Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Barack Obama Speaks Out + Diasporic Journeys + Mahfouz RIP

Obama causes furor with criticism of Kenyan government "graft"
It was all going so well for Democratic Senator Barack Obama. He was visiting Kenya, his father's native country, and from the moment he stepped off the plane, he received rock-star treatment, which only increased when he dropped by his father's village. Then, two days ago in a nationally televised address, he sharply criticized the Kenyan state's well-documented corruption. Specifically he said,

"The freedom that you fought so hard to win ... is in jeopardy....It is being threatened by corruption."

"Here in Kenya, it is a crisis, a crisis that is robbing an honest people of the opportunities that they have fought for, the opportunity they deserve."

Obama urged the citizenry to demand accountability. As a result, the administration of Kenya's president and former "reformer" Mwai Kibaki slammed Obama's comments as immature, Kibaki spokesperson Alfred Mutua stating that "It is now clear that he was speaking out of ignorance and does not understand Kenyan politics, we earlier thought he was mature in his assessment of Kenyan and African politics." He went on to suggest that Obama had been duped by the opposition, which championed the remarks, though critics both inside and outside Kenya have called attention to the situation that Obama was decrying. His visit aimed to call attention to democracy, human and economic development, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the links between the US and Kenya, and he didn't stint on speaking forthrightly. Now that he has shown courage over there, I wish he would show more courage and be more outspoken over here, on the ongoing threats to democracy (cf. the failure to ensure fair voting and full access to the ballot), the failures in human and economic development in the world's richest country, and the HIV/AIDS crisis, particularly among African Americans. He could also take a more forceful stand against any potential war against Iran. His stature and political capital would only grow as a result of doing so.

On the African Diaspora: Part 2
Ekow EshunIn the current issue of the Nation, Hazel Rowley looks at several recent books--James Campbell's Middle Passages, Kevin Gaines's American Africans in Ghana, and Ekow Eshun's (at left, BBC) Black Gold of the Sun--each of which explores through differing means the dynamic relationships within the larger historical, socioeconomic and cultural field that constitutes the African Diaspora. Rowley notes that Campbell's book consists of several historically diverse narratives about journeys to and from Africa that deromanticize the idea, which is still widely held, of an uncomplicated return to the Motherland. She cites in particular Richard Wright's journey there and the resulting alienation that he captured in his record of the trip, Black Power. Gaines's study, which Rowley lauds, with a line of criticism for its sometimes knotty academic prose, looks at the specific, increasingly sour history of African Americans in late colonial and post-colonial Ghana. Eshun, former editor of Arena artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the brother of critic Kodwo Eshun (author of More Brilliant of the Sun and one of the smartest people I've ever met), charts a course that, Rowley suggests, is a lot closer to Wright's than he (or she) seems to have imagined, especially given that Eshun's parents were Ghanaian natives, they maintained most aspects of their native culture and practices, he'd spent three years there as a child, and he was, in a literal sense, going "home." (He avers that he expected it, at the very least, to "feel like home," and without that, he'd have "nothing left to hold on to.") Instead, he finds not the Ghana of his imagination or dreams, but transformed versions of Williams's "pure products of America," the globalized economy and its estranging effects, in social and economic form, deeply ingrained in contemporary Ghana. Rowley's concludes her piece with the following comments, with which I strongly agree:

When Wright found himself disgusted by African behavior, he resorted to somewhat racist generalizations about the "African personality." Eshun asks himself an important question that Wright does not ask: "Europe looked down on Africa. Maybe I'd been doing the same thing?... Does living in a white country make you, in some way, white?"

What does it mean to be white? It's time that white people asked themselves the sorts of questions with which people of African descent have wrestled for centuries. Eshun seems to be referring to that righteous complacency and sense of superiority one witnesses every day in the modern world--from the conduct of foreign policy to daily interactions between nonwhites and whites. I can't help thinking that if we all tormented ourselves with these sorts of questions, the world might be less ignorant, less polarized, less hateful, less bellicose.

Naguib Mahfouz RIP
MahfouzAnd more Africa! As the media have been reporting since this morning, Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), Egypt's and the Arabic language's only Nobel Laureate, died today at the age of 94. Internationally, readers and critics esteemed Mahfouz most highly for his fictional works of the late 1950s and 1960s, in particular The Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street), as well as several other works like Midaq Alley. In these texts he deftly and richly draws the lifeworld of the middle, working and poorest classes of urban Egyptians, infusing the conventional European novel and short-story forms with his poetic style, which exploits the stylistic resources of elevated, literary Arabic. In Egypt and other Arabic-speaking world, Mahfouz was a popular success, and readers knew his texts inside-out. More broadly, he played a key role in the development of the contemporary Arabic novel, and in contemporary Egyptian letters. His importance extends beyond the realm of literature, however; as a supporter of the assassinated president Anwar Sadat (about whom he penned his 1985 novel, The Day the Leader Was Killed) and Egypt's 1978 peace accords with Egypt and a critic of religious fundamentalism, Mahfouz provoked considerable controversy, which only increased when he supported Salman Rushdie after the fatwa was launched against him. (Mahfouz had even experienced an early version of the condemnation that attended Rushdie's Satanic Verses with his 1959 novel, The Children of Gebelawi, which Muslim fundamentalists claimed depicted sacred figures from the Bible and Qu'ran as heroes in a story set in an alley.) In 1994, an Islamic fanatic stabbed him in the throat, nearly killing him and almost completely curtailing his writing. My introduction to Mahfouz's work came shortly after I learned of his winning the Nobel Prize. I was curious to read his work, having read only the Egyptian novevlist Nadal el-Sadawi, and found Miramar (1967) at Avenue Victor Hugo, the great used bookstore on Boston's Boylston Street. I devoured that haunting little text and mistook its experimental technique for all of Mahfouz's work, which led to mild disappointment when I came across some of the earlier works, though I've come to appreciate the breadth on display in the works I've read of his 40+ text oeuvre. Bracketing his troubling role for some years as Director of Censorship for the Egyptian state (I know he had to eat, but still), I have long taken his general outspokenness and courage in the face of extremism and authoritarianism (which underlined his entire career), his prodigiousness, his humor and discipline, his insistence on transforming the world of his country and people into art, and his deep humanism as inspirations, and treasure his contributions to the art of literature.

Donna Edwards for Congress

Another candidate who's caught my attention is Donna Edwards (at left). She's running for the MD-4 seat currently held by another Democrat, Albert Wynn. Why support one Democrat over another, and why this particular Democrat over incumbent Wynn? The answer lies in part in Wynn's record over the last few years: he's voted for some of the worst legislation to come before the Congress in years. He supported the bankruptcy bill, the estate tax repeal, and the 2003 Bush energy bill. And of course he was snowed by the Bush administration on Iraq. Edwards meanwhile, is a real progressive candidate. She's championed living wages, campaign finance reform, empowering consumers in dealing with pharmaceutical companies, government-protected Social Security, environmental safeguards, economic revitalization of working-class communities, and greater protections for female victims of domestic violence. She co-founded and served as the first executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and received national recognition for her role in the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. With regard to the Iraq War, she supports bring the troops home, better Congressional oversight over any future military (ad)ventures, and a return to engaged diplomacy. Edwards worked for Wynn in the 1980s and backed him, but could no longer stand behind his awful record. The Washington Post admirably has endorsed her bid. If she defeats Wynn in the primary, she'll be elected to Congress, but she's far behind in fundraising, so please help her out if you can.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina: One Year Later

DevastationThe New Orleans Times-Picayune: Katrina: One Year Later

From Carpetbagger Report: Some of the statistics:

* Less than half of the city's pre-storm population of 460,000 has returned, putting the population at roughly what it was in 1880.

