Sunday, September 30, 2012

Two Draft Poems (Spring 2012)

Back in April in several blog posts on the Northwestern University's annual spring Writing Festival, I mentioned my participation in a related program, sponsored by NU's undergraduate Creative Writing Program and the Poetry and Poetics Colloquium, that involved working with the excellent young undergraduate creative writing poetry students, who were in turn serving as mentors and teachers for talented, enthusiastic high school poets at Evanston Township High School, the main public school in the suburban city, just north of Chicago, where Northwestern's main campus sits. 

As part of that program, a half dozen NU faculty members, I included, all affiliated with the Poetry and Poetics Colloquium or the undergraduate Creative Writing program, attended several sessions at the high school, and during those, some of us actually wrote drafts of poems with the students. Yesterday I was reading through my current Moleskin notebook, which I began late last year, and came across my drafts of two poems I wrote based on prompts that my faculty colleagues gave to the high school students. I wrote them while sitting with the undergraduates and high schools, even reading the first aloud to them when they pressed me to hear it, and thought I'd post them here, instead of letting the blog remain in radio silence.

I did not write down and cannot recall the prompts, although I believe that in relation to my first piece, one of the high school students wrote and then later revised a poem about finding money on the street. Perhaps that was the source of the "million dollars." With the second I believe a colleague had the students reading poems by Louise Bogan and Melvin Dixon, and it may have been their prosody and rhyme schemes I was following. At any rate these were a nice reminder of last spring, and are but drafts resulting from prompts, so take them as you will.


People say the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
People say that the cows will eventually come home.
People say that the child will do better than her parents.
People say that the child who has her own is blessed.
People say there are more stars in the heavens than moons.
People say if you hear songs in your dreams you'll win a million dollars.
People say if you hear don't hear songs in your dreams you'll win a million dollars.
People say that a lover's kiss is worth more than a million dollars.
People say you can buy a kiss from anyone you dream of for a million dollars.
People say it's better to give than receive, whether it's one kiss, one dollar or a million.
People give a million reasons why they call you or do not call you.
People say they're telling you the truth when they're giving you these reasons.
People say if you listen to the earth you might hear things you need to hear.
People say if you listen to the earth you might hear things you don't want to hear.
People say that if you play your cards right they could still go very wrong.
People say that if you play your cards wrong things could still turn out alright.
People say there's a right way and a wrong way to hear the things people say.
People say there's a right way and a wrong way to understand the things people say.
People say it's often better not to pay close attention to what people say.
People say it's always a good idea to pay close attention to what people say.
People say if you pay close or even a little attention you can learn a great deal about not just what's being said about but about who is saying it.
People say so many things it's almost impossible to remember them.
People say nevertheless it's a good idea to remember the basics, like the sun rising in the east, et cetera.
People sometimes say these things in such a whisper though, you can't can be sure what people say.


Gold sun green lawns
black yards white dawn
steel tracks fast trains
station wagons

brick homes stone manors
silver lake bronze sand
wide streets polite manners
snow caps mittened hands

tall poles long wires
school songs home choirs
ascending sparrows
alighting crows

Copyright © John Keene, 2012.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Catching Up

Catching up here on the blog always feels possible at first thought, but by the time I sit down to begin a post, I realize I have something else to do and the blog goes wanting. I do lament it. Blogging has often been a pleasure and served as a respite for me, but perhaps my new daily and nightly rhythms--and Apple TV, which allows me to stream YouTube music videos and Netflix films from our TV--have so disrupted my previous mindset that it has just become more or too difficult to do. We will see.

Until that moment comes, here are a few photos from recent events. The first two are of the panel discussion, at Poets House, for the Hilda Hilst book launch, and by Reggie H. (Thank you!) It was a fun panel, the book is now out and looks delectable, and Hilst now resides, at least in the form of one book, The Obscene Madame D (with more to come), in a superb English collaborative translation by Nathanaël and Rachel Gontijo Araújo, a first.

