Being Tired and Feeling Down


In a flophouse room
At the epicenter of America
A neon sign blinking red
Through the cold window
He sits quietly
Like a small idea
In a vacant mind.

At earlier times
In other rooms
Dusky afternoons
Seemed like birds sitting
In fragrant orchard trees
Making a few concluding remarks.

Or how as evening fell,
The sky tore open
Like a fisherman’s net
And the brilliant moon swam out.

But that was then
And this is now.

O’ What a Tangled Web They Weave


A Tangled Bush in Tangled Bushes

From the perspective of creative fantasy, one might think of a tangled bush or a tangle of bushes as a metaphor for what some might think of as a mulitiple personality disorder. Or perhaps, more correctly, as a cluster of traits that resemble what some have claimed to represent a “multiple personality disorder.”

Such a tangle is at the same time a thicket, which adds multiple dimensions to the metaphoric interpretive possibilities. Elaborations of these thoughts will follow in updates and revisions of this post, as significant national political events continue to unfold and come to light.

[Update 1]

There presently appear to be many faces to the present political administration, and to the leader of that administration. None of them are particularly benign. One almost imagines that if our current President were completely alone in the Oval Office, the door would be closed with a sign reading, “Please knock to see who’s in.” The Emperor fiddles while his nation burns. And, it seems to be more and more possible that he and some members of his own ruling party are the very ones carrying the torches.

One might suddenly be struck with images of Richard Nixon wandering the White House halls at night mumbling nonsense to the pictures on the wall. Are there any who worry that we are veering dangerously close to a totalitarian regime, all the while championing “democracy” around the world? And who among us are truly brave enough to express those worries?

Ponder these possible indications that this regime is spiralling out of control:

The disastrous lack of response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
Harriet Miers’ undeserved nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The embarrassing mind of the man who nominated her.
The indictment of I. Lewis Libby, Chief Advisor to V.P. Cheney.
Libby’s legal defense: “I can’t remember.”
The mystery of why Vice-President Cheney has not yet been indicted.
The mystery of why Carl Rove has not yet been indicted.
The investigation of Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.
The indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
The finding of no evidence of WMP in Iraq.
The death count of more than 2,000 American soldiers’ in Iraq.
The evaporation of the Consitutional separation of church and state.
The Evangelical Christian control of the American government.
The Evangelical Christian domination over the President’s mind.

A tangled Bush tangling ever-deeper into a thicket of deceit and profound malevolence. Are we perhaps in the stranglehold of a present-day duplicitous version of history’s “Tricky Dick”?

Rosa Parks: A Belated Tribute

Rosa Parks: A Belated Tribute

The late civil rights icon Rosa Parks was the first woman to lie in state in the U. S. Capitol Rotunda, a tribute usually reserved for presidents, soldiers and politicians.  Both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives voted to honor Parks with this extraordinary national homage.  According to the Architect of the Capitol, the Capitol Rotunda has been used for this honor only 28 times since 1852.  Other Americans so honoured have included Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and World War II General Douglas MacArthur.

The movement that Rosa Parks helped launch changed not only our country, but the entire world, as her actions gave hope to every individual fighting for civil and human rights.  We now can honour her in a way deserving of her contributions and legacy,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.  Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who helped spark the U. S. civil rights movement when she courageously refused to give her seat on an Alabama bus to a white man 50 years ago, died on Monday at the age of 92.  Shamefully, she died in a state of almost total poverty, with none of the major human rights organizations offering to provide even the smallest amount of financial support to meet her meager, basic living needs in later life.

On December 1, 1955, Parks, a 42-year-old mild-mannered seamstress living in the racially segregated south, boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Her refusal to give up her seat to a white man led to a subsequent boycott of the city’s bus system by black residents,which was led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who became a central figure in the fight for equal rights for blacks during the 1960s.

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Making Amends: Remembrance of A Model Scene


Shame and Humiliation

There are moments when the sudden recollection of a “model scene” from our past activates, as in the following moving poem, the wish to make reparations for unkind actions that we might have inflicted upon important relationships in our lives.

