Thursday, December 25, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Since I've been offline a bit, I initially missed the uproar over President Elect Barack Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation. I think it's indefensible, really, and all the PR in the world, even jointly coordinated with sympathetic gay rights groups, isn't going to make up for the fact that Obama selected this hateful person in the first place. WHY? And seriously, out of all the evangelical ministers of note out there, was Warren, who is a Prop 8 supporter, who is against reproductive rights, who has sung the praises of the Syrian regime and who was recently on TV suggesting in good Christian fashion that disagreeable foreign leaders should be assassinated, the best that Obama could find? I mean, didn't he learn anything after his appearance at this man's church during the election season? I understand his desire to reach out to those with opposing views and his aim of transcending the partisan divide (which I think is going to be difficult, at least in terms of the Republican establishment and its media enablers and allies), but why pick this man and this event?
On the other, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies's pick for the inaugural poet is stellar: Elizabeth Alexander!!!!!!!! (She's the fifth poet to read at an inauguration: the others were Robert Frost in 1961, James Dickey in 1977, Maya Angelou in 1993, and Miller Williams in 1997.) On a hunch the other day I told C that she would probably be the pick, and she is a superb choice on so many levels: she's one of the nation's leading poets under 50 and a member of Obama's generation, she's a native Washingtonian, she's grappled with many of the issues of our era in her poetry, and she knows the Obamas personally from their common time at the University of Chicago. I must add that I think the world of her and her work. And she was one of the original Cave Canem faculty members, and one of my favorite workshop leaders ever. She was also one of the first poets to read at the Dark Room ("Omni Albert Murray, Omni Omni, Albert Murray") in 1988, which is when I first heard, read and fell in love with her work. Elizabeth talks about Obamapoetics here (h/t to Amanda Johnston!), and her reaction to her selection here.
I was very happy to see that California Democratic Hilda Solis would be the new Secretary of Labor. I still think there's a dearth of women in the new Cabinet, but Solis is a dynamic Congressperson with a long history of involvement in the labor struggle.
And speaking of the Cabinet, what happened to Adolfo Carrión Jr.? He told Yale students he was getting hooked up, and then...qué pasó?
On another note, I have been following the news about the brutal December 3 hate crime attack in Brooklyn on two Ecuadorian immigrants, Jose and his brother Romel Sucuzhañay, on the news and on blogs like Blabbeando. While Romel Sucuzhanay was able to get away, the attackers left his brother near death. Last Saturday, Jose Sucuzhañay died. Police have yet to find and arrest the three alleged attackers, who originally were said to have yelled anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs, though that account was later revised. A previous anti-Latino attack on Long Island, where a group of teenagers stabbed immigrant Marcelo Lucero to death. As the Daily News article above notes, the earlier murder provoked protests from New York to Latin America.
I'll end there; these posts are harder to put up than ever. I think my brain is shrinking or something; just toggling between this main screen and the hyperlinked posts seems to be a lot harder than it used to. Oh well--I hope to get back to a regular posting schedule when I return from a little trip. Hope is the operative word....
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
How disappointing that Candidate #5 is Jesse Jackson Jr.
The situation in Greece worsens, with a general strike on top of the riots.
Someone (William Deresiewicz) doesn't think the world of James Wood.
Mark Leckey received this year's Turner Prize.
One of the most perceptive reviews I've read in a while, at least the first half of it: Zadie Smith on Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, and another novel.
On "interface aesthetics." You know.
The Brazilian writer Lima Trindade edits this online journal: Verbo21
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich holds a news conference in Chicago on Nov. 5. (AP/M. Spencer Green)
Fitzgerald noted that Obama was not linked to the charges in any way, and that Blago was captured on tape damning the soon-to-be president for offering only "appreciation" as a reward. It appears that Obama's desired pick, Candidate 1 in the indictment, supposedly transition chief Valerie Jarrett, also did not agree to pay to play, although Candidate 5 (Jesse Jackson Jr.) was allegedly willing to pony up around $500K for the position, or at least this is what was captured on tape. As for the Tribune drama, it appears that the principle owner, Sam Zell, and his chief financial officer, had taken into account Blago's criticisms, even though the paper thankfully did not fire any of the editorial staff as a result. The Tribune did, however, hold off reporting about the investigation (including its own) at Fitzgerald's request, which has brought some criticism, though it appears that in this case, allowing the investigation to unfold so as not to obstruct it or force Fitzgerald's hand was probably the way to go.
I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in Illinois in 2008 who did not think Blago was corrupt, though the brazenness of his alleged recent actions, especially in light of the toxic cloud of scandal that surrounded him at the time of his reelection in 2006, is astonishing. It appears he even knew he was investigation, and possibly being wiretapped, and yet he kept right on going. The irony of his having run as a reformer in 2002 isn't lost on anyone else, I imagine, or that he replaced Republican George H. Ryan, who went to jail for fraud, racketeering and other crimes. According to NPR this evening, he joins an infamous roll of Illinois governors, from both parties, who were indicted, and in most cases convicted, of serious crimes.
One question now hinges on the US Senate seat, which Obama vacated swiftly, in part to allow Illinois's newly appointed junior senator to gain seniority. Until or unless Blago resigns, I gather that he could still appoint someone, including himself, though that person would be horribly tainted and have zero political legitimacy and credibility, let alone power, in the US Senate. Lame duck status from the start would mark this appointee from the beginning. Senior Senator Dick Durbin has called for the Illinois legislature to enact a law that would remove Blago's power to appoint Obama's successor and instead vest it in the Illinois voters, through a special election. Senate president and leading Obama replacement candidate Emil Jones has said he would do so. What about Chicago's all-powerful mayor, Richard Daley, about whom scandals have have hovered like dragonflies? He didn't have much to say today.