Hilda Hilst book panel
Me; poet and critic Nathanäel and A Bolha Editora publisher and poet Rachel Gontijo Araújo, who collaborated the translation; Princeton professor Bruno Carvalho; and Stephen Motika, poet and publisher of Nightboat Books
Hilda Hilst book panel
Me, Nathanäel, Rachel Gontijo Araújo, reading, and Bruno Carvalho
On Tuesday I attended my first MFA Program reading at Rutgers-Newark, and the featured readers were two of today's most acclaimed younger writers, poet Eduardo C. Corral, who was selected by Carl Phillips to receive this year's Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for his collection Slow Lightning, becoming the first Latino poet to be so honored, and fiction writer Justin Torres, whose stories have been blowing up The New Yorker, and whose first novel, We the Animals, has summoned the highest praise for all quarters. Both read as if they had been doing so, with panache, all their lives. My colleague, the acclaimed poet, nonfiction writer and anthologist Rigoberto González, introduced both writers and moderated a lively Q& A session full of undergraduate and graduate writing students. Both had a good store of bon mots to share, and it was an honor to meet both of them in person.

Eduardo Corral, Justin Torres, Rigoberto Gonzalez
Eduardo C. Corral, Justin Torres, Rigoberto González
Justin Torres
Justin Torres
Eduardo C. Corral
Eduardo C. Corral

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Escobar's Slur, "Tu ere [sic]..." + MLB Playoffs Picture

Yunel Escobar (Flickr / james_in_to)
A little baseball news today. First: today Major League Baseball suspended Toronto Blue Jays infield Yunel Escobar, a Cuban native, for wearing eyeblack with a homophobic statement "TU ERE MARICON [sic]" during home game on Saturday night, September 15, 2012, against the Boston Red Sox. At a press conference today in New York City, Escobar apologized and claimed that he did not intend to offend, although there is probably no part of the Spanish-speaking world in which that phrase, "Tu eres maricón," which translates directly as "You are a f*ggot," would not be considered somewhat to extremely inappropriate.

Nevertheless, at the press conference he claimed in Spanish that "It was nothing intentional directed at anyone in particular. I have nothing against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay. I’m sorry for what happened and I can guarantee that this will not happen again in my career…I didn’t mean for this to be misinterpreted by the gay community." He added that the words were meant to be a joke and often used in baseball with no meaning.  He also asserted that they didn't have the same impact as the translation would in English, but joke or not, the latter assertion is nonsensical.

Escobar's antics might have passed unnoticed and uncommented by teammates, team management or fans had not Blue Jays season ticketholder James Greenhalgh, sitting near the dugout in Rogers Stadium, not snapped a shot of Escobar and posted it on his Flickr site. Thereafter fans and the media noted the phrase, posted the image and words and Twitter, and baseball's authorities eventually responded.

Blues Jays management will donate the $28,000 Escobar will lose during his suspension to You Can Play and The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). He will also participate in an outreach initiative to "to help educate society about sensitivity and tolerance to others based on their sexual orientation," though it strikes me he might benefit from some education about the impact of such terms, whether or not he has any "gay friends," as he claims he does, and whether or not the phrase is used regularly without any "meaning" in baseball, or wherever else he rolls.


More generally, the season is winding towards its end, and instead of the usual suspects in the playoffs, this October could feature several new squads gaining airtime. In the American League, with 14 to 15 games left, the division leaders are the Texas Rangers (3 games ahead of the Oakland A's) in the West; the Chicago White Sox (3.0 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers) in the Central Division; and the New York Yankees just 0.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the East. To put it another way, any of these six teams could end up division leaders, and any (as well as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) in a Wild Card slot too. The Rangers, the AL's best team last year and World Series losers to the Saint Louis Cardinals, have the best record at 87-60, but nearly the all the other top teams aren't far behind. I expect Texas to repeat as league champions, but it would be exciting to see Baltimore or Oakland in the Series, after their long absences.