* Nearly a third of the trash has yet to be picked up.

* Sixty percent of homes still lack electricity.

* Seventeen percent of the buses are operational.

* Half of the physicians have left, and there is a shortage of 1,000 nurses.

* Six of the nine hospitals remain closed.

* Sixty-six percent of public schools have reopened.

* A 40 percent hike in rental rates, disproportionately affecting black and low-income families.

* A 300 percent increase in the suicide rate.

More statistics, from Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch:

Demographics Index

Number of persons Hurricane Katrina displaced from Louisiana: 645,000 to over 1.1 million

Number displaced from Mississippi: 66,000 to several hundred thousand

Total number of applicants for FEMA Individual Assistance for Katrina and Rita: 2,560,230

Estimated number of storm-displaced Gulf residents who were ages 65 and older: 88,000

Estimated number of U.S. communities to which storm victims evacuated: 724

Average distance traveled by evacuees from Chalmette, a largely white community in St. Bernard Parish, La.: 193 miles

Average distance traveled by evacuees from the Lower Ninth Ward, a largely African-American community in New Orleans: 349 miles

Estimated percentage of the New Orleans metro area’s pre-storm population of about 460,000 that had returned as of June 30: 37

Percent of the New Orleans area’s pre-storm population that was African-American: 36

Percent of the New Orleans area’s post-storm population that is African-American: 21

Increase since Katrina in the New Orleans area’s prestorm mean household income of $55,000: $9,000

Percent decline since Katrina in single-mother households with children in the New Orleans area: 43

Housing Index

Percent of Louisiana mortgages past due as of July 2006: 20

Percent of Mississippi mortgages past due: 13

National average for percent of past-due mortgages: 4

Average rent for a one-bedroom New Orleans apartment before Katrina: $578

Average rent for a one-bedroom New Orleans apartment as of July 2006: $803

Occupancy rate of livable apartments in New Orleans: 99 percent

Number of mobile homes ordered for the Gulf Coast: 7,737

Number of smaller travel trailers : 105,927

Number of storm-affected households holding Federal Emergency Management Agency hotel vouchers: 39

Number of storm-affected households approved for housing assistance: 946,597

Minimum percent of New Orleans public housing that is still closed: 80

Number of homes the Army Corps of Engineers has demolished in Louisiana since Katrina: 1,105

Minimum number of New Orleans public housing units scheduled for demolition: 5,000

Months after Katrina that federal money for housing reconstruction was approved: 10

Total federal funds dispersed so far to rebuild homes: $0

From Beyond Katrina, some of the events and commemorations planned for today:

8/29 –
Come Back Home Campaign

Around 5,000 survivors who are still displaced and scattered all across the U.S. will be traveling to New Orleans to make their demands to return home heard by the city council of New Orleans. The People’s Organizing Committee is working with survivor’s councils around the country to build toward this coordinated effort. This event is the last part of the Come Back Home Campaign.
Coordinator: People’s Organizing Committee
Contact: Ishmael Muhammad,

8/29 – Trinity Episcopal Church (1329 Jackson Ave) will host a musical vigil to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. From 12 noon to 12 midnight, the church will be open to all who seek a space to pray, meditate, grieve, hope, walk the labyrinth, listen to music, and find strength for the future. The vigil will begin with Noonday prayer, and will also include musical prayer services at 5 pm (Evensong) and 9 pm (Compline), with music and readings in between. The vigil will conclude at 12:01 am on Wednesday August 30. We also invite the public to write, draw, or paste their memories, losses, burdens and fears in a Book of Remembrance. Please come as you are and stay as long as you like.
Coordinator: Trinity Episcopal Church
Contact: Albinas Prizgintas –, 670-2520; Nell Bolton –, 670-2543

8/29- New Orleans Jazz Funeral Requiem - In Honor of the Vistims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and the flooding of New Orleans caused by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
* As an invitation to New Orleans: Cultural Artist & Activists, Social Service Organizations, Neighborhood Organizations, and Citizens.
Where: New Orleans Superdome, Poydras St.
Time: 11:30am, Procession to Congo Square
phone: 504-312-9546 or email:

8/29 – United Front to Commemorate the Great Flood memorial march
People’s Hurricane Relief Fund is working to coordinate a memorial event around the anniversary of H. Katrina’s landfall and the ensuing Flood. PHRF is working with more than 30 grassroots organizations to plan and execute the memorial. Current plans center on a memorial march from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 29 beginning at the levee breach in the Lower Ninth Ward and ending at Congo Square.
Planning meetings are currently scheduled for Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Musicians Union Hall (2401 Esplanade Ave).
Contacts: Malcolm Suber, 504.931.7614,

8/29- Desire Street Ministries and Desire St. Academy
On the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 29 at 10 a.m. CT, students, faculty, family and friends will all gather in the New Orleans' Upper Ninth Ward at the former ministry and school headquarters of Desire Street Ministries and Desire St. Academy, at 3600 Desire Street, for a time of prayer, remembrance, and thanksgiving lead by executive director and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Danny Wuerffel.
Desire Street Ministries was established in the Upper Ninth Ward in 1990 when Mo Leverett, a pastor, musician and missionary, moved into the Desire Street neighborhood to reach out to children who were trapped in poverty and crime. Fifteen years later, the ministry was supporting a church, an academy for urban young men, a pediatric clinic, and various programs designed to help revitalize the Desire neighborhood, most of which was lost on Aug. 29, 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, as is completely devastated the Ninth Ward and dislocated the entire Desire St. neighborhood.
In the aftermath of the storm, Leverett and Wuerffel worked tirelessly to locate the students currently enrolled in the academy who had been scattered throughout the United States, and find a suitable location to restart the school, and to care for staff, family, and friends. Shortly after, Desire Street Academy relocated to Camp Timpoochee, a 4-H camp located in Niceville, Fla., operated by the University of Florida, Wuerffel's alma mater.
CONTACT: Marcia Peterson, (866) 633-0070,

8/29 – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- To commemorate the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, The Historic New Orleans Collection will host an all-day event on Tuesday, August 29, 2006, featuring presentations by the Times-Picayune reporting staff, winners of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Hurricane Katrina coverage, and a lecture and book signing by Richard Campanella (Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, August 2006). The anniversary event, free and open to the public, will be followed by a reception and exhibition viewing.

8/27-8/29 – The City of New Orleans has planned Hurricane Katrina memorial activities themed Remembrance, Renewal, and Rebirth on Sunday August 27, 2006 and Tuesday, August 29, 2006. All City events are free and open to the public.
Schedule of Activities:
Sunday, August 27, 2006
3 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Gospel Concert in the 2nd Floor Aditorium, Hall H, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (900 Convention Center Blvd.). The concernt will reflect on the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, honor survivors and memorialzie the lives that were lost through songs of praise and worship. The concert will feature a performance by the One New Orleans Mass Choir and other gospel artists.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
8:30 a.m.: Prayer Breakfast at Asia Baptist Church (1400 Sere Street). Mayor Ray Nagin will be the special guest of Dr. William J. Shaw, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and Dr. R. B. Holmes, Jr., President of the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education at a prayer breakfast to pray for the rebuilding of New Orleans.

9:38 a.m.: Ceremonial Bell Ringing and Wreath Laying
Mayor Nagin and Mrs. Nagin will be joined by community leaders, elected officials, dignitaries, city employees, and the public at 9:38 a.m. on the front steps of City Hall (1300 Perdido St.) to ring ceremonial bells signifying the series of levee breaches that occurred throughout the city. Bells will ring for two minutes. (9:38 a.m. – 9:40 a.m.) Simultaneously, members of the New Orleans City Council will lay wreaths on levees throughout the city.

