Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Angel Franco's Invisible New Yorkers

One of my favorite new must-reads in the New York Times are Ángel Franco's weekly "Lens" pieces, Invisible New Yorkers. Basically he photographs New York denizens rarely captured by the mass media, except as objects or statistics, and lets them write (or draw) whatever they want beneath their photos. Then he gives a brief profile of them (sometimes translating or transliterating what they've penned). The only high-profile person he's featured has been elusive artist and activist James de la Vega.

The first photo was of Gilbert Rawlins:



After Rawlins, he profiled:

Michele Code and Isaiah Tenorio (Nov. 23)
Marjorie Eliot (Nov. 16)
Rafael Gonzalez (Nov. 9)
Crispin Cortes and James De La Vega (Nov. 2)

And today's was Angelo Painu.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Flightmare

On AmericaBlog, John A. rants about an American Airlines flight from DC to Chicago that took 6 hours, but I had a similar experience yesterday. First, I could only get a two-leg return flight for the price I was seeking, and it involved starting out on US Air and then switching (back) to United (which I'd flown originally a week ago). Although my top choice for flying between Chicago and Newark is Continental, they've been keeping their prices pretty high, and my fallback, ATA, is barely airborne these days, since they went bankrupt a year ago. So United/US Air it was.

At any rate, my flight that usually takes 2 hours took 6, with the added bonus of a long layover in...Pittsburgh! Not that I have anything against the Steel City, mind you. But when I arrived in Pittsburgh I didn't see my flight posted, because it was the first leg of a Pittsburgh to Oakland flight, and the US Air check-in attendant didn't seem to know this. She pointed me towards the flight monitors, which I'd already looked at, so I went and started asking other check-in attendents until I found one who could figure out which flight I was on. I got to the gate and, lo and behold, because of "weather conditions" and prior delays in Chicago, my flight was delayed, first by thirty minutes, then by a hour, then.... Since I'd been led to believe that the weather conditions in Chicago were horrible, I was surprised to find that when the plane landed, it was sunny, over 50 degrees here, and not especially windy. Today it's freezing and there was almost the hint of a snowfall at one point in the afternoon, but yesterday, it was so pleasant outside I thought I was in Atlanta. Anyways, here are some photos from the flightmare.


The bearer of the bad news.


One of several soulless, drab food court areas in the Pittsburgh airport that actually had a free wireless signal (at Newark Liberty it's $6.95, while O'Horror, I mean, O'Hare doesn't have wireless at all--paging Mayor Daley....)


Across from where I was sitting stood this ice cream stand. The sister behind the counter didn't look too happy.


Getting off the plane in Chicago. It was packed, as always, and so it took forever. Sometimes I think someone just lies down in the aisle for about 10 minutes just to ensure that you can't disembark too quickly. This time, at least, no one slung a lead or anvil-filled carry-on bag perilously close to my forehead.


Purgatory, or the walkway.


A reflection in the O'Hare ceiling art, a bad pseudo-Dan Flavinesque thing that hovers above as you stumble in a daze from one concourse to another. Fortunately I was stumbling out of the place altogether.


Driving back to Chicago, via Touhy (the magical street to the airport!), sandwiched between two SUVs. Who says gas is (too) high in the Midwest, or that people in the Heartland are more practical that folks on the coast?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Phillis Wheatley Letter + Banned Books

Wheatley_letterLast week, New York's Swann Galleries auctioned off one of the rarest and most important African-American and American literary artifacts, a signed letter (front page shown at left) by the first published Black poet in the United States (and the second woman), Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784). This is the only letter of Wheatley's every to have gone on auction. As news commentator Ed Gordon remarks on his NPR News and Notes radio program, Wheatley was born in Senegal and sold into slavery to the family of John Wheatley of Boston in 1761. By 1767, she had published her first poem in the Newport, Rhode Island Mercury, and in 1773, she published her landmark collection, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London: Printed for Archibald Bell and Sold in Boston by Cox and Berry, engraving from frontispiece show below), which, before it could gain subscriptions (which was the way most books were sold in those days) required an "attestation" to her authorship by various prominent White residents of Boston.

The transcript of the letter, written during the year of the Declaration of Independence, reads:

Dear Obour

I rec.d your kind Letter of the 17th ultimo by Cato Coggeshall; had not the opportunity to see him. I doubt not that your present situation is extremely unhappy; nor that you with wonder exclaim on the proceedings of nations that are fav.d with the divine revelation of the Gospel. Even I a mere spectator am in anxious suspense concerning the fortune of this unnatural civil Contest.

Possibly the ambition & thirst of Dominion in some is design'd as the punishment of the national views of others, tho' it bears the appearance of greater Barbarity than that of the uncivilz'd (page 2) part of mankind. But Let us leave the Event to him whose wisdom alone can bring good out of Evil & he is infinitely superior to all the Craftiness of the enemies of this seemingly devoted Country. This is handed to you br Mr. Lingo, with whom I and Mr. Quamine I passed the last evening very agreeably.

Dutiful respects to Mr. Hopkins & family and believe me to be your affectionate

P. Wheatley

Providence Feby 14, 1776


Wheatley_Frontispiece

The Swann gallery catalogue notes that Wheatley addressed this letter to Obour Tanner, her friend and "sister" slave; from what I can tell, several of the names mentioned in it (Cato, Mr. Quamine, which sounds Akan, like Quabena/Quamina, etc.) seem to point to West African origins, so she's referring to fellow Black New Englanders in it.

The letter, which was estimated to sell for between $80,000 and $120,000 eventually sold for $253,000 to an anonymous bidder. As Felicia Lee reports in her New York Times Arts Briefly article,

That price, which includes a 15 percent commission, was the highest ever paid at auction for a letter written by an African-American, and appears to have set an auction record for a letter written by a woman, said Jeremy Markowitz, an autograph specialist at Swann Galleries in New York, which sold it. The two-page letter is considered especially valuable because in it Wheatley talks about the American Revolution, and obliquely about slavery, and because it was written to an enslaved friend, Obour Tanner, in Newport, R.I. "This is a happy day for those of us who love African-American literature," said Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the department of African and African-American studies at Harvard.

According to a press release that was forwarded to me, the buyer supposedly has a large collection of African-American literary and cultural artifacts, which I find heartening. I hope that the person eventually makes available or donates these treasures to an institution that will then make them available not only to researchers, but to everyone who wishes to view them (while protecting them from damage, of course). This relic of Wheatley's life and humanity, and this treasure of African-American history and culture, deserve the widest possible audience.