In the National League, the Washington Nationals, the league's newest team and, in its earlier incarnation, a perennial also-ran, leads the East division by 6 games. In the Central Division, the Cincinnati Reds top the standings, with an 11 game lead over the Cardinals. In the West, the San Francisco Giants are nine games ahead of their next closest competitors, the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a result, the scramble really is for the Wild Card slots, and Atlanta, the Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are all within 2 to 4 1/2 games of a berth. Although I have no deep affection for the Senators, I would love to see them make the World Series, especially if Baltimore were the AL pennant winner. On the other hand, a reprise of the 1989 earthquake-jolted series between San Francisco and Oakland. (Oakland won that matchup 4-0, though San Francisco beat Texas two years ago, 4 games to 1.) Chicago or Detroit vs. Cincinnati wouldn't be uninteresting either.

As for the Yankees and Cardinals, I wouldn't complain if either or both teams ended up in the Series, but fresh faces wouldn't be so bad for a change, and given that the Cardinals won just last year (and before that in 2006), and the Yankees won in 2009 (which meant that I was able to attend the celebration in Lower Manhattan), I can go a few years or so with other teams succeeding to the main stage.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hilda Hilst Book Launch This Saturday + Scholars Find, Authenticate Claude McKay Novel

A few weeks back, I mentioned the imminent publication of The Obscene Madame D, the first published English translation of fiction by the late, extraordinary Brazilian novelist Hilda Hilst (1930-2004).

Two presses, Nightboat Books in the US, and A Bolha Editora in Brazil, are jointly issuing poet Nathanaël's superb translation, in collaboration with Brazilian poet and publisher Rachel Gontijo Araújo, of Hilst's novel,  which is now available. I'm delighted to have had a small part in the project through my introduction to the book, and thereby to Hilst's work.

For all who are in or around New York this weekend, there'll be a book launch on Saturday evening, with a reading and panel discussion, by Nathanaël, Rachel, Bruno Carvalho, and me, at Poets House, one of the most beautiful venues for poetry and literature in the city. If you're free, please come by!


The Obsence Madame D by Hilda Hilst
Translated by Nathanaël in collaboration with Rachel Gontijo Araújo
Introduction by John Keene

The first English-language translation by the Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst (1930-2004).

Reading and panel discussion with
with Rachel Gontijo Araújo, Bruno Carvalho, John Keene, and Nathanaël

To be followed by reception and book sale
Saturday, September 22, 6:00pm
Poets House, 10 River Terrace, New York City

This is made possible through Poets House's Literary Partner Program.


Claude McKay
One of the most exciting pieces of news to cross the academic wires recently was the announcement that Columbia University doctoral student in English and Comparative Literature Jean-Christophe Cloutier, had found in the university's archives an unpublished novel by the late Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay (1889-1948), and then, with his advisor, professor Brent Hayes Edwards, authenticated that it was in fact an original work by McKay, a major figure in early 20th century African-American, Caribbean and African-Diasporic writing.

The 1941 satirical novel, Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem, is set in 1936, marking it as a work from the latter years of the Harlem Renaissance, and according to Felicia Lee's report this past weekend in The New York Times, Cloutier and Edwards have received permission to publish the novel, for which they will write an introduction. As Lee tells the story, Cloutier's discovery came about during the summer of 2009 when he was working as an intern in Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and spotted the nearly 300-page bound manuscript in boxes of material donated by Samuel Roth, a Columbia alumnus and former literary publisher, of once-scandalous texts, in his own right.

Cloutier & Edwards (Robert Caplin
for the New York Times)
Cloutier, saw the McKay's name and the title, and found two letters between McKay and Roth, which suggested to him that this might be an important find. He took the materials to his advisor, Professor Edwards, one of the most distinguished figures in contemporary African Diasporic literary and cultural criticism, and they studied the manuscript, noting the concurrences, in theme and style, down to particular word choices, between it and McKay's other works of fiction, which include Banjo (my favorite of his books) and Home to Harlem, one of his best known works. 