Now, irrespective of the pertinent issues here, it is curious to me that the Bush administration has gone after at least three Democratic governors (Siegelman in Alabama, Spitzer in New York, and now Blago), and yet a number of Republican governors, including one who did not pay taxes on her per diems and another whose involvement in the unseating of Siegelman has merited little response from the Attorney General or the Justice Department, have gone unscathed. Hmmm....
How long will Robert Mugabe hang on? A walking death's head, he has precipitated and presided over the complete destruction of his country. The Zimbabwean economy is shot, the government is barely functional, and now a cholera outbreak is racing throughout the country. The African Union, sadly, still supports him. South Africa, which probably has the most leverage and to which thousands of Zimbabweans have been fleeing, refuses to apply real pressure. Some African leaders, like Kenya's PM, Raila Odinga, have called for African nations to help oust Mugabe, as has W, not that anyone is paying him attention these days.
If the economy continues its runaway collapse, worsened by the cholera spread, I foresee the army taking a decisive step and driving Mugabe out, though it probably will have to get a sign of approval and no interference from South Africa. Would opposition leader Morgan Tsangvirai and his MDC Party take over, would control fall to one of Mugabe's hangers on, or would one of the Mugabe's generals hold power? That's something I hope the nations surrounding Zimbabwe, the African Union, and the UN are thinking very carefully about, as the last two options might prove no better than the current situation.
Obama qua Cicero? The President Elect is a master rhetorician and speaker, true. His opponents in the primaries and in the Presidential election even attempted to use his gifts and skills as an orator against him, with little success. More than once observers have cited Black Church oratorical traditions, along with Abraham Lincoln's and John F. Kennedy's examples and the Bible's rhetorical model, as Obama's influences. In the GuardianUK, Charlotte Higgins discerns classical models, both Greek and Roman, in his rhetoric, noting his use of such figures and devices as the tricolon (trios of phrases), anaphora (repetitions of phrases at the beginnings of sentences), epiphora (or epistrophe, as Thelonious Monk might have suggested-repetitions at the end), and one of my favorites, praeteritio (saying what you claim you won't say), which was also, interestingly enough, one of Richard Nixon's favorites. But Higgins discovers life parallels with one of the greatest orators and stylists of all time, the Roman Marcus Tullius Cicero (106BCE-43BCE). She says:
It is not just in the intricacies of speechifying that Obama recalls Cicero. Like Cicero, Obama is a lawyer. Like Cicero, Obama is a writer of enormous accomplishment - Dreams From My Father, Obama's first book, will surely enter the American literary canon. Like Cicero, Obama is a "novus homo" - the Latin phrase means "new man" in the sense of self-made. Like Cicero, Obama entered politics without family backing (compare Clinton) or a military record (compare John McCain). Roman tradition dictated you had both. The compensatory talent Obama shares with Cicero, says Catherine Steel, professor of classics at the University of Glasgow, is a skill at "setting up a genealogy of forebears - not biological forebears but intellectual forebears. For Cicero it was Licinius Crassus, Scipio Aemilianus and Cato the Elder. For Obama it is Lincoln, Roosevelt and King.Without a doubt, he'll require all these rhetorical skills and more to keep the country together, marshal the Congress to pass his projects, and lead us out of the mess we find ourselves in. The silver tongue will need to become platinum. Or as Shakespeare, another master rhetorician, says in Henry IV Part 2, invoking anastrophe (reversal of phrases): "We are ready to try our fortunes / to the last man."
On a completely different note, this little link from Alex Ross's blog caught me: Anton Webern's music on the Andy Griffith Show? Webern in Mayberry: it's not as strange as it sounds.... MMusing blogger Michael Monroe shows how the background music during some of the AGS episodes does sound quite Webernian, which is to say, very spare, a little spooky, and utterly modern. See this clip he found on YouTube. He suggests that mystery visitor might be a certain Mr. Schoenberg. If you're intrigued, search YouTube for "Webern" (portrait below right, by Oskar Kokoschka) there and you'll find a handful of representative clips or snippets of his music. Ross points out in an earlier post, "Tiny Tony," that during the second season of the Sopranos, Webern's "Variations for Orchestra" was playing in the background of a crucial scene!
One Webernian pieces that exerts unending fascination over yours truly is his "Symphony (Opus 21)," which sounds unlike any other symphony you are likely to hear on the radio or concert hall, though it must be said that post-Webernian serial composers have created works as strange and haunting as this. I also love that it was after a New York Philharmonic performance of the "Symphony" that composers John Cage and Morton Feldman first met. I have never heard this work performed live, just on CD and in digital form, but I did write a necessarily short poem, an acrostic in (mildly) graphic form, inspired by it. In the case of Webern, the use of the acrostic and graphic forms echo his own constant play with the possibilities of the tone row, and in a larger sense, with his fellow Second Viennese school composers' use of names as guides for notation in their work. My favorite example of all of these is Alban Berg's "Chamber Concerto," in which he weaves Arnold Schoenberg's, [Anton] Webern's and [Alban Berg] his names into the score (using the German pitch notational system), and like his opera "Lulu," at its exact center, a musical palindrome. Webern did this kind of thing often, including a symmetry in the opening phrase of the "Symphonie," except that unlike Berg (or Schoenberg, their teacher, friend and mentor, who was less adept at such games, having pioneered the whole 12-note concept), whose work makes great use of late Romantic elements and lushness at times, he antithetically pared away all excess, creating pieces that often sound like they've been beamed in from another planet (literally embodying Schoenberg's famous quotation of Georg in the revolutionary "Second String Quartet": "I hear the air of other planets...").
So here's my "Symphony (Opus 21)," and then a YouTube of Webern's "Symphonie," which, as you'll hear, is really a symphony deconstructed (vor den Tatsache--or something like that--William?).
SYMPHONY (OPUS 21)
Notes or their shadows evanesce from each tone row
Traces of key melodies echoes: silence
Order mirrors in intervals invariance:
nothing is wasted
Why wreak such beauty on Vienna?
