Monthly Archives: June 2011

Poetry from Chang’an: Du Fu

The lamplight shines on my sleeplessness,
My mind clear, I smell the splendid incense.
Deep in the night, the hall rears up high,
The wind stirs, and gold is heard to clank.
The black sky masks the springtime court,
To the pure earth clings a hidden fragrance.
The Jade Rope wheels round and is cut,
The iron phoenix seems about to soar.
Sanskrit sometimes flows out from the temple,
The lingering bells still echo round my bed.
Tomorrow morning in the fertile field,
I’ll bitterly behold the yellow dirt.

–755-757 CE

The Qinling mountains “crowd upon Chang’an,” we learned in school.

Axé.

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An Idea

I have wondered about all these posts put up by people who did not get or have not yet gotten tenure track jobs and are disappointed because they were told they surely would. We, of course, were told we surely wouldn’t and I have wondered who is now telling people they surely will.

It occurs to me that it may be done so as to form students who actually can be professors — for it is my crowd, now a tenured crowd, who were told we were likely to end up as adjuncts if anything. We were valuable as teachers and as contributions to statistics — number of degrees awarded — but we would not be valuable once finished, we were told. We were mere by-products of this research machine, wherein certain ivy-crowned boy-stars shone brightly.

This assessment of our likely futures was actually not realistic, because many did in fact get jobs. It also did not set us up to do well, to take our work seriously, to think of ourselves as professionals. So perhaps there is a worthwhile, if slightly misguided reason to lead people to believe that yes they will. What do you think of my hypothesis?

Axé.

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Oppose Vitter’s 3-D: The Domestic Jobs, Domestic Energy, and Deficit Reduction Act

Him, by e-mail:

Dear Friend,

Last week, the Obama administration announced it would release 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).  The SPR is normally only used during true emergencies, most recently after Hurricane Katrina and the 1991 Gulf War disrupted our oil supplies – but as the New Orleans Times-Picayune said in an editorial today, “The current conditions are not those kind of emergencies.”

As long as the Obama administration continues to virtually shut down energy exploration here at home, this opening of the emergency reserve will do absolutely nothing to help our long-term supply problem, and it certainly won’t put the Gulf energy industry back to work. We need long-term, expansive domestic energy measures like my plan known as 3-D: The Domestic Jobs, Domestic Energy, and Deficit Reduction Act of 2011.  The 3-D Act would unleash America’s vast domestic energy potential to create more than 2 million jobs, $10 trillion in economic activity and $2 trillion in federal tax receipts, according to conservative 30-year estimates.

The Energy Information Administration recently estimated that domestic offshore oil production would decline by 220,000 barrels per day this year due to the effects of the Obama administration’s virtual shutdown of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. That is equivalent to more than 80 million barrels less oil per year – nearly three times as much as the Obama administration has decided to release from the SPR.

This is now the second time that the Obama administration has admitted that supply is the main problem behind our rising gas prices – first came their encouragement of other countries like Brazil to step up their production, and now comes this move to open our own SPR.

Instead of tapping into our emergency reserves as the Obama administration wants to do, we need to focus on a long-term solution by opening up our proven offshore reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. [emphasis added]

Sincerely,

David Vitter
United States Senator

I consider myself forewarned, and I am warning you. Every time I get really tired of the Democrats, a Republican contacts me offering yet worse.

Axé.

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Tree of Life

A.

Tree of Life does a good job of filming the dreamlike experience of childhood. It is set in the fifties, but I experienced the world that way, in clips and images, in the sixties. I remember very clearly the day JFK was killed. We prayed and saluted the flag in school. The teachers and upperclassmen had dark suits with white shirts and red ties. It was not entirely clear to me who Kennedy had been, or what Washington, DC was.

The adults were discussing Presidents a great deal at that time. I did not know this word and thought they must be planning some large, municipal Christmas present. I found this strange because there had not been such a present before. Yet the next year, I had things in much sharper focus: Johnson, Goldwater, “escalation;” Congo, Dominican Repbublic, Viet Nam.

B.

Why is it that those born between 1946 and 1964 are considered egotistical? When did the U.S. economy really start to weaken? I ask because I want to know who is responsible for insisting that people my age are egotistical and that we benefited from a strong economy. I have been hearing this since the above referenced era and I would be interested in an explanation.

The point made to me during the Johnson administration was we had not experienced the Depression, we had not experienced the War, and we did not know History. My thoughts then were that (a) there was another war on, with draft counseling at my school and memorial announcements for those who shipped out and did not come back; and (b) Ruby Bridges might not have experienced the Depression or the War, yet she was not in a bed of roses.