They also found a wealth of other archival material that underpinned their supposition about the work's authenticity, including letters between McKay and the writer and critic Max Eastman in which Eastman quotes from the novel, and further correspondence indicating that the publisher E. P. Dutton had contracted with McKay to write Amiable with Big Teeth.  The novel, Lee says, portrays important aspects of the 1930s Harlem experience, among them the experiences of black participants in the Communist Party, as well as other portraits of the rich and vibrant lifeworld of that moment. Lee quotes Edwards saying of Amiable that it will perhaps eventually be viewed "as the key political novel of the black intellectual life in New York in the late 1930s." Thanks to him, and to the budding scholar (who has all but written his ticket to a job and a career), the still dissertating but soon to be Dr.--and Prof.--Cloutier. And eventually, we all will be able to read what sounds like a late masterpiece by McKay.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Random Photos

Baseball player Dan Uggla, near Grand Central Station
Atlanta baseball player Dan Uggla, autographing outside Grand Central Terminal
Outside one of the fashion shows, at the NYPL
Outside a Fashion Week show, at the New York Public Library's research branch
The Freedom Tower (WTC) at night
The Freedom Tower, at night
Stylin, on the PATH to Newark
On the PATH train to Newark
At the Yayoi Kusama show
At the Yayoi Kusama show, Whitney Museum
At the Fulton St. station, NYC
Sweltering Fulton Street station, NYC
Bolivian Day parade, Jersey City
Bolivian (Day) celebration,  Jersey City
A reporter, on 9/11 (2012), near WTC
A reporting preparing to broadcast, near the WTC, on 9/11 (2012)
The storm, approaching from Long Island
The weekend's storm clouds, barreling in from Long Island towards the Bronx
Sagging, at 42nd St.
At 42nd Street
At the NYPL's (quiet) main reading room
The "quiet" reading room, NYPL Research Branch
Eric Bogosian at the NYPL
Author Eric Bogosian (ordering books, NYPL Research Branch)
At the 1980-2012 exhibit, MoMa
Keith Haring paiting reduced to wallpaper, MoMa
At the 1980-2012 exhibit, MoMa
Still from a Steve McQueen film, MoMa
At the Alighieri Boetti exhibit, MoMa
At the Alighieri Boetti exhibit, MoMa
That beguiling Freedom Tower
Looking towards Lower Manhattan, from Jersey City
Lovers in Union Square
In Union Square Park, Manhattan

Monday, September 10, 2012

Poem & Translation: Paul Verlaine + Reading at NY Botanical Garden

The bridge over the recreated pond
The bridge over the lily pond
Though I have many pots in the kiln right now, I did not want to let more than a week elapse since an I reported on an event I participated in at the majestic New York Botanical Garden, which is located in the Bronx: the final reading in the Poetry Society of America's Monet to Mallarmé series, this one dedicated to the poems of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), the symbolist master, queer pioneer and among the truest musicians of French lyric poetry.

This past Sunday, introduced by PSA's Charif Shanahan, poets, critics and translators Patrick Phillips, Charles Ruas and I read just yards from the Botanical Garden's exhibit and recreation of Claude Monet's garden at Giverny in its Enid Haupt Conservatory. Each of us drew from the rich archive of Verlaine's works. I elected to read both in French and in English, with the translations all by Martin Sorrell.  Patrick Phillips focused on Verlaine's romantic poems, while Charles Ruas explored Verlaine's work after he was sentenced to prison for his 1873 shooting of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), the young seer among poets with whom Verlaine fell madly, crazily in love, one of several amours fous that marked Verlaine's life.

