Saturday, September 29, 2012

austerity triplex (conforming loans only, please)

And here's the "real news" from Germany where a political leader, representing the more marginalized citizens, states, and pardon my possible paraphrase, that "austerity is the ideology of the ruling class." As you might imagine, it's the poor who go with less or without under such policies, and the video considers how German businesses are also hurt when citizens in Greece and Spain have little to no spending power beyond that which will go to the most basic necessities.

Back home, a recent year's worth of Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs-growth reporting was revised upward by almost 400,000, and although that is but a small dent in the supposed 23 million without work, or without as much work as they'd like, it is somewhat ironic that the "year" reported on seems almost entirely contained within the period where there was intense gridlock and a blocked jobs bill in Congress. Here's an excerpt from the Forbes article:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is out with its annual update to benchmark unemployment numbers (for the more cynical among you, the BLS does this every fall so this is not a number being ‘timed’ for the election), and the numbers reveal that 386,000 more non-farm jobs were actually created between March, 2011 and April 2012 than what had been originally reported.

The figures represent a variance from the previous data of 0.3 which sits right at the norm for annual benchmark adjustments which are typically up or down by 0.3 percent.

As a result of the revision, the Obama administration can now claim a net job increase of 125,000 rather than what had previously been believed to be a net loss of 261,000 jobs.

Of course, it remains a muddle, but it still feels like things are bad and not improving, or not improving fast enough, for millions and millions of workers throughout Europe and America. And, in some countries and counties, of course, they seem to be getting worse.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Austerity redux

Data shows second helpings, ice-cream sundaes, and extra cheese are all polling higher than economic austerity programs, particularly if said measures are linked to other countries' banks or governments. Krugman and the Palestinians are against austerity, too.

This guy, a law or economics professor somewhere in the middle of America, has some good ironic analysis on how ostensibly lefty Labor in England attempted to woo American finance with less regulation while some in the Republican party stateside are writing books attacking deregulatory policies.

Just when you think you have it all sorted out. . .

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

hard times

I read and watched, about Madrid and then Athens and then London. People all over the world are eating out of dumpsters; they need food. Donate if you can.

But I eat too much, and I know I could stand to lose a few or fifteen, and the Jewish New Year offered just such an opportunity.

For Yom Kippur, it was easy on Iran and Israel for me, but I cheated with liquids, milk in the coffee, orange juice, etc. before finally succumbing to a sandwich around 5 p.m. That's not fasting a full day, I know.

What's on your mind?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Rise of Capitalism

This past week in contemporary literature, we delved into Donald Barthelme's comedy of death and sex in elementary ed. Which is to say, we read, "The School" and "Me and Miss Mandible." George Saunders (see "The Perfect Gerbil") might argue that Donald Barthelme's tension doesn't rise quite so much in "The Rise of Capitalism" as it does in "The School," but he certainly has some good thoughts and sentences throughout. Let's call it a fine blend of comedy and tragedy, or at least melodrama, belly whoops, and rage. I found the text online and also as a video reading from an anonymous fan.

Of course, a guy published continually in The New Yorker can afford to add a little whimsy to his capitalist gloom. Homeboy (he was born in Philly, but he was almost dead before I even knew he was a writer) went through a pile of wives and held the central position in letters that half of literary fiction writers would die for. If he was miserable and crushed by deadlines and alimonies, so be it.

In the end about all you can say about The Dead Father is, "Heck of a writer. Genius. Pure. That Donny B. could write his ass so far off it'd carry his cojones halfway to the heavens before floating back down to fertile ground."

But back to capitalism, I suppose that the profit motive is a main reason the other restaurants used cheap noodles to drive the respectable proprietor out of business in J.A. Pak's short tale of the woes of pho. The owner-turned-server is dismayed in a more straightforward way than Donald Barthelme's ironic narrator of "The Rise of Capitalism," but both stories leave us with doubt and fear about "the system."

From the Barthelme: "Capitalism arose and took off its pajamas. Another day, another dollar. . ."

Speaking of which, I need to lie down before I finally get out of the house.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chestnut Hill Book Festival 9/30

Although the lovely and talented Cyrus Duffleman will be missed, this fall's Chestnut Hill Book Festival offers a competitive array of literature and politics. Perhaps no longer so "Easy" Ed Rendell is leading the charge to the evening's lasagna room, but Philadelphia Stories, Painted Bride Quarterly, Temple's Miles Orvell and so much more are proudly representing for the City of Brotherly Love.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

bobos sneakers

I found myself trying to explain Bobos in class the other day. I can't remember the context, but I was able to sing a couple lines: "Bobos, they make your feet feel fine./Bobos, they cost a $1.99." Inspired by "news" at about an essay from a guy my age who grew up poor, I found myself googling for Bobos sneakers and wound up at this fun post by Philly writer Solomon Jones. Here's an excerpt:

When I was growing up, if your mom bought you bobos instead of Jack Purcells or Pro-Keds, you prayed they weren’t the kind with the conspicuous red or blue stripe running around the side. If they were (and God was especially merciful), your mom scraped up another $1.99 before the rubber began to crack.

