Thursday, November 30, 2006

What is truth?


So it's the end of the liturgical year.

Last Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King. The gospel reading, drawn from John, is one of those things that seems so simple as to be trivial then turns in upon itself.

JOHN 18:33-37
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

It's one of the most postmodern moments of the Bible... whether or not either is hiding something from the other, both Pilate and Jesus are playing with a circular logic. Pilate's is the more simplistic, and might even be reduced to a sarcastic comment: "I am not a Jew, am I?" Obviously he is not, but there is a reason why he is answering the question with a question. Pilate claims that he needs Jesus to explain his status, because Pilate does not have the ability to make the distinction on his own, to identify a king from another culture. But even here there is an added complexity: how is it that a man who cannot identify a king on his own able to adjudicate crime. True, the practical issue for Pilate and the Romans was whether or not Jesus or the priesthood represented the greater insurrectionist threat. This provides a cynical reason why Pilate would play the two off each other. But taking his statement at face value, which the context of John seems to suggest, Pilate's question is genuine. His follow up question (18:38): "What is truth?" is even more vague and cloudy. His dilemma is perpetually more universal.

Jesus, while speaking both more rhythmically and didactically than Pilate, achieves a sort of convergence in his statements. The issue at the end is not whether he has answered anything, but what he has chosen to converge upon.
First he says: "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
This, at least, is somewhat straightforward. If he has not claimed or denied kingship, he has at least made the point that he is not the political and military messiah that the Pharicees predicted.
The second statement is the more difficult and daring of the two: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

His sentences are short and direct, but their referentiality is uncertain. "For this" I was born is itself an ambiguity, because "this" is ungrounded... we might take it to mean either that Jesus was born to be a king or that he was born for Pilate to ask him the question of whether or not he was a king. The catechism argues that both of these statements are true, but the first is somewhat anticipated. The second, as an assertion of the issue of Jesus' royalty and as a foreshadowing of the crucifiction, are more implicatory to sacrifice and resurrection. He finishes with claims to truth and legitimacy. These are the sorts of claims made by rulers, religious and secular, throughout history. But they are immediately called into scrutiny by Christ himself because, in asserting, or perhaps claiming to be royalty, his indirectness and circularity, and most of all, answers that acknowledge only a kingship that radically redefines the terms. In short, by his words, word for word, he does not absolutely claim to be a king, but if he is a king, it is not the kind of king Pilate would recognize (Jew or not). All he will say for sure is that he testifies to the truth. "What is truth?" Exactly.

* * * * *

I love the turns of the lectionary from October to November. It presents some of the most galvanizing, visceral, and challenging readings in the whole Bible. While I do believe that the New Testament, Revelations included, is essentially a look upwards and forwards, hopefully, nobody can really deny the aura of darkness and calamity that surrounds the most memorable passages at this time. The gospel discussed here, for example, is plucked from the midst of the actual Passion. I cannot help but indulge in the feeling that this is the lectionaries own Big Crunch scenario. Everything is obliterated in the Passion and the Raptures. November becomes December. Next Sunday, Advent begins with anticipation of a birth.

* * * * *

Today is, incidentally, the last feast of the year in both Catholic and Orthodox Calendars: the Feast of Saint Andrew.

Saint Andrew was Peters older brother and one of the twelve apostles. He had a particularly significant role in the Eastern Churches, having founded what would become the Patriarchate of Constantinople. He preached in Dacia, which later became Romania, and is the Patron saint of that nation as well as Russia.

He was crucified on a giant 'X.'

So you see, I'm not kidding when I say that it's all doom and gloom at this time of year.


Necrus 7, 29.


- TODAY - is the feast of St. Andrew.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Janathan Swift and Mark Twain.

Noir Original Zine.

Who did it, do you think?


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Out with a whimper.


The Flint Journal: Patsy Lou probe goes to state.

please please please please please


Necrus 6, 29.


- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and Joel Coen.

Flagrantly tooting my own horn: my most recent contribution to Wikipedia.

Where were you on the night of Monday, November 20th?


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Necrus 5, 29.


- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - William Blake.

"Is not a kiss the very autograph of love?"
- Henry Finck

Who was the last person you kissed?


Monday, November 27, 2006

Two Projects for Fun and Enlightenment.


So I'm proposed two Gothic Funk projects this week, and both have had a lukewarm reception. They don't need much, though, to succeed. If any of you, of humble readers, would like to contribute, I'm pasting the original instructions below.

Any questions about Gothic Funk can be answered here.
Any questions about these projects, write me here.
We have a listhost you can join if you like. Just let me know.

GF Project: Write an Epistle.

I've been thinking for awhile about a manifesto, but the form seems a
little stale to me just now. We have eight manifesti and a number of
addenda. Until we make a new critical mass of membership or activity, or
someone becomes an expert on contemporary art theory and riles us with
their theorems, I don't know that a new manifesto would really be of much
use. Ongoing conversation, though, is important I think.

I've been thinking of epistles for awhile now. Writing about Gothic Funk
informally and as a collection of ideas, and reflecting upon them, with
frequent and casual segue into other matters, impressions of daily life,
and so on. I've started on a Gothic Funk Epistle several times, but I
think the idea is still missing something.

I would like the first epistole to be a communal effort.

Here, then, is what this project involves:

I would like for people to submit between one and infinity portions of a
letter. They will be collected and their order randomized, and submitted
to the website (and on the listhost) as an open letter, from Gothic Funk
and to Gothic Funk. You could write about Gothic Funk, obviously, as
observed in parties, manifesti, art, life, politics, music, and culture.
Or you can write about something else. Since we collective comprise the
Gothic Funk movement, what is relevant to our lives is on the momement's
mind and is fair game for discourse.

I would just say... try not to say anything that *you* think is frivolous
or trivial. You wouldn't write a letter to someone close telling them
things they already knew or didn't care about. And don't make passive
confessions... we don't confide in someone unless there's *something*
(profit maybe, or comfort) to be gained from the confession. Active,
invested confessions are fine, though.

Don't send your submissions to the listhost. This letter isn't from you
to me, or from you to the group, but from Gothic Funk to Gothic Funk...
our voices, then, must be individually anonymous and undifferentiated.

Send your submissions any time between now and December 3rd (Sunday).

I will try to post the letter in its entirety by the end of the following

GF Project: What Would Fletcher Christian Do?

... So I'm worried that the project I'm about to propose is going to
founder before I even try to launch it. Maybe 99% of GF parties and 48%
of other projects have had success so far. This one involves some
sustained effort over the old computer, so maybe its odds of survival are
even less. But I'm so excited about it that I want to up the chances as
best as I can. I have great confidence here. Like the best theater
projects, with time and willpower the results are inevitable.

So I'll preface. A lot of GF talk revolves around sentimentality and
postmodernism, but this project doesn't have much to do with that. It's
all about imagination.

When I was growing up, my brother and sister and I had a set of
encyclopedias of technology, and in one edition of these, under "Ship"
they had a diagram of a yacht with all of the different riggings,
portholes, decks, and masts labeled. We chalked out its outline in our
living room and went sailing through the Panama Canal. All we needed to
do this was our will and imagination. Later, when thumbing through a
Carnival cruise catalog I found a tiny photograph of the Oz Discothèque
and my brother and sister and I spent a weekend trying to make our
basement into a bizarre pink-and-green lounge where Gerry Mulligan played
live on Tuesdays (since we had my dad's Gerry Mulligan cassette tape and
my grandma's tape player). Just last week, on a impulsive Google driven
search for the Oz Discothèque, I found that its ship, the Jubilee, had
been bought by the P&O cruises out of Australia and rechristened the
Pacific Sun. The Oz remains on the Sun, still decked out in its original
colors and tragically tacky decor. The Sun's cousin, however, the Pacific
Princess, offers a 102 day tour around the world...

I'm sure you did things like this when you were a kid, and it was a way to
make boring day exciting.

Envisioned today, this project is a way to create a dual-perspective on
our daily tasks, ordinary and extraordinarily. With minimal effort and no
expenditure of money. On the one hand, we are allowed the sheen of an
ideal world, on the other, we accept the tangibility and fleshiness of
each day, sensed and real and before us.

Just keep this all in mind throughout the following:


On January 10th, the Pacific Princess will really launch from Ft.
Lauderdale, Florida on its 102 day tour around the world. It will stop in
such locations as Pitcairn Island, Tahiti, Australia, China, India, Egypt,
Greece, and finally dock on April 22nd in Southampton England. As even a
casual perusal of the Princess' deck plans
( and Vitual
Tour (
suggest, the ship has more than the necessary accomodations to meet our
varying needs.

(This is not, btw, an ad for these cruises... this one costs around
$20,000 at the cheapest, and there have to be more cost-effective ways to
travel. But we're going for convenience and flair at the moment.)