This poem has, for me, an especially dramatic impact, because it is a reminder of the many humiliations that we, perhaps unintentionally, too often inflict upon young persons.

IT ALL COMES BACK

We placed the cake, with its four candles
poking out of thick soft frosting, on the seat
of his chair at the head of the table
for just a moment, while we unfolded and spread
Spanish cloth over Vermont maple.

Suddenly he stepped from the group
of schoolmates and parents and family friends
and ran to the table, and just as someone cried
No, no! Don’t sit! he sat on his chair and his cake,
and the room broke into groans and guffaws.

Actually it was pretty funny, we all
started yelping our heads off, and actually
it wasn’t in the least funny. He ran to me,
and I picked him up but I was still laughing,
and in indignant fury he jabbed his thumbs

into the corners of my mouth, grasped
my cheeks, and yanked – he was so muscled
and so outraged I felt as if he might rip
my whole face off, and then realized
that was exactly what he was trying to do.

It came to me: I was one of his keepers,
his birth and the birth of his sister
had put me on earth a second time,
with the duty this time to protect them
and to help them to love themselves,

and yet here I was, locked in solidarity
with these adults against my own child,
hee-hawing away, without once wondering
if we weren’t, underneath, all of us, striking back,
too late, at our parents for humiliating us.

I gulped down my laughter and held him and
apologized and commiserated and explained and then
things were right again, but to this day it remains
loose, this face, seat of superior smiles,
on the bones, from that yanking.

Shall I publish this anecdote from the past
and risk embarrassing him? I like it
that he fought back, but what’s the good,
now he’s thirty-six, in telling the tale
of his mortification when he was four?

Let him decide – I’ll give him three choices.
He can scratch his slapdash checkmark,
whose rakish hook reminds me
of his old high-school hockey stick,
in whichever box applies:

__Tear it up ___ Don’t publish it but give me a copy

___O.K. publish it on the chance that
somewhere someone survives
of those said to die miserably every day
for lack of the small clarifications sometimes found in poems.

By Galway Kinnell
The New Yorker Magazine
May 2005

LeRoy Whitfield: A Hero for Our Times

LeRoy Whitfield

LeRoy Whitfield, a writer who focused upon the battle against AIDS among African-Americans, has died after living 15 years with the HIV virus, all the while steadfastly standing by his commitment not to to take HIV medications. He was 36.

Whitfield, a contributor to Vibe magazine, died Sunday at North General Hospital in Manhattan from complications related to AIDS.

“He was unusually committed to exposing the truth about AIDS in the African-American community, and he was unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom,” Keith Boykin, a widely-read commentator on race and sexual orientation, wrote on his Web site.

Some might doubt the wisdom of one of the conventions that Whitfield challenged or defied after being diagnosed with HIV in 1990, namely the use of antiretroviral drugs. It is true that there are number of known side effects associated with HIV,which range from fatigue and nausea to blurred vision. However, it is also now known that additional psychopharmalogical interventions are able to manage or even ameliorate most of those side effects quite well. Therefore, this observer worries that Mr. Whitfield’s personal commitment against the use of antiretrovial medication may have conveyed a dangerous or damaging message to those very groups to whom his work was devoted.

In fact, toward the end of his life, LeRoy Whitfield expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of his decision. “My T-cell count has plummeted to 40, a dangerously all-time low, and my viral load has spiked to 230,000. I’ve argued against taking [medication] for so many years that now, with my numbers stacked against me, I find it hard to stop,” he wrote in the August issue of HIV Plus magazine. “I keep weighing potential side effects against the ill alternative, opportunistic infections and I can’t decide which is worse to my mind. I just can’t decide.” This is perhaps where a steadfast commitment at some point manages to cross over a fine line and becomes a dangerously maladaptive personal obsessive defense, riddled with a deep sense of personal doubt that, in turn, makes it almost impossible to carry out adaptive decisions.