***

They just never cease their tireless work in this Land of Freedom, these moral arbiters. Our own American Taliban, also known as the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools, are indefatigable. What do I mean? Once again they're trying to ban, er, remove/opt out of having young people read texts they find objectionable. What's objectionable about these texts? you ask? Well, according to these moral censors, these works of fiction and nonfiction are "salacious," and they charge that they're being assigned as "required" reading.

Here's the list:

  1. All the Pretty Horses
  2. Animal Dreams
  3. The Awakening
  4. The Bean Trees
  5. Beloved
  6. Black Boy
  7. Fallen Angels
  8. The Hot Zone
  9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  10. Lords of Discipline
  11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  12. Song of Solomon
  13. Stotan
  14. This Boy’s Life
Because you know teenagers, in Blue Valley and elsewhere, wouldn't have come across sex or sexual discussions, violence or depictions of violence, or cursewords or any other foul language anywhere before they read any of these works. And now they'll be inculcated, bewitched, transformed, destroyed. Given the declining rates of reading in this country, reading any book, especially a work of literature, would help us. But then again, the American Taliban is worried that the teenagers will get ideas, you know. I guess we'd really better keep them away from Shakespeare, Milton, Joyce, Eliot, Ginsberg, Gayl Jones... And the Bible!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

NY African Diaspora Film Festival + Slavery Exhibit

Red DustNew York City is one of the major locations in the African Diaspora. In addition to having the largest Black population of any city in the United States (at well over 2 million people, totaling over a quarter of the city's residents), it also boasts of one of the most diverse African and African-descended populaces as well, with large enclaves of Black natives of North and sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, Europe, and South Asia. It's therefore fitting that the city hosts a huge, annual African Diaspora Film Festival, which this year runs from November 25 through December 9, 2005.

The NYADFF's 13th version opened on Friday with writer Nelson George's documentary Smart People (2005, 50 min.), a work exploring some of the major popular Black thinkers of the 1980s, which was based on his recent prose collection Post-Soul Nation. Among the other 80 films (from the US, Canada, France, Venezuela, Haiti, Senegal, Egypt, etc.), highlights include tonight's Just Between Us (2005, doc., 73 min., Ken Jackson, dir.), a documentary on historical and contemporary American Black LBG(T?) communities; the British film Red Dust (2004, feature, 83 min., Tom Hooper, dir., pictured above), a drama starring two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank and sexy Brit Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) that addresses racial and political reconciliation in South Africa; Brazilian-Spanish documentary The Miracle of Candeal (2005, 133 min., Fernando Trueba, dir., in Portuguese w/ English subtitles, photo at right), which convenes one of Salvador da Bahia's major musical figures, Carlinhos Brown, with Afro-Cuban musican Bebo Valdes; and the Algerian drama El Manara (2004, 93 min., Belkacem Hadjadj, dir., in Algerian w/ English subtitles), which examines the rise and violent repression of fundamentalism in that country during the 1980s. Older films to be screened include Ousmane Sembene's beautiful study in French colonial history and African courage, The Camp at Thiaroye (1987), which I saw years ago at a National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, and Briton Anthony Harvey's 1966 version of Amiri Baraka's landmark drama, The Dutchman. (Red alert: One film to skip altogether is Geraldo Santos Pereira's absolutely dreadful biopic of Brazil's greatest Baroque sculptor, Aleijadinho: Passion, Glory and Torment. It is so bad it will make your head explode!)

In addition to the films, there will be major panel discussions as well, on multiracial Quebec cinema, independent African cinema, and translating written work to the screen. The film and panel venues include the Anthology Film Archives in the East Village, the French Institute's Florence Gould Hall in Midtown, the Clearview 62nd Street Theater, and two Harlem sites, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and Teachers College, Columbia University.

* * *

Africa_Free_SchoolBernie posted about the New-York Historical Society's Slavery in New York exhibit a while ago, but I recommend reading today's New York Times article, "The Anger and Shock of a City's Slave Past," by Felicia R. Lee (one of my favorite NYT reporters), on visitors' responses to the exhibit. The archive and museum created a booth to record attendees' reactions to what they'd seen, and, Lee reports, what's come through is often "awkward," raw, but as truthful, perhaps more so, than so much of what passes for contemporary national or local discourse on race. (Some of this videotaped testimony also will be utilized by the museum for "visitor reaction" monitors now in three galleries.)

Although I always take it as a given that most Americans realize slavery existed not only in the South, but in all the northeastern states as well, and as far west as Utah, Nevada and California (which entered the Union as a free state only after some wrangling in 1850), and thus colors every aspect of American history, from the viewers' responses, many were unaware that New York City itself, established in 1620, had the largest enslaved population in the north, and didn't abolish slavery until 1827 (officially), leaving it the second-to-last north of Pennsylvania to do so. In fact, when New York was the first national capital, in 1789, slavery was still legal in its boundaries (and would later be legal in the third and lasting capital of Washington). As the exhibit and article note, Black slaves built the "wall" at Wall Street (which is one reason that Black skeletons were found at the African Burial Ground near that iconic, most historical part of Manhattan), as well as the first City Hall. A number of recent New York histories also note that the earliest settlers of Greenwich Village were Blacks (who'd been brought during the flight of Dutch Christians and Jews from Dutch settlements that fell to the Portuguese in Brazil in the 164os), and that portions of what became New York's crown jewel of a green space, Olmsted's Central Park, had once been historic Black neighborhoods. In fact, Blacks lived in all five boroughs of New York from the Revolutionary period on.

Yet a number of the viewers were aware of New York's slave history, which helped to make it preeminent in the early Republic, and wanted a stronger approach. Several made the links between the historical disenfranchisement and profit off Black people and the city's (and country's) ongoing racial problems. And one viewer, a Slovakian-American artist from Chicago, experienced an aperçu:

She watched two African-American children playing in the museum, and it dawned on her that in another time they would have been slaves. "They had no choice," she said. "They had no power."

And after learning that at one time 20 percent of New Yorkers were enslaved, the artist said, she went to the lobby of the grand Historical Society building and began imagining the past. "I'd look around and look around," she said, "and one in five people would be a slave."

This is knowledge we must possess and start from in order to understand the present. The exhibit runs until March 5, 2006.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sports Round-Up (Delgado, Rutgers, etc.)

DelgadoAccording to the wires, New York Mets General Manager Omar Minaya has successfully engineered a deal that will bring handsome, strapping All Star infielder Carlos Delgado (photo at left) from the Florida Marlins to New York City's junior team, the Amazins. Delgado, a 33-year-old native of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and an outspoken antiwar activist, has been one of the most consistent batters in the major leagues over the last decade. He began his career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, had his first full rookie season with the Blue Jays in 1996, drove in 100 or more runs every years from 1998 through 2003, and has whacked more than 30 home runs every year since 1997. Delgado moved to the Marlins in 2004 with the proviso that he wouldn't be traded, but owner Jeffrey Lourie predicated maintaining the team's high payroll on winning a new, publicly-financed stadium, which the voters of the Miami area have smartly decided is not in their best interest, so Lourie has begun a fire sale, and didn't hesitate to shed Delgado and his hefty salary.