10:30 a.m.: Mississippi River Heritage Park Dedication Ceremony
Mayor Nagin will join City Council President Oliver Thomas and members of the New Orleans City Council, to dedicate a monument titled, “A Place of Remembrance,” at the Mississippi River Heritage Park (1100 block of Convention Center Blvd) in remembrance of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Noon: Citywide Interfaith Service
National, state, and local leaders will reflect and offer inspirational words of encouragement at the Citywide Interfaith Service at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (900 Convention Center Blvd.). Clergy from various religious backgrounds will offer scriptural readings and prayer. Bishop G.E. Patterson, Presiding Bishop of the Church of God In Christ Inc. and Pastor of Temple of Deliverance Church of God In Christ in Memphis, Tennessee, will deliver the Keynote Address.

2:00 p.m.:One New Orleans Procession in the tradition of a Jazz Funeral from
the Convention Center to Superdome
The Traditional New Orleans Jazz Funeral Procession will be a 1.5 mile march, led by Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to the Louisiana Superdome. The procession will include first responders, national, state and local elected officials, dignitaries, jazz musicians and the community at large. The traditional jazz funeral procession will honor first responders and the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
A traditional New Orleans Jazz Funeral is a musical tribute honoring the passing of noted members of the community. This cultural ceremony is distinguished by an assemblage of musicians, usually featuring several brass band elements who stage a procession. The procession begins with the playing of the dirge, a slow, mournful, solemn tempo that expresses a somber respect for the deceased. At a certain point, the procession picks up the tempo and energy in celebration of the positive accomplishments of the individual and an acknowledgement of his or her zest for life.
Contact: For more information about memorial activities, please e-mail

8/29 – St. Bernard Parish daylong remembrance beings at 10 a.m. with the dedication of an illuminated, stainless steel crucifix and stone monument bearing the names of the 129 St. Bernard Parish residents who died in Hurricane Katrina. The monument will be located at the site of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet
Coordiator: St. Bernard Parish Council
Contact: Tony “Ricky” Melerine, parish councilman and committee co-chair and Charlie Reppel, chief of staff for Parish President Junior Rodriguez

8/29 –Back to the 9th on the 29th
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans plans a “Back to the 9th on the 29th” lunch (12 noon) at the Shirley Landry Benson PACE Center at St. Cecilia (4201 N. Rampart St.) to recognize Catholic Charities’ dedication to models of excellence in healthcare, education, housing and economic development in the neighborhoods of New Orleans.
Coordinator: Chatholic Charities Archdioces of New Orleans
Contact: Sarah Comiskey, associate director of communication - 504-596-3023,

8/29 –Interfaith Prayer Service
The Archdiocese of New Orleans will hold a prayer service from 7 to 8 p.m. on August 29 at St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square hosted by Archbishop Hughes. Members of 12 faiths, including Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu will participate in this service. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will play in Jackson Square from 8:00-8:55, and at 8:55, the Katrina bell (twin to the 9/11 bell in New York City) will be rung to commemorate the lives lost in Katrina.

Dan Seals for Congress

Recently I contributed to ActBlue, which supports politically Netroots progressive candidates across the country, and one of the candidates I selected just based on the site's writeup was Dan Seals, who's running as a Democrat for the IL-10 congressional seat, which includes some of the wealthiest suburbs in the United States (Winnetka, Wilmette, Northbrook, Highland Park, Lake Forest, etc.). After learning more about him, I am really excited about his campaign, and hope he can defeat the incumbent Republican, Mark Kirk, whose positions include staying in Iraq at all costs, voting against funding for troops and slashing veterans' health care and other benefits by billions of dollars, cutting college loan programs by almost $13 billion, championing the Social Security privatization schemes, pushing a government-mandated day of religious observance (!), and many other awful positions that have characterized the current Republican-led Congress.
Seals Family
In contrast, Chicago native Seals supports a structured withdrawal from Iraq, protection of Social Security benefits, a reworking of the Medicare prescription drug plan that doesn't give most of the power to the pharmaceutical and insurance companies, a restoration of college loans and an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind legislation (which friends of mine who're public school teachers almost uniformly agree is a mess), and in the increasing theocratic environment in which we're living, supports a strong and vigorous separation between church and state. With most of these positions, Seals sounds like a typical Democrat, which he is. I can't find much on his site about addressing the growing economic inequality in this country, protecting women's reproductive rights, broader issues involving US foreign policy, and so on. But without a doubt, having him in Congress would represent a sharp turn to the center-left from Kirk, who is a dyed-in-the-cotton right-winger and Bush administration true believer.

To win, Dan Seals needs financial support. Currently 92% of his funding comes from individual contributors. If you like his positions and what he has to say in a chat with Air America's Al Franken, or in this podcast with Archpundit, please consider helping his campaign out. You can go either to his site directly or to ActBlue, which played a role in Ned Lamont's victory in Connecticut, and is helping candidates like Jim Webb pull ahead of George Allen.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Raja Rao RIP

Raja RaoIt was only a few weeks ago that I learned about the passing, on July 8, 2006, of Raja Rao (b. 1908, Mysore, India--at left, India Tribune). He was one of least well-known of the major 20th century Indian novelists. Rao's philosophically imbued, at times formally innovative fiction, which offered a new approach for incorporating Vedantism and other non-Western ideas, into the European novelistic form, helped to foster the blossoming of the English-language novel in India. His most highly acclaimed works are the anti-imperialist novel Kanthapura (1938, 1963) and the spiritually profound, rather abstract The Serpent and the Rope (1960), for which he was eventually awarded the Neustadt International Prize in 1988. Rao also wrote several important non-fiction texts, on India and other topics, and taught philosophy for over 20 years at the University of Texas. One of the best tributes on his behalf is the sole poem that the great poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote in English, "To Raja Rao," from 1969, which I reprint below (I've borrowed it from Poet Seers):


Raja, I wish I knew
the cause of that malady.

For years I could not accept
the place I was in.
I felt I should be somewhere else.

A city, trees, human voices
lacked the quality of presence.
I would live by the hope of moving on.

Somewhere else there was a city of real presence,
of real trees and voices and friendship and love.

Link, if you wish, my peculiar case
(on the border of schizophrenia)
to the messianic hope
of my civilization.

Ill at ease in the tyranny, ill at ease in the republic,
in the one I longed for freedom, in the other for the end of corruption.
Building in my mind a permanent polis
forever deprived of aimless bustle.

I learned at last to say: this is my home,
here, before the glowing coal of ocean sunsets,
on the shore which faces the shores of your Asia,
in a great republic, moderately corrupt.

Raja, this did not cure me
of my guilt and shame.
A shame of failing to be
what I should have been.

The image of myself
grows gigantic on the wall
and against it
my miserable shadow.

That's how I came to believe
in Original Sin
which is nothing but the first
victory of the ego.

Tormented by my ego, deluded by it
I give you, as you see, a ready argument.

I hear you saying that liberation is possible
and that Socratic wisdom
is identical with your guru's.

No, Raja, I must start from what I am.
I am those monsters which visit my dreams
and reveal to me my hidden essence.

If I am sick, there is no proof whatsoever
that man is a healthy creature.

Greece had to lose, her pure consciousness
had to make our agony only more acute.

We needed God loving us in our weakness
and not in the glory of beatitude.

No help, Raja, my part is agony,
struggle, abjection, self-love, and self-hate,
prayer for the Kingdom
and reading Pascal.

