Sunday, June 30, 2013

SCOTUS: The Good, the Bad & the Horrendous

In Soho
Pride Flag, Soho
With most of its majority rulings over the last few years, the conservative/libertarian-leaning US Supreme Court has regularly managed to outrage liberals and progressives, and cheer business and rightist interests, but it also occasionally raises eyebrows on all sides with a surprise decision or two that at least on the surface appear reasonable. So it was, in the latter case, with two of the final rulings the Court handed down this term, on Friday, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which upheld a federal court ruling that invalidated Proposition 8, that state referendum that had abruptly halted and prevented same-sex marriages in California, and in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), introduced by Republicans, passed by bipartisan US Congressional majorities and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages well in advance of any state allowing them.

As a result of these two findings, same-sex marriages can resume in California, perhaps within days, and the federal government will now recognize same-sex marriages in those states that allow them, a number that continues to increase, by according them an array of federal rights and benefits that had previously been available only to opposite-sex couples. Coming on the cusp of LGBTIQ Pride weekends around the country, both rulings count as major victories in the long struggle for gay rights and marriage equality, but in the case of the latter victory, the effects remain unclear and will certainly be limited by the fact that a majority of US states not only do not permit same-sex marriage, but have changed their constitutions specifically to bar it. In addition, neither ruling goes as far as 2003's Lawrence v. Texas, which removed a major federal disability from LGBTIQ people's (and heterosexuals') lives by striking down all state-based sodomy laws. In a number of US states, LGBTIQ people can still be fired from their jobs, lose their children, be barred from visiting ill partners and loved ones, and incur other forms of discrimination just for being perceived to be gay.

In the case of my home state, New Jersey, we have civil protections for LGBTIQ people, but although our legislature did vote up a same-sex marriage bill, our conservative governor, Chris Christie, not only refused to sign it, a position he reiterated after the SCOTUS rulings came down, but has called for a statewide referendum to determine whether we will have a right that nearly all the surrounding states (including all of New England, New York State, and Maryland) now enjoy. It seems likely that New Jerseyans would affirm marriage equality at the ballot, since polls show a majority of state residents support it, but putting rights to a vote is never a good idea, and a positive outcome is always uncertain. In any case, Chris Christie appears to be doing this primarily to stay in the good graces of the national GOP, in hopes of gaining the 2016 President nomination, if not a subsequent one. On a personal level, as a product of the post-Gay Liberation moment, I remain critical of the mainstream gay rights movement's focus on marriage, a problematic, often oppressive bourgeois institution on many levels, and its drive towards homonormativity and uniformity, the latter of which has been especially destructive to and for queer people. We have not decided to get married, and I am not sure if we will. Yet I also support ending discrimination in all forms, and of being able to gain recognition, and removing economic burdens, under federal law, something that people in same-sex marriages until Friday rulings could not do. I think this is especially crucial for older queer couples, married queer couples with children, and queer couples who are experiencing serious health crises.

More in keeping with the Supreme Court's horrendous rulings, and with, as scholar Tavia Nyong'o put it so aptly in a tweet to me, the increase both in tolerance and inequality, were two others I want to highlight, that undercut even more the happiness I felt at the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings. First was the Court's gutting of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, to address the decades-long efforts to prevent black people and other minorities from voting and exercising our democratic rights. By a 5-4 majority in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, the Court essentially struck down Section 4, which provided a "coverage formula" defining "covered jurisdictions" as states or political jurisdictions that had "maintained tests or devices as prerequisites to voting" and had had low voter registration or turnout levels in the 1960s and early 1970s, and thus required, as per Section 5, "pre-clearance" by the US Justice Department before they could enact new voting laws.

As a result, all of the states formerly labeled as covered jurisdictions, which had egregious histories of barring African Americans and other people of color from voting, ranging from poll-taxes to changing election sites and dates, to canceling elections outright (all of which were accompanied by violent, sometimes mortal, forms of intimidation), can now revert to form if they like, and once again start legislating laws making voting burdensome to impossible for black voters and others. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the Court's majority opinion, declaring among other things that "Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare." In his opinion, it would be up to Congress to clarify the law, a likelihood that seems dicey given the current obstructionism of the GOP. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a brief, separate concurrence calling for Section 5 to be struck down as well. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered her dissent, joined by the three liberal justices, from the bench, stating in her opening paragraph that Congress, "recognizing that large progress has been made...determined, based on a voluminous record, that the scourge of discrimination was not yet extirpated" in 2006. She is right, and the potential for voter suppression and discrimination in the former "covered jurisdictions" is, as the past has shown, going to require not just vigilance and resistance but new laws to counter the actions of this activist court.

Another deeply problematic ruling that flew under the radar, but which reporter John D. Echeverria of The New York Times astutely caught was Koontz v. St. John's River Water, which may have the effect, as Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent, of "work[ing] a revolution in land-use law," and not in a way beneficial to most residents of a given jurisdiction. In essence, the 5-4 ruling, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, severely harms sustainable development laws, by creating an incentive for local government officials to, as the Times notes, reject development plans or allow developers to run amok rather than risk a lawsuit that could very well go against these governments based on the new post-Koontz standards. In addition, the finding places a new burden on local governments to justify mandated fees for permits, making compromises to address potential environment degradation less likely given the court's ruling in favor of developers and corporations. The Times points out that in the case of waste disposal

Many communities impose development-impact fees on developers if a proposed project would require expanding waste-disposal sites or building new ones. Before Koontz, a developer could raise a constitutional challenge if the charges were unreasonable, but judges typically deferred to local governments in such cases.