Nevertheless, from a more generous, broader perspective Whitfield will be remembered for using his personal experiences, including relationships with both men and women, as a prism to clarify many of the larger issues surrounding the disease.

He linked AIDS among African-Americans with public housing, poverty and violence, which he said contributed to the rise of HIV in the African-American community. He also debunked the absurd notion, voiced by a number of African-American tunnel-visioned and paranoid groups, that AIDS was a “white conspiracy” to spread the disease among blacks.

“Widespread violence, for example, is not a reality in upscale gay communities. Gay white men do not overpopulate public housing. Gay communities have no shortage of HIV services nearby,” he wrote in the September 1997 issue of Positively Aware magazine. “AIDS is the gripping issue of the gay community. For African-Americans, it’s the atrocity du jour.”

According to the 2000 Census, African-Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population. However, they have accounted for 40 percent of the 929,985 estimated AIDS cases diagnosed since the first ones were reported in 1981 by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

A Chicago native whom Boykin remembers as a man with “beautiful locks” and “an infectious smile,” Whitfield attended the University of Chicago and then later worked as an associate editor at the Chicago-based magazine Positively Aware and as a community educator for Positive Voice, an AIDS awareness organization.

He moved to New York in 2000, contributing to Vibe and becoming a senior editor of POZ, a magazine aimed at providing support for HIV-positive people.

Among his admirable ventures was a trip to a South Dakota prison to interview Nikko Briteramos, a black young person who had been convicted under that state’s HIV transmission law.

But in the end, Whitfield was forced to focus on his own illness, while writing about it. He dubbed himself the “Marathon Man” after a Harvard Medical School researcher studied him as a rare longtime HIV survivor who had “never popped AIDS meds”, as Whitfield wrote three years ago in a POZ article.

The doctor “has stopped short of shakin’ a Magic 8-Ball to understand specimens like me,” he wrote. Whitfield himself attributed his survival to “better nutrition, good exercise and a low stress level.”

Revised Adaptation from:
Newsday, copyright 2005

Arthur Garfunkel: Belated Gratitude

A SENSE OF CALM

What follows are a number of reminiscent thoughts about an early friendship, an open letter of thanks to Arthur Garfunkel.

Arthur, I have often thought about the gratitude that I have always harbored for what you gave me, I’m sure unknowingly, during our friendship in New York. But now, for some reason, I have come to actually feel that gratitude. An interesting reversal of things, for we often struggle to attach thoughts to our feelings, rather than, as in this case, suddenly experiencing the feelings associated with a thought.

I remember our first encounter, when I was a relatively unimportant assistant director in the financial aid office at Teachers College, Columbia University. You came into the office and described how you had just returned from England, where your first album had been released to little critical acclaim and little general notice or popularity–quite frankly, a “flop.” You had decided that, in the face of this seeming musical failure, you would turn your attention to becoming a teacher, to helping children.

Young and really knowing little, in my position at Teachers College I had quickly figured out how to help a prospective student fill out his/her financial aid application in a way that made it a “slam-dunk” success. So, in a way, I think that I helped to provide you with some sense of safety and comfort during a period of some significant disappointment and despair. And you hid it well. I remember, with great humor, your asking me if I wanted to join your new back-up band. “But what would I do?“, I asked. You replied, “Play the guitar, of course.” “But I don’t play the guitar,” I responded. “Oh…,” you said.

About a month later, the album was released in the United States, instantly becoming a monumental success: The Sounds of Silence. Suddenly, you were on the royal road to national fame and significant financial wealth. And I was off to a an unplanned journey to becoming a teacher for the poor and later, a psychoanalyst working with young people suffering from disturbed emotions. As our lives took different paths, my memories of you have always remained with me.

The Sounds of Silence and your later album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, have always been quiet inspirations to the way in which I have always worked with young people. And now I actually feel the gratitude toward you that has always been a part of my reminiscent thoughts about you.

Arthur, thank you very, very much.

The University of Chicago: Has Academic Freedom Become a Deceptive Facade?


The University of Chicago:
Academic Freedom or Facade?

