Thursday, October 20, 2011

Molly Giles, "The Poet's Husband"

He sits in the front row, large, a large man with large hands and large ears, dry lips, fresh-cut hair, pink skin, clear eyes that don't blink, a nice man, calm, that's the impression he gives, a quiet man who knows how to listen; he is listening now as she sways on the stage in a short black dress and reads one poem about the time she slit her wrists and another poem about a man she still sees and a third poem about a cruel thing he himself said to her six years ago that she never forgot and never understood, and he knows that when she is finished everyone will clap and a few, mostly women, will come up and kiss her, and she will drink far too much wine, far too quickly, and all the way home she will ask, "What did you think, what did you really think?" and he will say, "I think it went very well"—which is, in fact, what he does think—but later that night, when she is asleep, he will lie in their bed and stare at the moon through a spot on the glass that she missed.

From Micro Fiction, ed. Jerome Stern (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 24–25.

Langston Hughes, "Remember"

The days of bondage—
And remembering—
Do not stand still.
Go to the highest hill
And look down upon the town
Where you are yet a slave.
Look down upon any town in Carolina
Or any town in Maine, for that matter,
Or Africa, your homeland—
And you will see what I mean for you to see—
The white hand:
The thieving hand.
The white face:
The lying face.
The white power:
The unscrupulous power
That makes of you
The hungry wretched thing you are today.

Source: Poetry Magazine

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Is that all you've got?

I first saw this on Facebook. A few of my Facebook friends who sympathize with the protesters were calling themselves hypocrites, thanks to this picture.

But we are not hypocrites. Just because I use or enjoy the products of a certain corporation does not obligate me to endorse everything that corporation does.

This picture is a slimy and manipulative piece of propaganda. Is that all you've got, assholes?

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Posted on September 30, 2011 by NYCGA

This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on September 29, 2011

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
  • They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
  • They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
  • They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
  • They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
  • They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
  • They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
  • They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
  • They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
  • They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
  • They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
  • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
  • They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
  • They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
  • They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
  • They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

Update 10/1/11 – Minor updates to some wording in the facts.



I found this picture at We Are the 99 Percent. The slogan, "We are the 99 percent," refers to economic inequality in this country.

This person is doing rather well in this economy. He writes, "I personally make over $100,000 per year because I chose my graduate degree wisely." Good for him. Does he mean to imply, though, that all those who are struggling in this economy chose poorly, by either not going to college or by choosing the wrong major? Does he mean to imply that everyone who works hard but barely gets by should suffer because they didn't "choose wisely"? There is a deeper question here: should what one does with her life be determined solely by the market? Are the only worthwhile vocations in our society the ones that earn a living wage or better? And here is the deepest question: why should we automatically assume, as this gentleman has, that market realities are acceptable, preferable, and above reproach?

This man writes, "I don't have cable or satellite; I don't use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs as they are a waste of time and money. I drive a paid off seven-year-old vehicle 90 minutes to work EACH way." Good for him. But I can't help but wonder whether this man has been soaking up Heritage Foundation and Fox News propaganda intended to show that much of the 99% really isn't poor because so many of us own microwave ovens and DVD players. Maybe he, like Phil Gramm, thinks that much of the 99% is in a mental recession and their whining should be ignored. Maybe he thinks that all those whiners among the 99% could improve their lot in life if they simply got rid of their cable T.V. and stopped buying brand new cars, whiskey, and heroin.

The man also writes, "I have joined the US military BOTH times we were at war in Iraq to serve my country." Let me first say that I thank you for your service and the sacrifices you have made for our country. I wonder why it is relevant to the issue at hand, though. Are you implying that you are doing better in life than many of the 99% because you served your country? How would you explain that, exactly? Do you mean to imply that you are better than many of the 99% who haven't served? Do you mean to imply that your opinions carry extra weight simply because you served your country? Let me assure you, they do not. Your service is irrelevant to this issue, sir. Your use of ethos here is a mere rhetorical trick and is unrelated to the merit of your views.

The man writes, "I support individual liberty and individual responsibility. I believe people should work to support themselves and not live off others." Does he mean to imply that many of us in the 99% do not support individual liberty, that we're not responsible, that we don't want to support ourselves, that we want to live off others? Seriously? We want a country and an economy in which a responsible person can work to support herself and live comfortably without undue fear of economic hardship. We live in a country in which wealth is rewarded; we want a country in which work is rewarded. We want a country and an economy that rewards those who play by the rules. You seem to think that those of us who are suffering in this economy are getting what we deserve. That, sir, is offensive. And if you knew how clueless you are, you would be embarrassed and ashamed.

The man writes, "I do not feel that other people owe me anything." Then you, sir, are part of the problem. Employers owe those of us who are lucky enough to be employed big time. While society may not owe anything to the millions of unemployed who were chewed up and spat out by this economy, society has plenty reason to look after them until they are able to get back on their feet.

The man writes, "I am the 99% but I don't begrudge the 1%!" Neither do we. I know that comes as a surprise to this man, who has been taught by the conservative media that many of the 99% are upset simply because they hate wealthy people. We are upset because we are not be treated fairly in this economy. Many economists simply assume that common practices in our economy are just solely in virtue of the fact that they are common. And they rake other economists (e.g., Paul Krugman) over the coals for disagreeing with that view. But you do not have to be a sociopath, like those economists, sir. You can recognize that there are things in life other than profit that are valuable and worthwhile, like health and dignity.

