Twitter Democracy: An Alternative Public Sphere

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On the day after I posted my comment on the “Twinkie Cabinet,” Ron Silliman posted a list of twitter accounts that will enable you to stay abreast with others who are engaged in resisting the rise of a nationalistic, xenophobic, racist, autocratic government. If you have a Twitter account, then I recommend going to “ronsilliman.blogspot.com” and availing yourself of these resources for information, which you can then circulate to your friends and provide them with the succor of your insight.

A friend wrote me the other day: “It’s not that Trump is not my president; it’s that I CAN’T BELIEVE he’s my president.”

The disbelief is understandable. The monster in the closet that children are told is just imaginary has transmogrified into the master of the house.

Believe it, and refuse to accept its ethical legitimacy.

The Twinkie Cabinet

February 19, 2017

The Twinkie Cabinet

There are two ways to take the title of today’s post. The first is obvious. If there is anyone who can possibly vet their diet, please be vigilant: under no circumstances whatsoever should anyone serving in Trump’s cabinet be allowed to consume Twinkies. The individuals appointed to Trump’s cabinet possess rapacious impulses that are already out of control, and the slightest increase in their consumption of such confections might well result in the entire world being treated as if it were the reincarnation of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

On a more quotidian economic level, of course, the Twinkie Cabinet is a reference to the financiers who exploited the workers of the Hostess Company. If Trump found himself the beneficiary of a miniscule margin of victory in just enough states to tip the Electoral College in his favor, it was in large part because of the displaced anger of workers at companies such as Hostess, whose executives walked away with their portfolios intact during the bankruptcy proceedings earlier this decade.

The problem confronting these workers, when they had to make a choice in the 2016 election, was that no major party offered any remedy for their plight. If you were an employee of Hostess, age 53 years old, and you faced the loss of everything you had worked for, what was your choice during the spring primaries of 2016? If you had been such a worker, the question you should have asked yourself was “What would have turned out different if any of these candidates had been president between 2011 and 2013?”

We absolutely know that nothing different would have happened if one of the GOP candidates had been President, but would there have been a different outcome if Hillary Clinton had been President? Or Bernie Sanders?

No.

It’s not that I would be sad if Clinton or Sanders had been president then, or now for that matter. But let’s be blunt about it: Would Apollo Global Management and Dean Metropoulos have operated any differently five years ago, if Bernie Sanders had been president then?

No.

The laws under which capitalism eviscerates the lives of those whose work generates wealth would have been no different under Sanders, when Hostess declared bankruptcy, than under Obama, just as they were no different under Bill Clinton than under George W. Bush.

“Betrayal without remedy” is the phrase that appears in “The Great Twinkie Caper – how U.S. Workers Get Flipped” by Lawrence J. Hanley.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lawrence-j-hanley/hostess-sale_b_6250650.html

Justifiable rage blinded workers into settling for vague promises of how America could be made “great again,” as a result of which one of the great political tragedies of this epoch is unfolding in front of our unbelieving eyes.

I wonder how many months will go by before these workers realize that they have been duped. What they deserve is a future retirement with some sense of dignity that includes decent shelter, excellent health care, and nutritious food to eat. This is the minimum that any person who has worked all of her or his life deserves. I would hope that a candidate would emerge in 2020 who will bluntly campaign on this kind of platform.

Until then, let us hope that another complete meltdown of the economy will not happen again. The risk of that kind of collapse is accelerating. Laws are being expeditiously revised right now to make the U.S. economy vulnerable to the same set of plundering usurers who drove this nation to the precipice ten years ago. The current Money Mob will make certain that the same laws invoked in the last crisis remain on the books to save them from prosecution, too.
It is indeed “betrayal without remedy.”

Well, not quite. There is one remedy, and it is radical beyond anything ever witnessed in this nation. Something much more radical than anything called for by Bernie Sanders is needed. It begins with changes in our diet, both physical and intellectual. Hard as it is to break old habits, we must do so if the pursuit of human dignity is to prove itself worthy of that ideal. And it ends with the complete abolition of the death penalty, for above all, we must confront the fact that as long as nuclear weapons exist, we have all been judged and sentenced to death. This is an unacceptable horror, and must be utterly reversed.