In an envisioned world, a world not so different from our own, an
anonymous donor from the wilds of Iqaluit, Nunavut with bottomless pockets
has offered to buy a ticket for any Gothic Funk member who wants to
travel. This will, of course, require alterations in our daily life. Too
much ease muddies the mirage. I, for example, will have to make
arrangements with my advisor to develop my MFA thesis project from the
open ocean, and beg, borrow, or scam my way down to Florida. You might
have to take a leave of absence from your job or make some gentle
alterations to your wedding plans. We'll all have to contrive some way
home from Southampton, England.

But there it is.

We'll have a blog and a separate listserve, which will update us on our
travels and destinations, provide pictures, weather, on-ship activities,
and the like. There will probably be shuffleboarding seniors aboard, but
no shortage of sexiness and charisma as well. Meanwhile we'll continue
whatever work is most important to us from the relaxation of the ship,
correspond with each other, maybe commemorate our voyage with a daiquiri
or a simple pineapple punch.

There is no objective to this project other than to make our January
through March a little bit more memorable. Perhaps, the suspension of
juxtaposing the majesty of Chicago/NYC against that of the South Pacific
will make a new image in our heads, and thereby make our lives and
activities just that much more vivid.

Send me an email if you want in on this.

~ Connor

PS. In short, this is just like D&D, except you're basically yourself,
there is no dice rolling, and no obligation other than to imagine yourself
on a trans-global cruise.


Sun, by Michael Palmer.


I may or may not have been pushing the envelope in the last few papers, in terms of providing the sort of argument the syllabus calls for... but I am going to push a bit further just now because I am so sleep deprived and exhausted at right now that I cannot help but consider what effect that has on my reading and writing. For starters, I'm feeling both irritated and irascible, and that puts Palmer at a disadvantage that did not influence my reading of Hejinian or Mullen. I think that has to be acknowledged. Perhaps more productively, sleep deprivation always makes me (and just about everyone else?) emotional, in ways that noticeably differ from the disinvestment and measured alienation described in the Fischer essay. I felt much of the Palmer strongly on a gut level, but this may have had little to do with his poetry or intended effect. If one's tired enough, anything becomes touching and relevant.

As a tradeoff, I'm going to suppress my easiest inclination, which is to talk about Palmer and postmodernism, and why I somewhat love it and mostly hate it. Of course, I'm willing to rewrite the paper from scratch if this fails to provide anything useful or accumulative.

* * * * *

I did not find the text to be particularly uncooperative or incorrigible.

Obviously, I was unable to follow a continuous lyrical or narrative arc. However, the poems themselves were musical enough, almost always establishing a repetitive and accelerating tempo ("A man undergoes pain sitting at a piano / knowing thousands will die while he is playing" (19), "Let us number all the sentences beginning with one / then one plus one. Here" (67)). The rhythmic effect was emphasized further by a reliance on short stanzas, particularly couplets, and frequent, if unexpected, rhymes that seemed to appear out of nowhere ("I'm fine I'm fine I'm really going blind / It's a joy to be alive" (23)). In this sense, the poetry was reminiscent of Cummings, albeit that Cummings could usually be decoded to arrive at a discrete story or message.

Still, the Fischer essay seems to point to deliberate self-effacement through the annihilation (too melodramatic; avoidance, then) of "voice" as a necessary consequence of the instability of the self and language. Palmer's Wikipedia article (which is itself quite comprehensive) drives in the same direction:

Michael Palmer's poetry has received both praise and criticism over the years. While some reviewers or readers may value Palmer's work as an "extension of modernism"[13], they criticize and even reject Palmer's work as discordant: an interruption of our composure (to invoke Robert Duncan's phrase) [14]. Palmer's own stated poetics will not allow or settle for "vanguard gesturalism"[15]. In a singular confrontion with the modernist project, the poet must suffer 'loss', embrace disturbance and paradox, and agonize over what cannot be accounted for.

That may be all well and good, but I don't know that I buy it in terms of Sun itself. If nothing else, voice may be just as communicable through rhythmic signature and variation (as I described above) as in narrative and meaning as, say, an improvised jazz solo may be just as attributable as a recorded song with lyrics. The latter has an advantage, particularly in terms of categorization and description, but this is a different concern. Moreover, there is thematic repetition in Sun, and if this never orders itself into a traditional, linear argument, it is nevertheless present. Animals and anthropomorphism, for example, is common ("Gay as a skylark today / you say" (23), "My cat has twelve toes, like poets in Boston," (31), "Mr. Duck and Mr Mouse / mass as shadows" (60)), as is Palmer's rhyming technique. Half-rhymes are common, but true rhymes spring up idiosyncratically, just rarely enough to surprise me. The overall effect of these motifs and techniques is not unlike Alice in Wonderland. I'm wandering through a world that certainly doesn't make linear sense, and may not even make circular sense. It is nevertheless a world of light and color and trees and people and animals. The vocabulary, therefore, is familiar, and in a way that might even constitute "voice" in the traditional sense.

And yet, I am not fully convinced that Palmer himself believes that "all things, time and human experience, are empty" (Fischer – 10). If nothing else, his poems seem too charged with meaning to subscribe to such a nihilistic (or, evidently, Buddhist) cosmology. In defense of this the same Wikipedia article quotes Palmer of his own sense of remove from the Language poets: "My own hesitancy comes when you try to create, let's say, a fixed theoretical matrix and begin to work from an ideology of prohibitions about expressivity and the self-there I depart quite dramatically from a few of the Language Poets." And that statement, succinct as it is, goes quite beyond Fischer's more provisional statement: "I find the occasional sound of someone's voice to be a welcome relief, even if it is fake."

If I'm making an argument here, it's an argument against false dichotomies. The Fischer essay implies states (Fischer – 4) that because notions of self and identity are problematic and paradoxical and invested with the ambiguities of language, they are therefore "false." This strikes me somewhat like saying that China does not exist, because I cannot prove it exists in a single given moment. While I don't know Palmer well enough to understand his intentions in this compositions, he is a writer that assembled poems into a collection that he named. He divided that collection into six sections, and subdivided them into a number of discrete but untitled "pieces." Some pieces were spread, irregularly, over several pages, taking advantage of ample empty space. Others were ordered more conventionally. Some sections were more conventional than others, the first Sun (section five), acting as a single extended poem, and the Baudelaire Series visually disordered. These individual poems were ordered into stanzas, and took advantage of alternation between irregular sounds in a somewhat regular rhythm and explicit use of meter and cadence. All of these choices leave distinct impressions, as do the images he incorporate. Not a very self-effacing approach. Sun, then, strikes me as a piece that is immersed in the difficulty and paradox of identity, not its denial. Which seems a much more interesting problem to me, and was an aspect of what I found to be so mesmerizing in Anne Carson's Plainwater.

Anne Carson will probably be the new "favorite poet" I take away from this class.


Necrus 29.


Winter is almost upon us! (Well, some of us...)

For the second month in a row, I've ripped off the photos from the net. These are all PD, of course, culled from the Wikipedia commons. The background is from a photo of the Met, America's premiere art museum and one of the largest in the world. Each panel depict an artistic achievement of an ancient civilization. Can you determine which ones? Can you figure out what the links all have in common? (I've made it exceptionally easy this time.)


Necrus 4, 28.


- NOVEMBER - is the month of AIDS awareness.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix.

Sydney Morning Herald: Peace deal marks end of Nepal civil war.

Who would you be from the cast of Cheers?


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

November, 1996.


I was acting in the first version (it's been repeated about eight times now) of Flint Youth Theatre's Visions of Sugar Plum. This was a play in which the actors dressed in black with gloves and barefoot and moved puppets in front of blacklight. It was a runaway success and became a sort of sacred money tree for FYT over the next several years. At the time, though, it was somewhat experimental and we didn't know what the upshot would be.

I remember November as being one of the most depressing months that year. My friends Jessica and Demetrius were angry at me... the original incident was certainly my fault, but their response was to gossip and ignore me, which didn't put me in a penitent mood. I also had a crush on a girl who was way too young for me, but that wasn't working out and it was disappointing. Mainly, however, the year wasn't matching the intensity of the year prior. If this was the vaunted year leading into college, and it didn't get any better then this, than what was there to look forward to. Really.

One night after rehearsal Greg and I went to Angelo's and I spent two or three minutes staring at the table, fixedly. I felt apathetic, and I thought something along the lines of "if there's nothing to say, I won't speak." I wasn't particularly good company, and finally Greg said "why aren't you saying anything?!" An outburst like that was far out of character. I must have made an impression, I realized.

Where were you in November, 1996?


Sleeping with the Dictionary, by Harryette Mullen.


On an unrelated note (because that is always the best way to start a paper), it occurs to me that part of the superficiality (negatively intended) of Pessoa comes from the fact that in fragmenting himself into heteronyms, he also fragmented his own complexity and nuance. If each personality had been organic, not in the sense of a prescribed psychology but in the sense of evolving and expanding visions of the universe, then his work might have felt more propulsive and relevant. This occurs to me because I think that Anne Carson is a very close approximation to what I believe Pessoa attempts with Caeiro. That is, there is a common unity to experience that is almost beyond explication to both Caeiro and Carson, but only Carson really engages it in a way that is beautiful, challenging, and rich in paradox.

