Friday, June 24, 2005

God Help Us All

I recently got an e-mail message from my beloved ex girlfriend, Perri writing from Miami ('beloved' because unlike most men I am willing to admit that our ex-girlfriends usually deserved better than we could give them when they were with us, and because I'm damned glad Perri is willing to still be my friend). She was writing about the latest episode in the soap opera of cultural malice that is deforming American public life. I had heard about it already: that one of the icons of American feminist discourse, Erica Jong, had been treated like shite [kacke] by graduating seniors at the College of Staten Island during her address to them at their graduation ceremony.

To add insult to injury, there had been a particularly ungallant commentary written about the incident by Michelle Maskaly, a columnist for the epiphenomenal (you know, mental events are totally unconnected to material reality, and such?) newspaper, Staten Island Advance. Perri’s disgust over this sturm und drang was a notch higher than mine inasmuch as she had been moved to send an e-mail message to Maskaly. Maskaly’s column had read:

CSI graduation: Pomp and circumstance, boos and hisses
Author Erica Jong alienates some with the tone, length of her commencement speech

By Michelle Maskaly

Best-selling author Erica Jong was booed and told to "Shut up!" and "Go Home!" during her 40-minute speech yesterday at the College of Staten Island's commencement exercises.

As Ms. Jong, best known for her 1973 novel "Fear of Flying," talked about everything from truth in advertising to truth in politics and the shallowness of public relations -- but said precious little about graduation -- some of the thousands in attendance on the great lawn at the college's Willowbrook campus stood up and began to object loudly. A little less than halfway through her speech, some graduates began tossing around an inflatable beach volleyball. Some even got up from their chairs, just yards from her podium, to go chat with friends and family who were seated behind them. Ms. Jong, however, was unfazed.

She continued to speak as though everyone were listening attentively. "I'm a writer," said the author of eight novels. "I spend days and nights playing with words, trying to make sense of them. Telling the truth has never been easy. It's gotten harder." She complained that getting to the truth is tougher than ever because "words have been corrupted."

"Advertisers, politicians, celebrities, they all think they have a good reason to tell us the opposite of what they mean," Ms. Jong said. "They advertise products like Viagra that could blind you or hormone pills that could cause breast cancer. "Politicians speak the opposite of what they mean. They say clear skies when they mean pollution. They say collateral damage when they mean killing civilians." The public, said Ms. Jong, "writes off many lies as PR (public relations)" and has stopped expecting the truth. "Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes pledging their love to Oprah when they really mean PR," Ms. Jong said. "Do we really need wellness when we have health? News is what they don't issue in press releases."

Ms. Jong's remarks were met with some vehement disapproval. "She gave a political speech when she was supposed to be doing a pep talk," said the father of a CSI graduate who declined to give his name. "Some graduates wanted to throw stuff at her. Whoever heard of a commencement speaker talking about body bags?" Dorothy, a 48-year-old mother of a CSI graduate, categorized Ms. Jong's speech as "all-around bashing. "It was disgusting, despicable," said the Fort Wadsworth woman, who would not give her surname.

"She called politicians liars, called us all liars. She trashed America. Mostly, she just wanted to talk. It was personal spewing. There was nothing about graduation." In a statement issued through a spokesman yesterday afternoon, Dr. Marlene Springer, president of CSI, said: "We are delighted to have had such a noted author at our commencement. Her message, that we need to look closely at words and (that) their power is important, I'm sure our audience understands."

Ms. Jong taught literature and freshman English as a professor at the City University of New York in the 1960s. Her son-in-law, Matthew Greenfield, is a tenured English professor at CSI. In a press advisory about graduation issued by the college May 31, Ms. Springer lauded Ms. Jong for caring "deeply about her commitments." "Her presence is sure to be compelling, provocative and motivational," she said in the advisory. Ms. Jong encouraged the graduates to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it to the world around them, and not to take words at face value. "Whoever controls the words is framing the debate," Ms. Jong said.

"You will be able to be framers of the debate rather than the people sitting there and listening to the conversation. Listen to what is said and question authority. I want you graduates to get mad when you're deliberately lied to."