After Koontz, developers have a potent new legal tool to challenge such charges because now the legal burden of demonstrating their validity is on the communities themselves.

Finally, there was Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court's most high-profile affirmative action case this term, in which 7 members of the Court, with Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy delivering the majority opinion--and with both Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas delivering concurring opinions (Thomas's included the perversely ironic line "The Constitution does not pander to faddish theories about whether race mixing is in the public interest")--vacated a lower court decision to defer to the University of Texas's use of race in achieving and maintaining diversity in its student body and in deciding whether its plan to do so was narrowly enough tailored to meet the stricter standards required by two previous SCOTUS decisions, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, and the infamous Regents of the Univ. of California v. Bakke. With Justice Kagan recusing herself, only Justice Ginsberg offered a dissent, writing that she has "several times explained why government actors, including state universities, need not be blind to the lingering effects of “an overtly discriminatory past,” the legacy of “centuries of law-sanctioned inequality," and thus voted to affirm the Court of Appeal's decision in favor of the University of Texas. The practical outcome does not ensure admission to Abigail Fisher, the 22-year-old white plaintiff, but it does mean that the University of Texas will now have to go back and rethink its admissions plan so as not to fall easy pray to a similar lawsuit in the future.

In many online discussions of this decision, I or any reader could quickly spot the rants against affirmative action, the alleged deleterious effects on white applicants, the dismissal of the sustained impact of past discrimination, and on and on, but very rarely did I see a basic fact that Time presented in clear and fairly concise fashion, which is that over the entire history of affirmative action, white women--i.e., people just like Abigail Fisher--not black people, not latinos, not native americans, not asian americans, but white women, have been the primary and majority beneficiaries of affirmative action policies. I remember a good friend of mine who taught at NYU pointing this out to me and others at a panel debate with conservatives at Rutgers back in the late 1990s, and then coming across this information repeatedly online over the last 15 years, but what continues to adhere in the public discourse is the belief, articulated on Friday, by radio talkshow host Brian Lehrer on his WNYC, that black people have been the main beneficiaries of affirmative action, which represents discrimination against white people. I should also note Abigail Fisher's suit failed to point out that Texas admitted only 5 black or latino students with lower scores than Fisher, but did extend admission to FORTY-TWO WHITE students. Additionally, 168 black or latino students with scores better than Fisher were not admitted. But fact, facts.

I'll end with a slightly adapted version of note I sent to some friends in reference to affirmative action, American institutions of higher education, one several I have had very close ties to:

I recently finished reading Craig Steven Wilder's book, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities (Bloomsbury, forthcoming fall 2013)which I picked up at BookExpo America, and will just say that if the oldest universities and colleges in this country (including Harvard, founded in 1636, or Rutgers, founded in 1766) ever fully addressed their horrific history--and it is very, very bad, as Wilder's excellent, authoritative historical study makes very clear--on slavery, the extermination and forced removal of native peoples, the development of medical and the natural sciences using black and brown bodies, the enrichment of elites (whose names, from Williams to Bard to Amherst, etc. are all over these institutions) and so much more, they would have to admit black and native people free for hundreds of years. Most of us don't have a clue about the full and ugly early history of this country, or the institutions that made it possible, and how race, racism and anti-affirmative policies towards a sizable portion of us have continually privileged and benefited white Americans, including people who only later became white.

I do plan to review Wilder's book, but I also hope it informs future discussions about race and higher education, because ignorance of this history has meant a severely underinformed discussion and debate.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Celebrating Countee Cullen @ Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx

Many a major American cultural figure is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx; Countee Cullen (1903-1946) is among them. One of the most important poets of the Harlem Renaissance, he is perhaps less read than Langston Hughes or Claude McKay, though several of his poems have solidified their place in the canon, among them "Incident," "Heritage," "Tableau," and "Yet Do I Marvel." Like McKay and unlike Hughes, Cullen worked almost completely in conventional forms, yet  as with both of these poets he explored questions of race, politics and society, and, like them, also touched upon sexuality, including (his) homosexuality, though with considerable discretion.