This occurs to me because in the interview with Carson she describes a tendency, which you confirmed, to awe and terrify her audience. I’ve never witnessed this sort of reaction to a poet, but it seems precisely the effect that Caeiro had on de Campos and Reis.

* * * * *

I won’t describe Mullen as the deepest or darkest of the poet’s we’ve engaged in this class, but she is probably the most delightful. Also, I don’t mean to suggest that she is neither deep nor dark, because I think that it must be tempting to read her word and sound games as frivolous. They are playful, but I also think she is at least as deep and dark as Brock-Broido and Hejinian. Perhaps a little bit less so than Anne Carson.

I intend depth as being the ability to chase a thought or concept in terms of its roots, finding consistently interesting and challenging material that hints a progress but never satisfactorily resolves. Darkness is the gravity and seriousness of subject matter itself.

The playfulness is easy to spot. It begins with the alphabetical table of contents which, from the long list of places in which these poems were originally published, is completely straightforward: there is no structure or shape to this collection other than the choice of the poems themselves and any coincidental alignment we might discover (or fabricate) on our own. The order, though at fifty-seven entries a bit slim for a dictionary, is conspicuous and at the very least suggests the seating arrangement in a high school classroom. This exercise1 is vamped in a number of the poems that are more plays on slang and onomatopoeia than coherent narratives: “Blah-blah” and “JingleJangle.” Others, while they don’t use alphabetization, rely on other conventions that Mullen makes extremely obvious: “Zen Acorn,” “O, ‘Tis William,” “Any Lit,” and “Elliptical.” Two poems seemed more (“Dim Lady”) or less (“Variation on a Theme Park”) obviously based upon Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. One poem, “She Swam On from Sea to Shine” struck me forcefully as a some sort of synthesis between O’Hara’s Second Avenue and “1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” by Jimi Hendrix. The point here is that these structural choices are more difficult to avoid than they are to discover. Mullen does not want her readers to spend their time trying to decide what game she’s playing. The games are as up front as they are frequent, spatially explicit on the page, and audible when read aloud. This is what I mean by playfulness. Reading this collection felt more like play than work.

The temptation, of course, is to think that playfulness comes at the expense of complexity, and this is where the more difficult case can be made that her writing is both deep and dark; murky even. The best case for this, in my opinion, is exposed as play through the artifice of the writing. For example, JingleJangle is so broadly written, in terms of sound and rhythm and lack of meaning, that it’s truly reminiscent of a game that children would play on a long car ride. I cannot see how this would be accidental: “ab flab abracadabra Achy Breaky Action Jackson airy-fairy / airfare.” In a poem, then, that emphasizes play, that one could even fairly argue infantilizes the language, there are dense clusters of double-entendre: “backpack backtrack Bahama Mama balls to the wall bam-a-lam / bandstand // Battle in Seattle beat the meat bedspread bee’s knees / behani ghani best dressed.” As a reader, then, I think of a children’s game that includes meanings and contexts I might consider inappropriate. This is magnified by the meaninglessness of the poem; since there is no narrative arc or even conventionally structured lyricism, the impression of a children’s game may be the only causal tool I am allowed to use. Beyond the alphabet, of course.
The examples here are a little slim for the case I’m making, but the wordplay comes up in many poems. Sometimes the play delves into coprophilia, as in “JingleJangle”: “play as it lays pocket rocket poet don’t know it pogo / pooper scooper pot shot pope-soap-on-a-rope” and “bird turd black don’t crack blackjack blame game boho boiling oil.” Sometimes, racial slurs are incorporated, never literally, but in a way that cannot possibly be missed when read aloud, as in “Denigration”: “Though slaves, who were wealth, survived on niggardly provisions,” “do you chalk it up to my negligible powers of discrimination,” “Does my niggling concern with trivial matters negate my ability to negotiate in good faith?” and “will I turn any blacker if I renege on this deal?”

Again, I don’t think that the device itself is ever intended to be subtle. There are subtleties, ambiguities, and most of all, multivalence in the ways the devices, once recognized, can be interpreted.

Another point: there is a great range of clarity between poems that are narratively indecipherable (“Kirstenography” and “Blah-Blah”) and those that are so clear as to almost be prose allegories (“Xenophobic Nightmare in a Foreign Language”). Some seem to exist in between (“Mantra for a Classless Society, or Mr. Roget’s Neighborhood”). Again, these poems are drawn from prior collections, and the alphabetical arrangements suggest that the reader imposes any construed meaning that results from ordering. But still. The tension between symbolism and the eradication of symbolism to the point of syntactic nonsense are other candidates for extrapolation and mystery.

This is all very playful, but it’s also deep and dark and very occlusive.

I love the beginning of “Variation on a Theme Park”:
“My Mickey Mouse ears are nothing like sonar.”

1 A point I want to make that doesn’t fit into the paper very well semantically: People tend to use the word “exercise” pejoratively in the sense of being an untested experiment that relies upon a deliberately chosen method of composition. They use this word as if the fact that it is an exercise automatically results in an inferior story or poem. I don’t think it’s relevant whether a composition is an exercise or not, as long as it accomplishes what the author sets out to do. In Mullen’s case, I think almost all of these poems are exercises, but that is not a liability for the reasons I discuss here.


Gravitane 29, 29.


I won't be posting for the rest of the week, so everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving!

- NOVEMBER - is the month for being thankful.


What is your favorite comfort food?


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Kramerish Rant on Michael Richards' Rant.


The Detroit Free Press: Questions linger after Richards apologizes for racist rant.

What strange calamity.

Seinfeld was never my favorite show, but it was always a show I've enjoyed. In the last year or so it has even come to mean more to me, seeming one of those indelible mid-nineties things that I can inexplicably associate with theater and driving and Alternative. It's gone from being funny to being a comfort, and for that it has always remained very funny.

Where comparison is a matter of kind, not scale, I wonder if it will be altered from now on, like the visual impression of a city skyline is changed when a major skyscraper goes up or comes down, or a favorite band's music after the band has broken up.

That is one angle.

Here is another angle:

I think I begin to understand, or at least recognize, the nature of cultural "fads" and "epidemics" (which I believe can be used interchangeably in the present situation).

For example, during the nineties the news described (and I did and do believe that there was) an "epidemic" of school shootings. It's not that school violence or shootings were unique to the nineties, and it would be interesting to statistically see how the decades really compare. What happened, however, was that for several years a phenomenon which happened just infrequently enough to seem happenstance and unlikely crossed the line into constant apprehension. We saw school shootings and their potential everywhere. They became a common reference point, and everyone had a position.

Likewise, in this decade, we've seen the beginning of a new, and often, disturbing, racial consciousness. In the most positive examples, this is self-conscious and possibly critical, enlightening, even cathartic. In other recent examples, however, Mel Gibson and Michael Richards, it is unself-conscious and under the very most favorable interpretations, all too evidently from the heart.

But how much is explicit racism really a trend of this decade? Might, for example, the presence of cel phones with video cameras, make a difference. Are we just catching things, on a large scale, in a way we did not before.

I think that's a part of it, but...

There is a desire for sublimation.

For example, my friends and I have often told each other offensive jokes. Many are generic, of the "dead-baby" variety and so forth, and many are self-implicatory. On the other hand, nothing is spared, including race, gender, faith, class, and so on. There is a defense here, and I think it is at least as rigorous as the best "Borat" defense. That being that in establishing a "level playing-field" among ourselves we have to put everything we hear and see and absorb on the table. This only works where there is trust; where there is trust, there can be confession, and where there is confession we are able to, perhaps, make fine distinctions in saying who is more likely to be harassed by the police. Who is more likely to jump or get jumped.

To continue the effort of making fine distinctions:

Any objective statistical look at things will show that the presence of discrimination on all sides does not mean that all discrimination is equal, or that discrimination is equally proportioned and distributed. A demographics glance demonstrates that it is much much harder to be a minority in this country than white, male, white-collor, and so on. There ought to be discomfort in this, for everyone involved (and if you aren't a recluse on a desert island, you're involved.)

This is, incidentally, the big problem with the film Crash. It runs a rolling-pin over the jagged and confusing field of racial descrimination and squashes it into one homogenous doughy smear. "Racism is bad" and "we're all racists" does not open the way for subtle distinctions. Pretty cinematography is not enough. We have to do better.

(Incidentally, it was also ironic that most of the characters fell neatly into the stereotypes associated with their particular race.)

Consider this: How many of us would only be able to defend the thought that we're not racist on the basis that we haven't pronounced a two-syllable sound? That our abhorrance of a sound, not a difficult and emotionally expensive objectivity toward the many people in the world, is what makes us "not racist."

Words are dangerous... if they are mere sounds, then they are sounds with which we have imbued with an almost magical significance. They do not exist outside of the history we have erected around them, any more than we have the power to be "not involved" in the problem of -isms.

But I do not think that denial of a word amounts to a solution. Being "not racist" is more difficult and takes more effort, practice, and perspective than that.