[reprinted here from The Staten Island Advance without any permission whatsoever from anybody]

Whew. So goes the progress of a once-democratic society through the guts of a beggar, to paraphrase Hamlet, but here now is Perri’s message to the sagacious Ms. Maskaly:

Dear Ms. Maskaly, I'm sorry to say that I found your article about Erica Jong's graduation address at CIS to be reductive and biased.

You don't seem to have made any attempt to try to understand what her speech was about or its importance for the new graduates who are poised to enter their chosen professions. I don't say that you have to agree with Ms. Jong -- but simply that your article does little more than replicate some of the hostility which some members of the audience showed to this esteemed author and intellectual. Perhaps intellectual is the key word here. If the audience was anti-intellectual, that doesn't mean that you should be as well.

Your article would have done more justice to Ms. Jong and to the event of her speaking, hostile as it was, if you had at least tried to show some of the stakes of the talk and its reception. Otherwise you run the risk of sounding just as reactionary and small-minded as the disruptive graduates -- and, apparently, their parents as well -- at the ceremony. Small-mindedness and anti-intellectual reduction are not befitting of a journalist, don't you think? I'm sure that was one of the points of Ms. Jong's speech.

You might have learned something from her, had you made the effort to pay attention.

Respectfully yours,

Perri Giovannucci, PhD
University of Miami,
Coral Gables, Fl.

Bravo for Perri, though it does not appear that the Staten Island Advance has published her response to Maskaly, and though I fear public culture will only get worse in America. Women, Blacks, Latinos, Gays, Lesbians, and mein Gott, even the differently abled (physically challenged) are being demonized now by phalanxes of beer spouting, belly button brandishing Bush Kinder who want to party, not think about pesky little historical details such as the efficacy of the feminsit movement, the question of the validity of the Iraq occupation/genocide, or the public debate over political ethics or lack of same in our barely elected politicians.

And so, how de rigeur it is now to be stupid, bestial, gauche, and ignorant, and to be arrogant and self satisfied about what a pig one is.

The most disturbing thing I myself had already read in news reports about this incident, in which some of these so-called 'students' (walking beer mugs is more appropriate a description than 'students' for some of the present day anti-intellectual children on American college campuses--I ought to know, a few of them turn up in my classes--I'm a professor of English) started tossing a beach ball around as Jong was speaking, was that one oafish parent saying, "She gave a political speech when she was supposed to be doing a pep talk…Some graduates wanted to throw stuff at her. Whoever heard of a commencement speaker talking about body bags?"

"A pep talk"? That's what a commencement speaker ought to be now--a halftime cheerleader, a pep-talker? What's more disturbing about this oaf's statement? The fact that he's so stupid he doesn't know that during the Vietnam era there were thousands of campus commencement addresses against war, hegemony, sexism, racism, and patriarchal assholes like himself, or the fact that right now, in this current Vietnam-2 era (Iraq), the same thing is going on all over the U.S.; that commencement speakers are, just like Ms. Jong, addressing the issue of the coming needless deaths of many young people just like his own fool-spawn, who, if the oaf offspring is male, and even perhaps if it is female, may just end up coming home to him in a bodybag?

Shan't he feel disappointed about his investment having been spent in vain? He will have shelled out $4,308 per year in tuition in-state, or $8,908 out-of-state, which are the expenditure stats for parents of CSI students. See U.S. News & World Report at to verify how much Pop got hopped on by Oaf Jr. Ah, well, his little oaf will at least get a free burial care of Uncle Sam if it comes to that.

Jong, like any intellectual, was committed to the truth of what she had to say, and not to the idea of being liked by the audience. I know from experience as a lecturer, teacher, and performing artist that there's a world of difference between sitting in a dark room hunched over a computer keyboard eking out rants, opinions, and spiteful comments as a weblogger and standing in front of a live audience all focused on your physical self ("How do you feel about critics who don't like your creative choices?" Jazz saxophonist Branford Marsallis was asked by a documentary interviewer. "I don't care," he responded. "See, I'm a Jazz musician. I know what it's like to walk out onto a stage and play some stuff that people don't want to hear, but I play it anyway, because it's what I have to say.") Erica Jong's calm and determination to continue despite the audience's derision and detachment was not unlike a good Jazz musician, a fine chef, a faithful revolutionary, or, oh, I dunno, an intellectual during the rise of Fascism in Germany after the end of the Weimar Republik (if the lederhosen fit, Amerika's fresh young graduates so eager to be off to the patriotik wars will wear them).