The award-winning poet Major Jackson has now edited a brand new gathering of Cullen's work, Countee Cullen: Collected Poems (Library of America, 2013) and in honor of its publication, Cullen's importance as a New York poet, and his presence in Woodlawn, the Poetry Society of America, in conjunction with the Woodlawn Conservancy, presented "Yet Do I Marvel: A Tribute to Countee Cullen," which featured readings of Cullen's work by Major and fellow poets Robin Coste Lewis and Rowan Ricardo Phillips, as well as vocal performances of song settings of Cullen's poetry by Alicia Hall Moran, with Brandon Ross (of the group Harriet Tubman). They did so in Woolworth Chapel at Woodlawn, which hosts the gravesites of a number of leading cultural and political figures of the past, ranging from Miles Davis and Billie Holiday to Duke Ellington and Herman Melville. It's worth visiting on its own, but the Cullen event made the event obligatory (and how perfect too to honor this great black queer poet on Pride weekend). I ventured up with friend and fellow poet Patricia Spears Jones, and am very glad I did.
Major Jackson
Major Jackson, introducing the program
Brandon Ross, performing with Alicia Hall Moran
Brandon Ross, at left, and Alicia Hall Moran, at center

I must praise Alicia Hall Moran's singing and Brandon Ross's musicianship before I type any more words; as wonderful as it was to hear the poets, Hall Moran, whose voice and performances I've seen praised ecstatically before but which I've never heard live, added a completely new layer to Cullen's poems. The three songs she sang, "Deep River," "Two Wings," and "Prepare me one body," all arranged by the great Roland Hayes, brought out not just the spirituality of the poems, but their grounding in the Spirituals and the Sorrow Songs. Rowan invoked Longinus's description of "the sublime" and I would concur that Hall Moran certainly took these poems, and singing in general, to another place. I'll add that her enunciation made it possible to hear every word, and though she had a microphone, her projection was so rich and full she didn't need it.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Rowan Ricardo Phillips reading
Robin Coste Lewis
Robin Coste Lewis bringing Cullen's words to life
The poets too did a fine job in bringing Cullen's words and works to life. Rowan recited "Incident" from memory; through her recital of several of his Epitaphs Robin showed the humor and wit that often get lost in discussions of Cullen, while also giving voice, through several others, to his queer facets; and Major, after an insightful, rooting introduction, read several unexpected poems, including "Shroud of Color" and "Mad Song," that demonstrated how current Cullen's poetry and politics are. All three poets selected judiciously from the rich store of Cullen's work and helped to give a fuller portrait of him and his art. I took notes on a number of the poems, and when I teach Cullen again I plan to use this volume and to introduce Cullen poems I hadn't considered (or didn't know about before) to my students. But first I plan to read the collection.

Participants, Countee Cullen Celebration, Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx
Everyone on the event's program: L-r (Charif Shanahan, PSA; Alicia Hall Moran;
Robin Coste Lewis; Major Jackson; Brandon Ross; Rowan Ricardo Phillips;
and Cristiana Peña, Woodlawn Conservancy)
Woolworth Chapel
Woolworth Chapel, Woodlawn Cemetery
The huge felled tree, Woodlawn Cemetary, Bronx
Patricia photographing a large, felled tree
at Woodlawn
One of the sphinxes, Woolworth tomb, Woodlawn Cemetery
A sphinx keeping vigil in front
of the Woolworth crypt

Random Photos, East Village
Petrosino Square, Soho
Petrosino Square, Soho
Neon pumps
Neon pumps, lower Manhattan
23rd Street
Post-workout, 23rd Street
In Soho
Lombardi's, Soho/Little Italy
Spring Street, in Soho
Cure Thrift Shop, Soho
High as a kite
Barely standing, lower Manhattan
Artist painting, Bryant Park
Painting en plain air, Bryant Park
Kitting out a car, 40th Street
Kitting out a car, 40th Street
Heading to the wedding, Jersey City PATH
Heading to a wedding, Grove St. PATH, Jersey City
Mirrored interior
Mirrored interior
Interior, St. Paul's Chapel, lower Manhattan
Inside St. Paul's Chapel
Graveyard, St. Paul's Chapel, lower Manhattan
Graveyard, St. Paul's Chapel, lower Manhattan
Plain vs. painted, West Village
Plain vs. painted steps, West Village
Ground Zero, under construction
Ground Zero, under construction
And a few Jersey City inauguration photos, in honor of our new mayor, Steve Fulop:

Dais under construction, City Hall, Jersey City
Construction of a dais, City Hall Plaza
Erecting the stage, with bunting, for Jersey City mayoral inauguration
Another dais, City Hall Plaza
Raising the flags for the inauguration of Jersey City's new mayor
Hanging of flags, City Hall, Jersey City

Friday, June 28, 2013

Reinventing Abstraction: New York Painting in the 1980s @ Cheim & Read

It has been a good year for art exhibits on abstraction so far. Last summer, the Guggenheim Museum mounted a show entitled "Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960," and this summer returns with another show drawing from its rich holdings in abstract art with "New Harmony: Abstraction between the Wars, 1919-1939," which I went to see last week. The Museum of Modern Art held its "Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925" from December 2012 to April of this year, which the art journal October examined extensively this past winter in its "Abstraction: A Special Issue" edition (No. 143). Sunday is the final day to see "Brothers and Sisters," a sprightly exhibit focusing on the conversation Beauford Delany's (1901-1979) abstract works open up with those of other 20th and 21st century black artists, ranging from Jack Whitten and Alma Thomas to Glenn Ligon and Julie Mehretu. And certainly there are many more exhibits across the city.