Even the maestro, Mahler on his deathbed lay baffled
because one must retrain the ear to hear
even familiar harmonies.
Revolution begins in lyric restraint in freedom
nothing is wasted
Copyright © John Keene, 2001, 2008.
Monday, December 08, 2008
I haven't commented on the auto industry bailout just yet, because I still haven't assimilated all the public details, but in general I do believe that if the government is going to bail out the banking and shadow banking system, which includes an entity like AIG, then the big three automakers, who sit at the center of a vast industrial web, ought to get help as well. It should be conditional, I think, based on a complete change of the top leadership of all three companies; a longterm plan for green technology, increasing fuel efficiency, and continuous modernization; a sustainable benefits package, negotiated with the autoworkers unions, for employees and retirees (which would include helping to push for universal, single-payer health care); and a restructuring, with the cooperation of states and the federal government, of the current regulation of brands, dealerships, and so on. Those would be starting points. Economists and people more familiar with the auto industry have deeper insights about all of this, but in general, I defer on the side of helping the companies, and the people they employ, than letting them crash. One thing I hadn't realized is that black workers would be disproportionately affected if the auto industry collapsed. Which is probably what has led to this phenomenon, though the article notes that the cardinal archbishop of Detroit is also soliticing prayers and organized an ecumenical outreach to Congress to press for support. Something about the current administration's response, however, strikes me as being not the right one....
The Supreme Court said NO to the crazy today. Clarence Thomas unfortunately has a job (for life), so what is Alan Keyes going to do? Start preparing to run for the US Senate seat in Delaware?
Is the contemporary art market like the tulip mania bubble of the 1630s? Is it on the verge of bursting? Will we soon be talking about some other values beyond "exchange value"? Ben Lewis and Jonathan Ford think and say so in their Prospect article. (So whither the likes and fortunes of Elizabeth Peyton (at right,
"Live to ride," 2003) Takashi Murakami, Neo Rauch, and others?)
Web writers are now eligible for Pulitzer Prizes! With conditions, of course, and not in the creative categories. But things are certainly changing.... Now, will all the people who continue to spout off about blogs being written by pajama'ed 20-somethings lounging around in their parents' basements, or a claque of liars who'll "say anything" at all, and so forth, please, please, please find a clue?
Possible interesting fact I learned after my reading tonight: you can buy 7 guns per day in Virginia, but only two Louis Vuitton special edition purses per day there, or anywhere is. Is this really true? It seems not: certain brands limit purchases to 3 luxury handbags every 30 days. Or they did--before the downturn.
Tonight the Asian American Writers Workshop held its annual awards ceremony in New York. I'm in Chicago so I wasn't able to attend, but this year's winners included a Lifetime Achievement Award to playwright David Henry Hwang, the fiction award to Mohsin Hamid for The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Harcourt), the nonfiction award to Vijay Prashad for The Darker Nations (New Press), and the poetry award to Sun Yung Shin for Skirt Full of Black (Coffee House Press). As part of the event, Hwang reunited with actor B.D. Wong for a reading and celebration the landmark play, M. Butterfly, which they also discussed with Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists!
Sunday, December 07, 2008
To add insult to injury, the parent company of the newspaper to which I'm linking, the vaunted Chicago Tribune, for decades the Second (now Third) City's leading, conservative paper, is on the knife's edge of bankruptcy. As in, it could come as swiftly as this week. The Tribune Company's owner, Sam Zell, took the company private for about $8 billion, an insane amount even factoring in the portfolio's sterling pieces, the Chicago Cubs, and the major league baseball temple, Wrigley Field, neither of which he can unload right now, and repeated decimating waves at the company's various units, including the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, and the Tribune paper itself, haven't brought in the fantastical revenue needed to service the debt. As I wrote to some correspondents earlier, "the media entities under Tribune control are like those insects that are devoured from the inside out, leaving the appearance, though sickly, of being alive, while being utterly hollow on the inside." Well, not completely hollow, but they're getting there, and we can certainly thank greed and deregulation, alongside the technological challenges the newspaper industry is facing, for hastening these events. At this rate, the nation's second and third largest cities could find themselves with one less major newspaper by January 1, 2009, if things continue on the track they're on now.
(On yet another point, this grim news about the publishing industry came out last week. As James Schuyler once wrote, another day, another dolor.)
On a completely different note, I found Marc Lacey's New York Times article on the muxe, transgender/gender-queering people and related social matrix in Oaxaca, Mexico, both fascinating and a bit confounding. Confounding because the article proceeds as if, despite the wealth of material on gender and sexuality among indigenous peoples and a great deal of work on global performances of gender and sexuality, and despite the extensive contemporary discourse in gender studies and queer theory, there were little context whatsoever beyond the notion there are gay people, there are straight people, and there are some men who don't exactly fit either category but many of them dress up like women, consider themselves women, assume important roles in their community and are mostly and widely accepted, yet how do we define them according to the very fixed rubric of gay/straight? (Of course the word "lifestyle" has to enter the picture!) Etc. I say this not to criticize Lacey so much as to note that for the umpteenth time I'm registering the vast gulf between how things are discussed within academe and outside it, here in the putative newspaper of record. What might an article that were graspable by most readers yet that took into account contemporary discourse on gender and sexuality look like? How might it read so that anybody could read and engage in and with it, and how might academics, and non-academics open up conversations even more to make this happen?