Going back to offensive jokes my friends and I have told:

Is this our effort to expose the hypocrisy around us? Or is it just our desire to transgress the untransgressable? Because that, too, has a visceral appeal.

Not entirely, I think. Somehow, however, a lot of people have absorbed the notion that bigotry is best addressed through acknowledgment of its presence around us and confrontation. The problem is that we are only this self-aware at our very best. The results, then, or impulsively acting through our prejudices are not inherently progressive. They can be constructive or destructive. Unassisted audacity is not an inherent virtue.

I'll always believe that the best acrobat along these lines was Andy Kaufman. If Borat has the benefit of self-consciousness and perhaps circumspection in his work that Richards and Gibson have so completely lacked in their meltdowns, then Kaufman had the added advantage of precision and subtlety. The goal was neither to moralize nor to shock, or even to expose. It was to seduce; to draw the audience quietly into a place they would not have ventured on their own, and from there, to personally confront any contradictions. After the punchline, his reading of the Great Gatsby or punchout with Jerry Lawler or wrestling women, he always smiled and the artifice was momentarily clear. As fooled as the audience might be, as fooling the comic, neither was wedged in a corner.

It was visceral engagement without giving up the high-ground.

I personally think confrontation in is more likely to work without humiliation. This is the shortcoming, maybe, of Borat and the Aristocrats and Kramer himself.

Are we all guilty, then?

We're not not guilty, and that is funny. And a bit sad. But mostly weird and funny.

The Gibson story, though, and the Richards story, they are just sad.

And yet, I have to be a little stingy with my sympathy... fair empathy can be easily given but fair sympathy takes energy. I have to be fair with my energy. Others have been hurt more for having done much less. The fact that Richards called someone a "nigger" is nasty, racist, and objectifying. Even worse, the fact that he cheerfully invoked lynching is wretched, wretched, wretched and horrid. It was not a joke.

Is his apology sincere?

I would hope so, of course.

I do hope so.

But it is a very easy to mistake to presume knowledge of a stranger, whether a stand-up comic or the President of the United States. The special relationships we have with our families and our closest friends are testimony to how difficult it is getting to really know anyone at the level of mind and soul. We can gauge actions, and here they are destructive and inexcusable. But sincerity?

I simply don't know, one way or another.

I can only hope that the result for the rest of us is a greater awareness and sensitivity. To see ourselves and each other, even the tiniest bit, more clearly.


The Fatalist, by Lyn Hejinian.


The older I get the more I’m (quite unintentionally) getting in the habit of pronouncing the word “coincidence” differently than everyone else. I’ve caught my self, whether reading or speaking, shifting the emphasis from the second to the third syllable: coincidence. It’s weird because until I stated doing this frequently enough to catch myself, I never noticed that “to coincide” and “coincidence” are two different uses of a single concept. This is particularly strange because of the value that we typically impose on the word “coincidence,” that is, the anticipation and understanding that any coincidence is random and arbitrary and just as likely to take place under very different circumstances. Whereas “to coincide” is much more neutral; the point is that two independent agents become aligned with each other. This may or may not be accidental or arbitrary.

I bring this up because it’s a word that Hejinian uses several times in The Fatalist and in relatively loaded ways. Unfortunately, I cannot find these uses, which is frustrating to me because I noted a number of passages throughout, and these two or three evidently slipped through. I don’t think I need a quote to go on, however. Partly because coincidence is written all over this piece. If, as the rumors say, it was edited from a collection of Hejinian’s emails, then the argument practically makes itself. Unless she was deliberately writing the emails with the intention of culling from them words from a poetry book, there is at the very least a veneer of arbitrarity and at the most a level of premeditation in these letters that would be difficult for a reader to gauge. It is possible to observe the confluence of themes and images, I counted about ten, the most interesting and pervasive of which was her problematic (and itself “coincidental”) exploration of “fate.” Many of the other coincidences, however, were as pedestrian as bicycles, geese, and twins.

Moreover, Hejinian resorts to most of the tricks that she describes in her interview. It was useful to have her own explication of this as a way to creating art that would bring language itself into a field of critical (and political, and philosophical) inquiry. Most drastically these techniques had the effect of rupturing one sort of logic (eg. The nonsensical causal progression in most pieces: “I encourage poems narrated by vegetables but hope that he moves on to grains that rhyme,” (31)) while establishing another (eg. The sonic systems and busts of rhyme and assonance throughout: “… all who’ve sought it fought it and then caught it / in the end – I paused.” (18)). I personally thought that these techniques were at their most effective when they were the least subtle, which is not intended as a criticism. On the whole, I didn’t find the visceral punch as dramatic as Anne Carson, nor the images as haunting and dangerous as the Brock-Broido. That said, there was a rhythmic indulgence in The Fatalist which seemed, to me at least, strikingly similar to the best moments of a good pop song; a combination of riffs, words, and voices that are so sensuously pleasurable that repetition isn’t a burden, but it the best way to enjoy the whole practice. It was ironic, then, to me that this piece which was evidently developed very intellectually (and which followed an unorthodox but almost gimmicky conceit) became most compelling in the least analytical or semiotically distressing ways. Again, this is not a criticism, though I cannot help but feel that Hejinian’s goal was to provoke more thought. Ultimately, the contrast is a fairly distinct boundary for me between writing I admire and theory that drives me up the wall.

It was interesting to have the most visceral opposite reactions to the reading we’ve done by one author in one week.

On the one hand, if there is one body artistic thought that I particularly chafe against, it is postmodernism, and Hajinian’s explication of her own techniques in her essay just about put me over the edge. While she didn’t fall into the more lamentable extremes, there was the nonessential plugging of the progressive baby-boomers (who were certainly culpable in more ways than failing to synthesize their various projects), and the quite essential calling into question the possibility of precision in some of the most imprecise terms possible. I don’t want to go on an extended rant about this (were I to do so, this paper would probably double in length), but in college I encountered in two different sources (first, a Calculus class, as a Physics major, and second, a Literary Crtiticism class, as a Humanities major) what seems to me to be an ideal postulate on which to base any inquiry. That is that it is necessary for any valid theory to allow for and provide the semantic possibility of being wrong. Any theory that exclusive justifies itself through circular logic, and does not allow a contesting argument, is more accurately compared to abstract modeling than a coherent hedging toward reality. Not only are the pillars of postmodernism (along the lines of Marxist and Freudian literary criticism (and I’m a big fat socialist myself)) guilty of this in spectacular fashion, but this is the one flaw which the postmodernist argument, by virtue of its own mistrust of “conventional” logic, ought to view with deep suspicion. In short, the essay made me very angry.

On the other hand, I cannot ignore:

though admittedly it can get pretty funny. I think
that macaroni is the answer now that the sky is crowing
and the rising sun is illuminating a few clouds
drifting across the mountains over a barn down a hill
keeping the pace of our correspondence to that
of real mail so the passage of a month last only an hour
while we add verbs to all the additions that occur
spontaneously slowly while the young eat cold peas. (60)

The music and even the rhetorical force are so coincident – so fated in a way – that there is no way to be unconvinced.

So that’s that. I am more ambivalent about Hejinian than anyone else we have read.


Gravitane 28, 29.


- NOVEMBER - is Vegans month.
- TODAY - is World Hello Day.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Voltaire and Bjork.

"I am a grateful... grapefruit."
- Bjork.

I've been surprised at least once recently.
Who would you be most surprised to find spewing racial epithets?


Monday, November 20, 2006

The end of the liturgical year.


At this time of year the lectionary is filled with all sorts of apocalyptic stuff. It really is a genius bit of scheduling, since the material is scattered throughout both testaments. You can find it in all four gospels, but especially John, the letters of John and Thessalonians (though most of them have it somewhere), Revelations, of course. In the Old Testament, the Prophets are a goldmine of apocalyptic writing, with Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel the granddaddy's of them all. And Ecclesiastes. The point being they're all over the place.

The lectionary is able to take all of these disparate readings and throw them together at the time of year when it's perpetually dark and cold out and the leaves are brown and dead in the street. The readings are all about the universe splitting apart at its seams, exhausted with inertia and attrition. Lovely.

I'm probably just in a bad mood because I've been slow to make new friends here in New York, and my best new friend is moving away next week. Where is he moving? Chicago. Lovely.


Gravitane 27, 29.


- NOVEMBER - is Peanut Butter lovers month.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Edwin Hubble and Bobby Kennedy. But most important, my dear friend Lyn!

The New York Times: Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?


Friday, November 17, 2006

A rough week.


I have decided to take the death of Bo Schembechler more personally than that of Milton Friedman. When complex, difficult, and admirable people die, it just sort of stops you.


In November 1997.


I was in the middle of my first quarter at the University of Chicago. Still a little overwhelmed and confused by everything that had accumulated, quite suddenly, I didn't leave Hyde Park at all between the end of Orientation and Thanksgiving break. There were a couple exceptions, I suppose. But really trifling things: I worked at Fiske Elementary through the Neighborhood Schools program, and that meant that I was down to 62nd and Ingleside three times a week. Also, I was Yakov in Checkhov's production of The Seagull, one of UT's mainstage productions that quarter. We took a trip to the Art Institute, which is definitely downtown. That was also my first experience waiting for the #6 for an unreasonably long time; roughly an hour to be precise.