The man refers us to Here's my question: what fucking good is advice from Dave Ramsey in an economy like this where there are no jobs and no opportunities for many of the 99%? What about those who, through no fault of their own, can't even afford rice and beans, beans and rice for dinner? If someone finds herself without a job, is it necessarily all of her fault? Aren't certain presidential candidates who believe that it is simply out of their fucking minds? Isn't it completely obvious that the path a person's life takes is determined not only by her choices but also by circumstances out of her control? Yes.

Sir, I personally welcome you to the 99%. But could you please stop assuming that you know anything about the rest of us, please? Thank you!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thank you, R.E.M. (but not for everything)

I can't spend any more time editing this. So here it is, with all of its flaws. 

I've been thinking about R.E.M. since they broke up recently. I feel sad, even though I haven't really paid attention to them in almost twenty years. Here are my thoughts about R.E.M.'s music. They're not really very sophisticated or well argued-for.

I rank the R.E.M. albums I have listened to in the following order, from most to least favorite:
  1. Murmur
  2. Out of Time
  3. Fables of the Reconstruction
  4. Chronic Town
  5. Green and Lifes Rich Pageant (tie)
  6. Reckoning
  7. Document
  8. Automatic for the People 

    The first two on the list, Murmer and Out of Time, are near-perfect wholes, and a best-of anthology that omitted any of the songs from either of them would be incomplete. As my wife put it, Out of Time is magical, and I would say the same about Murmer. I was alive when Murmer was released in 1983, and I remember listening to it for the first time with my best friend at the time and marveling at its greatness. I don't think the album has a single weakness. I have met people who dislike jangle pop, but anyone who takes the time to listen cannot deny that Murmer is a classic in the genre. Most people who have heard R.E.M. have probably heard "Radio Free Europe," which is a very good song indeed. But every song on Murmer is well-written and played. "Perfect Circle" is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard:

    So if you haven't heard Murmer, do yourself a favor and buy it or stream it on Grooveshark.

    Out of Time, released in 1991, is a very different record. This is evident from the very beginning: the first song, "Radio Song," features the vocals of rapper KRS-One. By this time, R.E.M.'s sound had become more varied: different vocalists and instruments were making appearances on their songs. Every song on Out of Time is brilliantly written and executed, and they all somehow form a coherent whole. (Rolling Stone's negative review of the record is, in a word, idiotic.) "Losing My Religion" is one of those rare hit songs that is genuinely great. "Shiny Happy People" is perhaps the weakest song on the album and sounds like the kind of song that could grow annoying (and I have no doubt that it has for many people), but it never has for me. Because the album is more or less uniformly excellent, it's difficult to pick one song from the album to post here. "Low," however, is perhaps less well known than other songs on the album and represents the emotional thrust of the album well:

    Third on the list is Fables of the Reconstruction (or Reconstruction of the Fables, depending on how you read it).

    Released in 1985, Fables may not be in quite the same category as Murmer and Out of Time, but it is significantly better than the next best album, in my opinion. When it first came out, I think that the songwriting struck me as being odd and it had to grow on me. Maybe it was all of those minor keys. "Feeling Gravitys Pull" doesn't sound quite like anything on their previous records:

    But grow on me it did: the songs are truly great and they hang together quite well. "Wendell Gee" is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs of all time (pardon the inferior sound quality):

    If I had to pick my favorite R.E.M. songs from the remaining albums, they would be the following, in no particular order:
    • "Wolves, Lower"
    • "Gardening at Night"
    • "Stumble"
    • "Get Up"
    • "World Leader Pretend"
    • "The Wrong Child"
    • "Begin the Begin"
    • "These Days"
    • "Fall On Me"
    • "Superman" 
    • "7 chineSe bros."
    • "Time After Time (annElise)"
    • "Finest Worksong"
    • "Fireplace"
    • "Nightswimming"
    Of all of these, my favorite is probably "World Leader Pretend":

    Document never did much for me. (Though I like it a little better now than I used to.) "Oddfellows Local 151" is, I think, the first throwaway track R.E.M. ever recorded. And I have really tried to love the weirdly subdued Automatic for the People, and it just hasn't worked. There are half a dozen good songs on the entire album at most. (And no, "Everybody Hurts" isn't one of them.) Perhaps the songs seem lackluster because they just don't measure up to R.E.M.'s best material. I'm not sure. (Incredibly, Rolling Stone rates Automatic for the People as the 247th greatest album of all time, ahead of David Bowie's Low, Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy, The Cars, Talking Heads' 77, Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, Frank Zappa's We're Only In It For the Money, The Pixies' Surfer Rosa, Jethro Tull's Aqualung, and The Doors' L.A. Woman, to name a few.)

    I heard the follow-up Monster in the local Hastings soon after it was released, and I hated it. With the exception of "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" it was just awful. After that, I wrote them off. I listened to at least part of New Adventures in Hi-Fi when it came out; I liked "Leave," but that was about it. A friend of mine tried to turn me on to Up when it came out, but it did nothing for me. And that was the last I had heard from them (due to my own lack of curiosity) until they disbanded. So I'm not sure why I'm sad now, since I've been missing them, or at least the good music they were once capable of making, for some time. For the great music you made, however, I thank you, R.E.M.

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    It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

    Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson