Friday, September 05, 2008

Back Up & Running

And now, finally, I'm back to my previously scheduled program, many stones, three surgeries, two stents, and a month and a half later, just as the summer, unfortunately, is winding down and the academic year is about to barrel in. Neither C nor I thought in July that things would turn out to be so complicated, but such are the body's vagaries. If I say that neither of us would like to see the inside of a hospital anytime soon, or spot evidently crazed people who later turn out to be one's nurses, or overhear hospital staff regaling each other about homeless people's chicaneries to get food, or juggle any of the countless forms required every time you set foot near the patient intake center, or I don't think I'd be stretching. But throughout the medical professionals, like C, have been exemplary, so let me say thank you. The experience yet again highlighted for me the necessity of comprehensive, truly universal health insurance, and the urgency, for all of us, not only to elect people at every level of government who will support it, and then to hold them fast to its implementation as soon as possible.

As I posted before, I greatly appreciate all the get-well wishes, posted here or sent via email. They've truly been a balm.


Many J's Theater readers know that had I been feeling better, I was likely to post shots from a major athletic extravaganza like the Beijing Olympics. But I had vowed to myself before the events took place not to promote them in any fashion on this site, mainly because of host nation China's horrendous record, past and recent, in so many areas of human and political rights, and because of the ongoing bloody repression of the Tibetans and other social, political and religious dissidents and minorites there. (Let me be clear that in calling out China I am not absolving the United States or any other country). It just so worked out that I was in constant enough pain during the period of the Olympics that I was unable to post anything (I could barely type at certain points), but I was captive and lucid enough that I watched most of the televised events, especially towards the end. The Chinese really know how to stage mass events and win gold medals, no? Does anyone think they won't be atop the gold and total medal counts by the next summer Olympics in 2012, in London? And will the corporate press ever live down the shame of covering for the Chinese authorities and, as they've done during both major US party conventions last week and this week, failing to do their jobs by reporting on the serious issues in China and the attempted protests, the imprisonment and the suppression of dissent?

As I said, I was couchbound for weeks, and watched a slew of events, including ones I little enjoy like beach volleyball, team handball, and shooting (which turned out to be pretty interesting). My favorite athletic moments beyond the more obvious ones, such as the swimming races, which, despite the Michael Phelps hype (though he admittedly was unbelievable), or the US men's team's (the "Redeem" team) basketball games, provided great drama, or the gymnastic competitions, which naturally received a lot of press, not least because some of the Chinese female gymnasts were visibly underage, were numerous. They included the individual and team victories by various US fencing squads (women's foil, women's and men's sabre); the gold victory by the all-black French epee fencing team (above left), and the bronze by French baby giant judoka Teddy Riner (at right); the triumph by the lone out gay male athlete in Beijing, Australian Matthew Mitcham, in the mens' 20 m platform diving (though NBC saw fit to suppress his victory celebration with his partner); the medal victories by athletes from tiny countries, like the Dominican Republic's boxers or Togo's kayaker or Panama's long jumper; and the gold, replete with a compelling background story, won by men's under 55 kg freestyle by Henry Cejudo.

One of my favorite sports, track and field, did not disappoint. I believe I watched nearly all the running events that wer televised, including the marathons. Most exciting I thought were Usain Bolt's spectacular victories in the men's 100 and 200 m, the Jamaican women team's 100 m sweep, the American men's 4x400 race, and the last minute victory by American Sanya Richards (below, with her fellow relay team members) of the women's 4x400 race, which almost felt like it had been scripted in a Hollywood; Romanian Constantina Tomescu's breakaway victory in the women's marathon, which required a gutsy decision by the winner to push herself as much as possible and then not let up; the 1-2-3 victory by the Americans in the men's 400 m and 400 m hurdles; and the blazing triumph that bespectacled 110 m Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles turned in.

On a sports listserve I belong to, I commiserated with other fans about NBC's coverage, but I have to say in retrospect that things weren't so bad overall in part because some of the less popular sports (equestrian; weightlifting, etc.) were broadcast, just not on NBC. Between MSNBC, USA Networks, Oxygen, and Telemundo, and NBC's online site, it was possible to see a great deal of what was taking place in Beijing, often live. Thus I got to see the rowing events, wrestling, soccer, baseball, and quite a bit of other stuff that wasn't featured on the main channel. (I suspect, however, that some sports, like modern pentathlon, were just not broadcast at all. Oh well.) I hope this becomes standard policy for the future.