One I dropped by last night was "Reinventing Abstraction: New York Painting in the 1980s," curated by New York-based artist and scholar Raphael Rubinstein, at Cheim & Read gallery. Rubinstein's focus is on New York artists born between the chronological window of 1939 and 1949 who were painting in the 1980s, the decade now mostly associated with movements such Neo-Expres-bsionism, Appropriation Art, Neo-Geo, identity-based art, and so on. As Rubinstein notes in his rationale for the exhibit, these artists, in their 30s and 40s during this moment, were not so much concerned with a "'return to painting'" as with "finding a bridge between the radical, deconstructive abstraction of the late 1960s and 1970s...with a larger painting history and more subjective approaches." 

From including elements excluded in the prior decade, such as a return to a conventional rectangular support, to allusions to figuration and landscape painting, to allusions drawn from art history and the wider culture, these works mark an important shift in New York abstract painting practice, yet it remains that case that these artists and their work still have not received extensive critical treatment or been regularly shown together, thus Rubinstein's show, which is not just expertly mounted, but instructive and generative in the conversations it opens up between and among the works. From the inclusion of biomorphic imagery to contestations with the frame to the presence of autobiography to attempts to counter the strong influence Color Field painting, these works suggest and point to shared challenges, struggles and achievements that suggest a new stage in abstraction that subsequent generations of painters in New York and elsewhere have built on.  

Moreover, the works themselves harmonize with each other, not in mirroring or echoing fashion, but in their often consonant visual grammars and approaches. One question a viewer might ask is given how extensive abstract painting in 1980s New York was, why such a small show, and Rubinstein's response is that he wanted to zero in on a "specific generation" that contributed to it. As he says, his titling of the exhibition was inspired by painter Carrie Moyer, "who, writing about Stephen Mueller in 2011, identified his as 'the generation that reinvented American abstract painting.'" That may be too tendentious a gesture, but Rubinstein's show does succeed in showing that Moyer's statement does have real basis in fact, which is to say, in the persuasive, beautiful, provocative works themselves.  Some photos from the Cheim & Read exhibit, and a few from the "New Harmony" exhibit at the Guggenheim.

At Cheim & Read:

Raphael Rubinstein, curator, with artist Gary Stephan
Raphael Rubinstein (l) chatting with artist Gary Stephan (r)
Joan Snyder, Beanfield with Music (1984), Cheim & Read
Joan Snyder, Beanfield with Music, 1984
Viewers in front of Stanley Whitney's Sixteen Songs (1984), Cheim & Read
Stanley Whitney, Sixteen Songs, 1984
Elizabeth Murray, Sentimental Education (1982), Cheim & Read
Elizabeth Murray, Sentimental Education, 1982
Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (6-30) (1988), Cheim & Read
Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (6-30), 1988
Terry Winters, Point (1985), Cheim & Read
Terry Winters, Point, 1985
Carroll Dunham, Horizontal Bands (1982), Cheim & Read
Carroll Dunham, Horizontal Bands, 1982
And at the Guggenheim:
Frantisek Kupka, "Form of Blue" (1925), Guggenheim Museum
Frantisek Kupka, Form of Blue, 1925
Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, "All" (1924), Guggenheim Museum
Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, All, 1984
Francis Picabia, "The Child Carburetor" (1919-1939), Guggenheim Museum
Francis Picabia, The Child Carburetor, 1919-1939
Museum guard, at the Guggenheim
In the galleries, Guggenheim Museum

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Emotional Outreach Project 5.0 @ TRD/REH-KUNST Berlin

(Crossposted at the Field Research Study Group A blogsite)
Starting next week, the newest iteration of the Field Research Study Group A durational conceptual work, the Emotional Outreach Project, now at version 5.0, will appear at This Red Door's 2-month sojourn, from July 1 through August 31, 2013, in Berlin, Germany, at REH-KUNST. TDR's Berlin site is directly accessible here.

As with earlier versions, the vouchers are free of charge.

Emotional Outreach Project 5.0 (for Germany)
To refit the cards for German-language participants, I first translated the rationale and instructions (with the help of Verbalizeit, since my ability to write more than basic sentences in Germany is minimalinto German, creating a new plaque to be mounted at the REH-KUNST site, to facilitate the cards' use.  The German text reads:

