Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Watching Closely... 3.


"This means that Delphi, GM and the UAW are sitting in a smoke-free room somewhere trying to avoid a strike. Obviously, this is good news." - Sean McAlinden, economist, Center for Automotive Research

The run down is here.

Note: Amber asked me what my sources were. They're varied, and in some cases anecdotal, which is why the argument kind of moves in leaps and bounds. These issues have been covered extensively (if not exhaustively) in both the Flint Journal and the Detroit Free Press. A lot of the arguments themselves, especially as concerns today's executive emphasis on stock vs. sales, are my own interpretation of arguments put forward by my father and other autoworkers. I used Facts on File and Wikipedia for factchecking.

Update #3 is:
UAW's Roth to Retire.
Delphi Flint East workers gather to send a message.
Delphi, GM talking.


My Reflections on the Document



Yesterday, as you may already know, the Vatical finally published its document on homosexuals and seminaries.

The whole situation would be pathetically funny if it wasn't so serious. It'd be funny if it weren't so sad.

The closest analogy I can draw is to a sort of exposition I witnessed several times as a first-year at college. There were kids in the class... in my experience, usually well-dressed, usually late, and always more gregarious with the instructor than there was any need to be. These students talked at length, sometimes turning the discussion into a lecture on points that may or may not relate to the actual subject. On a couple of occasions, I was able to glance at the papers these students had written, and these also had persistent similarities.

Their writing had wonderful rhythm. Poets and readers should study these papers because the actual sounds had complexity and a nuanced, even sophisticated beauty. Sentences and paragraphs were balanced with recurrences and repetitions that suggested symmetry yet were somehow just irregular enough to acknowledge the messiness and tribulation of the real world.

If not read carefully, this prosody could effectively mask the other common characteristic of these papers, which was a profound lack of critical rigor. They writers opened gaping holes, made assertations that leaned on the air, though this might be covered only by their whirling vocabulary. They'd leap from one argument to a presumably correlated claim, jumps that they'd never explicitly acknowledge except maybe by tossing in the word "inductively." The connections, however, were rarely inductive, or even necessarily relevant. Most obnoxiously, they'd make outrageous claims in their theses and closing senteces, asserting a broad applicability - the essentiality - of the fundamental truth they expressed. And this could be dangerous: someone lured in by the dancing sequences of citations and clauses, inspired by the soaring audacity and idealism of the writing, might find themselves nodding in agreement, completely bypassing consideration of the facts and supports in the writing itself.

These students typically didn't succeed at the University of Chicago. They'd gotten by in high school through careful listening and abrupt talent and intelligence, but the instuctors they cozied up to often vivisected their argument, revealing that the reanimated human was just a dusty, crusted corpse sewn back together.

To set aside hyperbole for a moment, because I've been trying to replicate this technique, as has the Vatican today, it's a common trick, it's an old trick, but it's used and used and used again because it very often works.

Will it work today? Will the Vatican succeed in divesting the Church of its valuable and much-needed gay pastors? I'll get to that, but first I have to do a pale imitation of my insightful professors, Ms. Sternstein who treated us to pizza and wine, and Curt who took me to see Angels in America. I'm going to vivisect this Vatican document and expose the unbeating heart at its heart.

* * * * *


If the Vatican document hides itself in a dancing sequence of citations and clauses, it betrays itself through one telling trick it employs a little too conspicuously: "profoundly." The word comes up six times in four pages. That's a Profundity Index (PI) of 1.5 per vellum. They've abused the word as if it were a golden-haired altar server... First we learn that some candidates have "profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies," before observing that these "profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies" represent a trial for the afflictees. They then express a "profound effect" for those with profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, but declare that one may not admit someone with "profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies" to seminaries or priesthood. Why? Because there are negative consequences for admitting those with "profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies." Incidentally, if a person with "profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies" lies about said profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, than they are exhibiting an inauthentic attitude that does not correspond to a spirit of "truth, allegiance, and availability."

It is worth noting that the abuse of the word profoundly, in five out of six cases, is based upon the fact that the document will not refer to a homosexual in terms other than one with "profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies." The very verbose choice seems to be based upon a distinction made early on between homosexual acts and homosexual inclinations... at the least this is curious, since many straights engage at times in homosexual acts (condemmed as "grave sins"), which the document essentially admits: "homosexual tendencies that may be simply the expression of a transitory problem." This is a polemic, then, not against homosexual acts, but homosexuals. Homosexual acts are secondarily, almost incidentally treated, after the main argument which is about the inclination toward homosexuality.

The sixth use of the word is in the middle of a paragraph-long sentence, and is a declaration that the Church "profoundly respects" homosexuals. This is probably inserted to add force to the one qualification of an argument that, I would certainly contend, does not display much else in terms of respect. At any rate, the continual reiteration of profundity divests the statement of any force it may have acquired through its very profundness.

All this considered, however, the statements are useful and interesting because they structure the argument both more succinctly and coherently than the subheadings and layout of the document itself. Consider sentences that feature "profoundly" with the references to "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" replaced with "homosexuals" and "homosexuality."

- [The present instruction] contains norms regarding a particular question, made more urgent by the present situation, that is that of the admission or non-admission to the seminary and Holy Orders of homosexuals.
- Concerning homosexuality, that one discovers in a certain number of men and women, [it is] objectively disordered and often constitute[s] a trial, even for these men and women.
- In light of this teaching, this department, in agreement with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, holds it necessary clearly to affirm that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, [are homosexuals], or support the so-called gay culture.
- The negative consequences that may derive from the Ordination of homosexuals are by no means to [be] ignored.
- If a candidate practices homosexuality or [is homosexual], his spiritual director, like his confessor, must dissuade him, in conscience, from proceeding towards Ordination.

To be fair, the transcription makes the document both more abrupt and less PC than it was intended to be. Nevertheless, the word profoundly has, at least, pointed us to the heart of the document. A close examination of the document itself without considering enforcibility or any of the attendant questions acknowledges and highlights the fact that homosexuality - sexual attraction to the same sex - is its concern, that homosexuals will be prohibited from Orders and priesthood, and superiors must intervene in the progress of homosexual candidates.

If the argument was obfuscating and confusingly written, the word profound emphasizes its essential train of thought.

As for the justifications, the worthwhile qualifications I've slashed out of the rest of the document; there weren't any. Read for yourself. The rest of the document invokes the gravity of homosexual acts as demonstrated in scripture without citing clear examples. The document qualifies this fact slightly by noting that the goal is not "to linger on all the questions by nature emotional or sexual," and so doing dodges the fact that it does not linger on any of the questions. The rest is filled with a litany of a priori statements masking as well-supported or self-evident arguments. These include statements on the nature of pastoral care, the nature of human empathy and communication, and the nature of sexuality. None of the statements are supported any way except for the one mention of sacred scripture and a nod to the Catechism.

Now we can move from from the document's profoundly disordered prose to its profoundly disordered logic.

* * * * *


[The present instruction] contains norms regarding a particular question, made more urgent by the present situation, that is that of the admission or non-admission to the seminary and Holy Orders of homosexuals.

This statement seems inoffensive on the surface, which is part of what makes it so alarming in essence. By invoking the urgency of "the present situation" in such vague terms, the reader isn't invited to examine a specific problem for a specific solution, but to supply any prejudicial or momentary interpretation of "the present situation" to justify the measures proscribed. It's what a rigorous secular critic ought to term "rhetorical relativism."

Concerning homosexuality, that one discovers in a certain number of men and women, [is it] also objectively disordered and often constitute[s] a trial, even for these men and women.

The document asserts a trial, but makes no provision to address the problems or circumstances surrounding the trial. Are they saying that pre-Exilic idolatry excused Assyrian atrocities? If this is their attitude towards worldly suffering, why have we been bothering with Catholic charities and social justice all this time?

The document also outlines expectations of homosexuals, stating that they are "called to realize the will of God" and "to unite to the Sacrifice of the Lord the difficulties that they may encounter." There's an insistance to the church at large that we must receive homosexuals with "respect and delicacy." These statements closely echo the Catechism's passages on homosexuality, but they neither orient themselves to the Catechism's argument (which focuses exclusively on chastity), nor do they situate themselves in the practical aspects of the current discussion. This ommission raises problems as well:

Given the prohibitions of the document as a whole, isn't it important to define "respect and dignity?"