Yet Minaya actually bade for Delgado last season, losing him when the 12-year Toronto player chose the Marlins because he didn't like Minaya's overzealous appeal to his Latin heritage. Nevertheless, as the lone Latino GM in the league, the Dominican-born Minaya has initiated a Latino-focused renovation of the Mets, bringing in future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martínez, who was the team's most consistent starter (with his 15-8 win-loss record, 2.82 ERA and 208 strikeouts), and Houston's breakout outfielder Carlos Beltrán, who was a bit of a letdown. The Mets were actually in the division and wild-card races until an August slowdown, but with Delgado's bat in the lineup, they should be able to generate more runs, which was one of their major weaknesses. Delgado also provoked some outcry in 2004 when he refused to take the field for the 7th-inning performances of "God Bless America," fielding hearty boos in 9/11-attacked New York. But the brouhaha about Delgado's courageous anti-war and pro-Vieques stand has died down, and he encountered far less hostility this past season. With anti-Iraq War sentiment becoming more widespread across the US, he ought to have almost no problems on this account this upcoming season.

It'll be especially interesting to see if Minaya decides to go after Manny Ramírez (at left, with his son, Manny Jr.) one of the best hitters in either league but also a frequently decried malcontent who's seeking a trade from the Boston Red Sox, whom he helped lead to the 2004 World Series championship. Ramírez has repeatedly asked for trades in the past, and has been dogged by allegations of not playing hard or being too distracted at times. He is claiming that playing in the Red Sox's media fishbowl prevents him from having enough privacy, but he wouldn't improve on this in New York, where he grew up (and starred at George Washington High School, in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood). Ramírez would do better to pick an out-of-the-way team with playoff potential and a very understanding manager, like the Cardinals or this year's World Champions, the Chicago White Sox. Both teams could use his bat, and both teams' nutty managers would be able to deal with Manny's intermittent dramas.

>>>

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is the United States' 7th oldest university, with a long and distinguished history that dates back to 1766. Yet Rutgers, which was one of the early football pioneers along with fellow New Jersey school Princeton, has long been one of the NCAA Division I-A Big East's football also-rans (despite the obviously fit players pictured at right). Even though several of that league's powerhouse teams, like Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, left a year ago, Rutgers still has had a losing record over the last decade against remaining Big East opponents such as West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. In fact, Rutgers posted a 37-game losing streak from 1991-1995, and has lost blowouts to Division I-AA teams. ESPN Page 2 fans ranked this five-year stretch of defeatists as the worst college football team of all time (and this includes some other doozies). Yet after defeating the University of Cincinnati today 44-5, they achieved a winning 6-4 record (which includes defeats of Syracuse and Pittsburgh), and are set to make their first return to a bowl game since 1978. Since the 6th-ranked University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated Stanford University's Cardinal today, they will gain a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bid. Had they lost, through an arrangement with the Big East, they'd get one of that league's non-BCS bowl bids. Rutgers will thus be invited to participate in the Insight Bowl, against Arizona State, which was, oddly enough, its opponent in 1978. Rutgers

Rutgers didn't lose too badly against top league rivals West Virginia and South Florida, but suffered a blowout against Louisville (56-5). I'm not sure, however, that this portends ill for a matchup against Arizona State, since that team has had a poor season overall. Arizona State has managed, outside of a smashbang win over 7-4 (5-3 in Big 12) Northwestern, to win the rest of its games only against league opponents or independents with losing records (Temple, Washington, Washington State, and Oregon State). If the Rutgers Scarlet Knights play their best football (or even as well as they did against Connecticut and Cincinnati), they might bring back their first college bowl victory to the Garden State in decades, and make the ghosts of Paul Robeson and other former football stars proud.


>>>

Speaking of college football, the NCAA is dithering over what to do about University High School, a blatant high school diploma mill based in Florida. According to today's New York Times report by Pete Thamel and Duff Wilson, entitled "Poor Grades Aside, Athletes Get into College on a $399 Diploma," for that cut-rate price, high school players with failing marks can take correspondence courses in the last few weeks of their senior years--okay, that already sounds problematic--and circumvent not only the state of Florida's graduation test requirements, but also the NCAA's SAT minimum standards. The newspaper noted some 14 players who'd accumulated high enough grade point averages using University High School's programs to sign letters of intent to such major Division I-A universities (and their football teams) such as Tennessee, Auburn, Florida State, South Florida, and Temple. Oh, and Rutgers (cf. above). So what's wrong with this alternative route? The article notes that University High School's first owner was convicted of and served time for university diploma-mill mail fraud, while its second, current owner was arrested on a marijuana possession charge and still faces a bench warrant. Okay, so people make mistakes. But, the article goes on to note, University High School "has no classes and no educational accreditation." But that's not all:

University High School consists of two small rooms on the third floor of an office building wedged between a Starbucks and an animal hospital on Route 1 in south Miami. Inside are three desks, three employees and two framed posters from art museums on the wall.

Promotional brochures say diplomas can be earned in four to six weeks, with open-book exams, no classes and no timed tests. A diploma costs $399, no matter how many courses.

In paperwork filed with the state of Florida, the school says it has six teachers. None of the school's graduates interviewed, however, mentioned dealing with anyone besides Kinney, the current owner, and none said they had received any personal instruction.

John M. McLeod, a Miami-Dade Community College educator, is identified as the University High principal on a letter welcoming new students. McLeod said he met Simmons in the 1970's, but that he had no connection to University High. He said his signature had been copied.

"I've never seen this letter," he said. "I know nothing about University High School."

Simmons said he did not know why McLeod's signature was on the letter.

Former students said in interviews that courses consisted of picking up work packets from University High and completing them at home. Grades they received on the packets counted the same on their transcripts as a yearlong high school course.

"If it was history, they had the story with the questions right next to it," Simpson said. "They were one-page stories. It wasn't really hard."

University High says its textbooks are the Essential Series from Research and Education Association of Piscataway, N.J., but their publisher describes them as study guides.

"You wouldn't describe them as textbooks," Carl M. Fuchs, president of Research and Education, said. "You would say they're more supplemental, but they can be used on their own. A textbook is certainly going to have a lot more text, a lot more information."