What I do not understand now is why people imagine you can have been born in the 60s and also created them. In fact the creators of the counterculture, which I hardly considered “egotistical” and to which I was not opposed, were older. Most were born before the 1939-1945 war and their predecessors, before the Depression.

C.

I stand by those points and could expand upon them, but what I do not understand are certain myths about the economy. From the early seventies on I remember high inflation, high interest rates, shrinking opportunities and growing unemployment. The cost of living seemed to go up sharply again in the mid eighties — it felt like shifting into another gear. It really seems to me that the beneficiaries of the post war economic boom were not those born during it but those who were in their twenties and thirties during it.

Yet people in my age group are considered privileged and wasteful (and I do emphasize that I was in elementary school when I was first taught this was the case); we are also credited with revolutionary energies and creativity that were not ours. I suspect that there are dark motives behind the dissemination of these myths. I would like to know how they were formed and propagated, and why.

Axé.

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The Fat Man

Axé.

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Post Cards

Dear Professor Zero,

It is time once again to remind you to bring _______ in for his yearly vaccination. You may reach our office at ______.

Yours,
Veterinarian One.

Dear Veterinarian One,

Thank you for your post card. I regret to say that _______ went out on 2 March of this year and did not return. His microchip is still active. He liked you very much.

Yours,
Professor Zero.

Axé.

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On Sexism and Gender Harassment in Maringouin

THEM

What I dislike about life in Maringouin is the invasiveness — all the assaults on space and integrity and dignity. You have to have better protection than I do to avoid this, and you have to stay on guard at all times, which is not my personality. That is why I like to go to New Orleans and Houston and Mexico — so I can relax.

I do not relax here because I can be in the office with a do not disturb sign on the door, yet the janitors open it with their keys, and students grab the doorknob and shake it while knocking insistently. Or I walk down the street to the mail box, and pickup trucks stop to ask whether I “need a ride” — or police stop me to ask whether I am hooking. Once a feminist professor stopped to say I looked like I was hooking because I was walking along the sidewalk in the kind of clothes one would wear to teach, and not in an official exercise outfit.

These things make me somewhat agoraphobic here and I do not really feel comfortable until I am into 5th gear on the freeway, breathing a sigh of relief because I feel safe at last. That is why, here in Maringouin, I stay at home as much as I do, and why it has been so traumatic these last months to have that home invaded by this painter who just had to ask questions and make remarks like:

♦ If I were your student, would you give me a good grade because we’re friends? Really not? Wow! That really shows something about you! What a strong character! I wouldn’t have expected that! Let me ask you again, would you give me a good grade because we’re friends?

♦ What are your parents like? Why aren’t you married? Why are they? Who are you sleeping with? Do you do women? I am a Christian, but I am not opposed to adultery. Are you? Will you come to our church?

♦ The reason the job in this room is better than the job in that room is that I decided to help you out by doing a better job in that room for free. (Z: No, we negotiated the job quality of the first room very specifically, and of the second room quite specifically as well.)

It has been exhausting and I am exhausted but it is over. I wish I were finished paying this person so he could be definitively gone. I am sorry I turned out not to like this person because it is hard to find people. He does good work when he wants to, and the men he has working under him are nice. The other problem is that I know these people even at their worst are not doing a worse job for me than they would for themselves — it is just that they are billing themselves as experts, and do have expertise, and are being paid much more than minimum wage (actually more than I make, hour for hour) because they have that expertise.

ME

I wish the kind of invasiveness, the manipulation, and the humiliation I have gone through with this person did not raise in me this flaming, draining rage, but it has; perhaps that is why we have the term outrage. I keep thinking there is some ultra dignified way I could be so that these things did not happen, or wishing I could learn to have ultra quick responses.

What really happens is, I feel blindsided and go into shock for a day or so. Then it takes me another day or two to understand why, what the structure of the interaction has been, why it is I feel dishonored — walked on is one of the images, and the other is beaten up and then thrown out of a pickup truck onto the side of the road. Then I feel the white hot rage, sometimes in precise proportion to the event which has taken place and other times, and sometimes not. Then I have to figure out what to do about it, and then recover from that, and it is all very exhausting.

It is as though I had played possum in order to survive while a bulldozer rolled over me. Then, waking up and surveying my injuries, I am incensed. The mundane meaning of this could be that I never learned to deal with conflict and anger, but there is a political meaning to it, too, which is the title of this post: sexism and gender harassment.

ANALYSIS

It is partly because of these reactions that I prefer not to live in colonial spaces or sugar producing societies, and not to deal with conservative Christians since they are so misogynistic and see the abuse of women as so normal. Maringouin, of course, has all these characteristics and attributes. This is why I feel so unsafe here and why it is so hard for me to concentrate on anything — and why I feel so ashamed that mere discipline and scheduling does not work for me.

