Monday, September 28, 2009

books and paris

Here's a brief post for anyone who had one of those Monday mornings where you'd rather be reading in bed or you wished work would go away or you could leave work for Paris, France.

It looks like Shakespeare & Company has some competition in the city of lights. It's nice to read about any independent opening up a store (as opposed to closing one down).

Friday, September 25, 2009

michael moore, a love story

In "the unbearable sadness of michael moore" at http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/2009/09/24/the-unbearable-sadness-of-michael-moore/ Daniel Kalder raises the usual objections to Michael Moore--his movies are simplistic and one-sided and Moore profits handsomely from them (he profits from the very system he objects to, etc.)--but Kalder does use the apt phrase of "political erotica," and I can imagine Kalder debating at home whether or not to call the writing "erotica" or "pornography," perhaps with a shot of booze and a copy of Margaret Atwood's "On Pornography" nearby. I don't think anyone can dispute that Moore's films do steer the viewer in a definite direction, and like Fox News, they certainly do have an agenda.

Of course, Kalder is right that Moore is not so "complex," but I don't believe Michael Moore has ever told us he was a philosopher, nevermind one advancing us beyond an original thinker such as Karl Marx. Is "complexity" something we ever expect from mainstream film? The Weather Underground and Street Fight are two political documentaries that I feel offer more complexity than Michael Moore films, but to the best of my knowledge, neither of these sold a tremendous number of tickets. To me, a Moore film is like going to a horror film or a blockbuster. We know to an extent what we are getting into before we arrive at the theater. Complete objectivity is not what we seek or expect to find once we are seated in his theater.


Speaking of Moore's nemesis Fox News, when visiting "fair and balanced" Murdochville (not to be confused with anyone else's villes), we find these musings on Moore's new film from former Presidential candidate Tom Tacredo: "But this is Michael Moore. This is what he believes in. It's not only Michael Moore, of course. It's the president of the United States. I believe he looks at it exactly the same way. That's the scary part." It seems impossible that anti-capitalist, left-wing Michael Moore could be confused with the new (and improved?) moderate moderate President Obama, but Tacredo does this no doubt so he has a chance to pick up another appearance fee or run for office or because he is not able to see the difference between an advocate for socialized medicine and a President who is embracing private insurers as a big part of the solution to healthcare.


Tacredo later shows off his literacy, giving a full-sentence quotation from no other critic of capitalism than Karl Marx: "Hey, Michael, Michael, look at — look at me. To each according to his needs, from each according to their abilities./
Buddy, you have got more money. I need some of it, OK? We had a rough winter here."


To his credit, Tancredo acknowledges that Moore has more ability and that Moore does give money to charity but insists Moore should give it all away, as if this would be the only genuine way of living an anti-capitalist life. In other words, anyone of us who is not Mother Theresa has no right to criticize any aspect of our economic system? With some urgency, Tancredo asks for Moore's money again:


"That is exactly right. It's to each according to his needs./ And, believe me, there are a lot more people in this country who need it more than he does. I am one. Send me a check."


To me, on live television, Tacredo is obviously being sarcastic, and yet by repeating the line twice, he has me convinced that he does have financial problems! Maybe USK should write him a check? Or contact his press secretary to see if we can counsel him on life choices and not using his house as an ATM?


On the other hand, is it possible that this is how people get money in real life? They ask for it? On live television? I don't have any TV deals yet, but I'm thinking I could use this blog as a platform.


Hi, I'm Alex Kudera of the United States of Tacredo, and I have an opinion on Michael Moore, and I would like it if you send me a check! That's right Michael or you other yous, send cash now to Alex Tacredo, a former candidate for President who was almost as successful as Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul at getting his face on TV during the live debates.


In real film, as you know from his movie Sicko, Michael Moore was the once hidden benefactor who paid the hefty health bills of one of his chief critics.

Here is the link to Tacredo on Moore:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,547680,00.html

I am concerned for Tacredo, the poor folks of Michael Moore films, and anyone reading this who is also wondering how they will ever have enough money to afford healthcare or anything else. The latest news from the AP wire is that more 62 year olds took their social security early (with a penalty) because they were out of options. There was no work to be found, and they needed a monthly check. I believe that when one contrasts the number of years these people worked to the amount penalized by accepting an early social security, it can be shown that this penalty is a severe one. I don't believe older workers taking "retirement" five years early are to blame for the current financial crisis. Rather, they are its victims.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dan Fante and Iain Levison