“Thalía,” who was named princess the night before at a vela, or community celebration, for the muxes, waits for a parade to begin (New York Times, Katie Orlinsky)
I was going to write about how I've been baking bread of late, and how it deepened my appreciation first for anyone who does this regularly, for homemade food and cooking, for the felicities of the Internet as an archive and resource, for the simple and profound joy you can derive from successfully accomplishing a task of this sort, for C's marvelous examples as a cook, for my ancestors who had to do this sort of thing with far less at hand, for the delight of finding another way to be thrifty, for finding a way to take my mind of the mounting stacks of material to be read and my own glacially proceeding writing projects, and for the ending of Raymond Carver's famous story "A Small, Good Thing," which I regularly teach and which, despite its evident exemplary status in the contemporary, American realist canon, still carries a faint whiff of the ridiculous with its suggesting that devouring freshly baked bread might create an affective, emotional and social bridge between a grieving couple, parents who've lost their only son, and a crank of a baker whose isolation has led him to behave in an unconscionable way. But then, I made and baked and ate this bread--C. had already done so a number of times--and I realized that Carver might be on to something. I'm not saying that freshly baked bread is the best offering to patch up a broken friendship or any other sort of inimical situation, but the smell of the bread coming out of the oven, and the taste, with just a little butter, or olive oil, or olive tapenade, is enough to calm even pretty severe personal tensions. Or at least I thought so after this last loaf came out of the oven. It really is delicious. Since I've heard that a few readers enjoyed the mulled wine, I'll post a recipe for the bread soon. I need to try it a few more times to make sure I've got it right, and then I'll post it here. A photo, though, of the penultimate loaf:
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
Several people in the Congress, including Barney Frank (D-MA), however, are demanding that the President Elect, Barack Obama, take a more active role in addressing the economic crisis. I find these calls ironic because people like Frank--whom I do support--have yet to acknowledge fully how they helped create the problems we're facing by enabling Bush's misrule through repeated capitulation over the years, except for on a few key issues, and for not holding him and Cheney responsible for their crimes through impeachment. Based on what we've known for at least three or four years now, Bush and Cheney should have been removed from office by Congress beginning in 2006. They also are showing their continued ignorance of the US Constitution, which is quite clear on when Barack Obama will have to address the mess we're all in; like his Democratic predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, Obama has repeatedly stated that there is only one president until the Electoral College meets and the inauguration occurs, and right now, that is W, the man that was foisted upon us in 2000 and that a bare majority of American voters, who have yet to atone for having done so, kept in office in 2004. On January 21, Barack Obama will not be able to deflect anything on Bush or anyone else, despite the widespread recognition that this current administration has set a standard so abysmal we should hope it will never be equaled again; but up to and even after that point, the Democrats who have controlled Congress since 2006 ought to meditate very seriously about their own complete failure of vision and leadership, their incapacity, except on a few key issues, to Oppose this horrendous president and his wrecking crew. We wouldn't be where we are, I think it's fair to say, if they had.
Odetta (Holmes, at left, New York Folklore), the revolutionary singer and activist, passed away on Tuesday. She was one of the important figures in a generation that made possible many of the changes in society, political, social, cultural, that we take for granted today. The civil rights movement, and related struggles for equality for all people, are battles Odetta directly and dynamically took part in through her songs and writings. It's probably fair to say that her soulful presence, voice and art constituted vital contributions to the soundtrack and living text of these battles. Her gifts, however, were aesthetic as well: she also helped to blaze the paths in which a wide array of musicians, and indeed a school of music, folk, flourished, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. It's easy to overlook the significance of someone who isn't at the center of contemporary popularity, but Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and many others have acknowledged their debt to Odetta, to her courage, her grace, her art, and it's a debt, or better, an example, that continues and endures, along with the multiple battles we still face every day.
Here's a YouTube video of her singing "The House of the Rising Son" just last year, on Governor's Island:
It's a rare day when I find something online before Reggie H. and send it his way, but today I sent him. and Bernie a link to this New York Times article on 67 Orange Street, a new Harlem speakeasy on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. I haven't been there yet, but I'm looking forward to checking it out. I also love these kinds of stories, not simply because they document the vibrancy of our culture and the links that exist across history's gulfs, but also because they offer a glimpse of the past that is far richer and more interesting than anything we are likely to see on a TV or movie screen anytime soon.
From the article:
“I saw the parallel between Five Points, written off as a slum, and Harlem,” said Mr. Williams, who moved to the United States from St. Vincent when he was 6 years old. Five Points was the first free black settlement in New York City, but the influx of Irish immigrants soon made it a mixed-race area. Likewise, as Harlem has gentrified it has become increasingly diverse (for better or worse). The gentrification has brought a demand for more upscale places to eat, like 67 Orange and Society Coffee.
The swirl of multicultural music and dance at Almack’s and other clubs in Five Points had a profound influence in the direction of American arts. The dance halls of Five Points were considered the predecessors to Harlem’s famous “black and tan cabarets” of the 1920s. Dance competitions between native-born whites, Irish immigrants and blacks inspired a cross-fertilization of styles. Tap dancing was born in the interaction between the blacks’ shuffle and Irish jig.
Word came today via the CC list that Dr. Pinkie Gordon Lane (1923-2008), the former poet laureate of Louisiana and a longtime professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, had passed away. When I read the news, I thought back to the first Furious Flower Conference, staged by Dr. Joanne Gabbin in 1994 at James Madison University. Not only did I get to hear Gwendolyn Brooks read (with Rita Dove!) for the first time at that event, but I finally was able to see and meet a number of important Black Southern poets, like Dr. Lane, Alvin Aubert, Tom Dent, and Gerald Barrax, whose work I'd been familiar with through my job at the time, but who were not and perhaps still are not as much discussed as some of their contemporaries writing in other parts of the country. What a revelation that was, and how gracious Lane and the other poets were! She was also a pioneer: in 1967 she became the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University. While teaching at Southern, from which she retired in 1986, she published 8 books including 5 poetry collections, beginning with Wind Thoughts in 1972; her last published collection was Elegy for Etheridge (2000). The words, thankfully, are still with us.
You can read an interview with Pinkie Gordon Lane here.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
It was as if
I was lying
under a low
through the eye
of a needle
Copyright ©, from W. G. Sebald, For Years Now (images by Tess Jaray), London: Short Books, 2001, p. 57. All rights reserved.