For classes I was taking Calc 151, Readings in World Literature, and Democracy and Social Science with Andy Abbott. I tried in Physics, but dropped it after pulling an all nighter and failing to complete the very first problem set. It involved integrals, which I had never enocounted before. This was back when the Core actually took up half of one's curriculum, so from the beginning there was no messing around. This was my first semester in Malynne's class, and her first semester teaching as a professor. The Seagull refreshed me, work exhausted me, and I spent the rest of my free time writing and playing Ultimate Frisbee.

At the end of November, rehearsals prohibited us from going home for the holiday. Instead, a friend of mine from the dorm, Buffy, invited another girl, Karen, and myself, to her home in Indiana for Thanksgiving. Later, the cast had its own Thanksgiving dinner. We had a turkey, then hung around the apartment for the next several hours. Playing Truth or Dare. Yes, those were the days.

Where were you in November 1997?


What I Love and Hate in Poetry.


I don't want this to be conflated with what I think is good and bad in poetry.
There is, however, substantial overlap, so anything that I think generally good in poetry, as well as being pleasurable to me personally, I will put in italics. I'm taking a relative approach to "objectivity" here. Nothing is absolute or without exception.


1. Musicality.
2. Repetition.
3. Symbolism and Allegory.
4. Sense and Color.
5. Meter and Rhyme.
6. Bending Conventions... that is, either establishing a choice as a process that could be codified and repeated... or conforming to a previously codified tradition, but only with exceptions.
7. Sexy people.
8. Emotion and Passion.
9. The possibility of the Sensational (in a literal, physical sense).
10. The possibility of Progress.
11. The presence of Risk.
12. Anarchy, but only as Artaud defined it.
13. The impression that the poet is craftier and wiser than I am, thereby allowing me to be manipulated (in many senses) without feeling guilty or foolish for it.
14. A willingness to grapple with the social and aesthetic implications of Postmodernism.
15. Almost anything that feels new, either in the sense of "soul" or "fresh" or in more formal terms.


1. A lack of self-consciousness in the medium.
2. The subject of artists and writers in particular.
3. Atavism and Despair, but I only hate them if they are static.
4. Rage, Panic, and Rapture, but again, only if static, and even then it's less awful than atavism and despair.
5. The notion that any one person has "it all" figured out, although this is acceptable if it only happens occasionally and briefly.
6. Sexy people who are nevertheless hate-able.
7. Removal/detachment.
8. The denial of sequence.
9. Absolutes, most particularly in reference to oneself and society.
10. Pseudo-scientific BS, with the lowest and deepest circle reserved for 21st century Freudians. Why? Because he's long dead and was wrong about most things. He was right about a couple, however. Self-consciousness (even credulous self-consciousness) however can make this acceptable to me. Ditto for religions, spirituality, astrology, and most -isms in their most extreme forms.
11. Any form of anarchy different from Artaud's definition.
12. The impression that the poet thinks he/she is craftier and wiser than I am, and is most emphatically not.
13. Postmodernism? Postmodernism.

On an elemental level (I don't know if there's resonance with someone else's Ars Poetica, inasmuch as there's any border area between prose and poetry, I think it is easier to locate in the latter than the former. Specifically, everything I've encountered that calls itself a "poem" has had in common an engagement and reckoning with the elemental forms of language, physically and semiotically. In the (hazier) definition of prose, this exploration is either neglected or submerged beneath other concerns (narrative, plots, character, theme), which may nevertheless be present in poetry.

The most important distinction, then, is a matter of emphasis and not kind. This definition strongly informs my preferences.


Gravitane 24, 29.


- NOVEMBER - is lifewriting month.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Martin Scorsese and Danny DeVito.


Danny DeVito is best in _______.


Thursday, November 16, 2006



Milton Friedman has died.

The article as posted by The University of Chicago.


Just another article link...


Clearly everything's up in the air today. I spent two hours today trying to pay four bills, only one of which was successfully brought to completion.

So insteado posting one of my usual insightful persistant political diatribes, I'm going to link to another. It's pretty good though. About bipartisanship and the lack thereof in certain sectors. Also implicating our favorite fish in a bucket, Abstinence Only.

For example, did you know that according to Bush appointee Dr. Erik Keroack (no relation to Jack) who heads up the Office of Family Planning sex to much bad for your your ability to form a relationship?

What planet are we living on?


Plainwater, by Anne Carson.


This is my favorite piece of writing that we’ve encountered in class so far. I’m going to start sounding like a skipping record, because my second favorite piece was The Master Letters, and while I wouldn’t call Pessoa out for #3, I think I wrote of him more effusively than I intended.

Also, whenever I sit down to write these papers, it’s very tempting to simply compare them to each other, since we’re already examining them from the perspective of common questions, and it’s easy to find ways to define them vis a vis one another. I’m not going to expend a lot of energy resisting that temptation, but I’m going to at least try to yield to it in an unorthodox way.

I think of almost all of my favorite writing as being earthy: dank, murky, musty, and organic. The most obvious and common way to do this is to simply write about these things. To keep the actual words soil-sized and dig around in the dirt. William Faulkner strikes me as this way: if you write about a bayou, it’s a given that the story (or poem) is going to be steeped in mud and Spanish moss. I like this. But there’s a second kind of earthiness that I like even more, which is a sort of coldly mediated Earthiness. I think of this in terms of melting snow and February, and things that are hot pink and sky blue, and I think that these are just arbitrary calls based on personal experience. But there is something, I think, to the idea of mediation.

It all begins with a book cover that is glossy, clean, milk white, and unobstructed. A frilly lace font and a really abstract picture that I assumed was some sort of computer-generated geometric creation until I figured out it was specks of rain on a window, and a kid looking into a glass ball. The font size meant a great deal to me; if one page was getting too crowded, the leftovers were given their own page and the original page was left relatively empty.

I realize that it is more important to talk about the text and what it is doing. On the other hand, choices like what I’ve described are so central in defining my first reaction and relationship to the project that I don’t see how I can overlook it. Regardless of whether Anne Carson had any say in the cover and layout, they are well-matched to the writing itself and follows along similar lines.

Basically, this is a very neat presentation, the book divided into five parts, each structured around a different theme, premise, or field of exploration, and the long of which are divided into shorter chapters. Even the individual poems (none of which are very long) are numbered or separated by horizontal breaks, just as quotations are set aside in font, alignment, and italics, and moments that are (superficially perhaps) poetry and prose are clearly identified by line breaks, artistic punctuation, and the like.

In short, everything simple, easy, and comprehensible in this book has been made attractively explicit.

Ambiguity is only reserved for something dim and delicious.

For example, one thing that I lusted over here was the intermedial freedom. A versatile artist is one who can navigate with ease between different conventions of writing. These pieces not only seemed to simultaneously satisfy the criteria of essay, poetry, and fiction, but essentially contradicted each in confrontational ways.

The poems, for example, while not militantly asymmetrical, didn’t rely easily upon shape, rhyme, meter or other traditional devices. On the other hand, each short burst (“I slept, woke, slept in a fever of dogs. / Let us make no mistake about the freedom.” (52), “Let tigers. / Kill them let bears. / Kill them let tapeworms and roundworms and heartworms.” (99)) was musical and passionate. While these are clearly not sentimental poems, relying too much on contradiction and conversational philosophy, the visceral imagery and tempo suggested passion, speed, and music.

Likewise, the prose was just as contradictory, pitching itself as “essays” which embodied enough of Carson’s personal experience that they could have been as effectively billed as a “memoir” (especially in The Anthropology of Water), and whimsical enough to have been all-out fiction. And the crowning touch… here poetry, without the line breaks and with more moderated punctuation would have been sufficiently deregulated to pass as her prose. On the other side of the same coin, there wasn’t anything keeping her prose from becoming poetry other than conspicuously imposed structure.

But the most intriguing element among all these ambiguities was her constant alternation between the abstract and the sensual, and her completely engaged and honest commitment to both. Typically, nothing will turn me off to writing faster than the naked word “phenomenology” but in the Canicula di Anna I have no doubt that the curiosity is fundamentally sexual, or that the hunger in the Anthropology is for literal bread vs. gold, and must in some way literally nourish before it can justify any penitential urges.


Gravitane, 23, 29.


- So I'm just posting now, at approximately two. Sorry. Each week gets progressively more sleep deprived. I got ten hours of sleep last night; about what I got in the three preceding days. The better flipside of this is that I'm getting lots done. I met with my advisor, Jeff Allen, to talk about Hungry Rats and the critical thesis and how smokin' they're going to be. Seminar continues to be brilliant, and I had a series of short shorts critiques last Monday. A week from Monday, I'll have excerpts from Euphemism critiqued for the first time. I'm halfway through NaNoWriMo for The First Third. Lot's going on.
- It may be a few hours before I post again. Check back later today for EVENT and CONCEPT posts.

