Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn

During the State of the Union address, I caught the AP story of Howard Zinn's passing. In the article, the "plug" for A People's History of the United States within the film Good Will Hunting is mentioned. I often find a way to bring this up in various classes, mainly because my hunch is a whole bunch of students would have seen and enjoyed the movie. Anyway, Matt Damon tells his therapist (Robin Williams) that he has read "the wrong books," and implies that A People's History would be one of the right ones. "It'll knock your socks off," is how Damon puts it... or something like that.

I gave my father a hardcover copy of A People's History somewhat late in his life, and then it was returned to me when he passed on. I remember that it became another way in which we didn't quite connect although I believe we both appreciated the effort here. He expressed some dissatisfaction with the general argument of the book, and I could respect the how and why of what my father said, and yet it was also surprising to me because my father seemed to embody so many qualities that Zinn embraced--in particular, willingness to question authority and deep feelings for the little guy faced by the power of our country's various institutions.

Zinn joins my father now, and I leave this blog humming some Allen-Ginsberg blues passed on to the young earlier in the day. "Father death" and "father breath" and for your loved ones too who live in your memory, may peace of heart be your comfort. This is what I envision and concentrate upon.

For a richer obituary for Howard Zinn, see this one at The Washington Post.

*PS on 10/22/2019--My father told me that he believed in personal responsibility and, "You got to get out there and hustle for a buck." This was quite possibly during our conversation on Zinn.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2666 and the triangle offense???

I suspect some of you remember Phil Jackson's first year with the Lakers when Kobe Bryant received Paul Beatty's The White Boy Shuffle while Shaq got stuck with Nietzsche's version of the Superman (Thus Spake or Spoke, you decide). This time around, it looks like a few players got lucky with Walter Mosley novels while Ron Artest will be quizzed on Thus Spake Phil and Pau Gasol earned Roberto Bolano's thousand pager, 2666. I guess Phil knows Pau has time to read on the exercise bike as he paces himself to full hamstring strength.

Here's the full roster of Phil's reads at The New Yorker.

And, yes, I know I'm the last person who should be questioning anyone else's injuries and recoveries. Oy.

iain levison with french subtitles

Here's a nifty clip of Iain Levison discussing struggling in America: He reminds us that since 1980, Congress voted against raising the minimum wage 15 times while raising its own pay 5 times. (I'm sure many of you have experienced something similar within your own workplace.) If you prefer your dose of American reality in novel form, check out his How To Rob An Armored Car or Dog Eats Dog at Iain continues to live what he writes and is working outdoors this winter. Nice guy and good writer. For USK's own interview, click:

Monday, January 18, 2010

jon lee anderson is in haiti

I'm trying hard to save money and remain a lapsed New Yorker subscriber, but Jon Lee Anderson sure doesn't make it easy. I'd say his international reporting from the past ten years has been my favorite of all the stuff I've read; as you may know, he has written from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war-torn countries. Well, at least this text-messaged interview is online:

To me, he communicates a humanity that overcomes any sense one could get of "professional gawking" from the war correspondent; also, he must have endured numerous dangerous moments along his journey to completed stories, and I don't recall ever getting a sense of machismo, false bravado, or any other dislikeable traits that end in "o." With my own occasional tendency to brag--about the goofiest things imaginable, like frisbee throws and fiction translations, he reminds me of what a ridiculous joker I can be. I'll end with some amateur fan mail.

Dear Jon Lee Anderson:

Keep writing and drink water!



Saturday, January 16, 2010

Auster and Delillo at the wall

I believe the video on this page includes authors Paul Auster and Don Delillo watching major-league baseball from, as you might imagine, great seats: . USK didn't make it to the game but is cited on the same page.

winter scenes

At S.R. Sheldon's photography blog, you can find snow-covered graves and other scenes from the iced-over life:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

to help haiti

I'm sure you can find these on your own, but here is an article with many different links to aid agencies:


So what else is new?

I heard about the tragedy in Haiti last night and after the usual lament for the already so poor and disenfranchised islanders, my disorganized, tired mind thought about Samuel Dalembert (the much maligned Haitian-Canadian center for the Philly 76ers) before I thought about my singer-writer friend Cassendre Xavier, who had been kind enough to show me her cover art for a recent book she is completing. If you follow this blog, you might recall USK's interview with her in March, 2009.

Anyway, it seems to be more of the same, the poor getting dumped on in the worst ways imaginable while the rest of us try to save or protect or build upon our own little lot in life. Roberto Bolano's "Maurico (The Eye) Silva" is on my mind when I think about the futility of the situation, but I think about Voltaire's Candide and its "philosopher" Pangloss too.

Many Haitians live in the larger Philadelphia region, and I was fortunate enough to know a married Haitian couple who lived in my father's third floor at 44th and Pine for a couple years of my childhood. The husband's name was Antoine Astache (spelling is probably off), and he had been on the radio in Haiti, speaking against whatever government was spoken against in the 1970s. He was a very warm person, and I remember running into him years later in a movie theater and being greeted again with his kind smile.

I believe that my 8th grade French teacher, Mr. Bien-Amie (yes, "Mr. Good Friend") was also from Haiti, and I remember a classmate's tape-recorded rap that included the refrain of "Fermez La Bouche," followed by "You shut up!" in the way that this kind teacher would repeat in English when the message warranted it.

I also know that Philly, poor in its own way, couldn't find anyone to pay to accept a huge ship full of its garbage that for this reason wound up floating around the ocean for months and months (years if I'm not mistaken, years during our John-Street years if I recall correctly). In the end, as I remember it, Philadelphia paid Haiti to accept this malodorous bounty; we paid their government to leave our trash on their beach. (In fact, this Steven Hayward article says, "Even Haiti wouldn't take it," and in fact, I am mistaken about the dates too... if this is the same ship, then its travels began in 1982.)

If you would like to donate to Haiti, here is one URL that can help.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

when a blogger falls in the forest...

...I'm guessing he scrapes his knee, moans about his lower back, checks his hand-held computer for signs of disrepair, and laments that no one hears him except the forest gnomes.

In other words, the semester has begun, and I may have very limited opportunity to lose my two cents in the woods.


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