Simpson_NYTIMESYet University High School isn't completely to blame for its sham role in serving as a feeder to Division I-A and I-AA teams, since the NCAA has allowed students to use correspondence courses since 2000, which has basically opened up the option of students turning to innumerable quasi-educational outfits to qualify for collegiate- level play. In addition, the state of Florida doesn't require "private" school graduates to take the state's graduation tests, thus giving University High School and others like it a major out. At any rate, NCAA head Miles Brand has said that he plans to lead a commission which will look into institutions like University High School and determine what's really going on with them. He should do so, and swiftly. But even the sternest responses won't do much good for Temple undergraduate Philip Simpson (at right, Ryan Donnell for the New York Times), whose failing grades kept him off the gridiron at 0-11 Temple this year. Though he passed University High School's coursework after failing his final attempt at passing Florida's graduation test, he struggled in college, and has said that "The basic skills I'm supposed to have from way back then...none of them are there." My basic question remains: isn't there a better, more effective way to educate young people like this, to ensure all young people get a decent enough education so that they don't have to turn to the likes of University High School?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Poem: Margaret Atwood

A poem by one of Canada's greatest living writers, poet, novelist and critic Margaret Atwood:

NIGHT POEM

There is nothing to be afraid of,
it is only the wind
changing to the east, it is only
your father the thunder
your mother the rain

In this country of water
with its beige moon damp as a mushroom,
its drowned stumps and long birds
that swim, where the moss grows
on all sides of the trees
and your shadow is not your shadow
but your reflection,

your true parents disappear
when the curtain covers your door.
We are the others,
the ones from under the lake
who stand silently beside your bed
with our heads of darkness.
We have come to cover you
with red wool,
with our tears and distant whipers.

You rock in the rain's arms
the chilly ark of your sleep,
while we wait, your night
father and mother
with our cold hands and dead flashlight,
knowing we are only
the wavering shadows thrown
by one candle, in this echo
you will hear twenty years later.

Copyright © Margaret Atwood, 2005.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

On Thanksgiving

A THOUGHT FOR THANKSGIVING

Quote

Because we are alive
Because we are able to love
Because we are able to dream
Because we are able to act
to make the world better, safer,
more equal, more just:
Let's give thanks.

***
For another, historical take on Thanksgiving: Clay Cane: "Thanksgiving Horror-Day."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Iweala's Debut Novel

IwealaJournalist and novelist Dinitia Smith writes in today's New York Times about 23-year-old Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala's (photo at left, Obande, New York Times) highly praised debut novel, Beasts of No Nation, which tracks in first-person perspective the experiences of a child soldier in an unnamed African country. Smith describes it as "brutal" and "filled with the stink of violence," before devoting most of her article to the author's biography and the novel's genesis (Ms. Smith [regrettably? thankfully?] hasn't set foot in a literary studies classroom since the advent of Derrida, Althusser and Foucault, it seems.) Iweala is the son of a Nigerian diplomat and a Washington-based doctor, attended one of the capital's élite prep schools, and was a student of acclaimed fiction writer Jamaica Kincaid's. She worked with him to develop the narrative voice in what became his senior thesis, which in turn became this novel. As Smith notes, though Iweala drew heavily on his familiarity with his parents' native Nigeria, his subject matter was sparked by the story of a Ugandan former child soldier and fermented by his imagination, not personal experience.

Janet Maslin
, in her November 17 New York Times review, lauded the book, making special mention of some of Iweala's narrative choices and devices, such as the kidnapped and pressed child narrator's consistent, idiosyncratic voice. Yet she also criticizes what she views as its failings, such as occasional lack of subtlety, as well as predictability, which she attributes to the author's youth and desire to underscore the moral themes of the work. Her final paragraph struck a beautiful note:

Beasts of No Nation leaves the reader with one resonant, beautiful sentence that captures everything the author has set out to say. That sentence deserves to be read in the full context of this universal soldier's story.


Both articles, as well as the novel's subject matter, make me want to read Iweala's first book, and I intend to add it to my reading queue as soon as I can. One unsurprising aspect of both of the Times pieces was the fetishization of Iweala's Harvard education, which absolutely had to be cited; but then, the Times has never gotten treatment for its Harvard fever, whose most recent symptom was a snotty, snobbish article on a small cadre of students' enrollment in the Harvard Extension School bachelors' degree program last week--it was as if they'd happened upon a strange and unmapped clearing in the Brazilian rain forest....

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Vatican: Gays unfit for the priesthood

I was going to blog about this weeks ago when the first reports about this idiotic new policy came out, but it now appears official that the Vatican will bar priests who are gay or gay- friendly or in its words, "who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture" (and what in the hell is "so-called" is supposed to mean?) Only men who have "overcome" homosexuality--which is impossible, as homosexual orientation and desires can only be suppressed, not "overcome" or "changed--will be permitted to take Holy Orders, according to the dogma set forth by Miss Thing the pope (pictured at right).

Having spent many years in Roman Catholic schools and having gotten to know a number of gay priests and ex-priests shortly after I graduated from college and was living in Boston, I can state without hesitation that with this asinine, perverse new set of rules, the church is harming only itself in the long run. In effect, it's attempting to displace and deflect its longstanding policy of harboring and coddling pedophiles and ephebophiles--which most gay men are not--while still not addressing its failure to protect the young among its flock or the predatory sexual immaturity of too many of its priests. It also fails to recognize the large number of ordained priests who are gay or the fact that continuing to bar married men or women (of whatever sexuality) to become priests, while also now excluding by scapegoating gay men will only exacerbate the Catholic church's priest shortage and ensure that eventually, the church will have almost no priests, at least from Western countries, since most heterosexual male Catholics in the West haven't been and aren't clamoring to take a lifetime vow of chastity (which is more extreme than celibacy), and certainly there won't be enough of them to make up for the estimated 25%-50% of homosexuals or bisexual men now in seminaries. In fact, some orders are known to be havens for gay men; will those orders also now screen as tightly? Will they survive? (And are bisexuals welcome? The pope didn't single them out, interestingly enough. Maybe he doesn't believe bisexuality is an objective orientation.)