Copyright © Czeslaw Milosz, 1969.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Prose's Useful New Prose + Letter to SF Giants

Creative Writing Teaching Texts
One of the ongoing challenges I've found in teaching creative writing classes is finding an adequate standard theoretical or technical text to accompany the stories and novels I assign the students. At the university we've tended to use a common reader, featuring stories by established writers and essays written by teachers in the program, but I've also always supplemented it with a broader and more diverse selection of creative essays and work that I think will benefit my students. In the past, I've also utilized some of the better known readers out, with supplements. Unlike some creative writing teachers, I do think you can teach the art, or better, than you can teach the technical aspects of the art, inculcating an appreciation and desire for risk-taking and problem-solving, or in other words, creativity and innovation. I also believe you can foster more attentive, perceptive and critical reading in creative writing students. It's possible to do this without a standard teaching text, but having one definitely helps. According to today's New York Times Book Review, Francine Prose's seductive new book, Reading Like a Writer: A Book for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them, might be just the book many creative writers are looking for. I actually saw it last week when I was in the book shop at the New York Public Library's 42nd St. Research Division (one of my favorite places in all of Manhattan), but didn't pick it up. I just might. Have any Jstheater readers reviewed it yet? Thoughts?

Valentine to the SF Giants
Dear San Francisco Giants,

Thank you so much for doing your part these last few days. By taking 3 out of 4 games in your series with Cincinnati, you have done a great service for the St. Louis Cardinals, who still have almost no starting pitching to speak of, but managed to sweep the Chicago Cubs this weekend. Your victories almost make up for the Mets series. Please tell your reviled superstar Barry Bonds (who went 3-3 today) that the Cardinals fans (and not just Albert Pujols) are especially grateful to his improved play.

BTW, The Dodgers are definitely within your reach.



Saturday, August 26, 2006

Quote: Alice Munro

Munro"If I had been younger, I would have figured out a story. I would have insisted on Mr. Black's being in love with one of my aunts, nd on one of them--not necessarily the one he was in love with--being in love with him. I would have wished him to confide in them, in one of them, his secret, his reason for living in a shack in Huron County, far from home. Later, I might have believed that he wanted to, but hadn't confided this, or his love either. I would have made a horrible, plausible connection between that silence of his and the manner of his death. Now I no longer believe that people's secrets are defined and communicable, or their feelings full-blown and easy to recognize. I don't believe so. Now, I can only say, my father's sisters scrubbed the floor with lye, they stooked the oats and milked the cows by hand. They must have taken a quilt to the barn for the hermit to die on, they must have let water dribble from a tin cup int his afflicted mouth. That was their life. My mother's cousins behaved in another way; they dressed up and took pictures of each other; they sallied forth. However they behaved they are all dead. I carry something of them around in me. But the boulder is gone. Mount Hebron is cut down for gravel, and the life buried here is one you have to think twice about regretting."
--Alice Munro (1931-), from "Chaddeleys and Flemings," in Selected Stories (New York: Vintage, 1997).

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Survivor's Racing Ahead + Lee's When the Levees Broke

Survivor's Race Game
Another day, another dolor
, to echo the late James Schuyler. In keeping with the current reactionary societal logic of today, CBS's Survivor show (why is it still on the air???) will divide up this fall's 20 competitors by "race." Claiming a desire to bring "more diversity" to the show, Mark Burnett and the other producers decided to create four "tribes" of five players--there'll be White, African-American, Hispanic not a racial category, but hey, the Nixonians knew what they were doing when they devised it), and Asian teams, at least initially, for the 13th edition of the show, Survivor: Cook Islands. (Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and any other "racial" categories presumably would have included would have messed up the neatness of the numbers.) Supposedly Donald Trump considered doing this with Apprentice--and he did divide teams up by sex--but the outcry was too great so he backed off. Survivor: Cook Island's overt segregationism masquerading as a "new" approach parallels the unspoken segregration, racism and racial exclusivity, ethnocentrism, and racial, ethnic, gender, and class stereotyping that plagues so much of mainstream TV (cf. Black White or Welcome to the Neighborhood) and the media landscape in general. (Cf. Crash, Soul Plane, etc.) Then again, at a time when you have someone like Pat Buchanan openly calling for immigration policies to ensure "white dominance," Senator George Allen slurring an opponent's staffer as a "Macaca," Joe Lieberman's aide using racist appeals against Ned Lamont, and on and on, it's not surprising. And let me not forget the recent story from Shreveport, Louisiana about the 9 Black children who were forced to sit at the back of their school bus so that White children could sit up front, or the lawsuit in Alabama alleging resegregation of bathroom facilities, to name just two of the more egregious recent examples. The uproar--if there is one--about this will probably draw more people to the show, which saw its ratings plummet last year. How much stereotyping will the show engage in? (The athletic Blacks who cannot swim; the delicate Asians who'll use their brains to outwit everyone; the hardworking Latinos Hispanics, etc.). It also makes you wonder, what's next? Teams based on religion? Sexual orientation? Class? Political affiliation? IQ scores?

Of course one might say that this is all much ado about nothing; this kind of mess pops up all the time. Any and every response could be viewed as a form of reaction, of particularized aggrievement. Why not just ignore it, not give it credence, not hype it up? Why not allow this TV program, which will reach millions more people than any thoughtful book or documentary or even feature film, to broadcast whatever it will, and find means to put forward a counter-discourse, not a reactive one, but a proactive one? So what if this kind of crap, and other programs like it, reinforce millions of people's misguided ideas about race, ethnicity, and so on? Don't worry, be happy....

Andrés on When the Levees Broke
I wasn't able to catch Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke on HBO, but Andrés at Blabbeando writes about it and underlines the consistent praise I've heard about Lee's treatment of one of the worst disasters and failures of government leadership this country has faced in its history. If there was any event that should shocked Americans out of our complacency about the disastrous way this country has been run by 2000--or should I say run into the ground--it should have been Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, which played out horrifically in real time as the TV cameras rolled. Over 1,000 people died, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced (and many still are), and one of the country's major cities, as well as a huge swath of the Gulf Coast extending in both directions, was completely obliterated. I carry around memories of the images, the images of the destruction and suffering--and a residue of rage--about what happened down there, and I applaud Lee and anyone who calls attention to the ongoing devastation and loss, the failure of leadership and lack of services, and above all, the continuing absence of accountability that has left New Orleans, other parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama shells of themselves, and scattered their people, our people, everywhere. Next week is the one year anniversary of this tragedy--we have to be vigilant so that if we can, we don't ever let anything like it happen again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Verse Plays Sought + The Cultural Society

Verse plays in your drawers?
For the poet-dramatists out there, from poet Phebus Etienne:



Houseful of Poets,
the sequel to The Republic of Poetry
produced in June, 2005

The armature around which this collaborative collage piece will be built is a newly-discovered play by Frank O’Hara, The Houses at Falling Hanging, which will be intertwined with Gertrude Stein’s In the Garden and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria da Capo. So: we are looking for short (or longer) plays written in a poetic form (loosely or rigidly) which are on the subject of war or love (or both), have some sort of social-political slant, and are grotesque, funny, weird, comic, slapstick, or what have you…SCRIPTS MAY BE SENT TO MEDICINE SHOW AT 549 WEST 52ND STREET
NY, NY 10019

Update: I realized there was no deadline, so I wrote them and here's what I got back:

There is no hard-and-fast deadline, but we would like to have a substantial
number to choose from by the 3rd week in September, the 20th, say. Earlier
would be better. If someone is planning to send us something, they might
notify us ahead of time.

Best, Chris Brandt

The Cultural Society
Zach Barocas, a poet and cultural activist I met a few years ago, has set up a site that features some of the work he and a small collective of people, including his wife (who once ran one of my favorite stationery stores in New York), have been working at for the last few years. The Cultural Society site includes online texts (including poems by Tyrone Williams, Pura López-Colome, Stacy Szymaszek, Dan Featherston, Paul Naylor, Graham Foust, and many others), publications for sale, images, and if you're in Minneapolis, where Zach is now based, readings and other events.