In between those two points, much will have to change in the hierarchies of privilege and power, and it will be an unfamiliar discomfort for those presently ensconced at the highest levels of administrative turpitude.

Let us start with a good night’s sleep, having faith that this can be accomplished.

Post-Script: I woke up to find an article in the Los Angeles Times giving an account of a speech at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 18. When I posted this blog entry, I had no idea that he was in town asking his audience to identify with the workers who have been traumatized by massive shifts in the global economy.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-bernie-sanders-event-20170219-story.html

Tom Lux’s Audience

Saturday, February 18, 2017

As many poets born between 1940 and 1955 have noticed, the number of people writing poetry in the United States has increased enormously since they first started publishing their writing. In the late 1960s, the protests against the Vietnam War included poetry as a popular part of the counter-culture’s resistance. Only a small proportion of those young poets, however, were still writing in the late 1970s. In contrast, there are perhaps as many as 40,000 people who currently regard poetry as their primary means of creative cultural work; and while it is frequently claimed that the only people who read poetry are those who write it, that simply is not the case. Tom Lux, for instance, was a poet who actually collected royalties from his book sales, and no poet reaches that point of popularity without attracting the attention of serious readers.

For poets who were born after 1960 or 1985, however, the abundance of poets in the United States has a drawback, in that what might be regarded as a surplus of talent makes the crescent edge of older poets harder to detect and calibrate. Compounding this diffusion, I find this pair of generations all too often ends up depending too much on a narrow cluster of initial friends within the poetry world to guide their reading. Or at least that’s the only explanation I can come up with when I consider what I have found in the wake of learning about Tom Lux’s death. Karina Borowicz, for instance, has a blog entry (dated September 23, 2015) in which she describes a reading by Lux when he was on tour promoting his most recent collection, To the Left of Time. Borowiz leads off her commentary by saying that “I went to see Thomas Lux read the other night at Smith College. I haven’t read much Lux before and I don’t know much about him, so I didn’t know what to expect.” Her appreciative commentary after the reading sums up fairly well the effect that Tom Lux’s poetry had on thousands of people, and I would assume that she has passed on her discovery of Lux’s vital imagination to her friends.

It does seem odd to me that a mid-life poet whose poetics fall within a fairly familiar terrain would not have read much Lux. It seems as odd, in fact, as it would be if I ran into a mainstream musician who said she or he didn’t know much about Ry Cooder. I would give that person a quizzical look. “Surely, you’re joking?”

Nevertheless, Borowicz herself is a poet worth paying attention to. In the process of getting her poems published in over three dozen well known poetry magazines, she has won several distinctive prizes and citations. You can find her poem “September Tomatoes” at the Poetry Foundation website as well as other work at http://contrarymagazine.com/two-poems-by-karina-borowicz/.

Her blog entry on Tom Lux’s reading is at:

https://karinaborowicz.com/2015/09/23/poetry-reading-review-thomas-lux/

Thomas Lux (1946 – 2017)

TOM LUX (December 10, 1946 – February 5, 2017)

Larry Goldstein was in town this past week, and we had lunch together at the Long Beach Museum of Art, where the upstairs gallery currently features some superb photographs of the Long Beach port. On our way to the museum, as I drove on Seventh Street, Larry mentioned that the Cortland Review was dedicating its next issue to the late Thomas Lux. I hadn’t heard that Tom had died, and I was as grateful for the slow traffic, as for the street’s familiarity. To have been told the same news on the 90 freeway last Friday night, as rain sliced down, might have had a different outcome, for the 90’s lane markers at night are very faint to begin with, and I struggled to detect exactly which lane I was traversing.

I first met Tom back in the early 1990s, when he was on a Southern California reading tour. He started at the Chateau Marmont on a weekend, headed over to Loyola Marymount at the start of the school week, and ended up at California State University Long Beach, by which time we ended up playing pool in the Student Union after his reading. I remember how surprised Tom was when I showed up at the second reading with a copy of Tarantulas on a Lifebuoy. He probably thought at that point that he had met everyone who had a copy of that early book. Not quite, I told him. Contrary to popular allegations from an individual he used to know in New York City, there were more than a handful of astute readers in Los Angeles.