Also, the document makes demands on the laity and homosexuals. Why is there no indication of a demand being made upon the leadership of the church? How are they going to apply these rules to their own ranks? How do they intend to address the situation of already-ordained gay pastors?

The document states that one will avoid every mark of "unjust discrimination."

Yet another problem: In what way is barring homosexuals from the priesthood not "unjust discimination?" How does the document define "just" and "unjust." The claims made as to the unsuitability of homosexuals to pastoral care does not provide any evidence. Moreover, it does not address the many (thousands, at least) of arguments to the contrary. Just as the document urges seminary heads to err on the side of caution and assume that a candidate is unsuitable, I find it in the spirit of the document for me to err on the side of caution and assume that any discrimination not rigorously justified is "unjust discrimination."

In short, argument does not provide any basis for the justice of its own discrimination. How much validity or force, then, may we attach to its exhortation to not unjustly discriminate?

And finally, the point is often raised, including in this document, that one does not have the right to vocation, yet this cannot assume the absence of discrimination. A careful review of the definitions of "right" and "discrimination,", makes it clear that you don't have to have a right to something in order to be discriminated against. Frankly, if discrimination were not an issue, then the discussion of "rights" would be moot regardless.

In light of this teaching, this department, in agreement with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, holds it necessary clearly to affirm that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, [are homosexuals], or support the so-called gay culture.

The most obvious problem with this statement ("so-called gay culture") is also the most superficial, so I'll save it for later.

Fundamentally, the trouble is "in light of this teaching." What teaching? As I mentioned, while the phrase "objectively disordered" originates in the Catechism, it restricts itself to the imposition of chastity, which is a given for seminarians anyway. The document also mentions scripture, briefly, but discussion of homosexuality in the Bible is infrequent and multivalent. The most specific citations of homosexuality discuss only homosexual acts... in fact, there's no mention or condemnation in the Bible of romantic love between members of the same sex.

This is the central problem with the whole document.

This is why the document is a house of cards.

It makes a series of generalizing statements on the merits of two very vague citations which, even if considered an immutable authority, do not demand, imply, or even suggest the measures the document puts forward. Both the Catechism and the Bible are specifically, and one might argue, intentionally limited in their responses to homosexuality. Quite simply, the "sacred scripture" upon which the whole document rests does not support the actions the document puts forward. The document is a house without a cornerstone.

As an aside, the phrase "so-called gay culture," has an obvious bias that is not contextualized or explained... I'm suprised they didn't dress that bit up a little more. It's telling in that they've further restricted the priesthood not only from homosexuals, but also from anyone straight who might support gay culture. As such, I would be made ineligible by this statement, if I weren't already through marriage.

The negative consequences that may derive from the Ordination of homosexuals are by no means to [be] ignored.

Again, the flaws come out through the questions one might ask:

What are the negative consequences and from what are they derived?

They've supplied nothing convincing here. Conversely, I can offer many positive examples... my godfather is gay, and he not only tolerated a string of questions from me that lasted for three years, but he helped to guide me through a time in my life when I was deciding whether or not to be married. I'm known both straight and gay Catholics and non-Catholics who've ranged from clairvoyant to clueless when it comes to any sort of relationship. Defer to discrimination again... how do we decide if discrimination is just? Has it been amply justified? In this case, it's been only very briefly and transparently justified. Therefore, no.

The second problem is embodied in the pseudo-colloquialism "by no means to [be] ignored."

What is this jump from ignoring a candidate's sexuality to barring gay candidates from the priesthood? Again, the document defers to an inability to pastorally care, but there's the powerful counterexample of highly successful gay pastors, and the reiteration that the document doesn't provide any genuine evidence.

In fact, technically, sexuality hasn't been ignored, even before this document was written. Inasumuch as the documnet claims sexuality is commented upon in sacred scripture.

Lastly, why does the action taken necessarily have to be barring yet another broad swath of people from the priesthood? Do they even want any priests anymore? Do they want us to continue receiving communion?

If a candidate practices homosexuality or [is homosexual], his spiritual director, like his confessor, must dissuade him, in conscience, from proceeding towards Ordination.

By now I think I've beaten my central arguments to death, so I'll wrap up by appealing to the emotions to which I've been trying not to resort, as I've written this response.

They're saying that homosexuality is objectively disordered. They're asking spiritual directors to be confessors. What do confessors do? By, a confessor is "a priest who hears confession and gives absolution." And what is confession but an admission of sin. In this last part we have not a mere supplication, but an insistance upon more than honesty; naked admission and willing acceptance of Vatican-mandated consequences.

If this insistance is reasonable, than I am perfectly willing to turn the question back around upon the Bishops and Cardinals who enabled and protected the wolves who preyed upon the flock to the shame of their Church:

What is your confession?

What were your sins?

How will you be paying your penance?


Necrus 10, 28.


- IF OUR COUNTRY WERE MANY COUNTRIES - Or distinct regions...curious how they'd rank in population? I split the nation into eight division (not as a proposal, just for fun). Here they are:

#1. THE SOUTH - 69.26 million - 24.6%
[inc. Upper South (VA, NC, SC, GA - 27.45), Inner South (TN, KY, WV - 11.54), Deep South (AL, MS, LA, AR - 14.29), Florida (FL - 15.98)]

#2. THE MIDWEST - 67.86 million - 24.1%
[inc. Great Lakes Region (OH, MI, IN, IL, WI - 45.17), Plains States (MN, IA, MA - 13.45), Frontier Strip (ND, SD, NE, KS, OK - 9.24)]

#3. THE EAST COAST - 60.44 million - 21.5%
[inc. New England (ME, VT, NH, MA, RI, CT - 13.93), Middle Atlantic (NY, NJ, DE, MD, DC - 46.51)]

#4. THE WEST COAST - 43.21 million - 15.3%
[inc. California (CA - 33.90), Pacific Northwest (OR, WA - 9.31)]

#5. TEXAS - 20.86 million - 7.4%
[inc. Texas (TX - 20.86)]

#6. ROCKIES - 18.16 million - 6.4%
[inc. Southwest (NM, AZ - 6.95), West (NV, UT, CO - 8.53), Northwest (WY, MT, ID - 2.68)]

#7. HAWAII - 1.21 million - .4%
[inc. Hawaii (HI - 1.21)]

#8. ALASKA - .63 - .2%
[inc. Alaska (AK - .63)]

I was essentially aiming for regional self-identity... the reason that Texas is distinct from the South, as well as why Kansas is in the same grouping as Ohio. For the most part, this seemed to work, although there were a couple problematic cases. In particular, West Virginia (which I placed in the South, but which could gone to the Midwest or the East Coast), Oklahoma (which I placed in the Midwest, but which could have gone with Texas), and Missouri (which I placed in the Midwest, but which could have gone with the South).

- BLEAK - I'm going to wallow in self-pity for a few moments. I've been feeling down ever since Thanksgiving. Part of it is politics on several fronts. Part of it is my inability to keep up with these readings. Part of it is how needed, and then how fleeting, those two days off were. A lot of it is still feeling unsettled, feeling like I've left a life behind that was actually quite good, close friends, a whole world. Not for marriage. Not even for New York. For a future that in some ways seems less promising and exciting and so much more inertia filled than the past. There's something purgatorial about these two years, in a literal sense, not figurative... I'm in the waiting room of life, and I worry that by the time time resumes (at which point I'll be pushing thirty) all of my friends and family who are, at this moment, for the most part still clustered in three close states, will have scattered. The rest of life, then, will be sending emails, waiting for phone calls, maybe writing letters. Maybe occasional visits. I'll have to find "new" people. But I don't want new people necessarily. In twenty-seven years, I've known hundreds, and at the risk of sounding defeatest, I'm perfectly happy with the several dozen people I have in my life right now.

- WEATHER - I haven't had to wear my coat in three days. What the Hell. We're on the edge of December!

University of Minnesota, Morris. The Physics and Engineering Club. Somewhere in Nebraska.

What's your favorite thing that starts with the letter 'q?'


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Necrus 9, 28.


- THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS OBJECTIVELY DISORDERED - I'll probably spend most of my downtime this afternoon writing a response to the Vatican document on homosexuals and seminaries. It adds gay men (described as "objectively disordered") to the ranks of women and married men who are not permitted to serve through Priesthood. Take a look at how the list of those who could serve as priests has diminished over the centuries.
On Wednesday, I got out of work early, so I headed home, took a nap, and spent a couple hours cleaning. Julie and Summer arrived, and we made use of our futon for the first time. That night we watched most of Team America World Police which I'd also like to talk about if I ever have the time.
On Thanksgiving, we got up abominably early to attend the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. We watched at Times Square, oddly enough just seven short blocks (these aren't Chicago blocks) from the point where the balloon cable knocked the lamphead into the crowd. We didn't hear anything about it, however. The parade was more interesting than I'd expected. It's different in person than on TV; the crowd is so thick you're standing several rows back, and the balloons are so huge and looming they seem to bear down on you, blocking out the sky, as they drift past. Afterwards, we ate lunch at Bennigan's, and the others went for a walk around Midtown. I was feeling sick, so I returned home and took a nap. Later, we spent over an hour on the phone with our relatives, ate lasagna (with ground turkey!) and finished the movie. Then we watched Back to the Beach, which was fun, and involved Pee Wee Herman.
On Friday, we took the subway downtown around noon and rode the Staten Island Ferry, managing in the process to be dragged into a political conversation with an adamant Shrevport, La ex-patriot. Strange. We walked through Wall Street, the WTC site, and City Hall Park, and grabbed a bite of pizza. Then we continued north to Washington Square Park before catching a ride home. I was going to cook a chicken, but we were all tired and short several ingredients. We ended up ordering Dominos instead. We played MASH. Then Jess and Julie and I watched Willy Wonka, the Depp version.
Saturday and Sunday were frustrating... I didn't get as much work done as I'd wanted. I did, however, finish my last submission for the semester to my writing workshop. It's nice to have that over with.
- I think I prefer quarters to semesters. It's easier to maintain bursts of energy for ten weeks instead of fifteen.
- DILEMMAS - Jess and I had a minor crisis solifying our lease. It's solidified. That's why I was so stand offish yesterday. For those of you not familiar with New York, you typically have to pay one-months rent to a broker for no service other than their arranging your paperwork. That's three months rent, or $2,940 + credit check + banking fees to officially "move in." Well, we're moved in.
- UPDATES FOR NECRUS - Many people who have been posting frequently have ceased to do so, and there's been a general migration from the "posts frequently" to "infrequently" lists. I think that bloggers are like automobiles on the expressway. They rove in packs. The "cool in..." are special this month. Check them out. The images at top are from our Thanksgiving Day parade exposition, with Santa Claus at left.
I'm also replacing some of the "of the week" categories with more interesting selections. For example, the word of the days essentially paralleled those provided by Google. See what I'm using instead.
- THE BACKGROUND - Normally I take the pictures posted here myself, or draw from the public domain. I'm made a bit of an exception this time, as there was no way I could plausibly take a picture of the North Pole. The photo is pulled from the Arctic theme page from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It will be up through the end of Necrus.

Narvaez, Ramon Maria (1800-1868)
"I do not have to forgive my enemies. I have had them all shot."

Assuming you can neither forgive nor shoot your enemies, what would you do instead?


Monday, November 28, 2005

Necrus 8, 28.


- WELL... - The last several days, and especially the last several hours, have been stressful, if not harrowing. So, I probably won't be posting much until tomorrow, or possibly Wednesday. Sorry.

The New York Times: As Calls for an Iraq Pullout Rise, 2 Political Calendars Loom Large.

What is your favorite movie in the computer animation genre?


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Watching Closely... 2.


"I believe if we continue to talk about global economic factors, Delphi will hear one of the most progressive proposals from anywhere in the country." - Ed Donovan, president of the Flint-Genesee County Economic Growth Alliance

The run down is here.

Update #2 is:
Delphi confab on hold.
Some GM workers fear forced idleness.
New council clearing way for Williamson projects.


Necrus 3, 28.


- APARTMENT STRESS - There was a broker's fee I either wasn't told about or neglected to notice... Jess and I have to lay down $3000 to be able to "move in." Sigh...
- THERE IS A GROUP OF PEOPLE WITH KEYS. TO BE IN THEIR CLUB YOU HAVE TO HAVE A KEY AND YOU AREN'T ALLOWED TO USE IT TO OPEN ANY DOORS. BUT IN ORDER TO JOIN THEIR CLUB YOU HAVE TO, HYPOTHETICALLY, WANT TO USE YOUR KEY ON THE DOORS THEY WANT. EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THEM HAVE BROKEN THE RULES AND USED THEIR KEYS. EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THEM HAVE USED THEIR KEYS IN THE DOORS THEY'RE TELLING YOU NOT TO. - If it seems like I'm neglecting the Vatican document on homosexuality in the Church, it's because there's been so much doubletalk about this document that I don't even want to mess with it until the ink is set with the stamp of the seal with the crossed keys. It's going to be a difficult entry to write, so I'd just as soon write it just once. Still, you probably anticipate the direction my argument will take. Trust a bunch of celebate old men to chastise homosexuals for not knowing about sex.
- THREE DAYS, THREE SEASONS. None of them even Autumn. Monday was summer, yesterday, spring, today, winter. Let's play a game of Long Island Roulette.

Oh, for the love of Benjamin Franklin, what an unusual beast.

The angle appears to be that women, married men, and now homosexuals cannot be priests. Who should the Vatican ban next?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Watching Closely... 1.


The run down is here.

Update #1 is here.


Necrus 2, 28.


- May today be a productive day!


What is the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?


Monday, November 21, 2005

Important Issues: The Price of Economic Polygamy?


Over the years, we've been hit by more trains than the coyote in a road runner cartoon. - Andrew Heller, the Flint Journal.

My family and Jessica and anyone who's worn out on me talking about Flint should skip this.

However, I'm putting off reviewing Harry Potter to write it.

I mentioned a bit below (I can't link right now, because this stupid computer won't even let me look at my blog) of the possible large-scale ramifications of local decisions at this moment in history. I'm going to go into more detail now. Please bear in mind that what I am saying is 1) speculative, and 2) while I have an onlooker's familiarity with economics and the auto industry, I have a comprehensive familiarity with neither.

First, to identify the key players. The leading roles are, for the moment, GM, the UAW, and DELPHI. GM was, until recently, the largest corporation in the world (recently surpassed by Toyota). DELPHI was originally part of GM, and was spun off into independence a couple years ago. The UAW is, of course, the Union that represents the rank-and-file of American automakers, as well as numerous other industries. Supporting roles are the city of FLINT, MAYOR DON WILLIAMSON, the CITY COUNCIL, GM CEO RICK WAGONER, former GM CEO ROGER SMITH (ultimate source and font of Michael Moore's fame), and DELPHI CEO STEVE MILLER. And doubtless countless others I've missed.

* * * * *


Now for the situation. It goes back thirty to fifty years, depending on what you're measuring. The fifties were debatably the high point for American auto manufacturers, though GM maintained both their highest workforce and output well into the seventies. The seventies and eighties hit all domestic automakers hard. The triple punch of the oil embargo, the financial excesses and reforms of the late seventies, and the loosening of import regulations under the Reagan administration dramatically undercut profits for domestic automakers.

Enter Roger Smith. While his most controversial move during his tenure was the closure of multiple plants, outsourcing and subcontracting, the larger restructuring of General Motors was probably more portentious for the long-term viability of the corporation.

Essentially, with the changes and leadership and structure under Roger Smith, GM decided to play a fundamentally different game than the import market. Japanese and German automakers had made an impact by offering affordable, efficient vehicles that appealed to many Americans of a more modest income. GM realized that it still dominated the market for larger vehicles, and that the profit margin was disproportionately large for these vehicles. Moreover, by acquiring shares in profitable military companies or changing its emphesis to flexibility in financing and divesting itself essential constituent operations such as AC Delco, GM could further enhance its profitability. The payoff was short-term: GM was able to weather its financial tribulations during this time without its stock dramatically suffering.

Unfortunately, in the twenty years since, this approach has encouraged an entirely different kind of investment. Where profits are dictated predominantly by the margin of profit on a particular product as opposed to the maintenance and expansion of a customer base, the purchase of shares is more likely to take the form of short-term speculation instead of the slow, steady growth suggestive of a robust, stable company. Just as significantly, with the continued push towards environmentally friendly vehicles in the last decade, and especially the recent increase in fuel prices, the direction of GM's development has been increasingly out of sync with the priorities of the buying public.