Here's one poem that really resonated for me, by John Tipton:
"the falsework gave way..."

the falsework gave way beneath the falsework
a bridgeless space opens time is flat
light streams falls a lightwell forms
where nothing opens in the orange bridge
is neither evidence nor is it stable
an orange bridge is riveted in blue
& you begin to fall you fell
you span the weave of bodily perfection
my bridge makes distance grammar, theory bend
the crows’ calls as clear as speech
lose the glowing rivet to the glint
of a river purling fourhundred feet dark
there the skaters will glide come December
& your descent is true is true

— John Tipton (© 2002)

Zach recently sent along his new Cultural Society book, a collection of poems entitled Among Other Things (2006). Among their broadsides are works by Princeton professor Paul Muldoon, Devin Johnston (of Flood Editions), Chicago Poetry Project's John Tipton, Australian poet Les Murray, and New Yorker Pam Rehm. The Cultural Society has periodic open calls, so stop by the site in case you have poems or pictures you think might fit their aesthetic.

Random photo

Changing the window display at the Mark Jacobs store, West Village

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Buchananazism + Gatlin banned + Baseball Update

The GOP Id on display
I haven't read his new book, State of Emergency (in fact, I haven't read any of his books, or his magazine, nor will I), so I'll take Think Progress's word for it: Pat "Putzi" Buchanan wants a moratorium on all immigration because...he wants to preserve "white dominance." So much of the public rhetoric on immigration hinges on this idea that cannot, must not be expressed, except in code. But then there's always Pat Buchanan to set things off. According to Think Progress, in his newest screed passing as a book, he writes:

America faces an existential crisis. If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built. No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic transformation and survived.

Quite a bit is missing from that history, of course. All of America faces an existential crisis, or just white supremacists? "Their ancestors created and built"--hmm, I wonder if he realizes who actually laid all those stone foundations, graded those streets, ploughed those fields from Charleston to Boston, Washington to Saint Louis.... He goes on to quote syndicated racist Sam Thomas, whose corrosive rhetoric in a Washington Times (naturally!) commentary led to his firing in 1984, as well as those other interlocutors of racial and ethnic understanding Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, John Rocker, Al Campanis, etc. Here's another choice quote:

In 1994, Sam Francis, the syndicated columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times…volunteered this thought:

“The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted by a different people.”

Had Francis said this of Chinese civilization and the Chinese people, it would have gone unnoted. But he was suggesting Western civilization was superior and that only Europeans could have created it. If Western peoples perish, as they are doing today, Francis was implying, we must expect our civilization to die with us.

Since I haven't read the book, I don't know if he trots out Thomas Jefferson, Arthur de Gobineau, Adolf Hitler, Josef Mengele, William Shockley, J. Philippe Rushton, Ward Connerly, and Jesse Helms, to name just a few of his other racialist avatars, but then, as I said, I haven't read the book. He's been decrying the "invasion" of the US for several years now, so perhaps he felt it was time to clarify what was most at stake for his ilk.

Interestingly enough, Digby pointed out a few days ago that the GOP, lacking credibility and facing increasing voter wrath, has been turning to one of its favorite and toxic, and I should add, often effective, political tools. Just consider the steady stream of harsh rhetoric about immigrants, such as comparing them to cattle, to George Allen's infamous recent "Macaca" episode, to Conrad Burns's hypocritical freestylings to the renewed conservative call for racial and ethnic profiling on airplanes. And then leave it to Buchanan, a longtime hate peddler, Nixon speechwriter and former Republican presidential candidate to pull off his hood and expose the party's true....

Justin Gatlin admits to positive test
I heard this evening that US sprinter and Olympic 100 meter champion Justin Gatlin (at left, USOC) who'd tested positive for testosterone during the April 22 Kansas Relays, has agreed to an 8-year ban on participating in professional track and field competition in exchange for providing information helpful to the US Anti-Doping Agency. As a result he also forfeits his 9.77 world record time, which he shared with Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell, and any other results since the positive test. For some reason, I'd thought that Gatlin might actually be innocent and would fight this accusation more vigorously, especially since he'd been a vocal opponent of steroid and substance use in track and field, but the article says that he concurred that the positive A and B test results constituted a doping violation, even though he also claims he doesn't know how the synthetic testosterone got into his system. The article says that he can file an appeal in six months to have his sentence reduced, but the damage to his career, and to his sport, is already done. One question I do have is what will he tell about his coach, Sprint Capitol USA track club founder Trevor Graham, who initiated the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) investigation when he anonymously mailed in a designer steroid sample to doping investigators, and who claims that a trainer sabotaged Gatlin. (Olympic champion Michael Johnson called the allegation ridiculous and denounced Graham.) A number of athletes that Graham has coached, however, including Jerome Young, Dennis Mitchell, Michelle Collins, Tim Montgomery, C. J. Hunter, and most notably Marion Jones, have tested positive for proscribed substances. Several years ago shotputter Hunter testified that Graham had provided his ex-wife Jones with the steroids and told her where to inject them before her spectacular performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Jones tested positive for the blood boster EPO at this summer's US track championships in June, but is again denying that she ever used banned substance. Meanwhile, Graham was banned by the United States Olympic Committee.

I should add that I saw the other day that British sprinter Darren Campbell, on the verge of retiring, refused to participate in the British relay team's 4x100 victory lap at the European Track and Field Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden last week, because he wanted teammate Dwain Chambers (at right) who'd served a two-year ban after testing positive for the BALCO designer steroid THG, leading to Britain's being stripped of two medals in Munich, to out others involved. Though Chambers, like banned runner Kelli White, was linked to BALCO founder Victor Conte's ZMA racing team at one point, he responded that he acted alone and pleaded for "patience" as the sport sorted itself out. Ironically enough, Campbell's former coach, former Olympic champion Linford Christie, also faced a ban after testing positive for anabolic steroids in 1999.

Bernie addressed this issue not too long ago. I think too much money and celebrity is at stake, especially in the Anglo-American media spheres, and until this aspect of the equation is addressed, the focus on testing and penalization isn't going to eradicate the problem.

MLB Thoughts
The Major League Baseball season is almost over, with a little more than a month to go, and it's clear that the American League has the upper hand this season. Its teams are playing the best baseball right now. The Detroit Tigers have the best record in either league, but the Yankees and Oakland As also lead their divisions, and the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins are battling for the Wild Card). Having dominated interleague play, any of these teams are favorites to win the World Series over the National League's teams, which have mostly been mired in the parity of mediocrity, the chief exception being the no longer-sad sack New York Mets, who not only have the best overall record at 75-48, but also have the best home and road records in the league and have dominated their division. The next best team in the Mets' division, the Philadelphia Phillies, are only at 62-62, while my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, cling to their division lead at 66-57, just two games above the second-place Cincinnati Reds, who worry no one--save the Cardinals' players and management. The NL's West Division is once again coasting along haphazardly, and the last team standing will probably win the division. As far as the Wild Card goes, whoever sidles up in second place in the Central or West divisions could advance, meaning that for the first time since 1995, the Atlanta Braves won't be in the post-season.