- NOVEMBER - is hospices month.

I'm feeling to lazy today. Check this out:
Forge 22.
One of my very best friends and ridiculously effective ninja web/graphic designer.

If you had to make a set of wind chimes and present it to the politician of your choise, what would you make it from and who would you give it to?
(Admittedly inspired by this post by Gemma.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gravitane 22, 29.


- NOVEMBER - is Healthy Skin month.
- TODAY - is America Recycles Day.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Georgia O'Keefe.

When I was seven-to-ten years old, I was browsing a book on Carnival Cruise lines and I was totally captivated by a thumbnail sized photo of the "Oz Discothèque" on one of their ships. It looked like all sorts of vibrant and sexy things had to happen there. So my brother and sister and I spent several days cleaning our basement and dragging in discards from the curbs to try to make it into a replica: our own Oz Discotheque.

Anyway, I've managed to discover the fate of the Oz. Evidently the ship it was on was called the Jubilee and it was sold from Carnival to the P&O Cruise Line based out of Australia.

Here is it then: The Oz Discothèque.

Which P&O cruise would you go on?


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gravitane 21, 29.


- NOVEMBER - is the month of Georgia peacans.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Claude Monet.

"To be an adult is to be alone."
- Jean Rostand.

A paradox you enjoy.


Monday, November 13, 2006

The Feast of the Lateran Basilica.


Last Thursday was the Feast of the Lateran Basilica.

The Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris is the ecumenical mother church of Catholicism and the only Cathedral in the jurisdiction of Rome itself. This means that it has precedent over every other Catholic church, including the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican.

The basilica is perched on a hill on lands once owned by the patrician Lateran family. Supposedly, during the reign of Nero, the emporer decided he wanted to become pregnant, bring a child to term, and become a mother. Roman doctors, unsure how to resolve this medical conundrum but not wanting to displease Nero, fed him a tadpole which he regurgitated some time later as a frog. During a parade up the Lateran hill, the frog escaped, and Nero flew into a rage, killing his servants and onlookers.

To call the story unlikely is quite generous, and yet these dubious beginnings embody the paradox, humor, sympathy and humility at the bottom of the best church traditions. Likewise, the Church, while ancient and splendid by most standards, cannot compare for grandeur or size with the great basilicas of the world. The church of the Church of all churches is, like most of salvation theology, as sobering as it is intoxicating, and as unlikely as it is necessary.


Gravitane 20, 29.


- NOVEMBER - is family caregivers month.
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY - Marie Curie, Albert Camus, and Joni Mitchell.

- NEWS OF THE WEEK - - Air guitar in fashion.
It's an article about an air guitar that actually works.

What is your least favorite month of the year?


Thursday, November 09, 2006



The fat lady sang.


Pretty Tired.


Between NaNoWriMo and the election and school, I've averaged between four and five hours of sleep a night for the last week. Until last night... I just woke up. You may have also noticed, I've spent altogether too much time blogging. But you only live once, right?

I'm going to take a break from Blue Skies Falling for the rest and week and weekend.

I'll throw up a happy post when/if Allen concedes, and then on Monday it'll be back to business as usual here.

This is an appropriate time to repeat a common refrain: any suggestions how to make the blog better? To get more readers? Things that should be addressed in posts? (Gemma, I'm planning on getting to the education thing next week.)

Thanks, all!

~ Connor


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

35: Post-mortem the fifth: Me and my blog.


I feel bad.

Unlike some of you, I did not go canvassing or knock on any doors. All I did, in fact, was blog about the election here and vote myself. Which was surely less effective and impacting. And yet, it may have had more of an impact than I originally expected.

In the last week this blog has gotten 868 hits from exactly 400 visitors. This is something of what I typically get in a month, and it's been of course, due to the elections. Ironically, I did not get most of these hits in responses to big races, where much would be written on larger, more active sites, but to searches on local candidates. Specifically, the Michigan Endorsements post alone got well over half of the hits I'm mentioning here, because my blog was virtually the only place on the web where someone could find information on, say, the Judge for the Genesee County Probate Court or the Genesee County Health Care Services Millage.

Yet because the Robert E. Weiss (Probate Court) shared space with my gubernatorial and Senate opinions, I also exposed hundreds of people to an opinion on Jennifer Granholm, on Debbie Stabenow, on Proposal 2. This was what I'd hope for in posting an opinion, but it was successful this go round beyond my loopier expectations.

Local politics matter.

I wouldn't have gotten an fifth of the hits if I hadn't written about the Probate Court.

And that's that, at least until we hear back from Virginia.

We won an election, kids. With drama and style.

Go forth and celebrate.


34: Post-mortem the Fourth: We have work to do. So do we.


With victory, the Left is entering a very uncomfortable moment at present. Since Reagan, it hasn't been your daddy's Republican Party, and now it isn't your his Democratic party either. Simply, the Democratic leadership made a bittersweet decision this cycle. It was a Clintonian decision, and appropriately something like the conundrum of whether to go "all the way" with your date after the senior prom. Something is gained and something else is pretty much gone. That decision was to make the Democrats competitive again by running social conservatives against the war in strong Republican states.

Tester and Webb and Casey are not progressives. They oppose abortion rights, favor definition of marriage as between a man and woman, generally oppose firearms regulation, and fall down to the right of the center-line in a host of other issues. It might even be fair to call them "not Republicans" more than "Democrats" since they ran essentially against the corruption and incompetance of the Republican party. And this changes the internal tenor of the Democratic party... by infusing the party from the right and by putting contested votes in the hands of socially conservative Democrats. The very definition of a "moderate" Democrat moves to the right. The median is repositioned.

But just take a moment to appreciate the karmic aspect of all this. 2000 Nader voters argued that the Democrats were too conservative for their taste and voted Green, and there we were. Now, here we are, and we all confront a Democratic party that is even more conservative than they might have been if they didn't have to languish for six years before regaining some influence from an even more extreme Congress and presidential administration.

I am not expressing doubt but a qualified optimism. If there is one unifying characteristic to this phase of the Democratic party it is an emphasis on accountability and rigor in foreign policy. Troop withdrawal will be a part of the new approach to Iraq. Just as important, however, will be a shift to coalition-building and bringing Europe and the Middle East into Iraq to help stablize the nation. This is a very timely shift, because American policies have so compromised the Republicans and the Bush administration that they would not be able to gain international support now if they tried. In fact, I think rebuilding our ties with the international community may be the greatest gift of this new Congress to the nation and the world.

It is a badly needed shift. As pragmatic Democrats, we have work to do.

As idealistic Democrats, so do we.

We've just elected a party that, in many ways does not embody our ideas with the purity and passion that we might hope. I'm opposed to capital punishment. I want universal health care and affirmative action. Let's talk about gay marriage. What can I do, when I feel like dissent right now is fracturing a party that has been too fractured for too long, and maybe widening a crack for a Republican comeback?

I've given the same answer for years: START SMALL AND LOCAL.

Politicians will not realign themselves along issue lines until the public itself is realigned. The public supplies the government with its politicians, so this should not be a surprise. The fact is that there are many positions that run unopposed, and many others that result in half-hearted or incompetant hands (see most of Flint) simply through a lack of investment and involvement. The office devolves into either a power-trip or negligence. These positions and their following initiatives bring big issues to bear in locally important ways: school millages, public housing, ambulance service, demolition and park space, nonprofit certification, whether or not to accredit charter schools. These issues all operate along the same philosophical premeses as the big ones... if our best hope of informing a national debate that is too conservative for our tastes is to convince the public, and if there is a public venue available at local and municipal offices that is not avaiable nationally, then we must exploit that venue as our greatest opportunity.

In short, we will never elect progressives to the House and Senate until we can elect them to the City Council and the Board of Education, as Comptrollers and as Drain Commissioners.

Now that the internet has transformed grassroots organization for liberals it is time to apply that technological organization and expertise to local contests. This isn't only the best way to make our issues felt on a national level; it is only the only way. See the next post.


33: Post-mortem the Third: But seriously, Boo Ya.


It was a beautiful thing.

Last night I was thinking back on my political experiences over the years...

2004 wasn't quite a total bust. After the heartbreak of 2000, I had steeled myself for nights like this. My wife, who was then my fiancee, threw a party where we watched the results tick in as it drizzled outside. She made breakfast food for us: hash browns, pancakes, scrambled eggs, omelettes, sausage, and bacon. Coffee and pop. Fifteen or sixteen people packed into that tiny yellow apartment, and we were energized and unified in dismay. It was depressing, but the depression of solidarity.

In 2002 I was in Dress for a play. That was the year I scarcely followed, and may have even forgotten to vote. All I remember was I was on about two hours of sleep, and didn't really understand what was going on.

2000 was the worst. But you already knew that.