Here is one of the poems I read, certainly one of Verlaine's most famous and exquisite, "Chanson d'automne," or Autumn Song. It is nearly untranslatable, in part because in any other language, including French's Romance cousins, it loses so much of its innate homophonous, rhyming, and assonant music, beginning with the first stanza's vowel sounds ("automne," "monotone"), some very nasal ("sanglots longs"), but all of which mimic and embody the "monotonous" music of (Autumn's) violins. Nevertheless, here is the poem, and my admittedly crude translation. Autumn nevertheless is upon us, and so Verlaine's gem feels right.  If you are in New York and are thinking of an interesting trip outside Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Botanical Garden is only 20 minutes by train from Grand Central Station, about $3.75 (I think) each way, and recreating Monet until October 21, 2012!

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.
Poem by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). It initially appeared in his first collection,Poèmes Saturniens, in 1866.

The drawn-out sobs
Of the violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart
With a languorous

All worked up
And pale, when
The hour nighs
I recall
Days of old
And I cry

And I'm off
On an ill wind
That carries me
Hither, thither
Just as with a
Fallen leaf.

Copyright translation © by John Keene, 2012.

Here are a few photos from the Monet's Garden exhibit. Enjoy!
UPDATE: A photo from Charif Shanahan/PSA:

A listener, Phillips, me, Ruas, at the event

Photos (by me)
Enid Haupt Conservatory at New York Botanical Garden
In the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
The NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
The pond
Bamboo stalks
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Une abeille!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Charles Rice-González at the Center

On Friday I went to the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center to hear Charles Rice-González read from and talk about his new book and first novel, Chulito (New York: Magnus Press, 2011). Men of All Colors Together sponsored the event, and Tom Wirth, a longtime MACT member and the editor of Richard Bruce Nugent's Gentleman Jigger (New York: DaCapo, 2008), and Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugent (Durham: Duke, 2002), introduced the event.

Chulito tells the story of a 16-year-old Bronx Puerto Rican-American native, a b-boy to the core, who falls in love with his childhood friend, Carlos, an academic pacesetter and Adelphia University student. Chulito struggles with his understandings of desire, masculinity and machismo, sexuality, and his own and others' homophobia, and must come to terms not just with himself but with the future he steps into once he openly avows his feelings toward Carlos. Rice-González captures the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, contemporary urban New York latino cultures, and the travails of youth in their rich particularities; above all he shows the reader the world of queer brown and black working-class outer-borough New York.

The narrative, a romance at its core, is enthralling, often funny, and deeply moving, particularly at those moments when Chulito must confront and overcome his fears. Rice-González not only selected and read sections that showed the novel to its best effect, but he animated in a way I wish more writers would when reading their work. The story came to life right there in the Center. Before the event he talked about growing up queer and latino in the Bronx and the City, his work at the Bronx Academy of Art and Design, and the background to his work on the novel, and after he read he answered questions from the audience, including one about a potential movie. There isn't one slated yet, but there should be. In the meantime I cannot wait to read more works from this author.

Charles Rice-González
Charles Rice-González
Charles Rice-González
Charles Rice-González
Charles Rice-González
Rice-González reading
Tom Wirth, at Charles Rice-González's reading
Tom Wirth introducing Rice-González

Friday, September 07, 2012

The DNC Show (It Got Me)

First Lady Michelle Obama (© Tannen Maury/EPA)

I admit, I fell for it. Hard. The three-day Democratic National Convention proved quite an entrancing show, its effectively organized and run evenings showcasing many of the most appealing aspects of the Democratic Party, its politicians and supporters, and its standard bearers, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, to superb effect. The convention hall brimmed with so much diversity I had to remind myself it wasn't taking place in Queens or Jersey City, but in non-union Charlotte, North Carolina. Its speakers trumpeted many of the best policies the Democrats under Obama have promoted and passed, among them the much-maligned Affirmative Care Act, the auto industry bailout, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the drawdown in Iraq. In addition, the convention highlighted other crucial points in this particular cultural moment: the ongoing struggle for women's reproductive rights and autonomy; the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy and the plight undocumented Americans face; the economic vise in which millions of people from Maine to Hawai'i find themselves in; the changing faces of this country, its people, its families. First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage, in resplendence, and reminded the world once again of one of the reasons many people voted for her husband. There were bursts of barn-burning progressivism from Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick, Ted Strickland, and Jennifer Granholm, and there was Julián Castro, already one of the Democratic Party's young stars. What was not mentioned, however, were this administration's assaults on civil liberties and whistle-blowers, the record deportations, the disastrous coddling of banks and the failure to adequately address the housing crisis, the lack of any programs to end poverty, Guantánamo,  the drones, and the ongoing neocolonial excursions, in Afghanistan, Yemen, north Africa, and elsewhere, and on and on.