Monday, December 01, 2008
"AIDS: This is no time for complacency," by Jay A. Levy, San Francisco Chronicle (December 2008)
"AIDS: A stigma endures," by Susan Blumenthal and Melissa Shive, San Francisco Chronicle (December 2008)
"On World AIDS Day, consider the impact on youth," by Sam Ho, Allentown Morning Call (December 2008).
"AIDS fight requires resources, even in tough times," by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chicago Tribune (November 2008)
And because I can't find a link to it but received it in an email and thought others might find it as interesting as I did:
"Reconstruction," by Charles Stephens (whose blog was one of the inspirations for my starting this one back in 2005) and Craig Washington, courtesy of AID Atlanta and the National Black Justice Coalition
Over 20 years ago, the writer Joseph Beam proclaimed that "black men loving black men is the revolutionary act." Writing in the midst of an historical catastrophe, Beam was able to articulate a phrase eerily beautiful and simple, yet potent. That was an era when black gay men were the invisible element in the AIDS epidemic, and arguably are still invisible. There was daring and urgency to his message that we must revisit to give us the inspiration and perspective necessary to move forward. As we think about how HIV/AIDS has impacted our communities, lives, and relationships with ourselves and each other, Beam's phrase has never been more appropriate, valuable or relevant. Moving forward we must consider the value of love. Black gay men, black lesbians, and black transgendered people loving themselves and each other. In that love, we must consider the following strategies to provide a paradigmatic and methodological shift, in an effort to energize and recharge our movement.
Re-emphasize the impact of HIV/AIDS on black gay men. The AIDS epidemic was first presented to the public as a white gay men’s health issue. Although GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder) was quickly redefined as AIDS, non-gay Blacks, Latinos, and women of color were recognized as "the changing face of AIDS", and safer sex education became focused on behaviors. Even with that shift, many non-gay minorities continued to see their risk as determined by their identity. Instead of taking that opportunity to address stigmas attached to queer sexual orientations and sexuality in general, the HIV/AIDS industry dissociated AIDS from "gay" to encourage heterosexuals, especially black heterosexuals to give it priority. Two decades later, despite the irrefutable statistics confirming black gay men as the group most heavily HIV burdened, the campaign to de-gay AIDS rolls on. Black gay men are often missing or underrepresented in prevention marketing strategies, AIDS drug ads, and community mobilization efforts. We cannot effectively respond to the spread of HIV until we recognize that gay men matter.
Rethink home-based testing. The move toward HIV testing in nontraditional venues and outside of clinical settings should be applauded. These efforts can reach individuals who might not go to an AIDS service organization or ask their doctor for testing. Now we must not be afraid to move to the next step - home-based HIV testing. We cannot be afraid to empower our most at-risk populations with immediate access to their HIV status. Having access to one’s HIV status is one of the most effective forms of prevention. Though pre and post test counseling can be an effective tool in HIV prevention, its absence should not a barrier to our people knowing their HIV status.
Restore pleasure to safer sex. People like having sex without condoms because it feels good. But we tend to automatically label those who engaging in consensual sex without condoms as suicidal, self-hating, irresponsible, lacking in self esteem, or mentally unbalanced. When we do that, we underestimate the pleasure principle. Sex is one of our most primal drives and it facilitates pleasure, intimacy, power, comfort and love like no other form of engagement. By imposing a singular medical framework on these acts, we deny the profound spiritual, psychological and emotional value they provide. By deploying fear based incentives, we may briefly capture attention, but scare tactics do not motivate a sustained behavioral change. We instead need to open a broader dialogue with people regardless of their condom use, and help them negotiate harm reduction in ways that respect their sexual proclivities. Skills building workshops, discussions and counseling groups that focus on enhancing sexual pleasure and not merely making condom use "sexy" may reach more people and help them develop healthier, safer and more fulfilling sexual behaviors. Instead of mandating abstinence or consistent condom use as the only viable prevention methods, we can better serve our communities without judging or scaring them.
Re-imagine the range of Prevention options. Though the condom is a necessary and effective part of any HIV prevention strategy, it’s imperative that we develop, improve and sustain newer technologies and approaches to sexual health. As the rates of new HIV infections among black gay men, particularly young black gay men climbs to new heights, we must unshackle ourselves and our work from behavioral approaches exclusively. This means advocating for biomedical and structural methods in HIV prevention, while we continue to develop and innovate behavioral models. With regard to biomedical approaches to HIV prevention, we must insist on the development and distribution of pre and post-exposure prophylaxis, vaccines and rectal microbicides. For structural interventions, we must explore and address the litany of causes that facilitate risk among black gay men: socioeconomic disparities, the lack of a living wage, the lack of housing, and other societal factors that create fertile conditions for risk among our brothers. We must also ensure that those who are HIV positive have access to adequate healthcare and treatments that maintain low viral loads which can reduce their rate of infectiousness. We must be proactive, innovative and willing to think outside the box.
Reinforce our pride. Our struggles with gay identity are much more grounded in our reinforced repression of our inner feminine beings than any conflicts with historical white cultural oppression. We must help gay men work through self hatred and embrace the feminine being within themselves and each other. We also have to de-stigmatize gay identity throughout black communities. Most media images of sexual minorities tend to depict African Americans as irrevocably homophobic. Yet many of us have narratives of love and acceptance from within our community. These narratives are rarely broadcast as culturally normative. We should develop a campaign that conveys messages of acceptance and breakthroughs that occur among black families. Right wing organizers and black demagogues have been marketing homophobia in black communities for decades. It’s about time we started working our own positive campaigns to promote black love among black people. ??
Charles Stephens is the African-American Gay Outreach Coordinator for AID Atlanta. He is committed to art, social justice, and gay men’s health.