My first election memory was the Bush win over Dukakis in 1988. A few days or weeks before the election, when the handwriting was on the wall, I remember my parents were very upset about the outcome as we were driving home cross-state. I remember thinking this really matters to people. And I'm glad I experienced that moment, because then I knew the value of what I felt in 1992.

I don't know that I've had such a feeling of political triumph since 1992, as I have today.

So here's the bad news on the other side. The Bush administration appreciates, I am sure, what a compromising position it has gotten itself into. Tentative Republicans point to Bush's bipartisan successes in the past, but that was before he had spent six years vocally advocating the positions most alienating to the other side. Bush, Sr. was a moderate Republican. Reagan was more of a hard-liner, but he knew how to appear moderate, and that served him well. Bush has proudly played his connections to the Christian Right, to Corporate America, in short to all of the groups who by their very mission and constituency are unwilling to compromise on any bullet issues. All this will count heavily against him at he tries to work with the new Congress.

Add to that the fact that many of these new senators and congressmen were elected specifically to check the Bush administration, and won for exactly that reason. Now they have to prove their platform to their constituency... by visibly checking him.

Add to that the fact that much of the Republican party has distanced themselves from Bush in the last few months, since they finally saw the writing on the wall. Many Republican congressmen ran ads showing their (generally overstated) distance from Bush policies. They, too, are now in the position of having to visibly check the president.

Add to that the fact that the Bush administration now has to eat its words regarding Democrats "measuring the drapes," having already permanently retired the phrase "stay the course." Expect more along these lines.

Add to that that the Republicans have been unable to deliver on abortion, social security, and immigration. This means that while the G.O.P. and Bush in particular has alienated moderates and independents, they've also lost the bedrock of support that has sustained them thus far.

Last but not least, add the weight of the transfer to the Democrats. Not only did they all but sweep their hopes in the House and Senate, but they picked up six gubernatorial spots. Even beyond this, they directly benefited in a number of other races. That is, conservative ballot measures (see last post) certainly slid past. But if someone is also voting for, say, Probate Court or Board of Education, your average voter will know very little about these positions, and is likely to continue along party lines. Thus, in Michigan, for example, all of the trustee positions for public universities went Democratic, which will be of great importance in providing pressure for state funding over private support.

The Bush administration knows how badly it is screwed now. I think they thought they could squeeze through two whole terms by exploiting pure xenophobia... but xenophobia is a shock. It is a gut reaction that eventually wears off and leaves us numb.

What does that mean for the Democrats?


Next post.

Oh yeah. This just in: Rumsfeld Resigns.


32: Post-mortem the Second: Boo Ya!



Oh. This just in. Montana went for the Dems. It's all up to you, Virginia!


31: Election Post-Mortem the First: Doubts and Recriminations.


Inasmuch as there's plenty of good news today -- more, perhaps more than we dared to expect -- and I do have misgivings about some of what went down yesterday, but don't want to rain on anyone's parade... I'm going to just collect all of my negative thoughts in one place.

This post is unhappy. The next post will be happier.

While I am proud to be an American today... more proud, certainly, than I've been in years, I am nevertheless deeply disappointed by my own state and by the Midwest in general. While Democrats were swept into congress from East to West, and on the coasts this translated at times into true progressive momentum, overall, peoples' minds haven't changed all that much. The country is still very conservative, broadly speaking, and this whole election has had to do more with one inept administration and its failed pet project than with the battery of issues and initiatives facing the country today.

Don't get me wrong; I believe that, right now, compromising our opponents' position is progress and any progress is good.

Still, I have to say on the whole, that I feel a bit of shame as a Michigander today:

Why? We did reelect our Democratic governor and U.S. Senator. That's what last night was all about, right?

Not entirely. There were a host of ballot initiatives and state offices up for grabs, and here, despite its fine congressional performance, there was a lot left to be desired in the Midwest:

· Michigan reelected an Attorney General who won't comment on the transparent issue of stores using poison gas to disguise rancid meat.
· Wisconsin became the most recent state in the Midwest to prohibit same-sex marriage, and that without any provision for civil unions or the allowance of marriage rights to same-sex couples.
· Missouri declined to constitutionally protect stem-cell research, evidently stomaching its vote despite an aggressive PR campaign getting out the word that cells are not harvested at abortion clinics, and the additional mockery of the Limbaugh debacle.

All three of these states held their Democratic congressional seats, and two picked up seats. Yet these three unambiguously conservative items passed by large margins. It all goes to show that the voters that swung this election voted Democrat not out of a transitioning perspective on social progress, but more out of economic fear and curmudgeonry.

I'm used to defending the Midwest against New York liberals on a semi-daily basis. They claim that the Midwest is a nest of unreasonable conservatism and flyover country. I argue, emphatically, that the Midwest is complex and highly populated, a site of nuanced regional affiliations and difficult economic overspecialization... everything, I argue, must be viewed in context, and context shows that the Midwest can and will rise to the occasion politically. But New York just swept a reformer into gubernatorial office, and independent candidates are gaining further traction throughout the Northeast, largely due to a combination of common-sense economics and live-and-let-live policies. Boy, do I feel dumb.


· Michigan voted by two-to-one to repeal Affirmative Action considering race and gender from all state supported offices and institutions. This is Michigan, a state with cities so blighted (Detroit, Flint, Benton Harbor, Saginaw, Muskegon) that they top every list in the nation for crime and povery. Even Genesee County, whose county seat of Flint was ranked third for violent crime this year voted in favor of repealing. The only counties to buck the trend were Ingham and Washtenaw (where MSU and U of M, who will be hugely affected, are located) and Wayne (Detroit).
· Michigan also voted two-to-one to not allow mourning dove hunting.

I am reminded of my gripe with Debbie Stabenow. Namely, Proposal 2 (Affirmative Action) is my issue. That's what has me upset. I really have little opinion on the second measure on its own. But it's interesting to take a look at the contradiction that emerges when we see one bill passed that takes away a form of protection from human beings and another passes that extends protection to a bird that many legitimately consider a pest. It is interesting to consider the large number of voters (as proven by the figures) who voted on their own ballot to both repeal Affirmative Action and protect doves.

Mourning doves, as I've said before, are pigeons with white feathers.

I guess you still qualify for special treatment in Michigan, so long as you're white.

UPDATE: There were a couple errors in this post. In the final count, Missouri did vote to protect stem cell research. And it is worth pointing out that Genesee County, to my great pleasure, passed a property tax that effectively amounts to Universal Health Care. Perhaps I should say then, that I meaintain the reservations I post here, but that things aren't maybe as bleak as I first thought.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

24: Tuesday's Midterm Election.


Relevant Posts:

! 30: Vote.
! 29: Why BOTH Centrists and Progressives NEED the Democrats to retake Congress.
! 28: Last-minute endorsements: Governors.
! 27: Last-minute endorsements, U.S. House of Representatives.
! 26: Last minute endorsements, U.S. Senate.
! 25: Last-minute endorsements, miscellaneous.
! 24: Tuesday's Midterm Election
· 23: Post-mortem baseball, pre-mortem politics.
! 22: Endorsements: Illinois.
! 21: Endorsements: New York.
· 20: Letter to Debbie Stabenow.
· 19: Some responses to Michigan endorsements: Eminent Domain and Affirmative Action.
! 18: Endorsements: Michigan and Genesee County.
· 17: Well, so much for that.
· 16: More on Kerry...
· 15: Kerry vs. the GOP.
· 14: Evidently the competition is scouting me out.
! 13: Blue Skies Googlebomb: Your Candidates.
! 12: Do More Than Vote.
· 11: Hello, Journal readers? (An unexpected post...)
· 10: More momentum from Flint and the Journal.
· 9: Let them eat cake, Mr. Mayor?
· 8: General Motors, Part 2.
· 7: The Next Verse?
· 6: Good News from General Motors.
· 5: Watch this. And this.
· 4: Immigration. My experiences.
· 3: Squick vs. SQUICK, Virginia vs. Connecticut.
· 2: The Socialist International.
· 1: The Democratic Party.

I'm going to keep this post bumped to the top of the blog through Wednesday, November 8th, so check below for any recent posts.


30: Vote.


That is all.


29: Why BOTH Centrists and Progressives NEED the Democrats to retake Congress.


For Centrists...

· Because the Republican Congress essentially legalized torture and dismantled habeas corpus, which were huge barriers between ourselves and totalitarian regimes, and part of the reason why we revolted against the British in the first place.
· Because the Bush administration has lost all credibility in the Middle East.
· Because the Bush administration has lost the support of Moderate Muslims who, like Moderate Christians, have the ability to exert pressure upon extreme elements.
· Because the Bush administration is unable to win in Iraq for this reason.
· Because the present congress has allowed the Bush administration to expand executive power to an unhealthy extent.
· At the moment, Iraq IS a breeding ground for terrorism, because our invasion and subsequent mismanagement destablized the region even more than before.
· Stability can only be reachieved through international consensus and participation; this means the support of both other states in the Middle East (support from Jordan and Egypt, for example, is not unrealistic) and our allies in the developed world.
· The Republican party has lost its credibility with these elements. Not only do today's Democrats emphasize the need of multilateral cooperation, but they have the credibility in the international community to pull it off.
· Because this Republican congress has fallen victim of the liabilities of Reaganomics (meaning 1. uncontrolled spending, 2. fiscal short-sightedness, and 3. stagnant tax-cuts that do not propel the economy). Democrats, on the other hand, have moved towards fiscal conservatism in recent years.

