Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Passing

Claude Levi-Strauss: 1908-1909

Wow. I didn't know he was still alive. Levi-Strauss was a structural anthropologist whose work had a huge impact well beyond his field. A couple of years ago, for a presentation at a popular culture conference, I used some of his ideas to theorize about homosocial male bonds in the television show Friends.

Claude Levi-Strauss, dead at 100. He shall be missed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Passing

Mary Travers: 1936-2009

This one hurts me. One third of the folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary. I've loved their music since I was a kid, and even today it speaks to me. Some folk purists might have found things to criticize in the trio, but they were important figures in that they successfully packaged folk music for a mainstream audience. In so doing, they brought a message of peace and equality to many. We need more like her today, those who can show that it's cool and sexy to be kind.

As an adult, I really fell in love with Mary. I courted her through Youtube. The way she swished those blonde locks. That powerful voice. Her abiding convictions and activism. Marching at Selma. "Dust in the Wind" at the March on Washington. And always the hair. The way she jerked her head and swished that beautiful hair. Watching her, I always felt a profound sense of being born just slightly out of time.

Hammer on, Mary. We will miss you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Passing: Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

Rest in peace Chi Phi brother.

Friday, July 3, 2009

MLA weighs in on Iran

The Modern Language Association recently put out a statment regarding the report of police violence on college campuses in Iran. I like the statement, and it is altogether fitting that we should stand in solidarity with our fellow scholars and students. And I'm a proud MLA member. Still, it struck me a little funny when I pictured Ahmadinejad's reaction: What? The MLA has made a statement?! This is getting serious!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Indie Profile: Readers Oasis--Quartzsite, AZ

Well, it is hard to say anything about Readers Oasis without first mentioning the owner-operator Paul Winer, who has his own unique way of beating the heat. I had passed this bookstore several times but I was usually on my way to the airport and hadn't had the chance to stop in. Finally, I set aside the time.

I had been "warned" about Paul some time ago, but I guess the details had slipped my mind. I was browsing the store when he suddenly appeared from around a corner and the effect of this mostly naked man suddenly upon me was startling. I tried to catch myself, but I think he saw me visibly flinch.

The store is an open-air diverse mix of books, magazines, music, videos, and memorabilia. It is located in the small desert town of Quartzsite, a community that balloons in the winter with RV-ing winter visitors. The store is homey and informal. I don't even think there is a cash register. Winer also keeps a sizable section of free merchandise, ready for the taking, quite a novelty in today's environment.

If you are looking for a specific book, and you want to find it quickly, Readers Oasis is probably not the best option. While there is some effort to section off areas by subject and genre, the divisions didn't seem very consistent. Nothing is alphabetized and many items are stacked one atop another. Come ready to browse leisurely in an eclectic, quirky atmosphere. It's definitely worth a stop.

Goindependent Rating: Three Emeralds

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reading and Discussion

Here's a video of me reading and talking at an event at Lakeland Public Library in Florida.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'll De-clare!

I got my new passport this week.

First of all: Wow, can one man gain a lot of weight in ten years! I look like I ate the guy from the last passport picture, then grew a beard and got glasses, then ate at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet every weekend morning for the entire decade.

It is time for some changes, people. A healthy diet, a vigorous workout regime.

But this strays from my main point.

Does anyone think the new passports are a little hyper-nationalistic? The entire book is filled with quotations lauding the United States and illustrations that broadcast the tried-and-true idealizations of our country. Were the old passports like this?

The liberty bell and the constitution seem almost mandatory. Fine. The bald eagle and lady liberty, too. The grazing bison, Mt. Rushmore, a steamboat rolling down the mighty Mississippi, fields of grain, a farmer plowing behind two oxen, two cowboys driving a herd of longhorns, a Whitmanesque locomotive, smoke billowing from its stack, charging across the frontier, a testament to American progress.

On the page with the train is the quote from Promontory Point: “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.” Seems a little manifest destiny-ish, no?

Do I have any problems with any of these photos, specifically? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But the accumulative effect of them, along with the quotations. It just makes me wonder: When does patriotism become nationalism? And when does nationalism become jingoism?

Must we always mitigate the good with the bad? Do we need to remind ourselves that Washinginton and Jefferson owned slaves, that our taming of the Mississippi is causing coastal erosion at a football field a day, that nations of people were exterminated in our push across the continent.

I’m not anti-American. There is certainly plenty to be proud of, no? But what does that mean, to be proud of one’s citizenship status, especially a status we are born into by mere chance? Does the good done by my countrymen and countrywomen reflect on me in a way that should evoke personal pride? If so, should the bad done by my countrymen and countrywomen evoke in me shame? Isn’t that the logical extension?

But again…what is logic?

Probably, I’ve spent too many years in graduate school, sitting around tables and pontificating on stuff like this. Actually, I’m sure this is the case.

Happy travels.

Post Script

Of course, I'm never original. Many have already pointed out the obvious.