Jeez, I would say something about the irony of it all, but we live in the time of the aftermath of irony, don't we? Irony, like democracy, intellect, and civil society, are dead as doorknobs.

It's enough to make you fall into reminiscing about the era of the Clinton Presidency (Mike Malloy, of Air America Radio likes to refer to Clinton as “the best Republican President we ever had”). I have been calling the era of Clinton "The Interregnum".

An interregnum is often a period of relative calm, civility, and/or artistic and social freedom just after the decline of a highly organized, sophisticated republic and just before the rise of an empire, a tyrant, or a totalitarian monarchy (for example, ancient Athens after the decline of the 500's, BCE, Pythagorean and democratic republic and just before the rise of the Thirty Tyrants and the martyrdom of Socrates).

God help us all.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

none of the perpetrators have been caught

" !!!!PAY ATTENTION!!! "

It is just this sort of psychotic shout that often begins the foolish communiqués I am moved to write about here and now.

These communiqués constantly slip past my spam guard and come to me in the form of uninvited e-mail forwards (with my own captive e-mail address buried among hordes of many others; the addresses of strangers). The particular e-mail forward in question starts off with that particular psychotic shout.

The psychotic shout was followed by these words:

The Latest Scam:The way the scam works is, a man slips into a women's restroom andsneaks into a stall. He waits until there is only one woman in therestroom in a neighboring stall. The criminal then stands on the toiletand points a hand gun into the next stall, demanding the woman's valuables.After getting her cash and jewelry, he demands that she remove all ofher clothing and kick them out of the stall. The thief tosses theclothing into a shopping bag, hangs an out of order sign on the restroomdoor, and slips back into the mall.

Oh, my. I should immediately alert my mother, my daughter, all my female friends to this dastardly activity, shouldn't I?? In fact, the e-mail forward urges me to do just that:

PLEASE FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. This has so far been a nearly perfect crime, as none of the perpetrators have been caught. Don't let this happen to another woman.

Yeah, women should not ever go into a public restroom to take a piss. Too dangerous. In fact, they should line up outside public restrooms and one at a time they should go in with their husbands, boyfriends, significant masculine others, or oh, I don't know, maybe go in with strong, brave men (Gulf War veterans, perhaps) who might hire out their manly services as 'public women's room valets' to accompany each woman individually into the enemy-infested public restroom to take a piss in safety. Right, Truth Seeker? Huh? Hehhh? Yeah, sure.

I am puzzled by what it is that drives we Americans to use the incredibly powerful technology of the internet as no more than a petty tin can on a string to transmit propaganda: infantile, adolescent, and mundane gossip, public safety tips, muck, and dirty laundry (actually, I’m not that puzzled. I figure it’s a mixture of narcissism and shallow denial--all symbolized by that nitwit popular saying Americans love so much--'have a nice day').

We e-mail this sort of trash across the Web rather than communicate with one another about reality (by 'reality' I mean not 'crime-blotter' gossip about scams, not local TV nitwit news 'tips' about how to avoid pan handlers and con artists, and not warnings about the dire need for women to be shouted at and warned about how not get robbed at the mall, but REALITY.

Let me re-introduce the concept of reality to you: it's the very basis of consciousness in a civil society--you remember civil society, don't you, Truth Seeker? Public education, public institutions, public health, public liberties, and public discourse all buttressed by voting rights, wage and price controls, freedom of assembly, and maybe even every now and then public protest. In other words, politics, history economics, geo-politics, news of the world outside the borders of this prison we call the United States, or even, (gasp) REAL SOCIAL INSIGHT).