Lieber Freund:  
Vielen Dank für das Mitmachen beim "Emotional Outreach Project 5.0". Das "Emotional Outreach Project" umfasst eine Serie von Gutscheinen in Businesskarten Größe, die ursprünglich in 2002, 2003, 2007, 2009 (in Kuba) und 2012 umsonst und mit Desinteresse an Personen unter verschiedenen performativen und zeitlichen Kontrollen und vorgeschriebenen Variablen verteilt wurden. 
Auf einer Seite der Karten steht in schwarzem Fettdruck und in Großbuchstaben auf Deutsch, Englisch und Jiddisch ein emotionaler Zustand, eine Reaktion, eine Etappe, eine Eigenschaft oder ein Prozess (wie zum Beispiel Hass, Freude, Schadenfreude, Kaltblütigkeit, Selbstlosigkeit, Entsetzen, Gleichgültigkeit etc.) mit dem klaren und kleingedruckten Untertitel "Free Emotional Voucher"("Gratis Emotionen Gutschein"). 
Auf der anderen Seite: 
Lieber Freund, bitte nehmen Sie diesen emotionalen Gutschein entgegen. Obwohl er keinen geldlichen Wert hat, sollten Sie frei von seinen anderen nutzen Gebrauch machen, insbesondere wenn Sie glauben, dass Sie diese Emotion benutzen müssen oder falls Sie sich von diesem Gefühl freimachen oder reinigen wollen. Sich über seine eigenen Emotionen bewusst zu machen und mit diesen zu recht zukommen ist äußerst wichtig für das psychologische und physische Wohlempfinden.
FSRGA (JK c 2013) 
Als Teil dieses Projektes bitten wir Sie mindestens eine von diesen Karten in den nächsten vier (4) Wochen zu nehmen und an verschiede Personen, die Sie kennen oder nicht kennen, zu verteilen, insbesondere wenn Sie glauben dass der Empfänger eventuell Nutzen an einem haltbaren Mechanismus, der jegliche affektierte Probleme - persönlich, öffentlich, oder anderweitig - anspricht, machen könnte. 
Sollten Sie selbst davon Nutzen machen wollen, bitten wir Sie dies zu tun. Falls Sie herausfinden wie der Empfänger der Karte (Sie inklusive) sie benutzt hat, melden Sie sich bitte bei uns unter, und unter der Themen-Linie "Emotional Voucher" ("Emotionen Gutschein") können Sie uns ein paar Sätze als Beschreibung oder Schilderung senden. - FIELD RESEARCH STUDY GROUP A

The German description (for TRD Berlin, July-August 2013)
The German plaque
Next I translated the free emotional outreach vouchers (cards) themselves into German by myself, taking care not just to find the German approximations for English-language emotions (Love = Liebe; Fear = Angst/Furcht; Hope = Hoffnung, etc.), but also emotions specific to German-speaking countries, such as Torschlusspanik (fear of one's life's door closing without achieving what one hoped to), Lampenfieber (a feeling akin to stage fright), Waldeinsamkeit (fear of being stuck in a forest), and Geborgenheit (complete safety), to name a few. As with prior versions, each card's front side features an emotion, the caption that it is a Free Emotional Voucher (translated as Gratis Emotionen Gutschein in German), and, on the back side, a brief explanatory text about how the recipient might use the card.

Given that the exhibit is in Berlin, Germany, I also thought it appropriate to produce a certain number of the cards in Yiddish, again approximating both English and German emotions (Joy = Freude = Freyd; Grief = Treuer = Troyer; Humility/modesty = Bescheidenheit = Beshaydenkayt, etc.), as well as some that are specific to Yiddish (and Americans), like Chutspah = Ballsiness/Shamelessness, and Shpilkes = Nervous energy. On the Yiddish cards, I included both the Roman and Hebrew spellings of the Yiddish words. These, as well as cards bearing English-language versions of the emotions, with German texts on the back, have been fully mixed in with the German-language cards.

Emotional Outreach Cards 5.0 (for Germany)
Examples of the vouchers (cards)
I don't think I can afford to go to Germany to catch TRD live, but if any J's Theater readers are in Berlin and do drop by TRD, please do take a card, let me know your thoughts and send me a snapshot of yourself with the card (at fieldresearchstudygroup [AT] gmail [DOT] com or yahoo [DOT] com). Also, if you give it away as part of your own (extension of the) outreach project, use it in a ritual, and document yourself doing so, please let me know! Should I get to Berlin, I'll certainly report on TRD, the cards, and more.

Emotional Outreach Project 5.0 (for Germany)
Part of the package on its way to Berlin

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Brazil's "Vinegar Uprising"

Protests across Brazil, June 20, 2013
(© Zero Hora)
At various points over the last three years, popular uprisings, often arising out of the aftermath of the 2008 Global Economic Crisis and centering on economic inequality and neoliberal and libertarian policies, but sometimes focused necessary local and national political and social transformations, have arisen all over the world. The Arab Spring revolutions, still unfolding, garnered considerable attention, as did the Fall 2011 Occupy Movements across the US and in other developed countries, and most recently, there have been the protests in Istanbul's Gezi Park and Taksim Square, in response to plans by Turkey's conservative-neoliberal government, led by Recip Tayyep Erdogan, to build a shopping mall and mosque in one of Turkey's capital's few remaining public green spaces. Brazil had not evaded such events, but with one of the globe's actual leftist-Socialist parties, the Worker's Party (PT), holding the presidency for a third term as a result of popular democracy, with its economy and industries until recently growing at a significant rate, and with its social and economic policies helping to boost the fortunes of the poor and working class, and expand its middle class, the Country of the Future appeared to have found the door to a new moment in its history and created the kind of foundations that protests of the sort seen everywhere else were hoping to realize. Brazil, one of the world's soccer powerhouses, will host the World Cup next year, and Summer Olympics in 2016.