The Cardinals have maintained their standing atop their division despite two eight-game losing streaks and terrible starting and closing pitching. After fielding one of the best starting pitching lineups last season, the Cardinals shed Matt Morris and picked up Sidney Ponson, who proceeded to pitch as if he were in a T-ball game. He is now, ominously, with the Yankees (and little better). Four of the other starters, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, rookie Anthony Reyes, and the sometimes injured Mark Mulder, have staggered from start to start, sometimes pitching decently and other times simply devolving on the mound. Only 2005 Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter has been consistent and effective, but Carpenter alone can't stave off Cincinnati, just as he couldn't stop Houston last year, nor carry the team all the way to the Series. They have got to get more consistency out of their second through fourth starters. They did hire Jeff Weaver from the Los Angeles Dodgers, though he was having one of his worst seasons ever, and he proceeded to pitch about as badly as was possible, posting a 19.80 ERA at one stretch, before settling down in his last few games. Their relief pitchers, like Braden Looper and Randy Flores, have also been ineffective; purported closer Jason Isringhausen does have 30 saves in 52 games, but he has fallen apart at times, has surrendered 9 homeruns and his ERA is above 3.00. The Cardinals' bats have been good enough to keep them in first place, but barely just. Albert Pujols is having another excellent season, but after being injured for about 20 games, he's cooled off a little, in part because opposing pitchers have been able to pitch around him. 3rd baseman Scott Rolen is back after an injury-plagued 2005 season, and is playing well, as are David Eckstein, rookie Chris Duncan, and, after a slow start, Juan Encarnación. The Cardinals still have a lot of holes, however, as outfielder Jim Edmonds has begun to fade and is now out with a concussion, while the replacement for Hector Luna, Ronny Belliard of the Cleveland Indians, has not been much of an improvement, with less range and less bat speed and power. The Cardinals have added outfielder Preston Wilson as a fill-in, but they still are on shaky ground. Last year they won 100 games, best in the NL, but after romping past the San Diego Padres, they fell to Houston 4-2, batted an anemic .209, and could only boast of wins in games Carpenter started. With worse pitching and a weaker battery this year, they're going to need a miracle to get as far this year, though the Mets' Tom Glavine (blood clot) and Pedro Martínez (pulled calf muscle) aces are out, for who knows how long, the other division teams aren't consistent at all, and there's always the abysmal West division competition to advance past.

Cardinal Albert Pujols hitting another home run (Gannam/AP)

Former Cleveland infielder Ronnie Belliard, who's struggled somewhat (Green/AP)

New acquisition Preston Wilson (Zalubov/AP)

Cub rookie Juan Mateo, after getting battered by the Cardinals last week (Oliver/AP)

The Yankees, the other team I root for, are again dominating, having walloped their rivals, the Red Sox, in Boston, in five consecutive games. The Yankees' main problem early in the season was a lack of quality starting pitching. While Mike Mussina sparkled early on (he's stalled a bit since midseason), the Yankees' other potential Hall of Fame starter, Randy Johnson, seesawed between bad and terrible, though being the pro he is and possessing the talent he does, even at 42, he's now 14-9. Chien-Ming Wang has been the third leader on the staff, going 14-5 and throwing the teams lone shutout, but after Wang, there's been a sharp dropoff. The relief pitchers, however, have made up some of the slack, especially Ron Villone, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Myers, and the perennially superb Mariano Rivera. The Yankees, however, have been much better at the plate, especially when they've needed to be. Despite the loss of stars Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui to injuries, All Star Derek Jeter is having an MVP year, new addition Johnny Damon has played with aplomb in center field, and Jason Giambi has hit 36 homeruns and driven in 101 runs. The major disappointment this year has been third baseman Álex Rodríguez; after his MVP year in 2005, in which he beat out Big Papi David Ortíz, he's only hit 25 home runs so far and has committed 22 errors so far, 10 more than he committed in all of last season, and the most since his rookie season at shortstop for the Texas Rangers.

Veteran Bernie Williams fielding (Rinaldi/Reuters)

Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter at home plate (Krupa/AP)

A Rod in sync (Rinaldi/Reuters)

Red Sox Wily Mo Peña cheering one of the few good moments during the recent Yankees-Red Sox series (McIsaac/Getty)

Right now, it's looking like the Yankees, Detroit, Oakland, and either the Red Sox or the White Sox, will go to the AL playoffs. Although a very young team with little playoff experience, Detroit has has oodles of talent and several of the best starting pitchers, but the Yankees or either Sox team could more than make up for their deficiencies. In the NL, the Mets and the Cardinals, who're playing tonight, seem likely to make the postseason; out of the rest of the murk that's the NL Central and West two other teams will emerge. The West team seems poised to exit swiftly, but who knows? It ought to be interesting.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Younge on fundamentalists + Plane Vigilantes + BGMs visible + Osama | Whitney

Gary Younge on facing fundamentalists
Journalist Gary Younge has an interesting article in today's Guardian Unlimited on addressing the problem of certain kinds of identity-based fundamentalisms. It's entitled "To fight these reactionaries we must tackle the crisis that they feed off." It's a brief, provocative piece that touches on a number of related topics, and perhaps because of its brevity, some of his characterizations of issues strike me as too neat or simplistic. But it's worth checking out. As with so many Web articles, the comment section includes very interesting responses, as well as a link to former CIA officer (and Bin Laden bureau chief) Michael Scheuer's review of Robert Pape's book on suicide bombers and critique of current US policy on this subject. (Another reading of Pape's book, from, is available here.)

Snakes Scary Dark Folks on planes
I knew a few years ago that it would only be a matter of time before things got to this point. (Can I ask, isn't the term for the language "Arabic," and for the ethnicity "Arab"?) In any case, because several presumably non-Arab, non-South Asian British passengers on a Málaga-Manchester flight overheard two brown-skinned men speaking what they "thought" was "Arabic" and saw them checking their watches, the flight was delayed, and two Britons of South Asian ancestry ended up being removed from the plane and put through a security detail, while the flight proceeded on to Manchester. Think it was just a bit of edginess based on the recent massive "terror bust" by Britain's and Pakistan's intelligence services? Think again: recent days have also seen this incident, and this one. Yep, false positives on liquids the young woman of Pakistani ancestry was carrying, and in the latter case, a passenger who "appeared to be drunk" misinterpreted a Muslim saying his evening prayers and...oh well. All terror, all the time, and don't let something sounding like "Arabic" come out of your mouth if you're swarthy and decide you also want to pray or check your watch. What's next, shoot first (cf. Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes) and then apologize to whoever's still alive in the cabin later?

I Am GayBlack Gay ads coming to NYC streets
Campaign for Black Gay Men's Lives, a project of the New York State Black Gay Network, is set to launch a series of ads, I Am Gay (, across New York City tomorrow. They'll appear in the subways, as well as at two strategic billboards in Harlem, with the aim of transforming public notions of who Black gay men and what we look like, with the ulterior aim of raising awareness and consciousness around HIV/AIDS transmission. Notables who'll be at the launch include Mark Jason McLaurin, Executive Director of the Network, Congressman Charles Rangel, and Anti-Violence Project Director Clarence Patton. Keith notes that a similar project in Philadelphia, which took a much more aggressive and admonitory stance, met with some criticism from Black gay members of the community there. I find this project really exciting and applaud approaches of this sort that enhance and expand the visibility of Black LGBT people. I hope they'll open some eyes, and I also look forward to the day when lesbians and transgenders are included in similar campaigns, and when LGBT people of color are represented without hesitation both in Black and the broader media.

Osama and Whitney, Sitting in a...Cave?
This bit of news is so ridiculous I bet the Onion's writers wish they'd come up with it. (Maybe they did....) According entertainment writer Daniel Melia, one of Osama bin Laden's main preoccupations is: Whitney Houston. According to his former "sex slave," the self-described "half-African, half-Black-American" author and gadfly Kola Boof, bin Laden thought Houston was "the most beautiful woman" he'd ever seen, and wanted to convert her to Islam. He had a mansion waiting for his obsession in Khartoum. Supposedly bin Laden blames Bobby Brown and American culture for "brainwashing" her, and even talked about killing Bobby, though a few episodes of Being Bobby Brown would surely set him straight (or conversely quadruple his rage.) And to top things off, according to Boof, bin Laden was so smitten he was willing to "break" his color "rule" to marry her. (How magnanimous of his racist, paternalist ass.) All of this strikes me as yet another attempt by Ms. Boof to gain attention (isn't that what far too many people foisting themselves on the public crave these days), but I have to admit, it got my attention. Perhaps the people hunting for bin Laden (if they actually are still doing that) will take some pointers and adapt accordingly....