Some observers are speculating about a number of very curious events that have been occurring behind the scenes at the University of Chicago. There was the widely publicized dismissal from the University’s Department of Psychiatry of an internationally renowned psychiatrist, with the University later officially admitting that the action had been taken without cause; the documented admission of “no cause” for the dismissal was formally published in in at least one of Chicago’s leading newspapers (The Chicago Tribune). It was intriguing to note that this newspaper article was never mentioned in the section of the University’s website devoted to recent publications about the University.

The dismissal of this eminent psychiatrist almost immediately resulted in the leaving, en masse, of a number of important members of that Department and their move, as a body, to another major university’s medical school. The Department of Psychiatry has been decimated; some perhaps overly-optimistic observers are hoping that, at this point, things are just about as bad as they will get.

Not much later, there was an announcement of the sudden, seemingly unexpected resignation of the University’s current President, which was especially peculiar since it “just happened” to coincide with the stagnation of the University’s current two billion dollar fund drive.

However, the latest incident at the University has burst plainly into public view, i.e., the denial of tenure for Daniel Drezner, assistant professor of political science:

“I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ll be going up for tenure soon.”

It was with those words of self-reproach that Daniel Drezner, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, inaugurated his Web blog in September 2002.

As thousands of his online readers know, Mr. Drezner didn’t heed his own advice. Instead, he rose to blogosphere prominence. His site is perhaps the most widely read blog focusing on the international political economy, turning scholarly research on issues like outsourcing, the politics of trade, and monetary policy into pieces of analysis for a wider audience.

Mr. Drezner’s first blog entry came back to haunt him: Recently, his department informed him that he was denied tenure and would have to look elsewhere for a job. Usually, a scholar who is denied tenure assumes that the decision was simply a reflection of a department’s assessment of scholarship. In this case, Mr. Drezner and others are wondering whether the blog may have had an impact on his tenure status.

News of his tenure denial has struck a nerve in the growing community of academic bloggers, who are aware that blogging can be a double-edged sword: a powerful way to communicate scholarly ideas to the public and increase name recognition, and a risky venture in a field where every idea – even those roughly thrown together at 3 a.m. – matters.

While refusing to go into specifics about Mr. Drezner’s tenure case, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Chicago, Dali Yang, dismissed the notion that his department considered Mr. Drezner’s blog in making its decision. “I can assure you it’s not specifically about the blog,” he said. [Note the obviously devious response: "not specifically"].

Academic bloggers interviewed say the most common problem they face is convincing their colleagues that their online activity does not come at the expense of scholarly research. While some of the nation’s most prominent scholars have started their own blogs, most notably Chicago giants Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, and Richard Posner, a federal judge, blogging is still perceived by some academics as a slight activity lacking in intellectual value.

Another blogger, Sean Carroll, a physicist at the University of Chicago who was [also!] denied tenure in May, said some of his colleagues have the opinion that blogging means “spending time as an educator or a public intellectual that you could be spending as a researcher.” Mr. Carroll, who contributes to the science-themed blog Cosmic Variance, said he “balanced things fine, but there was a question of what other people think.” He defended his contributions to the blog, which joyfully tackles topics such as extra dimensions of space, dark energy, and galaxies, as “part and parcel of being a professor,” giving him a powerful tool to interact with other physicists and to communicate complicated subjects to the general public.

Colleagues of Mr. Drezner insist that he has sustained an impressive level of academic output since starting his blog. He’s published essays in refereed journals, such as Political Science Quarterly, and has written pieces for other prominent journals, including Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. He’s also completed a book titled “Who Rules? The Regulation of Globalization,” for which he received an advance contract from Princeton University, according to his curriculum vitae.

The debate over academic blogging has been a heated one in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, where a passionate response was elicited from an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, Henry Farrell, who contributes to the blog Crooked Timber. “To dismiss blogging as a bad idea altogether is to make an enormous mistake,” he wrote. “For these academics, blogging isn’t a hobby; it’s an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future.”

Revised by the Author, 10/22/2005

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