Monday, March 09, 2009


"More soon" turned into "nearly a month later." (Maybe I should retitle this blog "Notes from the Underground" or "Another Frequency".) I think this is the longest I've paused in my blogging since I began other than during this past summer, when I was ill, but that involved multiple surgeries and pain medication, while this hiatus has been the result of one of the rougher academic years I've had in a while. Winter quarter classes did officially end on Friday, and I already miss teaching the two I had, though the upcoming raft of revised short stories and final papers will ensure that I'll be in contact with the students at least for the next few weeks. But classes are never the issue....


For my literature class this quarter, I asked students to send me short commentaries from the critical journals they have been keeping. I posted these commentaries to a blog, Thinking Aesthetics (on Wordpress).

If any J's Theater readers have the time, please do browse through these short entries, and offer any short responses that you can. The students have posted on perception, Kant, Hegel, Winckelmann, horror, sentimentality, and pornography, with more to be posted soon.

I've tried the class blog format once before, but it's still a work in progress for me. Please note that the leap in topics is a result of the class's foci, not an desultoriness on the part of the students.


Back around February 20, right after my "More Soon" post, I'd planned to jot down some thoughts about the first month of President Barack Obama's tenure, but there was so much else to do, and...the result was silence. (I couldn't even manage to post quotes or poems or photos, things I've done in the past--my brain was just shutting down.) As we are approaching the two-month mark, however, I felt I ought to offer some thoughts before I looked up and half a year had passed.

It strikes me that Barack Obama has been consistently pragmatic, with moments of boldness and of caution coming in alternating fashion; on some issues, such as the immediate halting of the Bush administration's last minute environmental rule changes and his upcoming 2010-11 ten-year-budget scenario, which hews to his campaign promises in many ways (on health care, on taxes, etc.), and decelerating the discursive battle with Russia, he's show true progressiveness. On the successful but inadequate stimulus bill, his administration's move to try some of the Guantánamo and other "terrorist" detainees in federal courts while still holding on to some of the Bush policies that created these problems, and the piecemeal approach to releasing the Bush administration's outrageous "legal" memoranda that legimated torture, illegal spying and other unconstitutional lawlessness, and the draw-down of US troops from Iraq, he's proved to be cautious and Clintonian. On the relentless denial of the necessity of "nationalizing" the giant failed banks and his financial team's overall approach, his adherence to Bush's "state secrets" policies, and his failure to speak out forcefully for some nominees (like Hilda Solís or Charles Freeman), he's demonstrated not only a lack of will, but a bit of cravenness as well. On other issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the US's relations with Cuba and more broadly with other hemispheric neighbors, and the "drug war," the verdict is out.

Although Obama's chosen avatar is Abraham Lincoln, and the daily tide of news underlines how badly we need a contemporary version of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, so far he has operated like a combination of John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton. The youthfulness, vigor and clarity is Kennedyesque; the watered-down progressivism is Eisenhowerian; and the occasional double-talk and accommodation of GOP frames and talking-points verges on being Clintonian. In other words, he is tacking most closely, at least as I see it, to Ronald Reagan (though in reverse in terms of partisanship). This isn't the worst we could expect, but seriously, the president has got to take bold steps when necessary, despite GOP/MSM criticism, the timidity of Democrats in Congress and the party apparatus, and even public opposition when it arises.

On a symbolic level, his tenure so far has been exciting and energizing. In addition to the country being able to wake up every day and realize that we have a black president, we also can note Obama's seriousness, his engaging manner, and his candor, which we haven't witnessed in decades. He also comes across as real, especially whenever he leaves the White House, and fairly sincere. Someone enamored of his own ego, but also willing to admit his faults when he must. He isn't play-acting in the way that we had to endure from his predecessor; no fake ranches, no pseudo-cowboy swagger, and no lies wrapped as linguistic rebuses that only right-wing fanatics could resolve. Also energizing is his ability to change his plans as the circumstances demand; this fact, which he has demonstrated repeatedly so far, should encourage anyone that no matter how the next few years turn out, he and we will not stagger down we had. But there is a stubbornness, or inertia that appears at times to creep into the picture. Take the ongoing resistance of his chief financial officers, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, to change course. Their repeated shopping of a flawed plan as the economy devolves can only dismay, even if you aren't regularly reading the informed pleas from Paul Krugman and the dire prognostications of Nouriel Roubini. Yes, we could have predicted some intransigence given that Geithner is tied to Wall Street and was a party to its failed policies, and Summers's previous Treasury tenure exemplied a deregulatory approach whose assumptions have proved disastrous. But they work for someone who, as I noted above, is not rigid. So WE really have to make sure he hears that a change of course is necessary, right away--and it must come from us, the people who voted for him, since the mainstream media show they're incapable even of grasping basic tax policy, let alone the mathematics of a spending bill ($7.7 billion out of $410 billion is less than 2%, yet how often have you heard even a single talking head note this, and the ones who babble on Sunday morning talk shows are the worst). But this is nothing new. At least now we have someone in office who, with adequate pressure, will listen. But the pressure must be there, because it's becoming clear that the voices whispering and yelling into his and his administration's ears unfortunately do not have the country's--that is, the vast majority of the country's, and world's--best interests at heart.


I watched the Oscars a few weeks ago, the entire broadcast, despite having seen only one of the films--The Visitor--that received a nomination. I still haven't seen Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Resurrection Road, Doubt, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or most of the other films that merited some academy recognition, though I do hope to catch Milk and The Wrestler, along with a few other films like Madea Goes to Prison and The Watchmen soon. But I did catch Laurent Cantet's The Class--which was nominated for an Oscar and didn't win one--the other night, and will try to post a review of it in the next few days. I highly recommend it.


On a lighter note, I watched the World Baseball Classic matchup between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands. In addition to being a beauty fest, it initially appeared as if, despite two first in errors by Dominican shortstop and Tampa Bay Rays star Hanley Ramírez, it would be a romp by Quisqueya. It turned out, however, to be a closely fought game that the Netherlands team, made up mostly of Caribbean players from Curacao, Aruba, and the rest of the Dutch Antilles, won, 3-2 over the Dominicans, who came back the next day to wallop Panama 9-0. I still think DR is the team to beat in Pool D, which also includes Puerto Rico. The USA won its first two games, a squeaker 6-5 over Canada (which lost to a Major League-packed team of Italian Americans, i.e., Italy, in its second game) and then a romp over Venezuela 15-6, and appears to be the team to beat in Pool C. Japan appeared to be the team to beat in Pool A, defeating China 14-0 and Korea 14-2, but Korea won the second contest and thus the pool, by a 1-0 score. In the final pool, B, Cuba and Australia look like the likely winners, though Mexico could pull out a qualification, but its team lost 17-7 to Australia, not a good sign.

Team USA after their victory over Canada (Frank Gunn/AP)

José Reyes and Nelson Cruz celebrating after their win over Panama (Fernando Llano/AP)

Korea's Kyung Oan Park hitting against Japan (Andrew Malana/


  1. Dear heavens John! Looking at the Thinking Aesthetics blog, no wonder you can do little else! What students! What a class!

    Welcome back to the blogosphere