Yet a closer look shows that things are not as rosy as the media and distant observation may portray. Brazil's economy has slowed; economic inequality is again rising; the PT's repeated corruption scandals have worn thin; its coalition politics (a hyper-bipartisanship of the kind fetishized in Washington, and by US media) also have not resulted in the goals set out by President Dilma Rousseff, a former political revolutionary and victim of the dictatorship; the high costs and overruns with the soccer stadiums in major Brazilian cities has provoked widespread condemnation and disgust; and a sizable swath of the Brazilian 99%, especially its youth, are just fed up. And so, last week, mass rallies in São Paulo and Rio, the country's two largest cities, against transportation fare increases, sparked not only violent police responses (including their use of tear gas and rubber bullets), but even more mass rallies, all over Brazil, from the far north (in Macapá, at the mouth of the Amazon River), to the federal capital of Brasília, to the country's far south, in Rio Grande do Sul, on the border with Uruguay. Hardly a state capital, or many of the country's other large cities avoided protest. A New York Times Op-Ed writer, Brazilian Vanessa Barbara, labeled it the "Vinegar Uprising." As with the Occupy rallies and protests in the US, the criticisms have ranged across an array of pressing problems, but the fare and fee hikes, the lack of public services and poor infrastructure, the slowing economy, and continuing political corruption, as the country spends billions on those stadiums, have struck a consistent nerve. A version of a popular chant has gone, "Vamos acordar; um professor vale mais que o Neymar" (Let's wake up, Brazil: a teacher is worth more than Neymar," one of the young stars of Brazil's Seleção (National Team). So far there have been irruptions of violence among a sliver of the protesters, a number have been injured, and four people have died.

Students rallying in São Paulo against
fair hikes, June 19, 2013 (© New York Times/
Miguel Schincariol/Agence France-Press/Getty Images)

Today, in an effort to stem the protests and address the concerns of the populace, Rousseff proposed changes to Brazil's political and social system. They include multibillion-dollar upgrades to the transportation system across the country; hiring foreign doctors to work at public hospitals, thus filling the gap in medical services; harsher penalties for political corruption, which until recently have often gone unpublished; better pay for teachers, a perennial chestnut there as in the US; and a constituent assembly to overhaul the factionalized Brazilian Congress, as well as reforms to the campaign finance, which has been riddled with corruption since the country's return to democracy in the late 1980s. Some of these policies are among ones the PT has proposed before, without success, as it does not control a majority in either house of Brazil's Congress, which like the US is bicameral and includes a Federal Senate (with 3 senators for each of Brazil's 26 states and the federal district) and a Chamber of Deputies (or lower house, with 513 seats, elected by a proportional representation of votes and allocated proportionally by state size). In both houses, though the PT won the most votes, 22 or 23 parties on the ballot received enough votes to merit seats in one or both houses, and members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), a big tent centrist party, virtual hold the power as well as chairs of both, and the third largest party, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), once center-left but now also mostly centrist, serves as the PT's main opposition.  PT has a better stake in the state legislatures and state executive posts, controlling 13 of Brazil's 27 state and federal district executive posts, but even where it does, the results have not been inspiring. The PT mayor of São Paulo City, Brazil's (and Latin America's) most populous and its economic powerhouse, Fernando Haddad, was not even in the country; he was busy trying to drum up his city's bid to host the 2020 World's Fair.

Some activists have begun calling for a global boycott of the World Cup next year, and wealthy international soccer stars like Pelé and Ronaldo, who have urged a focus on national unity under the rubric of enthusiasm for the upcoming tournament, have met with scorn and condemnation. I imagine that the country's somewhat wobbly performance hosting the Confederations Cup matches, a run-up to next year's World Cup, along with the protests, will occasion some cosmetic changes and perhaps even a few of Dilma's proposed policies at least being taken up in pro-forma fashion. But whether the rallies and protests can result in real changes is an open question; as the Occupy movements in the US showed, they can provoke at least some reflection among some politicians and scare the daylights out of the plutocracy, and they provide a template for further protests and policy formations (and a target for the state-private security complex-nexus), but they may not lead to the changes that would really benefit a large portion of the population, including those who aren't out rallying but might be chief beneficiaries. Yet by voting with their bodies, Brazilians are rattling, and perhaps unraveling, the status quo.

Rising costs of living, Brazil, 2000-2013
(New York Times, source: Brazilian Institute
of Geography and Statistics)

Monday, June 24, 2013

New Chancellor at Rutgers in Newark

Nancy Cantor, new chancellor
of Rutgers University in Newark
 (© John O'Boyle / The Star-Ledger)
Last week we learned that Rutgers University in Newark will have a new chancellor, Nancy Cantor, who until this month was the President of Syracuse University. This was an incredible and exciting bit of news; we had had a fine interim chancellor, Phil Yeagle, and expected another good and capable leader to step into the breach, but I don't think anyone outside of the search committee, of which I was not a member, thought that our branch of Rutgers would be welcoming such a dynamic, highly regarded figure, with a fairly progressive track record, to guide our campus, especially in the midst of the turmoil that Rutgers has witnessed over the last year. 

A recap, which I will try to condense: in June 2012, with the push and pressure of New Jersey's governor Chris Christie, the state legislature passed a law integrating the independent University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMNDJ), based in Newark, into Rutgers University, creating a new Rutgers University School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, effective July 1, 2013. That is, next Monday. (Only UMNDJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine will not become part of Rutgers.) There were a number of ironies surrounding this legislative move, among them that Rutgers, founded in 1766, had once had a medical school, one of the oldest in the country, dating to the late 1700s, which was often in competition with Columbia University's medical school, before it was disbanded, only to be reconstituted in the 1960s, and yet again cleaved off as UMNDJ (with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in Piscataway and New Brunswick remaining a component of Rutgers).