But who am I kidding? None of these issues, or many others, were going to come up at the convention. What did make an appearance, in the illuminating speech of former President Bill Clinton and the more workmanly and ultimately soaring peroration of President Obama, was the haggard specter of Simpson-Bowles, the current president's deficit commission that not only could not reach a consensus (in part because of commission members like Representative and GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI)) but whose chairmen, former US Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton chief of staff and Wall Street executive Erskine Bowles issued a severely problematic series of recommendations of their own, which included cuts to Social Security (which has no effect on the federal deficit) and Medicare, and a flattened-out tax code that would lower rates for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, while removing many deductions that benefit middle-class Americans. Both Clinton and Obama seemed to be shilling for this awfulness, the general concepts behind it bankrolled by billionaires like Peter G. Peterson, which suggests that although it is a far less optimal option than the Progressive Caucus's budget or simply returning to the Clinton-era rates, it has the inside track should enough Republicans overcome their lockstep antagonism to Obama and decide to feather their friends'--and their own--beds. The very thought of this awful program, or the "Grand Bargain" in general, which the President seems determined to push through, gives me chillblains. The only thing worse is the utterly destructive plan the GOP candidates would likely pass, to the delight of their Congressional caucus colleagues, the Kochs, and gazillionaires all over this country and the globe.

I ended my viewing of the convention with the feeling that although Obama has not approached the heights I'd hoped he would, he does have many substantial accomplishments, some of the quite far-reaching (i.e., Obamacare) in their beneficial effects on and for the country, and, if his supporters can push him away from bad economic and political policies, like the deficit-focus and austerity, and Simpson-Bowles, towards approaches which will have a far greater impact on creating jobs, reducing the ever-widening wealth and income gap in this country, and turning off the tap for the military-industrial complex and redirecting the savings towards domestic reconstruction and infrastructure development, he just might end his second term as one of the better presidents we've had. He still has time, and he must listen to more than people from the mega-asset-holding class. But he can't and won't do anything unless we reelect him and then push him, and elect a Congress that will work with him, beholden as they may be to the billionaires and financiers and corporations. I still think a 70% top federal marginal tax rate would be a great way of changing the money=speech equation, but get there seems very unlikely in the current climate, so perhaps just allowing gridlock to take hold until Obama gets reelected, as it appears likely he will, then having the Clinton-era tax rates reset and the savage cuts the GOP imposed unfold will provide enough of a stun to get the GOP to cooperate with the President on strengthening the country. Obama also will be able, I never forget, to appoint judges and set the baseline for federal policies. As Bush's Supreme and Appellate Court appointees have made clear, we should never, ever underestimate the importance of this aspect of the President's power. The DNC's show underlined that in this regard, there's no question whatsoever that Obama is not just the better, but the only choice, for November.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A New School, A New School Year

Call slips, NYPL
Call slips at the NYPL
This past two month's post-move's worth of scurrying about searching for books and films at local libraries and bookstores, speed-reading, photocopying and scanning, writing and rewriting and re-rewriting syllabi has come to fruition in the form of my first week, and first undergraduate and graduate classes at my new employer. I'll say more about my classes soon, but I'll note that I am teaching two this fall: one in African American and African Studies, focusing on Afro-Latin literature, and the second a graduate course in English, under the rubric of postmodernism, which explores transhumanism and posthumanism. (I thank my former Northwestern colleague Alex Weheliye for turning me on to Sylvia Wynter and getting me to think more carefully about the latter two concepts.)  The first class yesterday went very well, and I am charged up for the first course meeting of the grad course tonight. (UPDATE: It went very well too.) I'll write more soon, but to all who have returned or are returning the classroom over these next few weeks, as teachers or students or both, at all levels, BEST WISHES FOR A GREAT SCHOOL YEAR!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