The new guidelines, I think, are born out of the current pope's staunch anti-gay mindset, which he expressed quite viciously in his infamous, homophobic 1986 document (as pope John Paul II's favorite henchcreature, cardinal Ratzo), "Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." In this document, he made the following inflammatorily hateful statements, which he pawned off as Catholic theology:

  • according to a 1975 church document, homosexual acts were "intrinsically disordered," which he strongly agreed with;
  • while homosexual "inclination" is not a "sin," according to Ratzo, it's a "more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder";
  • homosexual "activity" is "not" a "morally acceptable option";
  • Ratzo's anti-gay fanaticism is "based, not on isolated phrases for facile theological argument, but on the solid foundation of a constant Biblical testimony," even though the four Gospels, which record the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in His words, never mention or condemn same-sexual behavior, which he would have been aware of;
  • but wait, it doesn't matter what the Scriptures say, because according to Ratzo's logic, "to be correct, the interpretation of Scripture must be in substantial accord with that [Catholic] Tradition" as expounded by him, so sorry Orthodox, Protestants, etc.;
  • furthermore, according to Ratzo, "homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living"*;
  • and so when people have same-sexual sex, "they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent";
  • the "abandonment of homosexual activity" is equated with "conversion from evil";

and on it goes. There's little in this document that's "pastoral" or that shows the care and love that Christ demonstrated more than once, but it appears that Ratzo-pope has a fixation, no obsession, he wants to pound home. Gay sex is "intrinsically evil" to him, and if he has to cherry-pick from Leviticus, Romans, Timothy, and overlook the four Gospels (especially Matthew, Luke and John, in which Jesus Christ is quite clear on the treatment of others, on the use of Scripture to attack others, and so on), early Catholic traditions and history (as delineated in books by the late historian John Boswell and others), and so forth, so be it. Nevertheless, he says nothing in this document or in the new guidelines about the negligence of people like Boston's former cardinal Bernard Law, who in documents that were released a few years ago, appeared far more intent on protecting the church than Catholic children and adolescents who'd been abused. Neither document deals directly with pedophilia or ephebophilia, both which, stripped of their moral valences, still constitute psychological and psychosocial problem areas--as well as crimes, in our society--and beg to be addressed with the same theological fervor. Studies have shown that most child abuse is cross-sexual rather than same-sexual; and the vast majority of men in Western societies are not ephebophiles or engaging in ephebophilic sexual encounters (perhaps Ratzo's fantasy life, like those of too many Catholic priests, are stuck in a warped misreading of Ancient and Classical Greece or at the emotional maturation level of English boarding schools).

In fact, most of the priests I had as teachers and pastors, even the flaming ones, didn't seem interested in boys as much as men. There were a few who had an eye for the boys, but they were the minority. The gay priests I came across as an adult were definitely into other men, not children or teenage boys. (My mother's dynamic and beloved former pastor, a priest, got yanked by his order for propositioning a policeman and another man--men, not boys!--who were on a board he also served on. To this day, she maintains that he was "set up.") Yet none of this fundamental reasoning appears in the "pastoral" letter or the new guidelines.

The result is that gay men who seek, incomprehensibly to me in 2005, to become Catholic priests either will have to give such plans up or go deeply into the closet. Catholic seminaries will have to engage in active rooting out and policing of candidates for the clergy, and it's not too far-fetched to imagine that some seminarians' truthful, grace-filled, private confessions--of same-sexual desire, for example--might be used against them. That's right: confessors, as well as well as fellow students, will basically become spies. Such a poisonous atmosphere, which will foster severe sexual repression, strikes me as the perfect starting point for the kinds of sexual abuse that have ravaged the clerical ranks.

Our own society, like many across the globe, nevertheless marches on in terms of social progress, and several predominantly Catholic countries--Spain and Belgium--as well as one of the most Catholic states in the US, Massachusetts, and progessive Canada, not only already offer comprehensive equal rights and civil protections for LGBT people, but also permit gay marriage. As for the church, it can make swift tracks back to the medieval era all it wants, but the world is moving on.

BTW, I knew such crap was coming from a man who'd been a member of the Nazi youth (a fact that his ardent supporters have tried their best to explain away, of course). Benedict means blessed. But there is nothing either blessed about this current pope or this policy. Accursed is more like it!
--
*So what about childless Catholic couples who have no desire to bear children? What about "chaste" priests and nuns?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Brazil's First Black TV Station + "I Can't Get Out"

Today Reggie H. forwarded me this Guardian UK article about Brazil's new Black TV channel, "TV da Gente," which translates as "The People's TV" or "Our TV," the "people" being Brazil's Black (and mixed) population of about 90 million, the largest outside Africa. 35-year-old former samba star and TV personality Jose de Paula Neto, also known as Netinho de Paula (pictured at left), is the visionary behind the channel, which he hopes will play a key role in advancing the social and economic conditions of Brazil's Black population, as well as overturning longstanding stereotypical representations of Black people. As the article notes, Brazil's Blacks continue to lag far behind Whites in terms of most social indicators, and in terms of basic access to resources and capital. (Brazzilmag.com pointed out in its newsfeeds yesterday that according to a UN report 43% of the Black population in Brazil was living in poverty, while 20% of the White population was.)

In addition, popular, public representations of Blacks in Brazil still fail to capture the breadth and diversity of the Black experience. While there have been Blacks on popular TV shows like Big Brother Brazil (and this year's winner was an openly gay Bahian of African descent, writer Jean Wyllys) and some targeted shows like Cidade dos Homens [City of Men] (a TV program set in the favelas, on the model of the award-winning, internationally acclaimed film Cidade de Deus [City of God]) in the extremely popular telenovelas, which now have a global reach and were profiled admiringly in The New York Times several weeks ago in articles by Mireya Navarro and others, roles for Black actors mainly consist of domestics and servants. A rare exception was the historical drama Xica da Silva. The overall impact of the telenovelas has in part been to further the longstanding social project in Brazil of "whitening" (or embranqueamento), another form of White supremacy.

The station will initially broadcast in the nation's largest city and industrial capital, São Paulo, as well as in the northeastern city of Fortaleza. Residents of Brazil's other cities with large or majority Black populations, including Rio de Janeiro, Salvador da Bahia, Belo Horizonte, Recife, and São Luis, will be able to view the show by satellite initially, while residents of Angola, which provided some of the seed investments, will be able to tuen into its programs, which will include news, sport and, according to the Guardian, "a Brazilian hip-hop slot." As the article states:

As Brazil marked its annual black pride day yesterday, black activists at the launch of TV da Gente celebrated the new channel. "TV da Gente will reproduce, for the first time, the true image of the people," said Netinho de Paula. "It's a huge victory for us all: for the black movement, for the white movement, for the red movement and for the Brazilian people."


While media representations alone can't solve Brazil's racial problems, TV da Gente can and should have a positive, powerful psychological and cultural effect, especially once it's broadcast outside the two areas that will receive it first. One question BET--which wasn't always so devoid of content or racial consciousness--faced was, what sort of programming is financially viable? BET chose music videos and video shows and gradually eased off almost everything else (except a news show, bad rerun movies, and some syndicated sitcoms and dramas). What will TV da Gente do? And what about capitalization in the long run? Perhaps if it can syndicate shows that are easily translatable to African audiences as well as into Spanish--and which can thus be broadcast to Black and non-Black audiences in its neighbor countries, like Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, it might be able to stay as true as possible to Netinho de Paula's vision. I sincerely hope TV da Gente can survive, and am very interested in seeing what sorts of programs they create, especially given the Angolan partnership.