Ever since Smith's restructuring, GM has anticipated shrinkage overall. Under auspicious circumstances, this would happen due to attrition and retirement in the domestic workforce which, by now, has a high median age. A lower workforce would enable to corporation to close plants; this decade would represent a natural, but not damaging, trough in their sales cycle. The high profitability per vehicle would sustain the company through this phase. Unfortunately, GM miscalculated... the corporation is shrinking too fast, and it isn't due to workforce attrition nearly as much as a dramatic decline in sales.

Without a dramatic reversal in buying trends (ie. back toward larger vehicles, epitomized by the several-year preponderance of SUVs), GM's profitability in the new mode could not have continued indefinitely.

This year, GM has talked about cutting first 24,000, and then 30,000 jobs, or one-tenth of its total workforce. Share price has been dropping dramatically for the last several quarters. And yet it has to strike someone as obvious that the company is not advertising any sort of hybrid option, or even a vehicle with efficient mileage by today's standards. Saturn used to occupy that role, but each Saturn sold corresponds to a smaller profit than a GMC.

Now we're paying the price.

But I started this off with Flint. GM has only announced the closure of one operation in Flint itself, and one that had already been written off after 2008; certainly not a drop in the bucket, but just a fraction of what they've already cut. Lansing and Toledo are much harder hit by this sweep.

Flint isn't directly decisive in GM strategies at this moment.

Flint is important because of Delphi.

* * * * *


Delphi was originally Delco Electronics and was spun off of General Motors in 1999. For most of the time since, it has been the world's largest independent parts supplier, and it currently employs almost 200,000 people, including over 50,000 in the U.S. Since the spin-off the company has become insolvent, and officially declared bankruptsy on October 8th of this year.

While Delphi is independent from GM, the two companies retain a very close relationship and Delphi manufactured parts are incorporated in every GM vehicle. The way Delphi's bankruptsy plays out, then, will have a huge effect on GM.

The immediate problems center around negotiations between Delphi and the UAW. The debate is already off to a contentious if not openly acrimonious start. Steve Miller, who was brought in specifically to guide Delphi through the bankruptsy, has taken an unapologetically tough stance, asking workers to sacrifice two thirds of accumulated pay (ie. including health and benefits) or face the termination of the under-funded pension plan. This is, needless to say, a bitter medicine to take: imagine your pay at any job being cut by two-thirds. But tension is particularly raised that these cuts coincide with pay incentives being offered at higher levels to attract able businessmen to the company, particularly in the form of controversial "golden parachute" (a sort of blank-check Get-out-of-jail-free provision in the event of catastrophe).

[A moment of editorialism: Miller may be caught between a rock and a hard place, but libertarian-style economists seem to always mess up when they apply "human nature" incentive arguments to white-collar agreements but neglect its applicability to rank-and-file. In other words, of course workers will want to strike.]

Under ordinary circumstances, this would probably be enough to provoke a strike. The one thing that may be holding this at bay is that GM is rumored to be near bankruptsy itself and that Delphi's inability to resolve its issues could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

[Right now, it's a high-stakes game of chicken.]

* * * * *


So what happens if GM has to declare bankruptsy?

I'm not sure... I'd really like for my father or Tom to weigh in on this.

From my own spotty memory, I can think of a few possibilities. One, perhaps not the most likely, but ironically maybe the most ideal, is that GM would be bought out by another automaker. In fact there's only one that could remotely be in the running: Toyota. Which is fascinating first because it would return GM to sort of its original, pre-1970s status as the automotive conglomerate that had something for everybody, and second because it would be an epic cultural-mind-bender for communities like Flint where Toyotas are generally shunned on principle.

Another possibility is that the federal government would artificially buoy GM's stock at a certain level. In fact this was the response to a crisis Chrysler went through in 1979, given in the form of a billion dollar loan. Such a response is problematic now, partly because GM is much larger than Chrysler, but also because the federal deficit is at a record high.

The effects, however, of bankruptsy would be monumental regardless and could quite possibly be enough to set off a national recession. If you think of GM as being one of America's largest industries, with a workforce worldwide of three million (imagine the city of Chicago declaring bankruptsy all a sudden), the inevitable restructuring to result from bankruptsy would be cataclysmic to some communities and would leave no community unaffected.

* * * * *


Commence editorial:

So where does Flint fit into all of this? Possibly nowhere. I could be full of hot air, and as I said before, this is all speculative.

That said, despite having lost about 80% of local GM employment, Flint remains one of the largest concentrations of both GM and Delphi workers, and GM remains the area's largest employer with some 13,000 on its local payroll.

The possibilities are even more interesting and compelling due to the delicacy of Flint's own situation at this particular moment.

Consider these contrasting profiles:

Flint continues to shrink at an alarming rate, ranking in the top 40 or so U.S. cities each year in percentage of population loss. Flint presently has under 60% of its peak population just fifty years ago. The Flint School District, one of the city's largest employers after GM and Delphi, is losing about 1,000 students or 5% each year. The city currently has the second-highest violent crime rate per capita of large cities in the nation and, with the homicide count already two higher than last year's total, may be first or second for homicide next year. While GM and Delphi together will not cut a majority of the local manufacturing base in the next several years, the number of jobs lost will still stretch into the hundreds or thousands and the jobs lost will be high-paying union jobs from workers with high seniority (almost all making well over $50,000 annually) in a demographic that strongly favors relocation after retirement.

The other profile, however, shows that in terms of community organization, which has tradionally been a model of local incompetance, the city is finally successfully diversifying its economy and utilizing its advantages. There are four local colleges, one with dorms, one soon to build dorms, hosting a total of over 10,000 students. In the case of one, Kettering University, an engineering co-op, a fuel cell facility has recently been installed to research alternative sources of energy, while in the case of the other, U of M, residential units will probably be built in the downtown proper within the next several years. The metro population has remained stable, and collar communities have continued to prosper in the last couple decades. Institutions like the Cultural Center offers the advantages of a larger metro area, while also anchoring property values in key areas of the central city, and the Mott Foundation, the world's twentieth largest and locally based, heavily endows local projects. With the recent emergence of the Kalamazoo Promise there are new precedents for investment in education and culture. The city is strategically located one hour from Detroit at the confluence of major expressways and rail lines. The state is pumping millions of dollars into the community in the form of tax incentives and grants to encourage economic growth.

Most intriguingly, a warped dysfunctionally-functional city government may to be emerging.

I've wasted no time railing against Don Williamson: I think the man is autocratic and crude. Lording it over a city like Flint has to be the definition of a "petty" tyrant. The City Council has also been described by everyone from the Flint Journal to the Uncommon Sense as a sort-of "congress of fools," and my general reaction to both has been frustration and disgust. Both sides of the municipal government have spent the last several years bickering and refusing to compromise, and because the city charter balances power very closely between the two, there's been little resolution of any issue. Which, of course, not only corresponds to wasted court fees (less an incidental expense than you might think), but also the energy and attention of administrators has been tied up in getting each other sued or recalled instead of solving the city's problems.

What's changed?

Don Williamson is a millionaire, and essentially bought a more agreeable city council at the election two weeks ago. Many incumbants were unpopular (for the reasons I've cited above) and their traditional advantage was negated by the funds Williamson pumped into challengers' campaigns. Specifically Williamson has succeeded at replacing six out of nine incumbents with more agreeable challengers. Of the incumbents that retained their seats, one was Willaimson's sole supporter on the last council. The result then, is that the number of councilmen critical of Williamson has dropped from eight to two out of nine.

So while the face of city government is as odious today as its ever been, at least there's the chance to get back to the city's business, and the new relationship has already borne fruit, as Williamson has relinquished his block on $100,000 to explore economic redevelopment of the Buick City industial site.

Here is the clench of possibility:

One of the perennial activities of Flint's municipal government is trying to make the city attractive to manufacturing interests. While this has been woefully insufficient to woo GM, it could have more of an impact on Delphi. As a corporation, Delphi is less than 10% GM's size and a higher percentage of its workers are based in Flint. A supplemental tax break from the state partnered by the city could ease the burden of a more decisive federal intervention. Local institutions such as the Mott Foundation or Kettering assist by offering incentives and opportunities to alleviate some of the sacrifices being asked of UAW members. Interventions and especially nonprofit alleviation of corporate stress has a historically low success-rate in Flint, but the objective would be damage control, not a permanent solution... ultimately, to redistribute the burden on terms more tolerable to all parties involved.