I have been following the political races too, and watched most of the Democratic convention and about as much of the Republican one as I could stomach, which is not much. Whatever my quarrels with Senator Barack Obama's positions, detailed on this very site over the last year or so, I was utterly moved and impressed by his acceptance speech last Thursday. The speech itself was prehaps less soaring that some of his other ones, but the performance overall, which includes the setting, the history-making quality of the event, its significance for our political culture, nearly brought me to tears. It has been interesting to note the contrast between the tones of the two conventions, the quality of speechmaking and political rhetoric at the one last week, a great deal of it inspiring, visionary and hopeful, and this week (so much of it acid, detached from the problems we face as a society and as a world, and in complete flight from the debacle of the last eight years. The political commentary by the punditocracy I've found almost uniformly abysmal, with the sole exception of MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. (Who thankfully will be getting her own show next week!)

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Most of the people on air appear less informed about basic aspects of the party's and candidates' platforms, their histories, their ideologies, and what they're saying and how they're saying, than my two cats. They are very good at regurgitating talking points issued by the McCain campaign and RNC, or reciting whatever they've read on Drudge Report. I expect Fox always to be at the bottom, and they do not disappoint ever, but the major broadcast channels, as well as CNN and even PBS, have proved to be quite bad. Watching Charlie Rose the other night, with "liberal" Al Hunt (Mr. Judy Woodruff?) downplaying or simply not broaching every valid criticism of the unqualified and constantly lying, self-described "barracuda" that John McCain has chosen as his Vice Presidential pick made me want to puke.

And can I just say this: it really says everything about John McCain that he picked someone who has lied, blatantly, in each of her first three public appearances since being named to his ticket. Think about that: on each of the first three times Sarah Palin spoke as the Republican VP pick to the American people, she blatantly lied, not just about one issue, but about multiple ones. Most obviously, she lied about that "Bridge to Nowhere" in Ketchikan. Congress canceled the earmark in 2005, taking the issue off the table. Let's state this again. Congress canceled the earmark IN 2005, TAKING THE ISSUE OFF THE TABLE. She was not elected UNTIL 2006. Yet she still advocated for the earmark in 2006 while running for office, and when Congress sent the money, without specific requirements for the bridge, she used it, in part to build a "Road to Nowhere"! Last Friday, she said before the paltry crowd in Dayton and the world that she had "told Congress" no thanks—I know her boss is clueless about Google, but is she? How dumb does this woman think we all are?

In addition to the cynicism it displays about the political stakes we face, the sexist assumptions that women would vote for any woman, and in particular this social and religious extremist, and sheer contempt for politics in general, McCain's selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin undergirds one of Obama's fundamental critiques of McCain last Thursday: the Arizona senator, in addition to being out of touch, too far to the right, and lacking in any principles, has terrible judgement and a reckless temperament, both of which this choice embodies.

As people close to me will testify, I was very disappointed with Obama's selection of Senator Joe Biden, whom I think of as a Washington insider whose foreign policy instincts and pronouncements I've tended to find pretty suspect. He essentially agreed with Hillary Clinton and John McCain on invading Iraq, with poor excuses as to why, and on the Georgian crisis, he's been pushing almost the same line as the Bush administration. (Why on earth have none of the Democrats called more forcefully for bringing Russia to the table to discuss the situation? It's clear that McCain's campaign is hitched financially, via advisor-lobbyist Randy Scheunemann, to Georgia's leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, but the Democrats aren't also on Georgia's payroll, are they?) I was much more in favor of Obama picking someone like Montana's governor Brian Schweitzer, for example, who really brought a lot to the ticket, including ideological and geographical diversity. Schweitzer would have been a fresh face with substance behind it, unlike Palin, and as he showed at the convention last week, he possesses that coin that the establishment media seek like a jones: the man's a geiser of authenticity, real, unvarnished folksiness. From the perspective of several weeks, however, I'll give Obama the benefit of doubt. I think he and his team were right, and Biden looks like a very good choice as running mate, especially compared to Palin.