Craig Washington, MSW, is a Prevention Programs Manager at AID Atlanta. He is a writer, organizer, and consultant on HIV and social justice issues.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
I should note that one of the first bits of international news I heard on Thanksgiving Day morning concerned the horrific series of attacks, lasting for three days, in Mumbai, India. As of the most recent tally, over 195 people were killed, nearly 300 were injured, and the physical destruction to Mumbai's chief attractions and the psychological damage to its people and to India more broadly, as well as the further destabilization of India's already fraught relationship with neighbor Pakistan, are as of this point still incalculable. According to this Daily Mail account by the lone surviving terrorist, the original aim of this gang was to kill around 5,000 people and cause inestimable destruction. 3 RDX bombs they had planted which could have raised the death and destruction totals and razed the Raj, were thankfully either defused or did not go off. The recriminations in the Indian government have begun, as have accusations of Pakistan's complicity, but I sincerely hope before anything escalates at the national level between these two nuclear powers that they, and other nations, including the United States, can sit down and figure out what happened and how, even in light of the intractable problem of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as other issues, to prevent it in the future.
People hold a candle-light vigil, for the victims of the terrorist attack in Mumbai. (AP Photo)
On a different continent, another horror was playing out: the politically oriented, socially fractious riots in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, where over 350 (or considerably more, depending upon the source) people have died, countless have been injured, and residents of certain neighborhoods have had to flee their homes (photo at left, IRIN). The Plateau state governor has dispatched troops to calm the violence, which was led by armed bands of opposing political factions that closely mirrored the Muslim and Christian divisions in many parts of central and northern Nigeria. What appeared to spark the riots were allegations that the People's Democratic Party (PDP) had unfairly won the elections. As the first article I linked to suggests, the Nigerian federal government should probably step in to calm the tensions and assure, to the extent possible, the fairest and most transparent resolution to the electoral contest.
On a completely different note, I've been following of late in some of the conversations composer and Juillard School professor Greg Sandow has initiated on his blog around current problems with classical/European-American art music. He is now compiling a list of what he suggests are ways that classical music "doesn't connect" with contemporary audiences. There have been some excellent thoughts and suggestions, from Sandow and others in the classical music field, and I haven't had too much to add, except on a few points where I can speak without sounding like too much of a fool. Sandow has more than once attempted to analogize the condition of the contemporary classical music world--meaning more than just composers and compositions, for example, and encompassing all of the related institutions--to other art genres and forms, noting for example that classical music concerts tend to emphasize a fairly historically and formally narrow collection of composers and works, especially at the expense of the new.
One of my first thoughts about this was that, in fact, if you take literature, every single genre, in almost every nation, society, and culture around the world, presents new works alongside the classics, and it would be very strange, for example, to read only or primarily works from 200+ years ago, whether they were poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction, criticism, and so on, even though in some cases those works still hold tremendous sway over contemporary literary production. In the case of American literature, of course, British literature from Modernism backwards looms large, which is unsurprising, but there isn't a single major institution in the academic or publishing realms, no matter how fixated it might be on the importance of British literature in relation to American or any other literature, that would primarily or only teach British texts from, say, the British Renaissance, employ scholars in this area, invite people to present talks on or read from texts written during that period. I don't think even British Renaissance (and perhaps say Italian, French, and German Renaissance) scholars and enthusiasts would find that all too interesting. And yet it is very much the case in the classical music world that the music produced from the late Baroque period through the late Romantic era (roughly Bach to Mahler), primarily in German-speaking countries but with some selections from France, Italy, and Britain, garners the overwhelming share of attention and programming at most orchestras. In some cases, most work produced in the 20th and now 21st centuries, beyond selected composers and works, does not get played very much if at all.
One could make all sorts of arguments about why this happens, and that is what Sandow and company have been engaging in for some time (years, really). I'm interested to know what other J's Theater readers think about this. If we were to look at other genres of say, music, especially popular music, which Sandow does reference quite frequently, I would argue that if the musical genre is still living, which is to say, if people are still creating within the generally accepted forms and modes of that music, it's common to hear both the older, sometimes oldest, forms of that music as well as the most recent. Jazz would be one example, but rock & roll, or the much younger hip hop would also fit the bill. Or maybe none of these musical forms can be analogized to classical music in the same way, because of incommensurabilities, like history and chronology and technology and systems of distribution and performance, and so on. What do you think?
I didn't post anything on the 125th edition of "The Game," and I truly didn't pay much attention to it, but when I learned the results, I was quite happy that a certain team based in New Haven did not win (they did not score a point). Nevertheless, the Crimson and the Bears finished in a tie for the league championship. The University's team, the Wildcats, finished 9-3, ranked 25th in the country, which means a Bowl visit.
Lastly, this Sierra Leonean begs to differ on a key, recent US historical point, while a black St. Louisan demonstrates he's living in a parallel universe. Chacun à son goût, I think the phrase goes....
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
On Friday, two distinguished writers and three graduate students affiliated with the university's MA/MFA program read their work at the new Center on Halstead in Lakeview, easily one of the sites most seeing in the Boystown-Belmont area of Chicago. MA/MFA faculty and Center for Writing Arts visiting fiction writer-in-residence Sefi Atta read from the opening of her novel Everything Good Will Come (Interlink USA), while Chicago Tribune columnist and Brenda Starr comics writer Mary Schmich offered three short essay-columns, one of which involved hang-gliding in Rio. (She captured the experience perfectly.) Aubrey Henretty (creative nonfiction), Nate Zoba (poetry), and Kelly Burgess Mayer (fiction-creative nonfiction), one of my past and current students, presented their works as well.
MA/MFA co-director and author Sandi Wisenberg introducing Nate Zoba, Kelly Burgess Mayer, Aubrey Henretty, Mary Schmich, and Sefi Atta
On Saturday evening, a group of Joshua Marie Wilkinson's poetry students from Loyola University in Chicago, led by Charles Gabel, invited me to read with them and Loyola professor Terence Boyle, at a poetry reading-salon they regularly host in Rogers Park. It was tremendous fun, an honor to read with Terrence, and also so encouraging and exciting to hear these young poets, whose interests range widely, who're publishing chapbooks and journals, and who're collaborating on projects of all kinds. One highlight was when one of the writers (a student at Columbia College) and her girlfriend performed Chris Stackhouse's and my "unreadable" poem, "Index," from Seismosis, giving (doubled) voice and body/ies to the concrete-ish poem and its twin image. Thanks again to Charles and all these poets, and we must do it again!