Another irony was that when UMNDJ was being created, state officials selected a predominantly working-class, African American neighborhood in Newark in which to locate the facilities, identifying the site and acquiring it by eminent domain, thus ousting the residents, which in part helped to fuel the infamous 1967 Newark Uprising, a series of events that negatively and publicly transformed the city for decades. 

A third irony persists: despite the legislature's and governor's strong support for the merger, a number of questions surrounding inadequate funding for the fusion of the institutions, and debts carried both by UMNDJ and Rutgers, remained; we still await the financial verdict of the integration process, which also includes the incorporation of UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine into Rowan University, in South Jersey, to be overseen by a joint Rowan/Rutgers University in Camden governing board. Given historic inequities in funding between Rutgers' three branches, which have long been viewed as three prongs of a "One Rutgers"system as opposed to the typical hierarchical public university system, students, faculty and staff at all three campuses have repeatedly and vocally expressed concern about how the funding gap would be addressed, and what effects the attempts to fill the gap would have on each of the campuses, especially Newark and Camden, which traditionally (and according to the figures Rutgers has supplied to the federal government) have received less money.

Yet another irony is that although UMDNJ has seen a good amount of scandal over the years, including  prosecution for Medicaid over-billings from 2001 to 2004, which led to accreditation problems, subsequently rectified by 2008; unethical behavior by a Senior Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs at the School of Osteopathic Medicine; and the conviction, after prosecution by then-US Attorney, Chris Christie, of a state senator for having been employed in a no-show job and a former UMDNJ dean for having bribed him, UMDNJ nevertheless has led the state among all universities (including Princeton University and Rutgers) in terms of federal research grant dollars, and has a distinguished faculty and more than 7,000 students.

As the merger process unfolded, Rutgers selected Robert Barchi, the former President of Thomas Jefferson University, a medical school in Philadelphia, to replace its retiring president, Richard L. McCormick. Having run a medical school, and having served as the provost of University of Pennsylvania, Barchi would appear to be well-poised to oversee the integration of the medical school, and took office in April 2012. 

Around the time the legislature and governor were passing the bill integrating UMDNJ into Rutgers, a situation that would receive national attention was unfolding. Former Director of Player Development Eric Murdock, also a former National Basketball League New Jersey Nets player, was told his contract would not be renewed, and went into Rutgers' athletic facilities to complain that his boss, men's basketball head coach Mike Rice, had been abusing players and treating them "like slaves," an outburst which was secretly recorded by another Assistant Coach, Jimmy Martelli. (Murdock has subsequently launched a wrongful termination suit against Rutgers, while he is also being investigated for possible extortion.) Murdock has said he initially told former Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti about Rice's behavior during the summer of 2012. Murdock later requested videotape of Rice coaching the team, compiled a clip, and then last fall brought the video clip to Pernetti. 

The video, which ESPN first broadcast in April of this year, showed Rice repeatedly and over a two-year period verbally and physically abusing players, including throwing basketballs at their bodies and manhandling them, and using obscenities and homophobic slurs against them. (This was a particularly disturbing situation given the facts and fallout around cyberbullying and LGBTIQ student issues after gay Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide once he learned he was being videocammed without permission by his roommate, Dharun Ravi. Ravi subsequently was convicted on 15 counts, while another student, Molly Wei, entered a plea agreement to avoid prosecution.) Although Pernetti has said his initial impulse was to fire Rice, he did not. Instead, with Barchi's approval he suspended Rice but 3 games and fined him $75,000, even giving him a public endorsement at the end of a third losing season. He also gave the tape to Barchi, who admitted after it and the scandal erupted in the mass media that he had not watched it. 

The subsequent public outrage at Rice's behavior first led to Pernetti stating that Rice would attend anger management courses and have a monitor checking his behavior, and public contrition from Rice, but the brouhaha turned into such a fireball, from students, faculty, state legislators and residents, and Rutgers alumni and fans, that Barchi had to fire Rice, setting off a chain of departures. Martelli resigned, as did Pernetti and university counsel John Wolf, who initially was reassigned rather than let go. The fall 2012 timing for Pernetti's disciplinary actions against Rice is significant in part because it was at this moment that the AD sealed the deal to have Rutgers admitted to the Big Ten Conference (B1G), after its exit from the Big East, a major financial coup by any measure. Rutgers, which received an $18 million subsidy for its money-losing sports teams, and the University of Maryland will join B1G in July 2014, bringing the total number of member schools to 14 (with Johns Hopkins University participating in lacrosse, and the University of Chicago a member school of B1G's Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which facilitates scholarly exchanges between all the member institutions).

Both the Rice debacle and ongoing unaddressed concerns about the merger, the status of the three campuses, funding equity, and more led to unprecedented public university town halls this past spring involving students, faculty, staff, alumni, New Jersey residents, and President Barchi. The one at Newark was packed and contentious. A group of Rutgers faculty across the campuses, I among them, called for Barchi to resign or be dismissed after the tape aired and subsequent information emerged about his failure to immediately and decisively discipline Rice, Martelli and Pernetti. Given the support Governor Christie has expressed for Barchi more than once, that was not and apparently is not going to happen. Two boards, the Board of Governors and Board of Visitors, oversee Rutgers, and both also have expressed support for Barchi. In response to the public furor, the university announced an independent review of the Rice debacle, as well as a new top lawyer.