As of today Obama retains his national lead as well as leads in many states. But I was born and grew up in a state, Missouri, in which there are many people—perhaps not a majority, but close to it—who will find this woman's personality and the establishment media's bowdlerized version of her personal history, scrubbed almost completely of the pertinent and highly disturbing facts, quite appealing. There are more than a few places across the country, in Missouri and elsewhere, in which the politics of resentment and ressentiment, as well as cynicism, subterfuge, sub rosa racism, and host of other dangerous crap, which the GOP is playing to the hilt, very well may prove effective. So I worry. I really do.

But then I also keep in mind that the basic facts of today, the rising unemployment rate, the dodgy financial system and the collapsing real estate market, the rising costs of living, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady tide of news about un-Constitutional activity that emanates from the White House—all of it may trump the exhausted and yet still caustic ploys the Republicans and their allies are turning to, it may trump the relentlessly flogged narrative of the POW-hero-"maverick" the press repeats like a mantra, and it may trump the presence of this dangerous, horribly unqualified woman whom the McCain campaign is itself so unsure of they will not let her near their very "base," the establishment media, they have quickly turned against like rattlesnakes in order to cow.

But as I've said it will not be easy—and not one of us who wants someone other than John McCain and Sarah Palin in the White House (and yes, there are options such as Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, Ralph Nader's traveling roadshow, and various folks on the right, like Bob Barr, who'd be worse than McCain-Palin) should assume it will be.


On a completely different note, the one and only Jennifer Saunders (French and Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous) will have a new show on US TV, a sendup of daytime talk shows entitled The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle. It headlines Sunday's upcoming Sunday Comedy Block, starting at 9 pm EST. I can't wait!


In a few days I'll try to post some reviews and other things. I haven't gotten half as much reading as I'd hoped to, certainly far, far less than last summer, but I haven't been totally idle, or addled.

I did get out to the opening of CONTRANYM, a show curators Kelly Kivland, Alisoun Meehan and Chris Stackhouse mounted in the New Voices, New York series at chashama ABC gallery, in the East Village. The gallery itself was a toaster, but the art, by Robert Delford Brown, John Cage, Victoria Fu, Stephanie Loveless, and Brian Kim Stefans, was cooking in the best way.

In addition to chatting with the curators and Brian, I had the opportunity to meet fellow Cave Canem poet Myronn Hardy, whose book of poems The Headless Saints appeared earlier this summer. Here are some photos from that event. Enjoy!

The crowd at Contranym
The crowd at Contranym
Brian Kim Stefans's digital piece at Contranym
Brian Kim Stefan's digital film, "Scriptors"
A Robert Delford Brown Fluxus-style piece
Part of the collaborative Robert Delford Brown "Fluxus"-style piece, "Explosion of a Tile Factory"
At Contranym
Inside and outside


  1. welcome back john... we missed your wisdom and insight....

  2. I've been wondering where you were. My dad suffers from kidney stones, so I've had a ringside seat to that kind of pain. I hope you recover completely, and make whatever dietary/lifestyle changes you need to avoid it in the future. And yes, I, too, appreciate your insight. Been looking for it, and glad you're back.

  3. Yea! So glad you're back! I definitely missed your voice as well, plus I got a bit worried about how serious things must have been to keep you from writing about the Olympics and the DNC. But clearly you've made up for it, and then some, in this post. I second Lisa C. Moore's wishes to you for full recovery and good health!


  4. yay! i'm so glad you are feeling better! i was just about to send you some avant-garde get-well music but now i guess it will be to-your-health music :)
    are you going back to school?

  5. Lisa, Audiologo and D/T, thanks so much for the good wishes. I will be heading back to teach and am looking forward to this year, as I'll be supervising the creative writing honors students and teaching in the new MFA program. All avant-garde music is welcome! ;-)

  6. Welcome back to the blogisphere, dear friend! Your avid readers missed you

    Wishing you much health and happiness

  7. So glad yo see you back. The Bill T. Jones show should be wonderful. I am a long time fan. Take care.

  8. Happy you are feeling better. And, happy you are writing.