It is reasonable to suggest that any incentives that may be posed by Mayor Don Williamson and the Flint City Council or even the Mott Foundation might be incidental given the scale of problems faced by both General Motors and Delphi Automotive Systems. Delphi is trying to cut expenses numbered in billions of dollars.

However, where all possibilities are balanced so delicately among all parties, and where mutual survival is at a premium for everyone involved, sometimes the sphere of influence is extended beyond what we may consider ordinarily reasonable limits. Revolutions and great victories throughout history have turned on matters as incidental as a squall at sea. Flint certainly has the most to lose of anybody if Delphi and GM are to go out of business.

I will be watching very closely.


Necrus 1, 28.


- SELF-IMPOSTED INSOMNIA, AND THE RATIONALIZATION AND JUSTIFICATION THEREOF - You only live once. Only one chance to read Proust and Markson. Only one chance to read DeLillo. To give this classmate these notes, critiques, observations. To go on this walk with Jessica. To plan this visit with family and friends. Only one chance to write this paper right. To make a favorable impression at this job and that. To become a rock star. To become a movie star. To explore New York City from top to bottom. To learn Spanish. To learn Romanian or Greek or Latin or Hebrew or Vietnamiese. Arabic. Bengali. Only one chance to tour the world top to bottom. To live in Tuscany or Switzerland or Annapolis. Only one chance to write the Great American Novel then build an entire career around it. To culturally reinvent the nation. Only one chance. Only one moment. Time slips by, and we get older. Our potentials are measured as all of our moment multiplied by each other to the power of the number of the moments. This means we have trillions times trillions times trillions of options, but every moment that passes they shrink by a factor of trillions. Time is limited. Something has to go. Scale back eight hour to seven. How many moments gained? Seven to six. Six to five. Gaining moments. Five to four. If you can do this, do you see how much more time you've acquired?
- THE BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK - It's so tired. It's so been done. What can I say. I don't believe, frankly, as the ad says, that Chevy cares as much about fuel conservation as I do. Let's face it: 26 mpg isn't much to brag about to those of us limited to the trophosphere. In terms of income. And where are your hybrids GM? They don't buy anymore that the technology isn't there. More specifically, they don't buy anymore. I'm tired of this bullshit.

The New York Times: G.M. to Cut 30,000 and Close 12 Facilities in 3 Years.

If you could buy a car right now, what car would you buy?


Sunday, November 20, 2005



My brother...

Note: I had no idea this would be so popular! Anyway, this was the toughest so far. Sorry, Cody! They only had three options for beards, none of which quite resembled yours. I scoured the place for a euphonium or at least some sort of horn, but the only horns were devil horns, and the only musical instruments were guitars. Somehow the headphones seemed the best bet...


Friday, November 18, 2005

Gravitane 28, 28.


- ENTHUSIASM - I'd love to go into the weird asynchronicity between the things I feel and the things I do these days. To add a little bit of relevance to the mix, I'm pretty sure Jessica is going through the same thing. Moods go up and down: sometimes there is such an extent of promise in the world and power in our actions that finding a productive outlet for frenetic energy is its own obstacle... and other times I just want to like in bed and sleep, at 2 PM or 2 AM. Or neither. On the other hand, I spend most of my time being very productive.
- EDUCATION - This is very a different kind of intensity than last year. Last year my relationship was, not dependent, but directed daily by the extent to which we'd put the wedding together. Even more, my future career was driven by my ability to get into grad school. Two very concrete things, and in certain ways non-negotiable.
This year, by contrast, I'm back in the fuzzy territory of academics, where I'm much more comfortable. Yes, I'm a million pages behind in reading, but two-thirds of those pages are voluntarily taken on to enhance my growth and abilities in my two years here: teachers' recommendations, assignments for my optional workshop, personal projects, and so on. And, of course, they almost all have some degree of flexibility. I never did finish the Proust. I compensated by taking very good notes and promising myself to sound particularly insightful when we talk about Don DeLillo next week. Don DeLillo's book is only 200 pages, by contrast.
- NEW YORK LIFE - This is also counterbalanced by the weird fact of life in New York. For the first time in about a decade, I'm trying not to think about where I'll eventually live. I haven't changed my mind or opinions about anything, I'm just trying to recognize that the subject isn't at issue right now.
But this is offset by the weirdness of being in New York. It's not a criticism, but it's hard for me to put into words how weird it feels to be living here. Chicago is, of course, as close to a second home as any I've had, but my time in Ohio, California, and even Romania felt more... settled in a way that this. I don't know what it is... certainly not the degree of difference, but maybe the kind of difference. I'm enjoying everything there is to see and experience here, and at the same time, I don't think it's a place in which either Jess or I feel settled.
The weird result is almost similar to my ten-day workshop in Granville, Ohio, when I was seventeen. I almost feel like this is an extended conference or spring-break.
- IN CONCLUSION - So while I'm busier than ever, the pressure is less. While I've got a new home that I'm endlessly fascinated by, I'm a perpetual visitor and tourist. There's always more to do, and so I work on it, constantly, but working on it and feeling like working on it are not always the same. Sometimes the energy comes at 2 PM. Sometimes it comes at 2 AM. When the energy comes, I try to get up and read or write or any of the other dozen things I do on a daily basis.
- EXEGESIS - And now I have to go to my second job tutoring. In fact, if I'm not out the door in three minutes, I'll probably be late.

- Who's finally going to kick the bucket this year?


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Gravitane 27, 28.


- First: LAURA

- WEATHER - It's finally feeling like November.
- YESTERDAY - Was a nice day. I kept being made to feel good by people, again and again.
- THE PAPER - If anybody wants to read the story I wrote for my homework the other day, email me. I'm happy to send it on.


- Are you traveling or being traveled to this Thanksgiving, and by whom, and to what effect?


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Amber, Paul, Meridith, Gemma, and Christian.








Gravitane 26, 28.


- PORNOGRAPHY - Yesterday after work, Jess and I met Matt and we attended a panel discussion on the evolution of and social impact of the sex industry, and particularly pornography. It was an interesting debate, with views ranging widely upon the panel and an unruly (and sometimes disrespectful) audience. And it was taped for C-Span. So soon, you'll be able to either Jess or I on TV from Late Night Comedy to Respected News Programming. Anyway, I'd like to talk more about the panel discussion. Maybe more, later today.
- WEATHER - There used to be a teacher at New School who taught that one should write about anything but the weather. It was his one "unacceptable." On that note, I understand it's already cooled off in the midwest, and the east coast will be hit late tonight. It feels like a spring haze outside, damp and misty and around seventy degrees weird. I think it's fair to write about the weather, and has probably saved many awkward conversations. Everyone knows about it. Everyone has an opinion. Nobody's offended if you disagree. Perfect easy conversation.

March of the Women on Versailles from Paris, October 1789.

I have a one-page homework assignment due tonight. I have to write a first-person narrative in which the speaker reveals a quality or habit to the reader the he is unaware of himself. Any suggestions what this quality or habit could be?


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Gothic Funk Manifesto #4.


A response to earlier comments made:

If history is a river of convergent channels, and we are the rocks and impediments that block its path and roll along beneath the surface, then Wollunqa is the great snake, that slithers back and forth just above us, blotting out the sun, grasping some of us some of the time and rubbing his scales against us to scrub away the algae and make us gleam and shine.

* * * * *

Those of us who spend out lives looking for her passing and hoping to catch her, to ride her back and forth for as long as we can hold on, start to give our victories names, and to assign them places. You should do the same.

For example, I remember more from when I was four than from when I was three or five or six. Then, I remember the springs prior to my twelfth and thirteenth birthdays with great vividness. I remember the summer during which I turned fourteen. As I came to understand these passages as *passages*, I started to connect them with their source, identify cause: the Michigan Renaissance Festival from 93-95, The Last Roar and the Seventh Dream at FYT, my first relationship, the Denison Young Writers Workshop, seeing the Smashing Pumpkins, drafting Urbantasm, and Anne Frank and Me. The University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt, the Skriker with the Black Box Underground, the Cenci, meeting Jessica, the Caucasian Chalk Circle, writing Adrift on the Mainstream, starting the Occlusion Group, getting married…

You should do the same.