Terence Boyle reading his work
The performance of "Index"
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Yesterday, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was named the MLB's 2008 National League Most Valuable Player. Pujols hit .357 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI, and had an on-base percentage of. He beat out the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies' (and native St. Louisan) strapping slugger, Ryan Howard, who hit 48 homes (first in the league) and drove in 146 runs (first), while hitting only .251.
Albert Pujols, aka El Hombre (or Prince Albert, Phat Albert, The Machine, and my personal tag for him, Big Papa, Photo: Emily Rasinski/P-D)
Pujols was easily a more consistently dangerous threat at the plate, with an on-base percentage of .462, and a .653 slugging average, both well ahead of Howard. He was second only to Atlanta's Chipper Jones (.364) in the batting title race.
This is Pujols's second MVP award, making him the first Latino and Dominican player to achieve this status; his first came in 2005. He has been in the top five every single year he's been in the league, save last year, and is the only player in MLB history to have 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in this first 8 seasons. It's not unlikely that if he had better protection in the lineup he could have hit even better. As it was, despite being out 12 games because of injuries, he still helped kept the Cardinals in contention for most of the season, until their late fade, when they finished in 4th place.
Other MLB awards: AL MVP, Dustin Pedroia (Boston); AL Cy Young, Cliff Lee (Cleveland); NL Cy Young, Tim Lincecum (San Francisco); AL Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay); NL Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto (Chicago); AL Manager of the Year, Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay); NL Manager of the Year, Lou Piniella (Chicago).
Bernie T. pointed out this amazing story to me, and Reggie H. posted about it yesterday, so I'll send you to his blog to read more. Take it away, Reggie:
Since my partner and I got hooked on Rugby thanks to watching the Wallabies, the All-Blacks, and the Tri-Nations tournament on Fox Sports, I can't resist pointing to this video and article about The Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in Washington DC, from the New York Times.***
When the team starts the post-game singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," I get all choked up....
Aim High, boys!
I seldom read Newsweek magazine, but I did flip through it today while waiting at the pharmacy, and saw Sarah Bell's article, "Urban Outfitters," which among other things asks why Kehinde Wiley, whose gorgeous new paintings are lighting up New York (in the exhibit "Down" at Deitch Projects and elsewhere) hadn't acknowledged his debt to Barkley L. Hendricks.
Who is Barkley L. Hendricks? Well, interesting that you ask, because today the New York Times offered a brief focus on Hendricks that's worth checking out. Hendricks is an important but little heralded painter whose work from the 1970s on has mapped out a new area in African-American and American vernacular, photorealist portraiture. To give one example of his work, I've posted of my all-time favorite of his works, "North Philly Nigga (William Corbett)," [1975. Oil and acrylic on cotton canvas, 72 ½ x 48 ½ inches. Collection of E. Blake Byrne, Los Angeles], which resoundingly evokes a world I and many others know and recall so well. Many of his most famous paintings, full-size in scope, depict urban black male subjects, sometimes in dandyish fashions, sometimes in street wear, but he also has painted numerous portraits of black women and group images, some inspired by prior works in the Euro-American art tradition, others drawn from his own photos and mass media imagery, as well as from his personal life. He also has exhibited some of his photography, which mines a similar vein.
Hendricks, it turns out, is having his first major retrospective exhibit this year; titled Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, it's now at the Studio Museum in Harlem (it runs from November 12, 2008-March 15, 2009). (You can hear the great art historian Richard Powell on Hendricks' work, from the exhibit's previous stop at the Nasher Museum of Arts at Duke University website.) A graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Yale's art school (BFA, MFA), and a longtime professor at Connecticut College, he has been making his art almost concurrently with the rise of late 20th century vernacular forms such as hip hop, funk and r&b, and his work is the epitome of soul, wit, grit, rawness, queerness, and realness. Although work of this kind hardly seems revolutionary now, especially with the "return" of painting, especially representational and realist painting over the last few years, Hendricks is and should be acknowledged as an important pioneer. His DNA is all up in Wiley's and others' work. So give some props, bruh. And let's all get up to the Studio Museum (and Deitch) if we can!
Hendricks on YouTube (doesn't he sound a little like Chris S.?)
He received a United States Artist award as well this year (congrats to all the other winners, including folks I know, like Harryette Mullen, A. Van Jordan, Tayari Jones, and Forrest Gander, and many I've long admired, like Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Joy Harjo, William Greaves, Jawole Wille Jo Zollar, Ela Troyano, and lê thi diem thúy!)
(Also running simultaneously with this exhibit is AACM philosopher-musician George E. Lewis's Travelogue, a SMH StudioSound exhibit that he writes was "twenty years in the making.)
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
By the time I snapped the photo, the snow had stopped. A cashier in the bookstore I'd dropped into mentioned that because of the less extreme weather earlier, he hadn't even worn a coat or jacket to work, and now wasn't sure what he was going to do. I suggested he call a family member or friend to bring a jacket, or a coworker heading in to work to lend him the same. I felt so bad for him that I almost wanted to go buy him a jacket myself. Unfortunately for both of us, whatever desire I had to carry out that altruistic act was dispelled when I saw the ticket nestled in the snow atop my windshield. I guess someone has to pay for all those appealing new banners across the
There was still a little snow on the ground but tonight the sky was clear as I walked from class to the El. I'd felt crappy earlier in the day but this evening class always picks me up. A group of students and I were heading west on Superior and one mentioned how much she enjoyed having a glass of wine when she got home from class, and the cold weather immediately made me think of mulled wine, which I will always associate with the Second Sun readings at Naïeveté Studios, and especially with Toni Asante Lightfoot (who is now the mother of Leontyn Ella Gbegan!!!-congratulations, Toni and Setondji!) and Krista Franklin. I suggested mulled wine to some of the students, a few of whom hadn't heard of it, so in honor of little Leontyn, and my great grad students, here's the recipe, from an earlier J's Theater, for mulled wine:
Mulled Red Wine (hat tips go to Toni A. L., Krista F. and James Earl H. and Donald A. for their delicious version).