RNC, Pass By

Clint Eastwood at the RNC (©Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
In past years I have watched both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, or at least larger portions of the former (and nearly all of the one in 2008), and smaller ones of the latter. This year, however, has been different. I only watched snippets of several speeches delivered during the broadcast hour of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, one of my nightly staples, and in each case I had to turn them off, either because of the dishonesty being trumpeted (cf. the misrepresentation of the President's comments on government helping to build the infrastructure that makes American business success possible), the race-baiting, the nasty tone, or a combination of all three. I only heard and saw after the fact the truthless spectacle that was Paul Ryan's speech; the same was true of Clint Eastwood's now infamous mimicry with the empty chair. 

Certainly there are many issues on which to criticize President Barack Obama, though it appears that few of them, at least the ones I would lodge, such as a critique of his excessive support of the banking industry, his failure to firmly address the housing crisis, his war against whistleblowers, his steady advancement of the national security state and its attendant apparatuses, and his horrendous record on civil liberties, received any airtime in Tampa. What did get airtime were relentless, simplistic attacks on his handling of the economy, without any mention of the failed Republican and neoliberal policies, such as non-stimulative tax cuts, deregulation and non-regulation, unfunded wars and fiscal profligacy followed by fiscal austerity, bubble-producing monetary policy, and so on, which reached their apogee under Republican president George W. Bush, that led to the global economic collapse in 2008, or the almost continuous GOP obstructionism from the moment that Barack Obama took office in 2009. In fact, given what he had to deal with and the economic team he chose, as well as his half-hearted embrace of conservative austerity policies, his record, as lackluster as it has been, doesn't look so bad at all, and the GOP's obstructionism on taxes could produce an even better outcome if (when) Obama is reelected, as the Clinton tax rates would by law return, along with a resetting of the estate and hedge fund manager taxes (I believe), meaning the starvation the GOP has forced the government to endure, along with the savage cuts they have imposed, could spur a striking change in the country's fortunes.

In fact, the specter haunting the circus in Tampa was W. Bush, by most measures the worst president in US history. Obama, for all his faults, has steadily dug the country out of the abyss W created. We are mostly out of Iraq, and are scheduled, despite the neocons' best efforts, to get out of Afghanistan. The US car industry has not only survived is moment of crisis but is thriving. The private sector, even with the gross lack of demand, is growing. The stimulus bill, inadequate as it was, not only saved and created jobs, but underwrote a major shift, still mostly hidden to us, in terms of the US's technological and infrastructural future. Though I disagreed with the lawless manner in which he was killed, and with the attendant policies that violate the Constitution, Osama bin Laden is dead, and his Al Qaeda network is severely weakened.  Both Obamacare and Dodd-Frank are major improvements on the laissez-faire approach to health care and the financial industry than what came before. And so on. All of this naturally was going to be elided in Tampa, but what it represented a response to, the GOP's practical and ideological failures, in economic, military and social policy, were also not  mentioned. Of course one could look at things another way: these "failures," or "#FAILs," turned out to benefit the top 1% handsomely, so in fact they were weren't failures at all, but the outcomes, disastrous for most of us, of where the GOP has been heading for over half a century, towards a repeal of the New Deal, reconcentration of wealth and power in the hands of social and political elites, and corporate dominance of government so that it benefits corporations. Or, as Calvin Coolidge pithily put it, "the business of the government is business." That is a truism if there ever was one for the GOP. People, regular people that is, the 99% majority of us, be damned.

