--especially as a replique to some imagined sin Obama is supposed to have committed by writing a book focusing on his failed/imaginary relationship with his absent father. Uh, guys? Fathers and absent fathers are the very stuff of masculine autobiography. Get over it. It was no insult to his mother that he invested some time and some thought in exploring the more distant and problematic relationship with his father. It was *natural* in a patriarchal and racist society that ascribed to Obama a name, religion, nationality and race that were utterly different from that of the people he actually grew up with (his mother and her white family). Try reading a little autobiography or even biography and grasp just how central the absent father figure is to the self definition of males. But more to the point the whole focus of the book is on the father's absence--that's why its called dreams and not memories. Its a superb book and I'm only sorry that ascenscion to the presidency will prevent him from writing a companion volumn about his remarkable mother.

And, by the way, she wasn't a "flake" she was a fairly astonishing professional woman who lived a life of some extreme excitement and interest and who suffered for it financially. Pretty much all the great writers and artists of the same time, if they were male, did the exact same thing except without trying to support the children or earning a steady living working in the third world. We think nothing of admiring those men for their art, or their craft. What makes her unusual is that she did what she wanted and took care of the results--ie the children--instead of abandoning them.


David Seaton's Newslinks said...

If Obama gets elected he's really going to need a lot of people with your talent for spin. If he wins shag on down to Washington, you are sure to find work.

His mother was both a remarkable and valuable person and a flake. As a child, I think Obama was more embarrassed by her flakeyness then impressed by her remarkable value. Children are often embarrassed by eccentric parents and are not eager for their friends to meet them.

Anonymous said...

Hi David, I hear very powerfully your need to believe Obama's mother was a flake. I think that is somehow connected to your story. Not that there is much out there about her, but in all that there is that I've seen, there is nothing that suggests she is a "flake" whatever you might mean by that. I'm of her generation so I know what we meant by that term and she appears to be the opposite of a flake. No flake would marry men of different cultures, work powerfully and successfully in such different fields, particualrly as a woman, when women even in the US had difficulty getting professional jobs. As I said, quite the opposite of a flake.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

The dictionary defines "flake" as noun: a person with an unusual or odd personality

This is not a judgment of value. People with talent and energy can do fantastic things, even if, and perhaps because they are eccentric.

Was she eccentric? Here is this snippet from Time:
In the expat community of Asia in the 1980s, single mothers were rare, and Ann stood out. She was by then a rather large woman with frizzy black hair. She and her daughter sometimes lived in garage apartments and spare rooms of friends.

Anonymous said...


A very underhanded way of going after Obama through his mother. You are basically saying: "She was an incredible woman but you know she's a flake too. Since I haven't bothered to learn more about Barack Obama, I'll just say I don't know enough and bring up his flaky mother to cast some doubt on him as a person."

And to say "I think he was embarrassed" of her? Please supply some proof of your "belief", if not, you're projecting the way you would feel upon a man you don't 'know enough about'.

Everybody has been embarrassed by their parents on occasion. Many incredible people are related to incredible yet "flaky" people. Flaky after all is in the eye of the beholder.

Andy by the way, wasn't Bill Clinton's father an alcoholic that beat his mother? Was she a flake for staying with him? There are people who might believe so.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

The reason Staley Anne is important is that all the buzz about Obama is from the stories Obama tells about Obama not about the things that Obama has done publicly. Obama is, in fact, Obama's story. So if we get information that Obama has pre-chewed for us, we can check it against his story... The other candidates (all that have contested the primaries in both parties) have public CVs not stories, so what their mamas were like is not very relevant. In Obama's case there is so little information that doesn't proceed from Obama's story that it becomes useful and relevant when we find some.