Random photo

On the boardwalk, in front of the Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Poem: Jaime Sabines

Jaime SabinesIt's been a while since I've posted a poem, so here's one for a Sunday, which is to say, for any day of the year at any time. It's by Jaime Sabines [Gutiérrez] (1926-1999, at left, from Casa en el horizonte), who was one of Mexico's best known and most beloved poets. He was a poet of earthiness, and wrote about love, hope, sadness, disappointment, the communion of the body and the spirit, and many other things in a language that was deceptively simple and direct. The critic Roberto Fernández Retamar labeled him the "Sniper of Literature," but I think of his poetry as arising straight out of the streets, of everyday life; though I have always been most fond of Octavio Paz and Xavier Villaurrutia among Mexico's great poets of the 20th century, Sabines has steadily grown on me. Here, then, from Blas Valdez's site, is "I love you at ten in the morning."


I love you at ten in the morning,
at eleven, at twelve noon.
I love you with my whole soul and
my whole body, sometimes, on a rainy afternoon.
But at two in the afternoon, or at three,
when I start to think about the two of us,
and you're thinking about dinner or the day's work,
or the amusements you don't have, I start to hate
you with a dull hatred, with half of the hatred
that I reserve for myself. Then I go back to loving you,
when we go to bed and I feel that you are made for me,
that in some way your knee and your belly are telling
me that, that my hands are assuring me of that,
and that there is nowhere I can come to or go to that
is better than your body. The whole of you comes to
meet me and for a moment we both disappear, we
put ourselves into the mouth of God, until I tell you
that I am hungry or sleepy. Every day I love you and
hate you irreparably. And there are days, besides, there
are hours, in which I don't know you, in which you are
as strange to me as somebody else's wife. Men worry me,
I worry about myself, my troubles bewilder me. Probably
there is a long time when I don't think about you at all.
So you see. Who could love you less than I do, my love?

Copyright © Jaime Sabines, 2006.

Random photo

Grate painter, 6th Avenue and 12th Street, Greenwich Village

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Some of this, some of that

Günter Grass's True History
So 60 years after the fact and after regularly (and rightly) scolding his fellow Germans whenever he felt they were trying to sweep the Nazi past under the rug, 1999 Nobel Laureate in Literature Günter Grass has admitted in an interview with the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that he will detail in his soon-to-be published new memoir how he wasn't just a reluctant anti-aircraft gunner, like pope Benedict XVI supposedly was, as had been long thought (was it not possible for any journalists to have checked this supposed fact years ago?), but that he was drafted by and served with the Nazi Waffen SS. He has been denounced by critics on the right, naturally, since he's been an ardent leftist for five decades--but fellow leftists have also blasted his silence, as has the leader of Germany's main Jewish organization. The admission has also provoked calls for him to relinquish his Nobel Prize--which despite the political calculations that factor into the award honored his (early) novels, particular The Tin Drum (1959)--though the Swedish Academy has said that this cannot be done. Pro-fascist and pro-Nazi writers and other unsavory sorts have previously received the Nobel Prize (cf. Knut Hamsun), but Grass's admission puts him in a different category. He's upset that he's being "attacked" and declared a persona non grata, though what did he really expect? The hypocrisy gives me heartburn, but I also think that on another level, if one gets past the bitter irony, psychologically it makes sense: his long unspoken but internal struggle with his avowal and complicity fueled the acid humor and absurdity of his creative work, and spurred him to be the public conscience and critic that other who were not so tainted, or who had previously acknowledged their complicity, could not. As post-War German-language writers go, I'll take Koeppen, Kluge, Sebald, Timm, Handke, Celan, Bachmann, Bernhard, Mayröcker, Bobrowski, Enzensberger, Helms, Frisch, Schmidt, and others over Grass any day, but I will state without hesitation that at his best, Grass's sometimes perverse fables have provided a powerful lens through which to view his country's history and its plunge into the abyss.

David Grossman's Loss
More curdling ironies: one of Israel's finest contemporary writers, David Grossman, the author of the extraordinary novel See: Under Love (Ayen erech: Ahavah, 1986), learned on Sunday that his 20-year-old son, Uri, had been killed in one of the Israeli Defense Force's battles with Hezbollah guerillas in southern Lebanon; he received the news six days after he'd called, jointly with two of Israel's other most important authors, Amoz Oz and A. B. Yehoshua, for an immediate cease-fire. The son of Holocaust survivors and an outspoken peace activist, Grossman has long called for conciliation with the Palestinians and of Israel's deoccupying the West Bank, but he had initially supported Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's campaign against Hezbollah after the kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers and the launching of rockets against northern Israeli cities. His comments with Oz and Yehoshua included a call to support the proposal from Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, which has formed the core of the UN cease-fire resolution. In the Jerusalem Post, Ira Sharkansky has an thoughtful comment about Grossman public activism and his loss.

Queenan on Reading So Much at Once
I totally identified with Joe Queenan's recent
New York Times piece, "Why I Can't Stop Starting Books": it almost describes my reading habits to a T. In part I am always reading multiple books at the same time because I have to (there isn't enough time to read them sequentially), in part because I read slowly (slothlike perhaps is a shade too fast) and in part because I often several books critically against each other. (Then there's also the ever-present fear that time is rapidly racing ahead, or winding down, so if I don't start a book, I'll just never have time to get to it, and with TV...) Like Queenan, I also feel (at times that) I have too long an attention span, and can put a book down for months and then resume it--though this is less so the case with fiction, or rather, complex fiction that's not too simplistic but also not too formally experimental, which basically is a license to stop and start at will. The desultory reading habit has perhaps served me to some extent in my own writing; I once started a story, set it aside for several years to work on other projects, then resumed it because of a looming deadline and completed it in about a week. (The revisions took a bit longer.) All throughout that time that story's main characters and plot remained in my head, flowing like a hidden tributary. Of course it's a little bit more difficult if I don't care so much about the texts at hand, but I've come to realize that being able to jump around with texts and retain some of them is crucial if you're teaching at the university; and retaining all of the students' creative work in your head, of course, is essential.

Perelman the Math Whiz
So there's this Russian guy, Grigori Perelman, who works quietly for a while solving of one of the more difficult problems in mathematics, Poincaré's conjecture, as well as a related conjecture by an American mathematician. A specialist in the field of differential geometry, Perelman's spent time in the US on post-docs, impressing people with his brilliance and non-materialistic attitude, then he returns home to the St. Petersburg area, whose woods he loves. He works there sort of under the radar on this 100-year-old problem before publishing several short papers on the conjecture, coming to the US to give lectures at MIT, SUNY Stony Brook and elsewhere, then returning home and supposedly heading off once again the woods. Literally. He's a strong bet for one of the top prizes in his field, the Fields Medal, given to the most outstanding mathematician under 40 (he was born in 1966 so the clock is ticking), and also a candidate for a $1 million prize from the Clay Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But it appears he really did appear to head off into the woods and now no one can find him. His short and dense proofs' findings, which have been subsequently verified in more than 1,000 pages of proofs by other mathematicians, represent a watershed moment in his field, to the extent that their implications for mathematics and physics may not be fully understood for some time. But he's really nowhere to be found. Mathematics and mathematicians fascinate me to no end, and stories of breakthrough mathematical research interest me even more. I could easily see a book based on the story of Grigori Perelman's proofs, though the author would have to have real familiarity with the areas the work covers. (A movie might be more difficult, since the practice of theoretical mathematics strikes me as inherently undramatic--although Perelman's story has some good plot points, more A Beautiful Mind than Pi.) I wish I could explain what exactly the breakthrough was, but I'll leave that to the mathematicians. I have been able to wrap my brain around the fact that to topologists, a sphere, a cigar and a rabbit's (or human's) head are all the same, because they can all be "deformed" into one another....

