Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Little of This, A Little of That

Today, after a false morning alarm, which involved the electricity surging on while I was in the shower,    only to shut off not even 10 minutes later, it finally clicked back on as I was scrubbing the refrigerator clean of its foetor, and there was easily enough within its walls and those of the little cooler that became a makeshift mini-fridge to supply biochemistry experiments at every local university and college. So far, it has held. We are expecting a nor'easter or some other serious storm tomorrow, with high winds and waterline surges, so I am praying that whatever the problem turned out to be, our local energy company, PSE&G, has resolved it for the future. We went nearly eight days without electricity, in the absence, at least in our area, of severe flooding or extensive pole damage. The capacitors (?) in the transformers, I heard someone say on the radio. PSE&G has said anything at all about what was wrong, instead referring us to a vague online article. Once the entire city and other towns, the worst hit of which will require many more weeks, perhaps even months, of rebuilding at every level, have power and are on the mend, I plan to suggest to every official I can find that they take into account the recommendations of the American Society of Engineers, who offered useful suggestions in 2009 on how to address the storm Hurricane Sandy turned out to be, with a push for greater regulation of the power companies, and for those at the federal level, I will do my part in renewed efforts to get them to pay attention to global warming and climate change.



Unlike many parts of New Jersey, our voting precinct thankfully was functional, so we didn't have to try either the provisional ballot or far more experimental email/fax options, and C and I went to vote first thing this morning. The building, a nearby senior center, had gotten electricity a night or two ago, and was buzzing when we arrived. I have never seen it that busy; perhaps it was in 2008, though because I had to be in Chicago to teach I voted by absentee then, with the benefit that I was able to head down after class to Grant Park, where then President-elect Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and the First daughters Sasha and Malia Obama greeted the enthusiastic, festival-like crowd. Tonight I will be at home, I hope with working lights, TV and Internet, and remain cautiously optimistic that the president will be reelected and that the Democrats will not only retain the US Senate but gain a few seats in the bargain. My hopes for the US House are less expansive, but I would love to be surprised in a positive way (the departures of the likes of Michele Bachmann, Allen West, being more important than the lagniappe of Democratic control; or should I make that the reverse? etc.).

I've expressed my thoughts on the last four years on here before, but I do think the President has some real accomplishments, such as the Affordable Care Act, the bailout of the auto industry, Dodd-Frank (as weak as it nevertheless is), the righting (if not the less successful right-winging, i.e., austeritization) of the eoconomy after the debacle of Bush, the two new Supreme Court justices (Sotomayor and Kagan), his glacial affirmation of same-sex marriage and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the increasing greening of the economy. His record on  a range of other issues, warmaking and warmongering has been more mixed, with the Iraq War's end more of a mulligan and Afghanistan mostly a bloody wash, the horrendous National Defense Authorization Act, the normalization of drone warfare, the demonization of whistleblowers, the continuance of Bush's War on Terror and multi-decade War on Drugs, the magazine-wielding against Iran, and other deleterious policies that crush our civil liberties, extend the worst aspects of the military industrial state, and advance neoliberalism and neoconservatism all reasons to give a voter pause. As has tended to be the case in presidential elections, the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, a hyper-secretive, ultra-rich Trojan Horse for the plutocracy, is far, far worse. In fact, he might be the worst Republican nominee I had the opportunity to vote against in my lifetime. Almost nothing he says is consistent with what he's said, let alone done, in the past, and his Vice Presidential running mate, Rand-roid Paul Ryan (R-WI), is so far to the right he's almost off the charts.

I don't think even they can steal this election, as occurred in 2000; but every election in the US is always a leap into the dark, with those running things the only ones with strike matches and a map at hand. Still, I think Obama will win reelection, and when that's certified, the real work begins again.


The transportation systems connecting the New York metropolitan area are still recovering from the hurricane and its aftermath. As of today, there is no PATH train service originating from the World Trade Center, which is one end of the line whose other is Newark. There is also no Newark Light Rail or subway train yet. Yesterday I took C to the NY Waterway ferry to NYC; the first departure point, at Paulus Hook, had a line easily a half-mile long. The second pier, at Newport, appeared more manageable, and despite his bus hitting a taxi, he got to work. I on the other hand had to drive to Newark, and picked up a colleague who also was teaching on Mondays. Gasoline is still scarce in many parts of this area, but I had filled up the car, which has decent fuel economy, and was able to ferry us to the university without a problem. Getting home was more a challenge; the traffic exiting Newark was slower than molasses in the cold, and I probably burned twice as much gas leaving as arriving. I am glad, though, that I did not get rid of my little car, which carried me, and my cousin when I wasn't in town, all over Chicago and the Midwest. I sometimes think I no longer really need it, and then an event like the hurricane occurs that reminds me how necessary it can be, even if, under regular circumstances, public transportation is a far more ecologically and financial sound option.

Many of my students are still dealing with the effects of the hurricane. Many also lost electricity and either had just gotten it back or were still waiting. One student who lives in Newark told me that her mayor, Cory Booker, had brought her family and others pizza to ensure they ate during one chilly, light-less night. Another who lives in Manhattan told me it took him four hours driving to school via the Lincoln Tunnel. Another is still without electricity and was so worried about his grade he sent me multiple pleading emails not to penalize him for not submitting an assignment. The university has asked us to be flexible, and one of the things I've learned over many years of teaching is that creating a syllabus that you can compress or expand depending upon circumstances--though with lots of notice especially for undergraduates--is the best plan. In the undergraduate Afro-Latin literature class we are now reading Mayra Montero's tragic novel The Messenger, which I trust will draw the students back into the course, and in the graduate class we're talking about Ray Kurzweil's interest in "the singularity" and the possibility of infinite life, or, as Jean-François Lyotard suggests in his famous article, of the survival of the mind after the death of the body, yet another point on the spectrum of the transhuman as well as the posthuman, which this hurricane's terrible effects held up as if under a magnifying glass.  In both courses we are working around the challenges the lost last week and the early part of this one have dealt us. Above all I sincerely hope every one of my students and their families, like everyone else affected by the storm, is on the path to recovery.


Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who won this year's World Series by defeating the Detroit Tigers in 4 straight games. The Giants, mostly unheralded all season and featuring a bevy of talented batters from Venezuela as well as excellent starting and relief pitching, took the final two games of the National League Championship Series from my St. Louis Cardinals, last year's Series champs, who had already knocked out the top NL team, the Washington Nationals, then proceeded to blank the Tigers in the first three games, allowing runs only in the fourth and final game. Many on this roster were also on the team that won the 2010 World Series, vanquishing the Texas Rangers, and they still have the talent and drive to return next year, though something tells me it'll be a new NL team vying for and winning the crown.


Rest in piece, Elliott Carter, after 103 years of innovative composing. An American original!

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