* * * * *

The artists of today are two resigning, too self-effacing. Inertia is, like death, a certainty, but it a certainty often affected by our efforts to keep it at bay. Artists who do not claim to create art that will save the world will not create art that will save the world. Artists who do not claim to create art that has never been created before will not create art that has never been created before. Artists who see them selves as passive stones, as victims, as incorporeal ghostly entities will remain subject to the politicians, the entrepreneurs, the churches, and the galleries and the publishing houses of the world. Artists who view the institutions as tattoos and ornamentations they apply at their leisure for utility and community will come to manipulate and control such institutions.

Upton Sinclair wrote the Jungle to bring about social upheaval. He thought he failed miserably. In setting the bar so high, however, he became a practical and tangible force on the world.

* * * * *

The first Monday of December write a story about a serpent.

The first Tuesday of December write a poem about a serpent.

The first Wednesday of December write a homily about a serpent.

The first Thursday of December write a eulogy about a serpent.

The first Friday of December write a joke about a serpent.

The first Saturday of December draw a picture of a serpent.

On Sunday, compile a copy of all these materials, look up the business address of the senator, mayor, councilperson, judge, bishop, rabbi, or professor most-applicable, and put it in the mail.

Try to grasp the serpent’s tail. She’s slithering around up there somewhere…


Jessica and Connor



From here.

Drop me a note if you like, and I'll "draw" you.

Gravitane 25, 28.


- YESTERDAY - was the perfect weekday. I got up relatively early, exercised, took a shower, ate breakfast, and wrote a check for the electricity before leaving... this is more of a "morning routine" than I typically have time for. Work went well: these days I'm indexing for the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. I have to say I prefer it to Biology and Chemistry. Then I heard Michael Rips read from his memoir which was both funny and revealing about Omaha, Nebraska and its meatpacking and prostitution roots. Class went well, and Reinhardt, Marco, and Scott and I went to Spain afterwards. I got home around midnight, and stayed up and talked with Jess awhile.
This is what a typical ideal workday is supposed to be like.
- CONAN O'BRIEN - Jess and I are going in January. Hurray!
- WEATHER - Warm and impending stormy in NYC. Don't mind the stormy, but this warmth is really weirding me out. I'm starting to feel like every year is an abnormally warm year. Yes, I know that's just anecdotal. Yes, I know that I was generally satisfied with last years winter. But this is November. The wind is supposed to rip around your ears and drive you down the street to get indoors. We've had nearly none of that.


Who is your favorite framer of the constitution?


Monday, November 14, 2005

Because there isn't enough to be upset about these days...


#3. From Radiation Vibe.

#2. From Purple Scarf.

#1. From wolfbaronxylo. (A little levity in this one...)


Gravitane 24, 28.


- LAST WEEK AND WEEKEND - I tried to post last Friday, but Blogger's been doing this thing where it deletes the body of your post at the moment you publish. Not very useful.
On Wednesday, I sat through an interesting but exhausting presentation of a photography book. My Lit Seminar was canceled, so I walked to Cafe Reggio to start on the umpteenth revision of Urbantasm, Chapter 1. It still begins with "I wasn't always an Antichrist."
On Thursday, after tutoring I sat for awhile and read Djuna Barnes, but got tired, went home, and took a nap.
On Friday, after tutoring, I made a chicken dinner for Jess and myself, and we stayed up late talking.
Saturday was fun. I got up early and explored Vinegar Hill and D.U.M.B.O., then took the subway to my Innovative Fiction workshop. Mostly, we talked about letters and criticism and the way writers have responded to them, but I accidentally set off a heated exchange at the end about art and politics. Oops. Afterward, I grabbed a bagel and walked up to Columbus Circle where I met Matt and Bruce. We spent the afternoon exploring Central Park and grabbed a bite at a diner, then Jess and I returned to Brooklyn, and I tried to work. Ultimately, however, I was lured into the My Name is Earl marathon, which smoothly segued into SNL. We ordered pizza, and goofed off. This was echoed on Sunday when, after a day of reading and cleaning, we watched Penn and & Teller off the Deep End.
- READING - I've been reading and critiquing my classmates, and also reading Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes, Swann's Way by Proust, and the Bible.
- WRITING - My NaNo novel is at about 14,000 words. I think I'll go all the way this year. The story, however, Do Not Ask has to truthfully be about the weirdest thing I've ever written. The last chapter involved both cannibalism, unionization, and conditions both above the Arctic Circle and below the Tropid of Capricorn.

The Flint Journal: Blacks to hold first council majority.

Would you have preferred to have been a major period of the Enlightenment or of the Romantic period in Europe?


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Manic Flight Reaction, by Sarah Schulman


Last Monday I posted that Jessica and I had attended Sarah Schulman's Manic Flight Reaction at Playwrights Horizons, and I described the piece as "one of the three or four worst" plays I'd ever seen. Gemma was interested in more explanation, so here it is.

I understand that Sarah Schulman is a very prolific writer, and has written extensively in many mediums with an emphasis on Lesbian art and politics. I was unfamiliar with this information until I looked at the Playbill, and ultimately her artistic vision has nothing to do with why I hated her play.

On the other hand, I can't really make excuses for her on account of the acting, the set, the venue, or anything else, because each of these elements were acting in Ms. Schulman's favor. The set was not only beautifully realized, but effectively conveyed the play's setting. The actors, while they didn't make me shudder, brought a degree of nuance and subtlety to their readings line-by-line, and were convincing in their timing and responsiveness.

In the end, my criticism is mundane and straightforward; the same criticism I had for Alfred Uhry's Last Night of Ballyhoo:

The writing sucked.

* * * * *

A quick recap on my take on good writing. It's simple and reductive: for writing to succeed, it must accomplish what it sets out to do. For it to suck, it must not. The capacity for suckery, then, is mainly contained in the writers appraisal of the work's goals and her ability to attain them. The writing of "Dick and Jane" books does not suck, because they are able to meet their goals: teaching kids to read. Likewise, plays like Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida can be considered to suck somewhat because they set the bar very high for themselves... they fall short where other efforts may succeed.

Proceeding on this definition then, what fundamentally doomed Manic Flight Reaction was a combination of many wrong choices on a close (eg., dialogue) and intermediate (eg., character attitudes that are components of their overall arc) scale. More specifically, Schulman tried write this play as a combination of the standard American psychodrama and a sort of absurdist Political satire, and she ruined both.

It is possible to combine the psychological and the satirical. To cite the most pervasive example today, look at any "successful" sitcom. Anything that falls into the half-hour block of psychologically, character-motivated plots including wacky hyjinks and one-liners does this. Inasmuch as we call them "successful" (they do what they set out to do), they reconcile satire and psychology. Sitcoms are, in fact, an evolution of commedia dell'arte, a Renaissance theatre form that would have stressed the satire above dynamic characters. To bend the direction of psychology, however, writers like Anton Chekhov and Tennessee Williams may not have been overtly satirical in their best known work, but they certainly incorporate a sense of extremity or even grotesqueness in characterization. Likewise, "modern" writers from Pinter to Churchill have managed to write highly stylized work that nevertheless draws upon psychologically consistant and compelling characterization.

So not only can what Schulman's attempted be done, but there's a long and glorious tradition of it having been done, in colorful and different ways.

Now if the difference, between Manic Flight Reaction and Cloud Nine was simply a difference in complexity, I'd be arguing that Schulman's play was mediocre, not awful. It did feel awfully surface to me. But Manic Flight Reaction isn't a mediocre play. It's just awful.

* * * * *

The plot whirls about Marge, who just might be the most significant (and weirdly passive) force in the Universe. Now a professor at U of I Champaign-Urbana, she had a relationship with Cookie, who is currently married to the Republican Presidential candidate. Meanwhile, her mother was a famed socialite who killed herself, a fact which she has kept from her daughter, whose boyfriend is son of an evil corporate exec, who together obtain proof of the relationship with Cookie. Also: Cookie and Marge had a threesome with Bill Clinton. So you see, Marge has the keys to the Universe, but is flustered and doesn't really do much with them throughout the play. She is, instead, manipulated and played by Cookie, a reporter, the two kids, and her graduate non-boyfriend. Oh yes, and she's very moral, and also brilliant, and absent-minded.

With the exception of a few key moments, the play has more of a bunch of ideas than a plot, and again, I could if I chose to, take the script to task for that. But I don't even have go there to tear it down, because even accepted as a "bunch of ideas" the choices here are utterly unconvincing.