Tom was a superb reader, and his poems fit perfectly into the Stand Up school that Charles Harper Webb was beginning to promote. Indeed, he unquestionably deserved his place in the second edition. He returned to the Los Angeles area in the late 1990s; along with Naomi Shihab Nye, he was the first poet-in-residence at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival. Idyllwild was the last place I saw him, in large part because my life as a scholar has diverted my creative energies outside of the contemporary poetry nexus. It was over a decade ago that we last wrote each other. His poems have been a constant presence in my teaching, though.

Thomas Lux radiated a multi-dimensional love of poetry that went beyond anything I have ever encountered in all but a few other people. If it seems that he is present now in my memory’s eye as a living presence, reciting lines of poetry by Hart Crane or Theodore Roethke to illustrate his point, then it is a measure of how much his invisible companionship has meant to me the past dozen years.

This sense of personal loss extends to Charles Harper Webb, one of my fellow poets at CSULB. I asked if he would be willing to contribute to this blog post about Tom Lux’s writing and presence in our lives and he immediately sent the following eulogy:

“I was beyond bummed to hear of the death of Tom Lux, one of the truly good guys in American poetry. Just last December, I sent him my new book of essays on poetry, and he promised to send me a copy of the collection of Bill Knott’s poems which he’d just finished editing. It never crossed my mind that I’d never see, or even e-mail him again. Since we lived on opposite sides of the country, I didn’t see him much; but he was my friend, and a world-class ally in the fight for clear, entertaining poetry. I love Tom’s poems. I wish I’d written them. Every virtue that I praise in my essays, his poetry exemplifies. Wit, passion, impropriety, brilliance of metaphor and conception—he gave it all to the world in clear, concise language that sounds like no one else. Because there was no one else like him. It’s our good fortune that, although his body’s gone, his voice still sings out of his books, loud and quirky, brave and clear.”

The Collected Poems of Tom Lux will be a book worth waiting for, and the second half of Charles’s assessment would be a spot on blurb for that book. In that kind of volume, it is a common practice to include an index of titles as well as first lines. I would recommend including an index of last lines, too, in that book as a way of giving young poets one more axis of inspiration. I have seen many determined and talented young poets emerging in the past twenty years, but few have the gift of Tom Lux’s quirky, encompassing, comic sense of poignant elucidation.

If I were to take part in a memorial reading, I would be hard pressed to choose which one of his poems to read. “Refrigerator, 1957” would probably be my choice, though given its popularity, someone else would probably have read it by the time I got to the podium. It is certainly one of the best poems to have first appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/thomas-lux/refrigerator-1957/
https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/thomas-lux/refrigerator-1957/
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1997/07/28/refrigerator-1957
http://happopoemouse.blogspot.com/2013/11/number-326-thomas-lux-refrigerator-1957.html

And for a view of that poem “across the pond,” go to:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/16/selected-poems-1986-to-2012-thomas-lux-review

One of the better articles I’ve found on his poetry can be found at:
http://www.cerisepress.com/01/01/life-on-a-piecemeal-planet-god-particles-by-thomas-lux/view-all

https://www.pshares.org/issues/winter-1998-99/about-thomas-lux-profile
Issue 77 / Winter 1998-99 – Stuart Dischell
http://www.news.gatech.edu/2017/02/07/campus-atlanta-communities-mourn-loss-thomas-lux-director-poetrytech
https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2017/02/thomas-lux-obituary/516354/
http://www.dailyo.in/voices/tom-lux-death-poet-poetry-eulogy-tribute-vijay-seshadri/story/1/15523.html

Tom Raworth’s “Jazz Attitude”

TOM RAWORTH (July 29, 1938 – February 8, 2017)

Since the announcement of Tom Raworth’s death, the obituary news has also added Al Jarreau’s name to the roll-call. Jarreau’s own definition of his “jazz attitude” was quoted in one obituary as “the idea of being open to each and every moment as a chance to create something different.” That aspect of a musical poetics would suggest a strong imaginative kinship between Jarreau and Tom Raworth, whom I heard read only once, at UCSD, and for which I remain grateful; the full-throated rendition of his differences lingers as an encouraging whisper in my daily life of writing and not writing. His blog ends with the notation that “Bits of it all have been fun and it’s been a decent run.” I would describe it as an exemplary broadcast from the self’s anothering.

