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May 26, 2009

Yes, Virginia, Bill Ayers Did Ghostwrite Dreams From My Father

You probably read about this during the election. With Chris Matthews yukking it up over Sarah Palin's need of a collaborator for her own book, Jack Cashill unloads again, making a persuasive case that Bill Ayers wrote, or substantially wrote and rewrote, Obama's Dreams of My Father.

The case isn't quite proven, though there is strong evidence here. I hate being Johnny One Note, but this is yet another case of a story begging to be pursued by the MSM -- and an important one -- which they don't pursue because they fear they know where it will lead.

There are plenty of echoes in "Obama's" memoir of Ayers' own memoir (Fugitive Days), but I find the nautical stuff the most convincing.

Ayers lived a considerably more adventurous life than Obama, beginning with his youthful days as a merchant seaman in the North Atlantic. "I realized that no one else could ever know this singular experience," Ayers writes. Yet much of the nautical language that flows through Fugitive Days flows through Obama's earth-bound memoir.

Although there are only the briefest of literal sea experiences in Dreams, the following words appear in both Dreams and in Ayers' work: fog, mist, ships, seas, boats, oceans, calms, captains, charts, first mates, storms, streams, wind, waves, anchors, barges, horizons, ports, panoramas, moorings, tides, currents, and things howling, fluttering, knotted, ragged, tangled, and murky.

Cashill explained this at greater length in a previous article:

Given that advice, I dug deeper into both memoirs and established one metaphoric thread that ties the two books together in a way I believe is just shy of conclusive, a thread that leads back to Bill Ayers's stint, after dropping out of college, as a merchant seaman.

"I'd thought that when I signed on that I might write an American novel about a young man at sea," says Ayers in his memoir, Fugitive Days, "but I didn't have it in me."

The experience had a powerful impact on Ayers. Years later, he would recall a nightmare he had while crossing the Atlantic, "a vision of falling overboard in the middle of the ocean and swimming as fast as I could as the ship steamed off and disappeared over the horizon."

Although Ayers has tried to put his anxious ocean-going days behind him, the language of the sea will not let him go. "I realized that no one else could ever know this singular experience," Ayers writes of his maritime adventures. Yet curiously, much of this same nautical language flows through Obama's earth-bound memoir.

"Memory sails out upon a murky sea," Ayers writes at one point. Indeed, both he and Obama are obsessed with memory and its instability. The latter writes of its breaks, its blurs, its edges, its lapses. Obama also has a fondness for the word "murky" and its aquatic usages.

"The unlucky ones drift into the murky tide of hustles and odd jobs," he writes, one of four times "murky" appears in Dreams. Ayers and Obama also speak often of waves and wind, Obama at least a dozen times on wind alone. "The wind wipes away my drowsiness, and I feel suddenly exposed," he writes in a typical passage. Both also make conspicuous use of the word "flutter."

Not surprisingly, Ayers uses "ship" as a metaphor with some frequency. Early in the book he tells us that his mother is "the captain of her own ship," not a substantial one either but "a ragged thing with fatal leaks" launched into a "sea of carelessness."

Obama too finds himself "feeling like the first mate on a sinking ship." He also makes a metaphorical reference to "a tranquil sea." More intriguing is Obama's use of the word "ragged" as an adjective as in the highly poetic "ragged air" or "ragged laughter."

Both books use "storms" and "horizons" both as metaphor and as reality. Ayers writes poetically of an "unbounded horizon," and Obama writes of "boundless prairie storms" and poetic horizons-"violet horizon," "eastern horizon," "western horizon."

Ayers often speaks of "currents" and "pockets of calm" as does Obama, who uses both as nouns as in "a menacing calm" or "against the current" or "into the current." The metaphorical use of the word "tangled" might also derive from one's nautical adventures. Ayers writes of his "tangled love affairs" and Obama of his "tangled arguments."

In Dreams, we read of the "whole panorama of life out there" and in Fugitive Days, "the whole weird panorama." Ayers writes of still another panorama, this one "an immense panorama of waste and cruelty." Obama employs the word "cruel" and its derivatives no fewer than fourteen times in Dreams.

On at least twelve occasions, Obama speaks of "despair," as in the "ocean of despair." Ayers speaks of a "deepening despair," a constant theme for him as well. Obama's "knotted, howling assertion of self" sounds like something from the pages of Jack London's "The Sea Wolf."

...

If there is any one paragraph in Dreams that has convinced me of Ayers' involvement it is this one, in which Obama describes the Black Nationalist message:

"A steady attack on the white race... served as the ballast that could prevent the ideas of personal and communal responsibility from tipping into an ocean of despair."

As a writer, especially in the pre-Google era of Dreams, I would never have used a metaphor as specific as "ballast" unless I knew exactly what I was talking about. Seaman Ayers most surely did.

The science of this (to the extent this is a science) suggests Ayers is the author as well:

The "Fugitive Days" excerpt scores a 54 on reading ease and a 12th grade reading level. The "Dreams'" excerpt scores a 54.8 on reading ease and a 12th grade reading level. Scores can range from 0 to 121, so hitting a nearly exact score matters.

A more reliable data-driven way to prove authorship goes under the rubric "cusum analysis" or QSUM. This analysis begins with the measurement of sentence length, a significant and telling variable. To compare the two books, I selected thirty-sentence sequences from Dreams and Fugitive Days, each of which relates the author's entry into the world of "community organizing."

"Fugitive Days" averaged 23.13 words a sentence. "Dreams" averaged 23.36 words a sentence. By contrast, the memoir section of "Sucker Punch" [Cashill's own memoir, offered for purpose of comparison] averaged 15 words a sentence.

And, just for fun, let's review Obama's previous literary output-- a poem he wrote for a college magazine:

Under water grottos, caverns

Filled with apes

That eat figs.

Stepping on the figs

That the apes

Eat, they crunch.

The apes howl, bare

Their fangs, dance . . .

It sure would be nice if anyone in the media would ask Obama from whence he'd derived his ease of speaking in maritime metaphors. And when he lost his interest in dancing apes and figs.

Thanks to someone.



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posted by Ace at 02:49 PM

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