Dan Fante and Iain Levison both have new books already here or coming soon. Fante's new novel, 86'd, was published on Monday, September 22, 2009, and Levison's novel, How to Rob an Armored Car is due out on October 1. Links to my brief interviews with both writers are found below:

http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/2009/05/21/an-interview-with-author-dan-fante/

http://kudera.blogspot.com/2009/05/writing-life-starring-iain-levison.html

These two URLs lead directly to the title on the virtual shelf of our commander-in-book:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Rob-Armored-Iain-Levison/dp/1569475997/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253733814&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/86d-Novel-P-S-Dan-Fante/dp/0061779229/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253734440&sr=1-1

As you know, you can buy books from sources other than amazon.com, and it is probably a good idea to do so if you want those sources to continue to exist. Having added that bit of op-ed, I should also now admit that I am at least 30 miles from a brick-n-mortar store that might stock either title, and so I just purchased one of them from Jeff Bezos and his shareholders along with a first novel titled Remedies from Philadelphia's own Kate Ledger.

Happy literature.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

don riggs redux

I had an opportunity to ask Don Riggs, a contemporary poet and professor, for his take on Allen Ginsberg, and he wrote back, "Ginsberg was a major influence on me; his poem 'Howl' was described as the 'Waste Land' of that generation, and I wrote in a quasi-Beat style, in what I perceived to be the Ginsberg manner, in the mid-late-1970s." As part of his response, Don included a poem he wrote 30 years ago which he considers to be his "most successfully Ginsbergian poem." He wrote the poem at the end of the nineteen seventies, and I believe we can find in these lines that Ginsbergian awe in the face of America's fragmented beauty and banality, our shit and our soul intermingled, so to speak.


Please note that the line breaks of Don Rigg's "Those of us who" do have a function in the read-aloud rhythm of the poem but do not transfer into this online format.

Here then is Don Riggs's "Those of us who":

Those of us who
Those of us who live in the assholes of the city
leaking apartment roofs over gravel back alleys
Those of us who watch the trashmen trash themselves at 7am when we get up
Those of us who speak to them moneyless when we traverse our parking lot back yards
Those of us who gaze at the wide red sunset and the one black crooked tree
over the flat black rooftops
Those of us who hear the dumpsters who have been waiting all day
being visited by their dump truck lover at 3am rising graceful as whales
in his arms for their cleansing kiss
Those of us with late black coffee nights typing typing ceaselessly typing our lives
onto all too brief sheets of onionskin
Those of us who will never be President
Those of us with only $5 plastic ponchos for raincoats with rips in their sides from our
cats
Those of us who never get work done on time
Those of us who drop everything and run for two hours
whenever we think we’ve seen the Muse of Beauty disappear round a corner
And sleep exhausted and sweaty and unsuccessful and blissfully peaceful that night
And our dreams are Haydn’s lost symphonies cut into curling rolls by his wife
And those of us whose shoelaces tie in five places
And whose lawns are moss on the next roof
accessible through the window, soft down on the tarred gravel
We have not forgotten Sappho
or Ventadorn, or Van Gogh
Rembrandt’s poor uncle lives on the next hall
the floorboards of our rooms shift when he walks to the closet
We discussed Li Po with our neighbor the moon
We shouted koans to streetlights and discarded paint cans, the plants at the feet of our
stairs, we sang
and sing still of hidden roses, of verdant distances, of the mountain hut
of the imagination
rising invisible above the redbrick backs of buildings of downtown America.
-- Chapel Hill, 1979


For more Don Riggs, click here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

monday a.m.

You beat the odds. Your mood is a mix of ecstasy and coca--, no ecstasy and action! You feel alive and prepared to execute the game plan... a tedious affair that concerns a full week of work.

You cannot explain your fine spirits, but no one pays you to do so anyway.

Your coworkers are curious about you. They see your grin is wider than Stalin's reign of terror, and they wonder what kind of weekend you had.

Let them wonder a little while longer. For now, enjoy your Monday-morning bliss.

Friday, September 18, 2009

almost

You made it to Friday. Congrats. You had a productive week and you didn't lose your shirt. A sock or two is stuck in the dryer, but you're thankful you can still afford the utility bill or the coin-slot machines. Times are tough, you know that, but things could be a lot worse. Yeah. At least, at work, you didn't sell your entire soul and you negotiated a fair price for the percentage you did part with.

So enjoy your weekend; you earned it. If you work on the weekends too, so be it. I hope it is because you love what you do but if not, know well that all you're missing out on is bad television and overcast skies and alone in the office lowers your risk.