Why is it that I never receive uninvited forwards about that sort of thing, telling women to NOT be afraid to go into public restrooms but rather to reject shopping malls altogether in favor of locally owned, community-based, shopping centers that cycle dollars back into the communities rather than shoveling their money down the gaping maw of the multi nationals that own and operate shopping malls that take women's dollars out of the city, out of the state, then out of the country to fund the building of more sweat shops and maquiladoras in Mexico and American Samoa, where women have far greater worries than getting robbed at the mall (where they have to worry about being raped by their foreman if they fall below quota turning out those Nike running shoes that cost Nike 75 cents per shoe to manufacture though they cell them for more than 100 dollars per pair once they arrive at the mall)?

Here’s something from the internet (Reuters) that I found interesting, that women are doing other than cowering in fear of public toilets:

International Women's Day Marked in Iraq
[March 8, 2004] International Women’s Day was marked in Iraq today with protests by several hundred Iraqi women demanding more rights (Reuters 3/8/04). Women in Iraq are facing violence, poverty, unemployment, and substandard water, food and medicine. Kidnapping and rape have increased dramatically in the post-war period. For the most part, women no longer go out in public unless an armed male relative accompanies them. And women may be losing in the political arena as well. The interim constitution signed today, while appearing to be supportive of women’s rights, may clash with provisions in the constitution which make Islam the fundamental religion and a guiding source for legislation. If interpreted conservatively, women’s rights may be restricted in the future.

What moves me to say all this is that the above forward and many other uninvited forwards I've received of late are becoming increasingly mundane, petty, infantile, and stupid gossip about safety tips, and various other useless communications which amount to people killing time with a medium (e-mail) that we could better put to use communicating with one another about the fact that we now live in a country run by the criminally insane (Bush, Woolfowitz, Perle, Rice, and the rest); a country that has discarded democracy in favor of fascism. A glorified "Nike- town".

That reality has made ALL our lives less safe, less secure, less certain, and worst of all, most offensive of all, it is now dangerous as hell to travel outside the U.S. since the entire world is disgusted and appalled by the tyranny of the United States, and likely to want to beat American citizens traveling abroad about the face and neck.

This most pathetic of these recent forwards (see the entire text of the forward, unedited, pasted below) is one which urges women to be afraid to go to rest rooms at malls because men are lurking inside women's rooms waiting to rob them, steal their clothes, and leave them naked inside the stalls. If I may do a bit of Derridian deconstruction here, the forward uses suspiciously boilerplate language that sounds as if it were lifted from local news reports (why is it that the robber uses a 'handgun' and not a 'gun' or 'pistol'? Could it be because 'crime-blotter' reports in local newspapers always use the term, 'handgun'?). There is no specificity to it:

This has so far been a nearly perfect crime, as none of the perpetrators have been caught.

If none of the 'perpetrators' (the use of police procedural language here is odd) have been caught then how are we to know there are several of them, and not just one? Are we to assume that these crimes are taking place in so many malls that it could not possibly be only one person? Of course we are. The lack of a city, state, or even time period in this text (its rhetorical uses of timelessness and spatial ambiguity) creates the impression that this is in fact a ubiquitous occurrence. It's everywhere. Thus, no need to cite statistics, examples, locations, or any of the other details that would make this objective or credible information.

Presumably, women ought to stay home, only travel, even in daylight hours, in groups or with men to 'protect' them, and should be ever and always afraid. Yeah. Right. And of course, the people who mass mail this crap everywhere are obviously so naive, so gullible, that they don't stop to think that this country is now FULL of these kind of urban myths meant to further frighten and intimidate the majority population (women and people of color) into submission, fear, silence, and a sense of powerlessness as the REAL threat to women (which is a Hitlerian president in Washington slowly gnawing away at women's rights, women's liberties, and women's control over their own bodies) goes on committing his crimes against us all without accountability. I have YET to receive an uninvited forward denouncing the destruction of abortion rights, attacks on Roe V. Wade, and the elimination of unions.