I am a day person but I often stay up most of the night, often, because the nighttime feels so much safer; I am so much less likely to be accosted by someone then. I must, must learn how to reclaim my space. My former method was to live in New Orleans and commute to Maringouin, but this is not possible for me now. What people with a little more disposable income than I have do is, be in Maringouin when classes are in only, spend all their time in the office, leave Friday at the close of business, leave for weeks or months at a time as soon as they turn grades in.

Men and tourists do not always understand this methodology and I have heard it called “snobbish” more than once, but I really think it is a measure taken in defense of psychological safety and so as to put oneself in a position to do good work. It is not available to me, however, in any kind of reliable way and I must learn how to repel the local intrusiveness in a better way.

STRATEGY

I think two elements in this would be to endow oneself with power — we are told to protect ourselves but I think it is more effective by far to be powerful — and to see everything as funny. So, rather than, “What happened? … Oh … I just had my integrity and honor insulted … How irritating,” one would have an instant response to these remarks sallies that came from a very secure place and thus enabled one to see them as funny.

Like me, responding to piropos, or like the job candidate we had once long ago, in one of my departments, who kept laughing at the (highly) inappropriate remarks made by several full professors. “Haha!” she would say. “Is it still legal in this state to say that? Haha! Let’s move on to talk about books!” (Yes, she got the job.)

Yet still, the correct situation would have been not to put her through an interview run that way, and the correct situation for me would be to not have to sit here trying to reconfigure myself such that I can have the best possible reactions to sexism and gender harassment. (Note too that I tend to think I overreact, but when I tell people what has gone on they usually say I underreact.)

Axé.

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The Order of Things

Here comes a very nice blog post on change, ideology, security, and if you wish, Foucault. The difference between 1972 and now is that this song was proposed and also allowed be sung at Ossining, New York.

(I doubt any prison in the US would allow that refrain to be sung now; I am not sure it was kind to sing those depressing verses; this performance seems dated to me; Baez is so maternal, I want to wince.)

When the song came out I thought it had come too late.  It was sentimental, stylized, commercial, I thought, a commodity; it seemed like something a museum shop might fashion in the style of the previous decade. But it is we who are late now.

*

A few years after that song came out I declined the opportunity to visit San Quentin, but did visit a prisoner in the city of Rio de Janeiro. His leg had exploded under the electric shocks because he had a metal plate in it due to an earlier accident.

He was in a cage with an exploded leg when the priest walked by. The diocese was contacted, as were the civil authorities and the family. They lived in a different South American country. Could I go and see him?

I was allowed in the prison on the basis of showing identification. We had no background check, we were barely searched, and we brought food in. It is much more difficult to visit a prisoner in the United States.

*

I need to visit a prisoner and I have been putting it off. It costs some money — mileage, canteen food for two or three, a gift perhaps so they can buy aspirin and thing. It is a long, interesting but also sad day, and I have done it before. But the reason I am putting it off is the pressure.

I  will refuse multiple requests for small, yet time consuming errands (please go through all the telephone books in my parish and find my cousin…), and listen politely to a large dose of not quite applicable fatherly advice. Conversation with this prisoner is all too much like  conversation with a department chair.

*

Nonetheless I think you, too, should sponsor a prisoner, or their wife or child. Realize what it costs to accept a phone call from a prison what it costs to visit and how difficult that is if you go by bus, and that life in prison is not free — a lot of basic things like xeroxing cost money, just as they do elsewhere.

About 4% of Louisiana adults are incarceratedour rate of incarceration is the highest in the nation. If you think of the impact that has on families, and you realize that these people are poor, and you then look at exactly how poor you must be to qualify for any kind of aid, you can see that this is a real need.

Axé.

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Clifton Chenier

This is Clifton, 25/VI/1925 – 12/XII/1987. Here is another great video with short explanations of the music, partly by Clifton himself: “I’m from New Orleans, I’m a Frenchman….”

Finally, for people interested in the dance, here is a good clip from one of the festivals I have never been to, but promise to attend next year.

Axé.

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A vida passada a limpo

Amor é privilégio de maduros
estendidos na mais estreita cama,
que se torna a mais larga e mais relvosa,
roçando, em cada poro, o céu do corpo.

É isto, amor: o ganho não previsto,
o prêmio subterrâneo e coruscante,
leitura de relâmpago cifrado,
que, decifrado, nada mais existe

valendo a pena e o preço do terrestre,
salvo o minuto de ouro no relógio
minúsculo, vibrando no crepúsculo.

Amor é o que se aprende no limite,
depois de se arquivar toda a ciência
herdada, ouvida. Amor começa tarde.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, “Amor e seu tempo,” in A vida passada a limpo (1959)

Axé.

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