But this wasn't the end of the university's problems. To replace Rice, Rutgers hired former NBA coach and former Rutgers star baller Eddie Jordan, touted as an alumnus, to resurrect the men's basketball program, yet it turned out that Jordan had never completed his undergraduate degree (he apparently never claimed he had, but currently is finishing it). To replace Pernetti, Rutgers hired Julie Hermann, the University of Louisville's associate Athletic Director, despite assurances that the university would take time to find the best person. As is now well known, every single student member of her University of Tennessee women's volleyball team wrote a letter in 1996 accusing Hermann, their head coach, of mental cruelty, saying that she humiliated and demeaned them; Hermann claimed she knew nothing about the letter, their appraisal of her behavior, or the behavior itself, though she did subsequently quit that job. She also lost a jury verdict awarding $150,000 to a former Tennessee assistant coach, Ginger Hineline, who claimed Hermann discriminated against her for having become pregnant, and is still in the midst of a suit by Mary Banker, a former assistant track coach at Louisville who went to Hermann about sexist and discriminatory behavior by her male superior, only to have Hermann fire her within three weeks after doing so. 

Nevertheless Hermann has assumed her post, and has the full support of Barchi, Christie and the governing boards. Moreover, Rutgers men's lacrosse coach Brian Brecht was suspended pending an investigation into allegations he verbally abused players; he was later reinstated. Like Rice, he has not posted a winning season since being hired.  A final scandal involves Gregory Jackson, a tenured English professor at New Brunswick, whom Barchi named as his chief of staff despite knowing that Jackson still faces a lawsuit by four employees at Rutgers' New Brunswick's career services office, which he oversee, for age-related discrimination, which forced their retirements. You can't make this stuff up, none of it looks good individually, and collectively it points to serious issues that need to be addressed, especially in New Brunswick.

Now, however, we return to the positive news at the start of this post. Amidst the maelstrom detailed above, Barchi appointed Cantor, an eminent social psychologist, who has garnered attention for her "Scholarship in Action" public-university partnerships at Syracuse, which she led for a decade, her fundraising prowess, and her strong support of women and minority faculty members and underrepresented students. (She also has faced questions about how she handled allegations against one of Syracuse's assistant coaches, who was accused of sexual abuse by several men, one of whom recanted, which led to charges against him being dropped. According to The Star-Ledger link above, she has said that were she to address the situation again, she would call in law enforcement right away.)

On one level given how much university presidents earn and the perks many expect and receive, Cantor's acceptance of the Newark chancellorship is startling, but also refreshing. She will earn 40% less than she did at Syracuse, overseeing an urban, public institution that has significantly fewer financial or infrastructure resources than the private one she has left, though Rutgers-Newark has achieved a high national ranking for its ability to do a lot with very little. She also will report to Barchi as opposed to holding the top post. On the other hand, she arrives at a campus that has been named the most diverse in the US for several years running, and that has one of the best and highest ranked national records of social mobility among its students; an institution that not only already has a significant research component but which will, with the UMDNJ integration, have more graduate students than both of the other campuses combined; a school with an enthusiastic faculty, staff and student body, which had its highest increase in applications of any of the three branches this past year; and a campus that has standing and growing relationships with New Jersey's largest city and most populous and prosperous region, as well as the New York City metropolitan area. With the addition of the UMDNJ components, these will only grow. Cantor's appointment is for five years. I cannot predict how things will unfold, but given the year the university and our campus have experienced, Cantor's appointment and arrival bid a change of fortunes at the least, and bode well for the future.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Random Photos

(Fill in blank), PATH Station, NYC
(Fill in the blank), PATH Station, New York
Sculpture, 135th St., Harlem
Sculpture, 135th Street, Harlem
Street elevator, NYC
Street elevator rising, Upper East Side
At the opening of the Rachel Zoe pop-up store, Chelsea Market
At the opening of the Rachel Zoe pop-up store
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Garbagemen removing a large piece of crumpled metal, UES
Garbagemen disposing a huge piece
of metal, Upper East Side
Upper East Side children's clothing shop
Replacing a lightbulb, children's
clothing store, Upper East Side
Corrado bakery, Upper East Side
Corrado Bakery, Upper East Side
Meatpacking District plaza, 14th Street
Pedestrian plaza,
Meatpacking District
End of workday, Herald Square
End of workday, near
Herald Square
Ubiquitous West Village crane
One of the ubiquitous cranes,
West Village
Ubiquitous West Village crane
Another one of the cranes,
West Village
Street artist, West Village
Street art sale, West Village
New New School building
New New School building, West Village
Ball members, Newark subway
Ball children, Newark subway
Outside Hunter College
Human canary, outside Hunter College
Deliverymen chatting, UES
Deliverymen chatting, Upper East Side
Powerless Ball, West Village
Power(less?)ball, far West Village