For Progressives...

· Because however uncomfortable we may be with the seeming docility of the Democratic Party, they have: opposed torture and the repeal of habeas corpus, illegal internments and violations of the Geneva conventions, tax cuts, and the preservation of civil liberties at home.
· Moreover they continue to: fight on behalf of abortion rights, encourage more realistic and ethical health-care options, and have a better track record with immigration.
· A robust Democratic congress extricating the nation from the messes of the last several years will give more public maneuverability to radicals and true progressives. We can promote our agendas on a local, municipal and state level, and thereby educate the public as to the feasibility and desirability of our projects. IT IS ONLY IN THIS CONTEXT THAT LONG-TERM SUCCESS IS A POSSIBILITY.


28: Last-minute endorsements: Governors.



Governor: Tony Knowles, Democratic Party.


Governor: Jerry Brady, Democratic Party.


Governor: Mike Hatch, Democratic Party.


Governor: Dina Titus, Democratic Party


27: Last-minute endorsements, U.S. House of Representatives.



U.S. House of Representatives, District 2: Joseph Courtney, Democratic Party.
U.S. House of Representatives, District 4: Diane Farrell, Democratic Party.
U.S. House of Representatives, District 5: Christopher Murphy, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 15: Christine Jennings, Democratic Party.
U.S. House of Representatives, District 16: Timothy Mahoney, Democratic Party.
U.S. House of Representatives, District 22: Ron Klein, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 6: Tammy Duckworth, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 6: Patty Wetterling, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 2: Paul Hodes, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 1: Patricia Madrid, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 20: Kristen Gillibrand, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 15: Deborah Pryce, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 6: Lois Murphy, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 22: Nicholas Lampson, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 2: Philip Kellam, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 8: Steve Kagan, Democratic Party.


U.S. House of Representatives, District 1: Gary Trauner, Democratic Party.


26: Last minute endorsements, U.S. Senate.



U.S. Senate: Jon Tester, Democratic Party.


U.S. Senate: McCaskill, Democratic Party.


U.S. Senate: Harold Ford, Democratic Party.


U.S. Senate: James Webb, Democratic Party.


25: Last-minute endorsements, miscellaneous.



State House District 119: Matt Reading, Green Party

Read more here.


Proposal: Marriage amendment: NO.

Read more here.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

23: Post-Mortem Baseball, Pre-Mortem Politics.


Just two weeks ago, when the Tigers were still the potential 2006 World Series champions, the Detroit Free Press published an article about how the team's success had a measurable effect on the midterm elections. The playoffs supposedly came to the aid of incumbants, in that potential voters were too busy watching baseball to watch, say, the gubernatorial debates. The playoff assisted Democrats in that Kenny Rogers' pitching made people more optimistic about pretty much everything, including the Michigan economy.

From here, I suppose it begs the question of whether or not the all-too-complete loss of the Tigers to the Cardinals will work for Republicans and challengers in the form of sudden pessimism. But let's be slightly zen about all that: even if this ends up being the case, Missouri would probably benefit more from a Democratic sweep than Michigan, and both Stabenow and Granholm enjoy significant advantages at this point.

Ultimately, I try not to block my passion for politics. There are differences between the two major parties that determine their policies, and there are also many striking and feasible options presented by third parties. If the tenor of the country has been one to provoke disenchantment and pessimism among progressives (I've certainly had many gloomy days), it is worth bearing in mind that McCarthyism preceded the sexual revolution and civil rights by about a decade, that "the business of America is business" preceded the New Deal by about a decade, and that James Buchanan (the worst president in American History so far; Bush is probably #2) came right before Abraham Lincoln.

Which doesn't mean that when change comes it will answer all of the questions and we'll have a tidy little utopia, or even a somewhat messy one. This may seem a diffuse point, but after spending a lot of the last week figuring out my own votes and positions, candidate-by-candidate, I've come to two conclusions:

1) Progressive pessimism is an essential ingredient in any Conservative's pie.

2) We have to take one step at a time... some times four steps back for every five steps forward.

I don't have room in my afternoon for superstitious fears of jinxing the election, and I'm not going to hedge around with words of caution. Confronted with the fact that, whatever the scenario, there will be more Democrats in congress a week from today than there are today, I refuse to be anything but optimistic. Optimism builds energy and energy builds confidence, and we're all more persuasive when we're confident. I'll continue to blog and read and write, and you should vote and read and write. And I'll write again, a triumphant post from the other side of Tuesday.

~ Connor

PS. One more for the road: Daily Kos: State of the Nation.


22: Endorsements: Illinois.


I should note that I usually rely heavily on the candidate statements provided by the League of Women Voters. But this organization is not as active in Illinois as in Michigan or New York, so I've used Yahoo! News instead.

1. GOVERNOR; ILLINOIS: Rod Blagojevich, Democrat.

Vote for Blagojevich, but by no means do it with great enthusiasm. While he has delivered on many campaign promises, including managing a mutinous budget and expanding health-care, too much of his first term's potential has been lost in destructive interference from squabbling with his own party. Also, the charge that his administration gives Chicago too much weight to throw around is, in this case, fair. Finally, I'm a little put off by the logic of machine politics, which feels a bit too much like the uninitiated attending a Freemason's lodge meeting, or even a gathering of devoted Thespians. The languages seems to purposely obfuscate the processes going on. Blagojevich's opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, is by no means an unqualified candidate, probably the most moderate Republican running for a high-ranking position in Illinois. If she is elected it is far from the end of the world. If, in the end, the governor deserves our vote, it's because his stance on issues such as education, public transit, and above all, health care. With Democrats in power throughout Illinois, Blagojevich way well be able to deliver on his promise of Universal Health Care, and his strengths include the ability to negotiate with unions over sensitive and complex funding issues. The financial plight of the CTA and the continued difficulties building up the Chicago Public Schools top that list; issues that I know are important to this blog's readers.



In the close race for governor, Lisa Madigan has the advantage of probably being able to work well with either candidate, despite her own position as a somewhat staunch Democrat. She managed to clinch a glowing endorsement from the conservative Chicago Tribune, and has defied her critics by running an office seemingly free from outside influence. Madigan may, in fact, represent the best side of political society, bringing a bulk of poise and expertise to her Freshman political term.

4. COMPTROLLER; ILLINOIS: Dan Hynes, Democrat.

Ditto that. Not only does Hynes have realistic financial savvy, but Democrats naturally have an edge of traction when it comes to navigating in a state heavily dominated by labor unions. Dan Hynes is the obvious choice for Comptroller.

5. SECRETARY OF STATE; ILLINOIS: Jesse White, Democrat.

For some reason newspaper endorsements and discussions of the Secretary of State always revolve around the amount of time spent in line to get or renew a drivers' licence. Can I just rant about that for a moment? Why do we really care? Queueing up is just a fact of life sometimes. We have to renew a drivers license, what, every four years? Is it really that relevant whether it's a twenty or a forty minute wait once in that period of time?
A much less discussed issue are voting policies, in which the Secretary of State is instrumental. The whole 2000 election debacle in Florida, and nearly Florida-size clusterfuck in Ohio in 2004 were largely exacerbated by secretaries of state who took partisan and highly unfriendly stances agaisnt voters in major cities. The level of orgnization in Chicago, and the lack of any other large metropolis outside of Chicago somewhat mitigates this issue for Illinois. Still, White has so far navigated the problems of voting technology in a large and diverse state without controversy. Moreover, Republican state senator Dan Rutherford has a sketchy voting record that would not release records on accidents connected with used-vehicles, including those that might relate to mechanical failure. This means that when purchasing a used vehicle, one would not receieve disclosure for Illinois. As I said against Cox running for Michigan's Attorney General, that's immoral, and disgusting. So don't vote for him. Vote for Jesse White.

6. TREASURER; ILLINOIS: Alexi Giannoulias, Democrat.

This could be the wild ride of this Illinois election cycle. Giannoulias' chief advantage has been his brilliant help running the Edgewater-based Broadway bank. On the one hand, he has been held accountable for some lending indiscretions, perhaps to organized crime. On the other hand, as he validly points out, the loans were legally made, and did not involve criminal background checks becasue Broadway is, after all, a community lending bank. It is, in fact, a situation where intervention was not the banks prerogative. This is compensated for by Giannoulias' financial savvy, which has left to an emulation of his securities lending programs throughout the midwest, and his plans to encourage use of renewable fuels. His inexperience is, and should be a factor, but given his energy, imagination, and clear aptitude for the job at hand, it is probably a risk worth taking.

Lastly, Illinois voters, and especially the centrist and right-leaning, should read this editorial from the New York Times.