http://tomraworth.com/nlinks.html

Tom Raworth, 1938–2017

http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/features/the-lyrical-genius-of-tom-raworth

Tom Raworth (1938-2017)

http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com

http://pippoetry.blogspot.com/2011/07/tom-raworth.html

http://lallysalley.blogspot.com/2017/02/tom-raworth-rip.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/mar/31/poetry
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/news/culture-stars-died-2017/tom-raworth/
http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2010/06/raworth-poems-flames-windmills

Tom Raworth (1938-2017)

Racism and Standing Rock

Sunday, February 12, 2017

RACISM AND STANDING ROCK: Bismarck, North Dakota and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

“Race is the modality by which class is lived.”

In the case of the Indigenous Peoples of North, Central, and South America, Stuart Hall’s observation should have the word “class” replaced by “subordination.”

Racism is the permeating logic inhabiting the praxis by which the Other, who has already been dispossessed, is further subjected to a quality of life inferior to that which you believe is appropriate for those who resemble you.

On Twitter recently, John Upton retweeted @relombardo3:
“Reminder that DAPL was
re-routed through
Standing Rock because
Bismarck’s residents
feared it could poison
their drinking water.

The Sioux are literally
being forced at gunpoint
to accept ecological risks
that North Dakota’s
white residents refused.”

North Dakota’s residents overwhelmingly voted for Trump; their decision to subject the Sioux to one more degradation recalls a comment made by Michael Lally, “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but every racist voted for Trump.”

Now I’m sure more than a few people might say, “Well, it’s easy for you in live in Long Beach, California, Bill, and look down on the people of North Dakota.” Actually, it’s not that easy, since I’m talking about a state in which I have had family by marriage, and I like those people. Along with my first wife, Cathay, I remember visiting Bismarck in the summer of 1985, then driving east to Dickinson, and north all the way across the border to Winnipeg in Canada. We had gone to Bismarck to visit her father, brother and nephews, and we took a vacation trip afterwards. The drive north to Winnipeg was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever experienced. The land formations were far different than I expected, and the sky that day had an ensemble of clouds worthy of a master choreographer. I remember how much we enjoyed visiting the museum in Winnipeg. We headed south to Duluth, and then visited Cathay’s sister in Minneapolis. My father-in-law and brother-in-law are dead now, but the time I spent with them has lingered in my affections.

I liked the people I met in North Dakota, and it didn’t surprise me that they would be judicious enough to elect someone like Kent Conrad to the U.S. Senate. That the people I met were all congruent to my wife’s family is the crucial qualifier, though. The color line, as DuBois pointed out over a century over, is firmly drawn in segregating Native Americans from the mainstream of civic, social and political life in North Dakota. The memorials we visited were concerned with preserving the tragedy of dispossession and subordination, and not just commemorating it.

Even given that fracture, however, my hunch is that things have changed there, and in part this is due to the wealth that poured into North Dakota due to the oil boom earlier this decade. Sudden wealth can distort one’s values, and it doesn’t take much wealth to undermine the inclinations toward compassion and community.

Perhaps resistance to the oil pipeline will give a few of those who have hardened their hearts a chance to reconsider, but I doubt it. I admire those who are resisting. It takes more courage than I have at the moment. May they survive, buffeted but unscathed.

The Harvey Haddix Rule And Extra Innings

Friday, February 10, 2017

THE HARVEY HADDIX RULE: An Exception to Extra Innings Change

Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still say, “Play ball.”

While the Anthropocene is already in extra innings, and might well wrap itself up with one walk-off-into-oblivion Grand Slam, how long a baseball game might last is less speculative. Changes are afoot: A proposal to alter how extra innings (or what would be called “overtime” in other sports) is played in professional baseball has reached the first stage of implementation. Starting in the lowest levels of the minor leagues, any game that is still tied after the ninth inning will have the 10th inning start with a runner already in scoring position.