The destruction of unions alone has been the major source of disintegration of economic power in the lives of women, since unions (nurses' unions, garment workers' unions, food service unions, teachers' unions, hotel workers' unions, etc.) have directly or indirectly accounted for some 90% of the accumulated wealth American women achieved between the 1940's (when women eventually came to make up some 70% of the industrial workforce and even after men returned from the war, remained between 25 and 36% of the industrial workforce) and 1980, the year that the Reagan backlash began eating away at forty decades of American women's economic gains.

I don't think women should live in fear of public restrooms, unless of course, they think that their greatest abusers, Ronald Regan and George W. Bush might be lurking in there waiting for them to strip them naked and steal their purses.

Oh, yeah, that's right: they've done that very thing to America's women already, haven't they? Stripped them naked, and stolen their purses. And just as the stupid forward says, 'none of the perpetrators have been caught'.

You have a nice day, now.

Subject: FW: Warning-be aware / Ladies Please Read !!!!! - PayAttention!!!!!!!!! -


Please read and pass on to every women you know. Be Blessed. Subject: FW: Fw: Warning-be aware / Ladies Please Read !!!!!
The Latest Scam:

The way the scam works is, a man slips into a women's restroom andsneaks into a stall. He waits until there is only one woman in therestroom in a neighboring stall. The criminal then stands on the toiletand points a hand gun into the next stall, demanding the woman's valuables.After getting her cash and jewelry, he demands that she remove all ofher clothing and kick them out of the stall. The thief tosses theclothing into a shopping bag, hangs an out of order sign on the restroomdoor, and slips back into the mall. The out of order sign ensures no one willsoon come to the woman's rescue.

It usually takes an hour or two for thewoman to work up! the nerve to leave the restroom in the nude, givingthe criminal ample time to make his get away. The woman is left nakedand humiliated in a mall full of strangers.The best defense, say police, is to never go into a shopping mallrestroom alone, as only women who are by themselves are targeted.

PLEASE FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. This has so far been a nearlyperfect crime, as none of the perpetrators have been caught. Don't letthis happen to another woman.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A Book Review

It's been a while since I've updated this blog--been teaching, writing, hustling, forming new friendships, dissolving old ones (or, more accurartely, watching with regret while old friendships have dissolved under the incredible deformative powers of Bushnomics' reactionary social devolution and abuse).

These are hard times.

Yet, in my absence, I have encountered and been touched by so many amazing people. One of those people is John Saba--a humanist and mysitc. He is a Lebanese-American who lives just outside of Detroit in the city of Livonia, Michigan.

Michigan, like America, is very reactionary right now. The largest Arababic/Muslim/Middle-Eastern population in America is located here in the Detroit area, in the city of Dearborn, and the large Arab-American population is an occasion for anti-Arab racism among Detroiters--even Black Detroiters. This is saddening, and outrageous. I do all I can as a university professor, journalist, artist, and intellectual, to oppose anti-Arab racism, and to my shame and dismay, many of my own race exhibit this bigotry, when what we ought to be exhibiting is solidarity with those who are now suffering the racism and abuse we have historically had to suffer in America.

As many people will know, a prominent Arab-American citizen of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was unjustly arrested by the FBI following the 911 attacks, held in confinement away from his family and even his legal counsel for more than a year, then, finally deported, even though no evidence against him was ever produced by the government. Despite the efforts of his neighbors and friends in Ann Arbor, and the efforts of defenders throughout the United States, this poor man never received justice. So much for the assumption we all had and now feel less secure about, that Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan, swaddling place of the old "Students for a Democratic Society," and home of Tom Hayden, is a progressive city.

But back to John Saba. I interviewed him for the newspaper I work for here, "The Michigan Citizen," and although anyone who wishes to can view the published review at along with all the other journalism I've done for Michigan Citizen, I want to share that review with any readers of this website who come to my corner of it. John Saba, a proud Arab-American, and a man who professes compassion for the oppression of Black people, is an example of the diversity, humanity, and beauty of Arab-Americans.

As I sit here in my office on campus I think how there are many such examples here in the Detroit area. Right across the hall from me happens to be the office of a fellow professor, Alex Shami, who also happens to be of Lebanese origin, who is a valued academic and community figure here in Detroit. John Saba is not unique.