Sleep late if possible and remember to write and walk.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ginsberg take two

In the videotaped interview, Allen Ginsberg seems to imply that he must see the entire picture (or form) of the poem first, before he begins to write it. In fact, there can be no poem without this initial form or picture. This reminds me of an Ultimate-frisbee lesson I was taught a long time ago: if you can visualize yourself making the play, then it is a play you can make. In this way, more creative players gain advantage over others although we don't necessarily consider visualizing the play as a sign of imagination or creativity.

Ginsberg's thought raises questions in other areas--if you can picture the film in your head, is it a script that you could write? When he dismisses stray ideas as mere worries, is he dismissing all of us who think we have "a great idea for a film"? Also, can Ginsberg's picture be applied to a life? A career or a love affair? Do bakers have an exact mental image of the cake before they begin to bake?

Take a deep breath. Follow Ginsberg's advice and meditate for a moment. What picture can you imagine? What form takes shape?

And so we begin again.

Monday, September 14, 2009

form cadence vowel consonant

From the video shown in class, we learn that Allen Ginsberg sees a form or picture of a poem, then hears a cadence, moves on to vowels, and finally to consonants. He dismisses poets who are weak on vowel choice as "not so interesting."

Later, he gives an example of Jack Kerouac writing "tarpaulin" for its sound before he knew what the word meant. I hope you remember from K--12 that certain tyrannical teacher who told you to never use a word unless you know its meaning. Or I hope you were never taught that rule. In the interview, Ginsberg recognizes that experimenting with language can lead you on the path to learning more of it.

The dictionary life awaits.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

out of work in america?

Time Magazine's Joshua Cooper Ramo is lying through his teeth if we can call the use of an adverb--in this case, "unthinkably"--a lie. Cooper Ramo writes, "Jobless figures released Sept. 4 showed a 9.7% unemployment rate, pushing the U.S.--unthinkably--ahead of Europe, with 9.5%." I'd bet my house (the bank's house that is) that Cooper Ramo knows darn well that high unemployment is very thinkable in the United States and that Europe has had some recent years of robust economic growth.

This could be seen as nitpicky, but it could also be seen as editing by corporate-media elites. Time wants to save whatever audience it has left, so Cooper Ramo's original sentence gets two dashes and an adverb, or it is just too depressing or too honest to sell magazines and advertising.

Could Cooper Ramo believe that unemployment above Europe's is so unthinkable? Is his pay check based only on how well he sculpts sentences and not at all about his knowledge of his subject? In the same issue, Time is kind enough to inform us that we have 131 millions workers in our economy, and that is the same number we had in 1999. In other words, just as my earlier post suggests, we have lived through a jobless decade.

In reality, both Cooper Ramo and Time provide good information in the recent "Out of Work in America" issue, and I appreciate their work. I'm sure they are well aware of the limits to what their subscribers can take when it comes to a focus on negative news that is hitting quite close to home. Click here to learn that 80 percent of us consider the economy to be poor and over half of us are worried about our own ability to make ends meet.

When it comes to a poor economy, Africans Americans are a group that would never find any of this information "unthinkable" or perhaps even less than expected.

Barbara Ehrenreich has an effective summary of the African American Depression of the 2000s, and I doubt the findings would shock any black person or anyone with eyes open living in close proximity to the half of black America that has never seen the good times roll, rock, or animate themselves in any way.

On Tuesday, I return to literature class, armed with James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," and it is convenient to teach this as a pre-Civil Rights "that's how things were but they're so much better now" story about redlining and segregation and discrimination and everything else that used to be but then magically disappeared with a long, looping LBJ in cursive script. I hope I can offer my students more than that.

At the same time, my teaching strategies are superficial compared to today's larger problems of how President Obama can help us retain or obtain healthcare and jobs. It is Obama's time, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that any compromise bill that passes will be one that can help us all.

And please, if you are in a position to hire anyone at all, please do so.

Allen Iverson stayin' alive

Even more quickly than Joe Wilson could nab $200,000 for his near-blasphemous yelp in the halls of power, Allen Iverson inked for 3.1 million to bring "a winner" to the city of Memphis. I did not receive pay for this mental toil but had opportunity to opine in a feel-good but post-ironic way.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

only 46.3 million?

The new number of uninsured arrives, and of course, we learn it has gone up to 46.3 million and that the number would be larger were it not for the growth of government programs like medicaid. The key number here though is "2008"; according to http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/7838 we've lost 6.9 million jobs since the recession began in December of 2007, and I believe the majority of these have been over the past twelve months. Job losses for late fall and winter 2008--09 were some of the largest by month, and the vast, vast majority of these people have not yet been counted as uninsured.