***

Four pictures worth countless words:

NYTimescover
(Cap tip to AmericaBlog)

***

Congratulations to Bernie (Bejata.com) who recently completed his culinary training program, received his diploma, and now can whip up scrumptious dishes at restaurants (including his own--hint, hint) across New York!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Jess and Franklin @ Myopic Reading Series

I rarely go out in Chicago on Sunday nights because I usually (always) have student work to reread, important meetings on Mondays and it's hell finding a parking space in Rogers Park after 8 pm on any day except for Friday (sometimes Saturday). But tonight I went down to Chicago's literary "crack house"--to use Toni Asante's apt term--Myopic Books, whose shelves are usually lined with at least 5-10 books you've either been looking for but couldn't find except online (via abe.com) or hadn't ever thought of but have to have, at half-rate prices. (Yes, I left with at least one new book.) I went down to Myopic, because the extraordinary Tyehimba Jess, author of the acclaimed volume Leadbelly, and now a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana, and Krista Franklin, whose collages and poems have transformed many a literary publication, were reading. I actually got there fashionably late, so I missed Krista (this time, though I've heard her read some of her amazing music-based poems, and await the chapbook and full-length volumes she'll publish soon, I hope), but did catch Jess reading from his collection.

I can remember some of Leadbelly poems from several years ago (and we finished up at CC together in 2001), so it's really marvelous to see the collection published and the praise he's getting for these poems that manage not only to animate the great blues musician's life and career, but also combine a profoundly grounded lyricism with what is one of the key African/American musical and poetic forms. Jess employs the blues though not as a strict form but as a thematic and aesthetic undercurrent and guide. The book is so outstanding it should have been nominated for a National Book Award, but I wasn't on that committee, unfortunately. A number of folks were at the reading, from as far away as Ohio and New York; the room was packed, which was great to see. Here are a few photos from tonight. (I didn't get any of Toni, who said that was fine; but this reminded me, it's a good idea to bring the extra camera battery!)


Krista Franklin, in conversation


Tyehimba Jess reading/conjuring from Leadbelly


Jess introducing a poem


Dr. Pomofunk, Duriel Harris, in from upstate New York for the holidays


Maverick poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, posing with Jess

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Photos: Chicago Exterior and Interiors

Some Chicago photos from the last few days: storefronts.


Shop window, Clark Street, Rogers Park


Young man waiting to get a haircut, Clark Street, Rogers Park


A shop window on Belmont Avenue, Lakeview/Boystown


A shop window on Belmont Avenue, Lakeview/Boystown


Untitled Books, on Broadway, Lakeview/Boystown

Friday, November 18, 2005

Photos: Chicago Interiors and Exteriors

Some shots from Chicago, by night.


Young man comparing international calling plans, Clark St.


No. 22 northbound bus


No. 22 northbound bus


No. 22 northbound bus


At the bus stop, Clark St. and Devon Ave.


Mattress and Bernie Mac sign, near Clark St. and Devon Ave.


A sushi chef, in a Thai restaurant, Clark St.


Descending the stairs, Belmont St. El

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thursday Roundup

LaptopkidsThe BBC News reports that MIT Media Lab visionary Nicholas Negroponte unveiled prototypes of a low(er)-cost, robust $100 laptop at the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia. The neon-green handcranked machines consume far less energy than traditional computers, and Negroponte hopes that they will help to close the technology gap and enable peer-to-peer learning among young people, especially in poorer parts of the world. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan championed the machines as "an expression of global solidarity." BBC News adds that "Although the laptops will initially be available to government only.... MIT is in talks with commercial manufacturers to make it available on the open market. To take part in the initiative, governments have to commit to buying a million machines for around $100 each." MIT aims to start with 6 countries, and 6 months later hopes to open up the market to as many governments as possible.

***
William T. Vollmann, the American literary world's leading daredevil, beat out several other highly regarded authors, including acclaimed writer E. L. Doctorow and metaphorist-par-excellent Mary Gaitskill, to receive this year's National Book Award for fiction for his novel Europe Central. (I haven't read a Vollmann novel in about ten years, so I can't comment on it either way.) Last year's fiction nominees brooked considerable critical and publishing industry scorn for not being big enough names (or top sellers), so Vollmann is an interesting choice; his notoriety is probably greater than his booksales, but he is a serious and very talented writer. Sentimental favorite Joan Didion received the award for non-fiction, for her widely praised (worshiped?) memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, while heavily belauded poet W. S. Merwin (who received the Pulitzer Prize back in the early 1970s) was given, er, bestowed the prize for poetry. (His stepson, the amiable author Jonathan Burnham Schwartz, my one of my freshman dormmates, accepted the prize for him.) Jean Birdsall received the children's literature prize for The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy. Poet, publisher, bookseller, and literary anchor Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who cofounded the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in the 1950s, and whose A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions, endless reprints) is one of the best-selling poetry books of all time, received the first Literarian award for outstanding service to the American literature community. (An excellent choice, in my opinion.) The medal for distinguished contributions to literature went to octogenarian Norman Mailer, who was introduced by none other than Toni Morrison (who needs no introduction). The New York Times's A. O. (Tony) Scott wrote up a tight, sometimes snappish critique of the National Book Awards, and all awards for that matter, "Medal Fatigue," when they were originally announced.

***
Johnson-SirleafAfrica has its first elected female leader in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who defeated former soccer star George Weah to become Liberia's new president last week. The 67-year-old, Harvard-educated former minister in the government of deposed and exiled dictator Charles Taylor won 59.4 percent of the vote, with a very strong showing among Liberia's female majority. She cannot take office, however, until the country's National Elections Committtee (NEC) certifies the ballots from across the country. Weah and his supporters have alleged massive vote fraud, though UN vote inspectors remarked immediately after the election that the voting process appeared to have gone fairly smoothly and without major irregularities. Nevertheless, the Weah bloc is currently holding peaceful public demonstrations, which could grow violent if there isn't sufficient transparency. Liberia, settled by enslaved and free Black Americans in 1822, gained its independence in 1847. Yet the country of 3 million people has been riven by internal conflicts between the Americo-Liberian élites and the indigenous Africans for much of its history, and has been functioning in a crippled state since Samuel Doe overthrew the Americo-Liberian-led government of William Tolbert, Jr. in 1980. In 1989, an eight year civil war began (1989-1996), in which Doe was ousted (and killed) in 1990. In 1997, Taylor's disastrous rule led to yet another civil war (1999-2003). Chairman Gyude Bryant has served as chief of state since Taylor fled to Nigeria in August 2003, and if the NEC clears the vote, Johnson-Sirleaf, who lost the 1997 election to Taylor, will become the first freely elected leader in years.