I can understand the impetus behind this rule change. Professional baseball is a continental traveling circus at this point, and athletes are highly paid performers. With ticket prices at exorbitant levels, one deserves to see them at their best, and to ask someone to play 16 innings and then head to the airport and fly cross-country in order to play a game the very next night tests the limits of reaction times. The rule would accommodate the social evolution of the game’s maturation as part of a globalized economy.

I tend not to favor rule changes in baseball. I savor the continuity of the game. But let us remember that the game itself went through radical changes before it finally settled on its current rules, and even less than a century ago the spitter was still a legal pitch. Like it or not, the DH is now firmly embedded in the game, and some people believe that the National League should give in and adopt that change, too. One recent change has long overdue: the banning of slides into second base outside of the base path.

I would be in favor of the change regarding extra innings, with the following variations:

1) the tenth inning starts with a runner on first. In point of fact, as every manager knows who watches his pitcher walk the first batter in an inning, the odds that that runner will score are uncomfortably high. What this rule will do is increase the value of the utility player who has worked hard at the craft of stealing bases. It will also create immediate tension in the game. Will the runner take off for second base? From the first pitch of the top of the tenth, the game’s momentum will swirl in expectation.
2) in regards to the DH rule, the National League should allow a DH for the pitcher in extra innings only. This will also increase the likelihood of a swift resolution to the game.
3) if the runner on first does not score after starting on first base in the 10th inning, then and only then does the runner start on second base. In the 11th inning, the pressure will truly build.
4) if the runner on second does not score in either the top or the bottom of the 11th, then the 12th inning starts with the runner on third.

There is one concern I have about this rule change. How would it affect the record book in regards to no-hitters and perfect games. As we all know from the sad fate of Harvey Haddix, it’s possible to throw 12 perfect innings of baseball and still lose a game. But let’s imagine a pitcher who has thrown a perfect game for nine innings and still must confront a duet of zeros on the scoreboard. The other pitcher has thrown an eight-hit shutout, and the game must go on to extra innings.

Allowing a runner to start the inning on the basepaths seems an affront to anyone who accomplishes the feat of nine perfect innings. Let’s call it the Harvey Haddix rule: if a pitcher has pitched nine perfect innings, the other team is not allowed a runner on base to start extra innings. This would not apply, by the way, to no-hitters; only perfect games. So my fifth point in the above list is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. The Harvey Haddix rule must be a part of this change to the baseball rulebook.

Finally, this rule change would indeed be a concession to those who stand up for tradition in baseball, but let’s talk about the real impact of concessions. The truth is that concession sales no doubt drop significantly in extra innings, and I have no doubt that the owners will be convinced to adopt this rule because it improves the bottom line of concession sales. By the 14th inning, the dwindling sales of soft drinks and souvenirs surely must make the owners go, “Let’s get this over with and start counting final receipts.”

“Time for Another Kent State”: They Are Not Kidding, Folks

Friday, February 10, 2017

As D.T. (Darth Trumper) finishes appointing a roll-call of Koch Brothers-clones to his cabinet posts, I despair for the future of the planet. I am also more than a little worried about my own measly life. It’s bad enough that Steve Bannon would be all too happy if he could taunt the North Koreans into launching a rocket topped with a nuke towards Los Angeles. Fortunately, in terms of life expectancy, however, provoking the ire of the North Koreans and backing them into a corner from which they see no escape but reckless attack will take at least six months, and is more likely to require two years, if not a second term of office.

Unfortunately, this would appear to be an unacceptable, interminable wait for some of D.T.’s adherents. Less than a month after the oath of office was administered, there are already underlings calling for indiscriminate massacres of protestors and anybody in the vicinity.

Let us not kid ourselves: When Mr. Dan Adamini tweeted, “Time for another Kent State perhaps. One bullet stops a lot of thuggery” and reiterated his proposition on Facebook, “I’m thinking that another Kent State might be the only solution,” …. well, only a fool would take his “apology” at face value.