One of the most egregious examples of the Republicans' dishonesty is their continual charge about the president's actions on Medicare, one of the most vital elements of the United States' social safety net. Since I have seen TV commentator after TV commentator, and countless high level Democrats stumble in explaining what the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) does with regard to Medicare, I took it upon myself to state, at Twitter-length, what the ACA/Obamacare does. Not that a single person in the media will be listening to me, nor will any high level Democrats, but if any J's Theater readers encounter someone who asks about that $716 billion that supposedly was "cut" to "fund Obamacare," you can say this:

Obama is saving  & extending its life by putting $716 billion in savings from ending waste, fraud & overpayments to providers. 

That's 140 characters, and simple enough to state without rambling. You don't even have to credit me, and you can add: the ACA/Obamacare does not cut benefits for beneficiaries. So there you go. Obama did not raid the Medicare Trust Fund. He did not cut Medicare benefits to fund Obamacare. He is not ending the program--at least not yet, especially so long as that awful Grand Bargain scheme, which is really another means for preserving and extending tax cuts for the rich, doesn't pass--but extending it. Extending, not ending. Saving, not drowning. That $716 billion will no longer be overpaid to the providers, who in any case will all be getting more patients because of Obamacare! 

On the other hand, as countless people have pointed out, Paul Ryan's plan not only takes into account these savings from the Affordable Care Act, which he has nevertheless pledged and voted to repeal, but he furthermore wants to VOUCHERIZE Medicare, which would destroy it as it now exists.  The Republican Party fought against Medicare before it was voted into law under Lyndon Johnson, with Ronald Reagan making particularly outrageous claims about its effects, and repeatedly since, leading Republicans in Congress, as well as the GOP caucus, have attempted to gut it. But there is only one way that will happen outright: if Romney and Ryan are elected in November, along with a Republican Congress. 

That, and the knowledge that they want to do the same harm to Social Security by privatizing it (Ryan led the Congressional charge to do so with President Bush in 2005), and to Medicaid by block-granting it (Ryan also led the push for this as well), along with all of their other platform positions--extremely anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-people of color, anti-middle/working class/poor, etc.,--articulated on the campaign stump and by such leading Republicans as Todd Akin (R-MO), Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Phyllis Schlafly, Jan Brewer, and Ann Coulter, among others, was enough for me to pass by them. I may watch parts of the Democratic convention, though I feel much as I did in 1996; I worked to get the then-president elected, he was a severe disappointment, but he was a better choice than his opponent, and ultimately the country was better off four years later. 

Maybe a bit of my enthusiasm from 2008 will return. Even if not, I can say I helped add a bit of clarity on the Medicare issue, something millions Americans badly need. The clarity AND their Medicare!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Imaginary Maps (iPhone Drawings)

Long time, no blogging. I wish I could say that I've been off on vacation, or doing something interesting and engaging, but I've mostly been preparing for classes, continuing to unpack (at a rate exponentially inverse to July, it seems), catching up on reading, writing, revising, and such.

I am once again riding public transportation regularly, including to and from work, and instead of my usual iPhone/iPad portraits (which I still am working on), I decided to do something different, returning to the sorts of projects I tried when I was much younger, one of which was imaginary maps. I even have a giant one I created when I was about 12 or so and under the spell of J. R. R. Tolkien; it could almost double as a board game, with a few changes. Here then are five imaginary landscapes. As you'll see, each suggests different linguistic principles (though all are transliterated, to the extent possible, into English letter, which is what's available on my ).

If any J's Theater reader wants to write a micro-piece (up to 1,000 words, say) based on one of these maps, do send it to me and I'll consider publishing it here. (Please: no vulgarities, no pornography, and no slurs against any group of people, sexism/racism/homophobia/transphobia etc will be allowed.) If you choose to do so, please try to discern and then maintain the linguistic principles the maps suggest.

Imaginary map

Imaginary map
Imaginary map
din•ASTE (The Country of Aste)

Imaginary map

An imaginary landscape
An imaginary map of the country tDhthrt
nNdrh-tDhthrt (the Country of tDhthrt)