***

Yahoo! News announced today that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that the rates of HIV/AIDS infection (seroconversion) have been decreasing among Black Americans about 5 percent every year since 2001, though Blacks are still 8 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than Whites. According to CDC researchers, "the falling rate among blacks seems to be tied to overlapping drops in diagnoses among injection drug users and heterosexuals." About 69 percent of the heterosexuals diagnosed with HIV during this period were Black. For men who have sex with men, diagnoses remained fairly stable from 2001 to 2003, but "climbed 8 percent between 2003 and 2004." CDC officials claimed that this was true for men of all races, though they were unable to explain the increases. For the first time, New York data were included in the study of 33 states, and the Empire State accounted for about 20 percent of the diagnoses. Other large states, including California and Illinois, however, were not included.

***

From the Bowery Poetry Club website, on Monday, November 21, 2005, author-genius and Temple University professor Samuel R. Delany will conduct a one-day workshop in their Study Abroad on the Bowery Series:
• 4:00-6:00pm Study Abroad on the Bowery: Visiting Professor Samuel R. Delaney $10/$5 student/Free SAB St. Marks Workshop Samuel R. Delany is the winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards and one of science fiction's most celebrated authors. Born and raised in New York City, Delany began writing in the early 1960s. His 1966 novel Babel-17 established his reputation, and over the next decade he became famous for his provocative futuristic explorations of race and sexual identity in the novels Nova (1969), Dhalgren (1975) and Triton (1976). His other works include the Neveryòn series of novels (1979-87) and the novel Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). He has also written frankly about his life as an African-American homosexual, and his non-fiction books include The Motion of Light and Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-65 (1988) and Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (Sexual Culture) (1999).

***

I'm far less interested in fashion than I once was, and hardly get to museums as much as I like, but I am looking forward to catching the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute's "Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection." The exhibit, which is the buzz of the New York fashion world, showcases the 84-year-old Apfel's marvelously distinctive, personal, peacock aesthetic, featuring among other things "an [purple-and-pink striped] Ungaro rabbit coat with [maroon-and-pink polka dot] velour pants" that led one high school student, Alan Futman, taking in the show to describe her with approval as "pretty out there." The longtime businesswoman and bohemian decries the narrow style of today's socialites, who take their cues from the major designers, and avows her love of individualist, Paterian icons, whose likes are certainly rare nowadays. As the photo above at right (Chester Higgins, NYT) shows, his apprisal sounds dead on. And Ralph Lauren (Mr. Pseudo-prep himself!) and others, according to the Times's review, are taking notes, with pseudo-Apfelian shows and styles to follow. That capitalist commodity machine just churns on and on.

***

Noah's Arc: Finally, a pretty good episode last night, the best so far. All the actors were in sync, the writing was much tighter, there was lots of romance (and gorgeous men), and even the final uproarious moment was believable--and funny (involving Alex and Trey, of course). Wilson Cruz was a great addition. Keep it up!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sony BMG's Rootkit Trickery (Criminal?)

I can't remember the last time I bought a new CD--in the US, that is. Between music downloads from iTunes, Calabash, Naxos and other sites, and purchased of used CDs from stores like Academy Music, I've had no reason to set foot in one of the chains like Tower, or even an independent music store, and drop up to $20 on a disc that I probably won't listen to beyond 1-2 tracks or more than a few times (since I'd end up converting my favorite songs to mp3 files and listening to them that way).

But now I'm especially glad I haven't bought any new CDs, especially from Sony BMG, given what's come out about its (ab)use of a secret anti-copy software, XCP, that hides itself using an advanced hacker technique. It turns out that this "rootkit" software, Wired News reports in "The Cover-Up Is the Crime," tampers with the Windows operating system on the most fundamental level, thereby making itself invisible to users and other programs. The article spells out exactly what happens once you play one of the Sony BMG CDs:

Where normal malicious code might be content to choose a deceptive file name, a rootkit "hooks" operating system calls that might reveal its presence, and essentially reprograms them to lie -- like bribing the coroner to conceal a murder.


But that's not all.

And the lie the First 4 Internet code tells is a whopper. Under the program's influence, Windows will deny the existence of any file, directory, process or registry key whose name begins with "$sys$." Russinovich verified this by making a copy of Notepad named "$sys$notepad.exe," which promptly vanished from view.

That means that any hacker who can gain even rudimentary access to a Windows machine infected with the program now has the power to hide anything he wants under the "$sys$" cloak of invisibility. Criticism of Sony has largely focused on this theoretical possibility -- that black hats might piggyback on the First 4 Internet software for their own ends.


How did this come to light? It turns out that Mark Russinovich, a computer security expert with Sysinternals, discovered a rootkit on his Windows-platform PC, and ended up tracing it back to First 4 Internet, a British firm that had contracts its anti-copy software to Sony BMG. A Van Zant Brothers Sony BMG CD, Get Right With the Man (ironically enough) had infected his computer, and perhaps those who've purchased the more than 2 million toxic CDs, on 20 titles (or is it 47?) Sony BMG refuses to identify, according to tech industry sheet The Register. So far DNS hacker Don Kaminsky has found traces of XCP on over a half-million servers, in Japan, the USA, the UK and...Afghanistan. But The Register suggests this is a low-end figure, since some domains, like AOL, have millions of users "but will register with a domain name server just once in a give time frame."

Much of the criticism of Sony BMG has focused on the potential for serious hacking damage the secret rootkits enable. In fact, according to the BBC News, Microsoft considers them "malicious software," and seeks to remove the "spyware" (or "malware"). Sony has promised to provide a new patch that allows antivirus software to view and "pierce...the cloaking function," though its first patch, The Register says,

potentially opens the door for websites to take control of a PC, a Finnish researcher Muzzy has noticed. An ActiveX control installed by First4Internet Ltd, the British company that devised XCP, allows remote systems full access.

Uh oh! Yet Wired News says that the more serious issue is Sony BMG's initial subterfuge, which the computer magazine harshly decries. Indeed, it suggests that Sony BMG may, in its zealotry, have committed a crime:

By deliberately corrupting the most basic functionality of their customers' computers, Sony broke the rules of fair play and crossed a bright line separating legitimate software from computer trespass. Their actions may be civilly actionable.