His speculations are meant to test the waters of acceptability, and there are plenty of people in the GOP who agree with him. Don’t let Adamini’s rebuke by officials in the GOP fool you. They know their base, and these people have no qualms about murdering doctors who affirm a woman’s right to choice. They also would seem to have no reservations whatsoever about the possibility of a bystander being killed at a protest. I would like to remind Mr. Adamini that two of the four students slaughtered at Kent State were merely walking to class. They were not part of the demonstration. In fact, one of the murdered students was on the opposite side of the protestors: he had applied for a ROTC scholarship.

I do not know if William Knox Schroeder’s parents are still alive, but there is a fair chance that his siblings, Nancy and Rudy, are still alive. I wonder if they would agree with you, Mr. Adamini.

Of course, Kent State wasn’t the only place that erupted in state-sponsored violence back in early May, 1970.

My tweet:

GOP official advocates Kent State-type repression for protestors. For African-Americans, though, it is always already Jackson State.

“Respecta Mi Existencia o Espera Resistencia” — Victoria Garcia

Political Graphics: Peace Press and the Amplifier Foundation

The Huffington Post is carrying a story about the Amplifier Foundation and its project of feminist posters aligned with the Women’s Marches. Before I provide the links to the foundation and the work of a few of its impressive artists (some of which can be downloaded for free), I want to call your attention to the work of Peace Press in Los Angeles, a progressive printing company that made its facilities available to numerous causes between 1967-1987. The Center for the Study of Political Graphics has an archive of the posters produced at Peace Press, which they have loaned out to various institutions for retrospective exhibitions. Their website link is http://www.politicalgraphics.org. When I went to that site, an invitation to receive a daily poster selected by CSPG popped up on the screen. Obviously, CSPG is not merely the custodian of an archive, but is still active in promoting its cause, which might be summed up in a sentence I jotted down earlier this morning: Progressive policy is the people’s politics.

The L.A. Fine Print Fair in West Hollywood held a benefit for CSPG last night (February 3) for CSPG, and I wish I could have attended. There was also an art opening by Kathi Flood in Burbank, and a performance of a collaboration by Darrell Larson and Rob Sullivan at Beyond Baroque in Venice. Unfortunately, I had to be in a conference call with my brother, Jim, about the situation of our 95 year old mother and was unable to leave home.

Make yourself a cup of strong tea, and spend a half-hour with the following links and artists.

http://lbpost.com/life/12325-art-social-change-peace-press-posters-uam
http://laassubject.org/article/exhibit-opening-peace-press-graphics-1967-1987-art-pursuit-social-change
http://web.csulb.edu/~uam/UAM%20Files/Peace%20Press/PressRelease_PeacePress_August2011.pdf
http://peacepress.org

http://theamplifierfoundation.org/experiments/womens-march/

I especially recommend the following posters:

KATE DECICCIO, “Embracing EachOther”
VICTORIA GARCIA, “Respeta”
LIZA DONOVAN, “Hear Our Voice”
JESS X. SNOW – “Long Live Our 4 Billion Year Old Mother”
ANN LEWIS – The Future Is Now & It’s Female”

http://theamplifierfoundation.org/all-artists/

http://theamplifierfoundation.org/artists/melanie-cervantes/
http://theamplifierfoundation.org/artists/robert-montgomery/
http://theamplifierfoundation.org/artists/cheyenne-randall/

“Spin, Spider, Spin” – Patty Zeitlin’s Songs for Children

Friday, February 3, 2017

“Spin, Spider, Spin” – Patty Zeitlin’s Songs for Children

In the midst of all the turmoil being generated by the bloated narcissism of a master manipulator, I want to offer all those who have very young children in their care a reminder of a very lovely song that they can play for their children. I first learned of “Spin, Spider, Spin” back in the mid-1970s, when I met a songwriter at the Church in Ocean Park named Patty Zeitlin. Influenced by the folk song movement that was popular in her youth, she was primarily interested in writing songs for children, and often collaborated with another woman named Marcia Berman. If I remember correctly, they also were part of a puppet theater company that went around to schools. She eventually moved north to Seattle, and has remained active in working for peace and reconciliation. She put out several albums, including one entitled “My Mommy Is a Doctor,” that offers role models in its lyrics. Her work as an songwriter deserves a lifetime achievement award. Here is a link to today’s featured song (and another one as the “B” side):

From the Archives: Spin Spider Spin by Patty Zeitlin