Schulman has bound her story with a series of a priori conventions that her characters adhere to some of the time and break some of the time. These conventions, however, are the very core of the play.

In the most recurrent, and significant, example, is that modern culture is portrayed as fundamentally materialistic and cynical, and that this manifests in Grace and Luke, Marge's daughter and her boyfriend. The choice carries out through the two stomping all over Marge's ideals, and lying to and exploiting her. Their cynicism is so overpowering that we never develop sympathy for their characters. Which is the card Schulman plays at the end, when suddenly Grace is not only infused with inexplicable sincerity, but bitter with Marge for her own manipulations.

Marge, for all her courage and idealism, is stomped upon again and again. Cookie lies to and exploits Marge. The reporter lies to and exploits Marge. Grace and Luke lies to and exploits Marge. Even Albert, the graduate non-boyfriend, lies to and exploits Marge. By the end the contradiction between her alleged brilliance and her manifested cluelessness is so transparent that she becomes a symbol, a martyr, not the polemic or problematic or inspiring kind; the annoying kind.

So I didn't find any ground to accept this play as a psychologically informed drama. It's either allegory or peopled with idiots.

That said, I'm not ready to accept this as an allegory either. The primal wants of the characters, their two-dimensional material and sexual and (in the case of Marge and possibly Albert) loving urges continually undercut the force of the symbolism. If Grace and Luke really are so cynical and embittered my the media and materialism, then why do they incessantly demurre to spontaneous moments of kindness? If Marge is a human sacrifice to the betterment of the human race, then why does she let Luke and Grace engineer Cookie's downfall? If she's a human sacrifice with a selfish bone in her body, then why doesn't she ever stand up for herself, or at least sabatoge the Oppressors' plans?

So I wasn't convinced, either, by this play as a satire.

In short, it did the opposite of all the examples I cited above, from Chekov to The Cosby Show. It embodies all of the weaknesses and limitations of both satire and psychodrama without drawing upon their inherent strengths. It wasn't just a bad play. It was an exercise in how not to write.

* * * * *

Moments of isolated personal dissatisfaction and a nod.


Not a structural point here, but the play included a series of supposedly funny one-liners. They rarely paid off, and ranged from irritating (the out-of-nowhere remark that McDonald's alum Albert should "consider being a playwright") to the offensive (the repeated implication that the U of I is in the hinterland and peopled by cretins).


The last five minutes were lovely. They dropped the satirical end completely, and we saw a middle-aged woman who felt young and in love put on a favorite song from her past, and sat down to call her ex-girlfriend. It could have been genuinely moving.


The White Sox... Just Won't... Go Away!


Read Whet's fanged-but-mouthy post on the Sox vs. Cubs phenom. Also read the somewhat less enlightened, but equally amusing comments at the end.


The Election Lowdown



Everything went well, or at least within the sphere of what was reasonably expected.

Mike Bloomberg won reelection as mayor by a large margin, as everyone knew that he was. My duelling concerns are that he restores some margin of credibility to the Republican party... good to the extent that "credibility" manifests as sanity, bad to the extent that "credibility" is unearned. In my humble opinion.

Of course, all over the city in council races, Democrats were stomping all over Republicans, as we've come to expect. I think a Republican won somewhere in Staten Island.

More interestingly, and significantly, Jon Corzine (D.) beat out Doug Forester (R.) for governor of New Jersey, and called his opponent out on "Bush-Rove" spin tactics in his acceptance speech. It was a little blustery, but I still think "good," progress requires a measure of audacity. People clearly haven't learned on their own how to scrutinize what they see and hear.


I don't know how it went in Chicago.
Chicago readers, please post a couple comments on this.


The post-election situation in Flint is both complex and possibly of national significance. Skeptics, don't weight in yet. I'm going to try to post more extensively on this by the end of the week.

A teaser?

Okay: two-thirds of city-council incumbants are out in favor of candidates backed by the mayor who, supporters and opponents alike, acknowledge is a loose cannon. If councilwide support manifests in support for Mayor Williamson's policies he will have extensive say in negotiations between Flint and the automotive companies, and possible pull with both the UAW and GM. Given the recent bankruptsy of Delphi and GM's continuing fall in market share, his policies could have an massive impacts on both local employment and GM's continuing viability. This is still speculation, but for the first time since 1998, decisions made in Flint may have broad national implications.

Comment away!


Gravitane 19, 28.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Gravitane 18, 28.


- WRITERLY PATHOS - I've reached another impasse with Urbantasm. Some of you are tired of hearing that sort of sentence, and it's strange to say it, because I really didn't visualize myself working on it this autumn at all. Essentially, however, I've been prompted to present the first forty chapters (in two installments) at my workshop. It has been useful, both as an exercise, and as a means toward finishing my novel. Still, I feel like I have to draw a distinction between problems correctly diagnosed and solutions incorrectly prescribed. I've found, much more than I expected, a bias against a specific kind of writing, that sometimes borders on the numerological. It's interesting, in context, because so much of Urbantasm is based on numerology.
To go into two alternate "sides" of this problem at a bit more depth, "problems correctly diagnosed." The first twenty chapters do not grab people. They never have. Not only are they not arranged sequentially, but they are only united in showing John's response to situations in which he has a lack of control. This was observed in class in dozens of examples, I think most of which were correct. And the problem has to be fixed.
I visualize this story a little as a photon being described as both a wave and as particle: likewise a story possesses both momentum and plot. The plot is a thing with contituent parts that we can analyze and measure and relate to each other. The momentum is the way the story behaves. If a story operates on the premise of hooks (that is, you draw your reader in at once, and do not release her until the last page), as Urbantasm does, these are problems I must validly reconcile.
The side, however, stymies and frustrates me: "solutions incorrectly prescribed." In the last several weeks I've been told to abandon flowery language (but Proust said...), that my readers must be able to discern the direction of the story from the very beginning (but Hurston said...), and that readers cannot be expected to adapt to sudden stylistic shifts (but Joyce said...).
And as pertains to these observations, I am utterly unconvinced.
This is part of the problem to bringing a marriage of ten years into work shop instead of a celebrity crush. We love our spouse: we have grown used to her eyes and her hair, her voice, the things she finds funny, even her occasional bad attitudes or meanness. If we are going to make changes in our marriage, we need to be convinced. With a celebrity crush, an argument that is interesting, fun, compelling, weird, or simply different can be sufficient to make a change.
I been urged to bring in my marriage, that is not my novellas or side projects, but specifically Urbantasm, inasmuch as it's more important to me and my career than my "crushes." And that's fine. But I think for someone to critique your marriage, though one must remain rigorous and forceful, involves a bit more of an objective distance from your own priorities. Or to put it differently, you have to be equally disinterested in your own preferences as those which inform the work being critiqued.
You have to say: "this relationship isn't working because..." not, "your wife would be better with blue eyes."
You have to say: "your story needs a present plot and momentum..." not, "you shouldn't use flowerly prose."
- PERCIVAL EVERETT - Last night I heard Percival Everett read from his novel, and speak. Asked how he writes his novel, he responds, "I don't know." He does, however, is able to "see" it when he begins. Not the cover, but the shape. Helen actually invoked this in Workshop yesterday, and I agree. Euphemism is a seashell. Adrift on the Mainstream is a surprisingly deep and scummy puddle. Urbantasm is deceptively four-dimensional slightly-skewed eight: it oscillates. There, have I been touchy-feely enough today?
- THE WEATHER - Work and play, work and play, work, work.
- In New York City, our leaves are finally turning en masse. They'll be falling by the end of the week.


In the Worst Joke Ever, Michael Stipe sings:

You see there's this cat burglar who can't see in the dark.
He lays his bets on 8 more lives, walks into a bar.
Slips on the 8 ball, falls on his knife.
Says, "I don't know what I've done, but it doesn't feel right!"

What's the worst joke you've ever heard?


Monday, November 07, 2005

Yup... I'm like that.


You're a Rusty Nail!!  A smooth, short blend of scotch whiskey and drambuie.  You're seriously cool and you love guitars, cars and the bluuuuuees, man!!
""Which cocktail are you?""

brought to you by Quizilla


NYC Post #10: Brooklyn - Downtown Brooklyn - Fort Greene / Clinton Hill - FORT GREENE


New York City, First Quest, Second Installment


Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are both neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the district where Jess and I live. Of the two, we have more extensive experience with Fort Greene, since we walk through the area whenever we take the subway.