Sony may even have committed a crime under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which can carry fines and prison terms for anyone who "knowingly causes the transmission of a program ... and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage, without authorization, to a protected computer." Corrupting Windows so it misreports the contents of a hard drive sounds a lot like "damage," and the click-wrap license agreement on the Sony disk amounts to pretty thin "authorization" -- disclosing only that "this CD will automatically install a small proprietary software program ... intended to protect the audio files embodied on the CD."

Yikes barely captures it. So what now? Sony BMG claims it has suspended making CDs with anti-copy software, despite originally saying it would go ahead and do so with anti-copy code different from XCP. Lawsuits sometimes do make even major corporations change their minds. But given the hysteria among entertainment companies about music downloads, openware and free exchanges of materials, I doubt Sony BMG is going to retreat fully. If it's not XCP, it'll be another Trojan Horse we'll learn about way too late, so matter how much you like Amerie's (pictured above, courtesy of BBC News, Getty Images) "The One Thing," just beware if you're getting it on CD....

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Albert Pujols: MVP + Francis & Mobley: the Buddy System

Nothing is easier to post in the midst of a snowstorm of required reading than sports-related news, so here goes.

After four seasons of finishing in second to fourth place in the race for the National League's Most Valuable Player Award, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman and All Star Albert Pujols (hitting it out of the park, at left) finally received the honor today. Garnering 18 out 32 first places votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Pujols beat out Atlanta's star outfielder Andruw Jones, who'd hit 51 home runs, a career high, and driven in 128 baserunners, and Chicago Cubs' first baseman Derrek Lee, whose .335 batting average (at one point in the season hovering about .370) led the league. Despite suffering from plantar fascitis all season and batting in a lineup that suffered the loss of key personnel throughout the season, Pujols posted a .330 average (2nd), hit 41 home runs (3rd), drove in 117 runs (2nd) and scored 129 runs (1st), swiped 16 bases (to lead the Cardinals), and hit .340 with men in scoring position, all of which were key in returning the Cardinals to the post-season (though a pitching collapse preventing them from reaching the World Series again).

Pujols (at right with his 4-year-old son Albert Jr.) is only 25 years old and has already made his mark as one of the great batters of all time. If he stays healthy and even moderately approaches the level of his first five years, he will go to the Hall of Fame. His tally for his half decade in the major leagues is as follows:

Year ... Average ... RBI ... HR ... MVP voting rank
2005 ... .330 ... 117 ... 41 ... 1
2004 ... .331 ... 123 ... 46 ... 3
2003 ... .359 ... 124 ... 43 ... 2
2002 ... .314 ... 127 ... 34 ... 2
2001 ... .329 ... 130 ... 37 ... 4

This is as good or better than 95% of the live-ball area Hall of Famers, and to think that this Dominican gem struggled to make the cut on several teams down in DR and was drafted after numerous other players whose names have been long been forgotten.

Last week, Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, who nearly retired after unsuccessful arm surgery, was named the National League's Cy Young Award winner, the highest prize given to a pitcher. Carpenter, who barely won over Florida's spectacular young pitcher Dontrelle Willis, posted a 21-5 record with a 2.83 ERA and 213 strikeouts. He was the only Cardinals pitcher to win all his playoff games, and will be central to any postseason hopes they have over the next few years.

***
A recent issue of ESPN: The Magazine (with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant on the cover) has an interesting article on NBA basketball players Orlando Magic guard Steve Francis (at left, being embraced by Mobley) and the Los Angeles Clipper's Cuttino Mobley. The two are so close that there have been rumors that they...are lovers. In fact, when Mobley was traded from the Magic last year, Francis had a breakdown of sorts. As the AP reported back then

But Francis took the departure of his backcourt partner hard.

"I can't put it into words," he said. "Playing with a guy, living with a guy, just knowing that every day when I wake up that's something I can count on, that I'm going to be in practice or in a game with Cuttino.

"Him not being here is going to be tough for me. I don't know what I'm going to wake up for."

Alrighty then. I don't know that I've ever heard any professional athlete describe the trade of a "friend" in such dramatic terms ("I don't konw what I'm going to wake up for") especially given that no one died (well, someone might as well have) and these two are multimillionaires who can easily fly back and forth to see each other. Francis continued:

"They messed up something that started so good, man," said Francis, an All-Star the past three seasons. "I don't feel there was a need to break something up just because he was going to be a free agent and you don't want to pay him at the end of the season.

"You should have known that when you traded for him, so you should have made that decision then."

***

"He's been with Cuttino for six or seven years now, and so it's like losing someone close to you," [Coach] Davis said. "It's a very emotional time for Steve, and I understand that."

***

"You don't wait 30 minutes before a game to tell a guy he's traded," Francis said. "The way you handle relationships, for me, is going to change the way that I approach the game, more businesslike than anything."

The ESPN article delves in a bit deeper, talking about how very close these two, handsome young things (cf. at right, all up on each others' backs) were:

"In Philly they got their first furs together. In Atlanta they bought belts by the fistfull, two of each because each knew if he liked something, then the other would too. Once they went to LA and had lunch at the oh-so-trendy Ivy, staying for more than three hours."
...
"'People would get upset because we were just off to ourselves,' Mobley says, cracking into a pitying smile. 'There's even people who said, "They're gay." Definitely heard that one. On the radio, on the Internet. They don't realize that when you can hug a guy, and say I love him and he's my brother, that's not gay. That's just being a man. We're just two guys who really understand each other."

Yeah, okay, just good friends. But it seems a bit clearer why Francis was so distraught when his buddy got traded away. (Commuting is a b*tch, I can testify.)

According to the ESPN article, although these two paragons of ultraclose, straight male friendship no longer get to hang out on and off the court all the time, they're still very close. Very close. In fact, their constant phone chatting annoys Francis's girlfriend. Oh well. More power to them (and there's even a cute couples shot them with Francis's infant son); super-close straight male friendship hasn't had such high profile exemplars since the 19th century.

(BTW, Bernie and Rod both explore Johnny Gill's weak and homophobic on-air denials about his "relationship" with Eddie Murphy and the allegedly "doctored" photos showing the two very attractive "brothers" together. Personally, I say who cares, though I also have to ask, wouldn't it help Johnny Gill's career at this point if he came out?)

***
Today marks the anniversary of Booker T. Washington's death in 1915. Here's the New York Times's obituary on the "foremost teacher and leader of the negro race." Here's his National Monument page. Here's his Wikipedia biography. Here's the website of the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, for which he served as the first, dynamic president. And here's the Tuskegee Legends page, which features him, George W. Carver, and the famous Tuskegee Airmen, among others.