MULLED RED WINE
2 bottles of merlot, red zinfandel or a similar wine ($5-9 range, not too cheap, not to expensive)
2/3rds cup of sugar or honey
zest from 1/2-1 orange
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup of brandy or cognac (not too cheap)
+ non-reactive pot, muddler/spoon, non-reactive bowl/mortar, stirring spoon, mugs/coffee cups/warming cups.
1. Pour the red wine in a non-reactive pot (non-stick, tempered glass/Pyrex, stainless steel, etc.), and heat over a low flame. Avoid very cheap wines, since they grow unpalatable when heated, and avoid aluminum, which will react with the wine.
2. With a vegetable peeler, zester or paring knife, zest the orange, making sure to avoid the white backing of the peel and rind, since there's less flavor and it can be bitter.
3. Muddle (or mash with a pestle or spoon) the zest/peel, releasing the oils, in a non-reactive (glass, porcelain) bowl or mortar.
4. Add the zest/peel to the wine.
5. Stir in the sugar, making sure it dissolves, then add the cloves and cinnamon sticks.
6. Add the 1/2 cup of brandy or cognac (the better the quality, the better the taste--and it adds real bite).
7. Heat until the wine is steaming, but try not to let it boil.
8. Set it aside, let it cool, and then ladle it into mugs, and enjoy!
(And remember, if you have more than a glass, designate a responsible driver, hire a cab or hit the public transportation!)
Monday, November 17, 2008
Now, some photos from the Rally which became a (permit-less) March.
The rally area, at Federal Plaza (Calder sculpture in the background)
One of my favorite (silly) placards
Heading towards Michigan
On the street, beneath the new banners celebrating our President Elect, Barack Obama
Protesters have fun
Two ebullient protesters
Not sure where this is (but in the Loop!)
A drummer, heading back towards Michigan Ave.
Illinois's very gay state seal
The Chicago mounties
Near Wacker Drive (and those famous Marina "Honeycomb" Towers)
Alongside the Chicago River on Wacker Drive (I took this photo from Starbucks window--the young black folks working in there were quite supportive)
Back on the street
Some impromptu young marchers who joined on Michigan Ave.'s Miracle Mile
On Michigan Avenue's Miracle Mile
He's still provoking tremendous excitement across the globe, including among African-descendant people in Latin America (thanks, HBR!), and in particular in Brazil (from left, singer Toni Garrido, actor and model Walter Rosa, actor and MC André Ramiro, and actor Rocco Pitanga, photo: João Laet, Agência O Dia). Though black and brown French people and Britons are energized by Obama's victory, France's lone black governmental minister remains pessimistic that a French Obama is possible with the current political crowd. Yet his French enthusiasts have formed committees to discuss and push for change, and have the support of France's first lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy. In the UK, it's not likely anytime soon, given the political system and comparatively smaller black and brown populations, but some believe the electorate would be ready.
There's a subset in this country, however, who aren't happy at all at the election results (just as they weren't by the very prospect of Obama's candidacy or victory), and are acting out in horrid ways. It's imperative that while we respect people's free speech rights, the authorities do not write off as "knuckleheads" or "aspirational," that is, take lightly the threats against the president or anyone else, or dismiss violent or deadly acts by these folks. As the Oklahoma City bombing 13 years ago demonstrated, domestic terrorists can be as great a threat and as deadly as foreign ones.
We're hardly in a post-racial world; this is part of what poet Brian Gilmore eloquently argues in his Bookforum review of historian David R. Roediger's How Race Survived U.S. History and law professor and my college classmate Ariela J. Gross's What Blood Won’t Tell, books that Brian says "chart the ongoing legacy of the legal apartheid system in the United States." Not that I need to say this, but no one should be celebrating the end of "race" or racism, two terms that unfortunately that often elided into one another to efface the latter and misrepresent the former.
Back to President Elect Obama, I'm trying not to focus too much on the ideological-political casts of his appointees (I've been disappointed by some of the picks, like Rahm Emanuel, and heartened by others, like Mona Sutphen), or get too caught up in the drama involving any mention of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in the new administration. Certainly I think she'd be an excellent Secretary of State, or really anything he appointed her too, because she's brilliant and dogged to the point at times of ruthlessness, but then several of the people whose names have been bandied about for this post could serve with distinction. The real issue as I see it is would this post be enough for Hillary? Then again, short of the presidency, what would a comparable platform? One person he pray he does not pick is Colin Powell, has irrevocably disgraced himself through his active participation in putting us in Iraq. His endorsement of Obama was great, but that was more about his own atonement. Another, and this goes without saying of course, is John McCain--President Obama, just say no, seriously. With regard to his larger staffing process, I sincerely hope he is considering many more new faces and fewer of the Clintonistas, and lots of Latinos and Asian Americans, since he won among both groups overwhelmingly. There's a reason the vote totals in California, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and other states weren't close at all.... His first two choices for the US Supreme Court should be Elena Kagan and Harold Hongju Koh. Sí se puede!
I'm glad to see that it's increasingly unlikely that the longest-serving Republican Senator, now a convicted felon, will not be heading back to Washington. This means no Palin appointee, including herself, and a moderate-progressive Democrat, Mark Begich, will be holding the junior Alaska seat for at least the next 6 years. Al Franken remains in limbo, though the way things are looking incumbent Norm Coleman could be facing not just a recount but a judge and jury fairly soon. I keep getting emails from Jim Martin's campaign about the runoff in Georgia; the voting begins today.