I feel I've let down my friend, Regina Rodriguez, who inspired me to begin this blog. I haven't kept up my writing here as I promised her I would. So, this is my return, and I will make more time in the future to share my thoughts with readers, and as always, it's all dedicated to Regina, with love...

“You are the Tabernacle of God”
Author: Dr-of-Divinity, John M. Saba, Jr.; Leadfoot Press; Detroit, 2004; 112 pgs.
By Rayfield A. Waller

Of Christian-Lebanese descent, Minister John Saba of Livonia is deeply spiritual. He told The Michigan Citizen he has ministered in prisons and homeless shelters in Detroit and other cities. He’s taken the gospel of Christ to street people, drug addicts, and the poor. He dropped out of medical school to study ways to heal the body rather than profit from illness.“I was working on human cadavers,” he recalls, “and after my first year of that I felt a little freakish — nothing they were teaching me would stay in my head. I believed God had a higher plan for me. I became interested in the body and nutrition.”

“You are the Tabernacle of God,” from Detroit’s “Leadfoot Press, is the result of Saba’s long, ecclectic search for that higher plan. The book is a series of carefully, minutely researched meditations on divinity and the body, an eccentric but endlessly fascinating decoding of biblical text. He uses as his tools ancient Judaism, The Apocrypha, Sophism, the mystery systems, and technologies such as acoustics, chemistry, genetics, and mathematics. Precedents for Saba’s absorbing book are both ancient and modern.His method is what I call ‘techgnosticism’: a dazzling and dizzying display of various esoteric, sacred, and scientific knowledges melded into one; a radiant synthesis of higher spiritual and intellectual precept.

The book evokes in the reader a euphoria of perception. This being the culmination of 66 years, a career in real estate, nutritional supplement sales in a company he founded, 42 years of marriage to Jeanine Saba--his ‘closest friend’, and 20 odd years of intense private research in science and spirituality with the Bible and Hebrew scriptures as his basis (taking his seminary degree in 2000). The book demands as much fearlessness and mind-wracking work of a chemist or a biologist who reads it as it would of any student of divinity. The man is deep.“You are the Tabernacle” is based on Saba’s idea that our human body corresponds to the biblical ‘Tabernacle of Moses,’ which he says was “built and torn down in the Sianai dessert thousands years before modern religion.

“It doesn’t matter though,” he says, “What type of religion we speak of—the Spirit of God dwells inside all of them, and dwells inside each of us. When we all come together as one we form the tabernacle of God. Because of the utter complexity of God, we can only see bits and pieces of him in the world and ourselves. Part of us is in each one of us, and we are all him.”It gets even deeper. Saba’s book meticulously lays out commentary on biblical quotes, concordances on the history of the Holy Land, and formulas decoding geometric symbolism in the architecture of the ancient Tabernacle, comparing it to the architecture of the body’s skeletal, circulatory, organismal, and reproductive systems. Along the way, he offers intense and surprisingly technical discussions of acoustics (the Solfeggio Scale of the Gregorian Chant), genetic structure (comparing the DNA double helix to ‘Jacob’s Ladder’), ancient Ionian and Pythagorian math, and his theory that the frequency of sound (implying sound is the voice of God) can be used to heal disease.

Saba is a victim of a bizzare incident as an infant. An intruder at his family’s celebration of his christening inserted a needle into the infant Saba’s neck. The needle worked its way slowly into his heart’s myocardium muscle. Despite several surgeries that rendered his childhood handicapped and haunted by pain, the needle was never successfully removed. He now lives, he says, with a literal ‘needle in my heart.’

Yet, his faith is intact.

“I came up as a handicapped child, which taught me compassion; for Black people, for Native Americans, all oppressed people. I journeyed to Canada for the National Day of Prayer to ask permission from First Nation Tribes to pray over their land. You know why the Rouge River was called ‘rouge’? Because it once ran red with blood — Indian blood. As for my own pain, it’s only my body, this outer junk, and bondage in this prison called flesh.”Detroit, he says, “is a spiritual center — the spiritual energy here is of an important frquency. That is why I tell everyone to pray for Detroit.”

“Tabernacle” is available from 313.575.9317