Medicaid is seeing greater numbers qualify for their programs, so in a way, we will be moving toward a larger government-run option regardless of what Congress and the President are able to pass later this month. Medicaid is hardly a solution for middle-class people who lived within their means and were able to save money over the course of their now-interrupted working lives. Both Republicans and Democrats represent themselves as catering to middle-class savers, so it would seem that fixing existing programs, including Medicaid, could help government officials improve their standing in polls of the "American people." (As it turns out, according to http://www.rasmussenreports.com, 78 percent of us feel we should be able to purchase the same coverage as our elected officials.)

Let me explain why Medicaid doesn't help savers. For the most part, Medicaid is a state-run program, and I've learned that in one state a family can have no more than 30,000 dollars in savings to qualify regardless of their current income (including retirement savings, IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401ks, 403bs, etc.). This means that the hypothetical person who loses his or her job must buy COBRA or another private policy (read "commercial catastrophic coverage") in order to have any health insurance until they've depleted their savings. 30,000 American dollars is certainly a nice a chunk of change, but in the larger picture, when rent plus groceries plus utilities plus health insurance plus everything else is included we see that even a single person with no smoking or pre-existing conditions in a shared-living arrangment (who of course only ate on Tuesday nights at the Sonic 50-cent burger window) could move through that rather quickly.
So what?

So not much more than my expectation is that over 50 million Americans will be seen as without health insurance for 2009 unless they all qualify for medicaid because there is so little cash left in their bank accounts.

Does doing nothing in fact lead us to the single-payer solution? Congressman Joe Wilson, did I see you raise your hand?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

knut hamsun and hunger

n+1 offers this tasty morsel on Knut Hamsun to celebrate the Hamsun Festival (a celebration of Hunger?) in Norway.

Hamsun's biography--including the starvation and dramatics of his youth--always leads me to a degree of sympathy in spite of his fascist choices in his later years. (Hamsun "had Jewish friends" but sided with Hitler during Germany's occupation of Norway.) If you read the article, you'll see that most Norwegians still regard him as a traitor (which he was), but forgiveness for this "national treasure" could also be a path to profitable marketing of literary celebrity.

Starvation, isolation, alienation, or extreme hardship of any kind is "street cred" for many writers--even if the writer has chosen this path of hardship. In America, this often means identification with writers from affluent backgrounds--parents who brought plenty of bacon back to suburban homes--because the writer chose a path of greater resistance in his youth. So some of the anomalies of contemporary American "alienation" literature include down-and-out protagonists who nonetheless drive used SUVs, earn teaching stipends in MFA programs, or otherwise appear to avoid work, genuine hardship, or starvation. I'm not certain Knut Hamsun would have any tolerance for this.

My favorite anecdote from Hamsun's biography is how he cured himself of tuberculosis by riding hundred of miles on top of a train headed for New York. (Hunger or no, he was able to scrap together change to attempt survival in the new world.) In the various editions of paperback translations, you can find interesting introductions by Isaac Beshevis Singer, Robert Bly, Paul Auster, and others. You'll have to sift through amazon.com's listing to find these since many modern capitalists--small and large--are selling their own versions of his book in hardcover, tradepaper, and "e" format. I'm pretty sure that this is completely legal since the copyright has expired.

Speaking of hunger, retail sales were up in August, and it appears auto sales--new cars in exchange for clunkers plus your cash or debt obligation--were not the only retail driving this "positive indicator." I'll go out on a limb here and predict that America also bought large portions of food in all its varieties--free range, organic, unhealthy, fortified, with additives, fattening, locally-grown, mass-marketed, and enriched. Are we out of the economic woods? I don't know, but I'm hoping fewer of us will be living there by the winter months.

Monday, September 7, 2009

near the end of a jobless decade

At www.whenfallsthecoliseum.com, over the weekend, I dabble in the personal-finance question in light of the transition-of-power question as well as the fear-for-security question. No doubt, a short, limp end to the aughts awaits.

In closing, I'd like to thank the last novel I'll read for leisure in some time, Jonathan Ames's Wake Up, Sir!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Insomnia

a few half-thoughts:

a) My destiny is to create a new brand of insomnia and then market it door to door during the graveyard shift.

b) I read that sleep apnea can be caused by fat deposits surrounding the neck area. The fat obstructs the breathing it seems. I resolve to adapt more aggressive shaving techniques. Problem solved.

c) At 3 a.m., I read that Philip Roth describes his nights as full of post-it notes attached all over his body and midnight runs to the writing studio. A mere mortal, I walk to the fridge.

to be continued; of course.