Initially the neighborhood consided of four or five farms and villas built
in the Greek revival style, none of which remain. At the top of the Revolutionary War, a battle was fought between British and American forces on the slopes of Fort Greene Park. The Americans retreated to Manhattan under the cover of fog. The area grew rapidly during the Civil War era along with the rest of downtown Brooklyn, and most of the neighborhoods retain official historic site designation.
Fort Greene was afflicted with urban decay for many decades, but is experiencing a renaissance of sorts today. Of the three parts of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, it is probably the most gentrified.

Today, with the Prison Ship monument and the Williamsburgh Bank Building within neighborhood boundaries, Fort Greene can claim two of most distinctive features on Brooklyn's skyline.


Fort Greene is dominated by its namesake park, which has an extraordinary history of its own. After its dramatic role in the Revolutionary War, Fort Greene Park was fromally established as the first urban park in America. After its decline over the next century, Walt Whitman, a neighborhood resident, successfully petitioned for the parks rehabilitation. The design included ambitious landscaping as envisioned by Olmstead and Vaux (of Central Park fame).

The Park from Myrtle, looking toward Downtown Brooklyn.
Entrance to the park, paved in brick.
Looking down towards Myrtle Avenue. I love this view.
People read or play chess here, when it's not raining.
Down toward Washington.
The Childrens' Park here and here.
A local law prohibits pedestrians from walking through playground areas without a child. Violation can mean a $500 fine, as an effort to prevent paedophilia. Nobody really obeys, however. Most of the time, there aren't even aren't any kids present.
The stone steps and brick mounds at the approach to the Prison Ship monument were remeniscent of Mayan ruins in Belize. One thing Jessica said about Fort Greene Park is that it's "small enough that it's easy to get around, but it still feels set apart from the city."

The most striking feature of Fort Greene Park is the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument. This simple columnar structure includes the interred remains of several American soldiers from among thousands tossed in the swamps near the present Navy Yard. The monument was designed by McKim, Mead & White and inaugurated in 1908.

The momument above the wall and trees.
From a majestic distance across the park.
Halfway there.
The whole monument.
Top, bottom, and dedication.
Looking out from the base toward downtown Manhattan.

* * * * *


One of Brooklyn's most extensive and best preserved brownstone neighborhoods, Fort Greene homes that sold for a few thousand just dacades ago are now priced in the millions of dollars. Most are built in Italianate, Anglo-Italianate, and Queen Anne style within a decade of the Civil War.

Brownstone houses.
Brick with green trim.
Frame houses with bright blue molding.
jpg>Row houses joined together. (A bit blurry).
Presbyterian Church #1, #2, and #3.
Corner detailing on apartment high-rise.
Detailing on homes.
Frame Greek-Revival homes.
Fort Greene Brownstones #1.
Fort Greene Brownstones #2. Entrance detailing.
The Ronald Edmunds Learning Centar.
Are these Federal Style?
Fort Greene Brownstones #3.
Masonic Temple and entrance.
Interesting residences.
A Catholic school. Closer.
Queen of All Saints. Our neighborhood parish. Detail of peaked roof, copper plates, main entrance and chapel entrance.
Interesting buildings.
Candy and Confection Workers Local 452.
Fort Greene Brownstones #4.
Fort Greene Brownstones #5.
The backsides of Brownstones.
Fort Greene church, and from another angle.
Fort Greene Brownstones #6.
Yet another church.
Fort Greene Brownstones #7.

* * * * *


from The Historic Landmarks of New York:

Once a thirty-acre farm owned by John Jackson, the land in this district was sold and residential development begun in the mid-nineteeth century. Many of the surviving row houses were built between 1855 and 1859 by local architects. Primarily three or four-story brick and brownstone houses, they were built on speculation for the large numbers of people who were then relocating to Brooklyn. The majority exhibit a modified Italianate style, abundant in its use of architectural detail. A few houses in the area, built during the 1870s, incorporate neo-Grec detail and have cast-iron facades, a rarity in residential architecture. (585)

Looking South at the Academy.
The Academy and Williamsburgh Bank Building.
A restaurant.
The Brooklyn Music School and Playhouse.
B.A.M. houses #1.
B.A.M. houses #2. With wrought iron railing.
B.A.M. houses #3. With wrought iron Georgian Doorway.
Wrought iron Window bars
Church adjacent to Williamsburgh Bank.
B.A.M. houses #4.
B.A.M. houses #5.
B.A.M. houses #6.
B.A.M. houses #7.
A seashell themed entrance. Probably not historical, but interesting...
B.A.M. houses #8.
Detailing on windows.

Included in this district were the Brooklyn Academy of Music itself, and the Williamsburgh Saving Bank.

The B.A.M.; is an active institution today, having anchored the buroughs musical enterprises, particularly in the African-American community ever since it was originally opened in 1861. The present site was opened in 1908 at 30 Lafayette by Herts & Tallant, with an "Italian Renaissance Revival facade" (585). In addition to live music events, the academy also screens films.

The marquee.
The academy.
Cornice detailing and from below.
Entrance and detailing.
Second story window on end.
Second story window on side.

Photographing the Williamsburgh Savings Bank (today, HSBC) was frustrating and tragic. That is, the 512 foot building, tallest in Brooklyn, is absolutely spectacular both outside and in, but the outside was difficult to photograph due to both weather and scale, and I wasn't allowed to take any pictures on the inside. The building was impressive enough on the outside, for its basic shape and imposing clock tower from a distance, and the amount of detailing up close.

From a distance, south.
The cupola and Clock Tower.
Upper stories, up close. In detail.
Detail of entrance column, Indiana Limestone.
Detail of limestone base.
Granite entrance column.
Bank subway entrance.
Second story window.

The Historic Landmarks had an interesting description of the interior:

The interior, a simple and elegant Romanesque Revival space, imagines banking as a quasi-religious act. The great banking room - 112 by 73 feet, and 63 feet high - is a basilica-like, three-bay space set on a nave-and-aisles plan. (511)

So I wiped a tear, and continued on my way. (Note - This guy was able to "sneak a few shots."

Just a few blocks away is the the Hanson Place Seventh-Day Adventist Church, more historically known as the Hanson Place Baptist Church. It was built from 1857-60, and it is a majestic, looming structure with gorgeous long windows and verticle wood columns set against brick walls. The building was restored in the 1970s. A wedding was wrapping up while I was taking pictures and exploring.

West side of the church. West side windows and wooden columns.
Another view.
Corinthian columnar caps.
Entrance. One of three doors.
Front stained-glass window.
Main entrance.

* * * * *


The Walt Whitman homes are the least-dreary high-rise housing projects I've ever seen.
The nearby Ingersoll homes.

They have a Creative Writing program, and for a while, were on my list.
Kind of a lonely, forlorn looking campus, with most of the grounds blocked
off from the public.
A campus building, and detailing.
A weird but cool industrial building adjacent to the campus.
Campus. Welcoming, huh?

Flatbush Avenue.
More Flatbush Avenue.
Even more Flatbush Avenue.
Northwest on Flatbush, including the Manhattan Bridge.
Across Flatbush, the Fulton Street Mall.

Park; on Fulton Street.
Inside the park.
Another Fulton Street Park.
Some guy named FOWLER.
View down Fulton Street.
Fulton Street homes.
Fulton Street, facing east.

At Hanson Place and Elliot.
A highrise courtyard in progress.
The DSW building.
The Atlantic Street Mall View #1 and #2.
Lovely Atlantic Avenue.

DeKALB AVENUE - Where I'd like to open a restaurant called Corn on DeKalb.
Tillie's Coffeeshop. The best in the neighborhood.
Middle Eastern Food on DeKalb.
School/Park on DeKalb.
Elementary School fieldhouse mural #1, #2, #3, and #4. Really cool.
The Clinton Hill Public School.
The Brooklyn Technical High School on DeKalb. This building serves 6,000 students, roughly equal to all of the 9-12 students in the Flint public system.
The Brooklyn Hospital Center, adjacent to Fort Greene Park.

Myrtle Avenue.
Myrtle Avenue in progress.
Myrtle Avenue graffiti.

The Landmarks of New York:An Illustrated Record of the City's Historic Buildings
by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Monacelli Press, c. 2005