When you got your new bobos, you threw the old ones up on the wire at the end of the block. Then you tried your best to wear out the new ones quickly, hoping your mom would get the message and buy you something better next time.

Long and short of it, bobos are bad news, and everyone from my generation knows it.

So when I came home last week and my wife, LaVeta, said, “Honey, I got some new sneakers,” I was expecting something along the lines of Nike Airs.

But when she removed them from the box, they were something else altogether. White leather with red stripes, rubber that was white instead of yellow, an intricate logo on the top. There was no denying it. Neither the quality of the material nor the fancy logo could hide the horrible truth.


To me, in the current culture it is almost apostasy to mention that poor children can also be happy, at least some of the time, but I like the way Solomon Jones has a way of reminding us that being poor is not an entirely miserable experience. I was never one of the kids who threw his sneakers over the wire, but I did play wire ball (an extremely modified urban street version of baseball) in my Bobos. I didn't yet know that I was supposed to be too embarrassed to wear them.

All the same, I don't mean to diminish the importance of writing on childhood poverty from folks like John Scalzi.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

graphic classroom

Thanks to Atticus's Dan Cafaro and Nathan Holic for the next installment of the graphic-novel interpretation of Fight for Your Long Day. There's a lot going on at the Atticus Books website as well, including the novel-in-emails, The Book I Will Write and a series on rejection letters from contributors far and wide.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Occupy Wall Street

They're back, and rumor has it the standard IQ test, if there is such a thing, will soon include a choose the video that represents the safest place to live, and then they show the one with peaceful protestors with cameras and phones costing at least hundreds of dollars per year or the one with the angry people, angry men, I should say. And then the five-year-old soon to be given an intelligence label, packaged, and sent to school will choose.

Please pardon the cynicism, but that contrast was noted as well as the fact that women seem fully integrated, even in the majority of the OWS protests whereas they are completely absent from the scenes of seas of angry men oceans away.

Maybe the question is how did we arrive at this place where people can afford amazingly sophisticated electronic equipment without necessarily having a place to live?

(One woman in the OWS video reports living at Bank of America for seven months after getting evicted from an OWS encampment.)

As usual, then, a muddle.

Time to get to work, folks.

gender gap

The "gender gap" (not to be confused with the "debt ceiling" or "fiscal cliff" but no doubt viewed for free as long as we fund our national parks) in writing is something I've noticed, informally, for many years. I've never studied it or surveyed a class or even averaged my grades by gender to see what is in fact the what, but it has always seemed like there were more engaged girls than boys in my college writing classes.

And here is some support from a study of 8th and 12th-graders. And here are a couple paragraphs from the article that describes the study:

Education analyst Susan Pimentel, one of the team presenting the test scores on Friday’s NAEP conference call, said that while this test cannot determine cause and effect, there are some clues as to why the gap exists. Students were surveyed to find out some additional information about them as they took the test. Among those surveyed, said Pimentel, 53% of girls agreed or strongly agreed that “Writing is one of my favorite activities”, but only 35% of the boys felt that way. Since writing improves with practice, she said this is “an important variable to observe.”

According to the survey, 39% of 12th-graders said they write only one page of homework or less per week in English, which is also of concern as high school teachers focus on college readiness as one of the goals of the Common Core State Standards, said Pimentel.

And my final two cents:

In 2012, there is tremendous wage pressure on many different kinds of professions where writing is the primary job task, and yet, it still seems like good writing skills are a path to college and an important complementary skill to almost any career.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kentucky on my mind

Yeah, first they came for the Jews, and I was not a Jew, etc., but then, later, when the bars were closing down, they came for the KFC, and, well, frankly, I've lived most of my life like a fried, breaded drumstick stuck in the grease at the bottom of the bucket, wedged between an oppressive thigh and an angular wing with a pointy part in the small of my back, and what I'm trying to tell you is that even Chick-Fil-A cannot save us, no matter how well they crucify their Palin, from our complicity in the food riots that global future markets expect within a year.

Driving up here, I heard Michael Savage on the radio practically drooling as he described the murdered American embassy leader getting sodomized by the enemy, a story I have not seen acknowledged by mainstream media and hopefully this is not in the way that Savage would have you believe the mainstream media fails to acknowledge, and I guess all we can do is frequent KFCs the world over, with American pride and indigestion as we live our lives in defiance of everyone who hates us or just prefers we not hog so much of the dark meat and biscuits as we get caught reading and wondering about articles like this one.

(For all we know, Savage could be a secret Communist double agent because the weight loss advertisement in the middle of his website seems to clearly advocate against plucking from the bucket that extra piece of capitalist chicken!)

I guess it all returns to Kentucky, the last beautiful state I drove through before crossing into Ohio where in a second-hand bookshop on Friday evening, I found Kentucky writer Chris Offutt's short story "Second Hand" collected with others in a recent but remaindered Algonquin edition of best new stories from the South. (Is Kentucky in the South?)

May God Bless The Less United States of America.

And you, too.


Read about Manacci's double mitzvah in the middle of his rather heroic life if you want to be reminded of how little we've done with our own lives. I'm not sure if this is enough to get him invited to the State of the Union, but he's scoring high in the Less United States of Kudera, which happens to be blogging live from a Starbucks close to the fiefdom of Manacci, Ohio on this calm new year.

And around the world, alas, some folks are not so keen to celebrate. What else is ever new?

Shana Tova, Manacci! Shana Tova, the miserable and wretched around the world, and Shana Tova, the rest of us.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

james baldwin

In contemporary literature, we dove into James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"; I couldn't find the perfect snippet of video to share with students, so this one had to suffice. His expressed thoughts on his father are interesting: "He was. . .  rigid. . . this is, in effect, what killed him. There was something in him that could not bend. He could only be broken."

Perhaps the malleable have the best chance of outlasting the rest of us?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

rest in peace

Only the good die young? Of course, it's only an expression, part of a song, and possibly, at this point, a cliche, but it seems to apply here in the sense that a good man, a "stand-up guy," was killed at age 33.

This father worked second and third jobs to make ends meet, bought gifts for the children of coworkers, and saved a local business from robbery.

And now, nothing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

worker participation

"The result is that the percentage of working-age Americans with a job or looking for one has dropped to 63.5 percent, a 31-year low."

Maybe it's too easy to blame it all on the Koch Brothers, the "Food Stamp President," Republican blocking and tackling in Congress, technological advancement, global warming, American obesity or generalized sluggishness, alleged worker abuses by apple in China,'s monopoly on everything, the unusually hot summer, a global earthquake pandemic, or the Wal-Mart in Central, SC raising the price of gallon of milk to $3.87 soon after all "permanent" state employees received a 3 percent raise?

Yes, yahoo, why did unemployment fall?

Robin Hoods Around the Web

In honor of the "grim" jobs report, I found myself back in shelter for the poor.

A facebook friend shared with me a Robin Hood in Spain, and then within the comments of that video I chanced upon a URL link to an older blog about Cheri Honkala, a protest leader from Philly with a long history of activitism. In 2011, Honkala ran and lost for Sheriff of Philadelphia so that she could have worked as an official power against the banks and use selective enforcement of the law to help poor people facing foreclosure remain in their homes. Regardless of one's political orientation, it is difficult not to be moved by the first video or the concerns expressed in the blog.

An excerpt from the blog, This Can't Be Happening, dated April 27, 2011:

Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley, who is not running, has said, “We have to follow court orders, and that’s what sheriff’s sales are.” But what Deeley doesn't understand is Honkala is not running for the same Sheriff's job Deeley is currently holding. While Kromer wants to eliminate the office, Honkala wants to transform it into an ombudsman for the poor in the city of Philadelphia.

In this sense, Honkala’s campaign revolves around one of the most un-reported realities of American governance, something as American as apple pie, something seen throughout American history and something that always will be with us: The willful selective enforcement of our laws.

It ranges from George W. Bush's notorious “signing statements” concerning laws passed by Congress to the 55 mile per hour speed limit. Historically, you saw it in things like “vagrancy” laws used to selectively snare certain poor people for chain gang labor; you saw it in literacy tests in the south where a black man would be asked to read a line of Greek but a white man would get a “Hello, right this way” to the ballot box. In general, it’s the ugly, prejudicial backside of police and judicial discretion.

It’s often such a taken-for-granted part of American governance that no one really notices it. The wealthy, the powerful, the popular and the white tend to get the breaks, which come in the form of mitigating circumstances, good character reports and assurances the individual is sorry and didn’t really mean it. On the other hand, the poor, the powerless, the unattractive, the mentally ill and the darker races tend – and statistics back this up – to get the opposite: the assumption of laziness or evil intent, projections of fear and just flat-out prejudice.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Steve Almond for POTUS

While one Wesleyan writer carts her son off to college, another brings the heavy metal back to the Oval Office. As usual, Steve Almond is passionate and funny, if in a somber way, but as for the former, I found her NYTimes Op-Ed to be interesting writing but also couldn't help contrast how her life experiences with her partner have differed so greatly from the women filmed in this CNN video on food insecurity and hunger. It seems as if Americans are still voting for lifestyle issues and between competing "moralities" and yet the issues of economic injustice remain, at least to me, so much more significant. Of course, the two sets of issues should not be forced to compete with each other.

And in other news, hundreds of thousands of jobs were reportedly added to the economy and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared higher today, so to an extent, I'm drawn to doubt all this downer talk of downturns and economic despair. My students though, at least the ones who expressed a view, are under the impression it is extremely difficult to get a career-type position, and almost all the jobs we see advertised are the ones college students don't want.

So we did the whole "except for nursing and engineering" thing and then moved on to the stories.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography has a new 12-part serialized audiobook coming this fall. By chance, it features two former Ultimate Frisbee players, Ben Tanzer and Kevin Haworth along with ten other writers, music by Ken Kase, and "cliffhangers at the end of each chapter and a dark, weird tone throughout."

Who said weird tones weren't alive and well in this unusually austere age?

My favorite CCLaP read so far has been Ben Tanzer's 99 Problems, a memoir written just after a series of runs in various parts of the U.S. (The other other runs, dude.)

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