Tonight we caught Niagara (1953) before Noah's Arc came on (and it was preceded on Logo, amazingly enough, by Noah's Ark). I've finally realized from whom Darryl Stephens is channeling not only his voice, but his facial expressions, at least some of the time. It still isn't working, but then there's always Gregory Keith and now Wilson Cruz, and next week Keith Hamilton-Cobb and Rockmond Dunbar...

Is this one to be believed? Well, okay, sure. Whatever you say, Michael Knight. Congratulations on winning your second challenge. BTW, for newbies to Project Runway, there actually was a self-described bi designer, who happens to be of African descent, on last season's show: the interminable egotist, Santino Rice.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Confederate George's Macaca Problem

For most of the two years that that C and I lived in Virginia, George Allen, aka Confederate George, the current junior Senator from that state, was the governor. I said, based on his TV appearances when he was running, that he was a racist mess, and supported his opponent, Mary Sue Terry, a lackluster, centrist-right Democrat. Allen went on to confirm some of my worst presuppositions by proclaiming April Confederate History and Appreciation Day ( which was later rescinded by his Republican successor) and describing the Civil War as a "a four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights." Well, yes, independence and sovereign rights to be a slaveholding power. Allen, a native of California and the son of the former star football coach of the same name, also provoked Virginia's African-American population by championing the Confederate flag and hanging a noose from a tree in his office. A real charmer. Naturally, he was elevated from the governorship to the Senate in 2000 when he ran to the right and defeated Marine veteran and Lyndon Johnson son-in-law Chuck Robb (who was facing some scandal allegations of his own and had basically been Republican-lite except on social issues).

Allen unfortunately isn't happy playing at representing the good people of Virginia (he's so much as said so), and would like to be president. But he's in a race against another military veteran, former Reagan Navy Secretary-turned Democrat, James H. Webb, to keep his current seat warm for a few years. According to Raw Story, yesterday, being the George Allen he's always been (he was suspended for alleged racist graffiti in high school, and his younger sister has accused him in print of sadistic behavior towards his siblings), he repeatedly called S. R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old student campaign volunteer for Jim Webb "Macaca...or whatever his name is." Sidarth is of Indian descent. Macaca is the generic name for a wide range of African monkeys, as in macaques. One of the best known is the macaca mulatta, the rhesus monkey. "Makkak" and variations are also a known slur against dark-skinned North Africans. (Allen's mother reported was born in North Africa.) In addition, he even had the presence of mind to welcome the young man, a US citizen born in Virginia and UVa student, "to America." Allen has said he was referring to Sidarth's "mohawk," only Sidarth doesn't wear a mohawk. Allen's campaign manager initially said the Confederate-flag loving senator had nothing to apologize for. (He eventually did.) Sidarth, for his part, believes he was singled out because he was the only person of color at the campaign event in Breaks, near the Kentucky border. "Macaca" is a bit more clever than the "N" word, so I guess Allen may be more clever than I give him credit for; maybe he's playacting when he sounds so much like a tranquilized version of Barney, and maybe he was reading a medical text before the event. He did supposedly want to be a dentist at one point. UVa political science professor and Larry Sabato thinks the slur will hurt Allen's presidential chances. Oh well, goodbye to all that....

Do the right thing if you can afford to: support Jim Webb.

Literary Lineup

This past week, Christopher Stackhouse and I recorded an interview with poet and DJ Keith Roach for Eadon's Place/Live365 online radio. We were talking up our collaborative book project, Seismosis (1913 Press), and other things as well. It aired yesterday from 3-5 pm, and will repeat several times this week. The Eadon's Place/Live365 schedule is available here. The clip is about 45 minutes or so long, and includes me reading the essay-poem "Color."

Mendi O. tagged me with a book meme (which Littlemilk has already undertaken), so I promise to get to it soon. For the entire history of Jstheater, I don't think I've ever undertaken a meme (which was one of my unspoken first-year daily blogging rules), but I've seen a few I've liked and earlier this year did begin one, only to set it aside to work on something else. Mendi's and Littlemilk's are fascinating, so check them out.

Speaking of literary news, one of my Brazilian correspondents, poet, journalist and literary impresario Valdeck Almeida de Jesus, has published his first novel, Mistério Policial en Estocolmo (Salvador, 2006), through the Fundação Cultural do Estado da Bahia, under its "Letras da Bahia" imprint. Valdeck is also the author of Heartache Poems. A Brazilian Gay Man Coming Out from the Closet (New York: Editora iUniverse, 2004), a moving collection of poems written and published in English; Feitiço Contra o Feiticeiro (São Paulo: Editora Scortecci, 2005); and Memorial do Inferno. A Saga da Família Almeida no Jardim do Éden (São Paulo: Editora Scortecci, 2005). In addition to these projects, he also edited an anthology of poems, and is the founder and head of the Jean Wyllys Fan Club, which celebrates his fellow Bahian writer and the winner of Brazil's Big Brother 5, Jean Wyllys. Congratulations on the new novel, Valdeck!

I've been translating Wyllys's award-winning collection of stories, Aflitos, which was originally published by the Fundação Casa Jorge Amado in Salvador, and was republished by the media conglomerate Globo. The beautifully preserved egg-shell blue colonial house in Salvador's Pelourinho district where Amado lived for decades not only houses the foundation, and research and cultural center, with a café and theater, but includes a bookstore that features books by many of Bahia's contemporary writers, from the internationally famous (Amado, João Ubaldo Ribeiro) to the less-well known. Aflitos deserveedly received Bahia's Premio Copene de Cultura e Arte. The several dozen stories, some as brief as an extended paragraph and many as lyrical as prose poems, often treat raw subject matter in quick, clipped stylistic strokes, somewhat in the manner of stories by one of the authors Wyllys quotes, one of Brazil's most remarkable writers, Clarice Lispector. Like Lispector's stories, they frankly address social inequities, including the most elemental depradations of human existence, and sexual relations, though Wyllys, as a young (32) out gay writer of Afro-Brazilian ancestry concentrates more directly on the vicissitudes of Bahia's Black population and on the queer currents within the city's demimondes. I find the work's abruptness and bitter edge bracing, and hope to complete my translation in the near future so that others who don't read Portuguese will have access to this work.

Back to these shores, Bernie alerted me to a recent post on Keith Boykin's blog about complaints lodged by writer Randy Boyd. There have since been 137 comments in response, and I have little to add except to say that I think Boyd's complaint not only a bit tired but misplaced, especially given that the vast majority of depictions of gay American male life are eurocentric and White-normative (actually, I'd add gay, lesbian and bisexual American lives), and, until fairly recently (within the last 25 years), many novels and extended works of fiction by African-American and other Black gay male authors centered on Black-White relationships as opposed to intraracial or any other racial or ethnic combinations--where Boyd he been? Does he read any prior African-American gay male writers?--but he's apparently found his home with the NABWMT/MACT crowd, which shares his "dream that a black boy and a white boy can be in love and deal openly and honesty with the crap from both the black and white communities" (um, hello, do any other races or ethnicities exist?). Yeah, okay. Yawn!