Thursday, July 30, 2009


On the same day that Glenn Beck was allowed to broadcast to the nation his assertions that our President hates white people and white culture, and is a racist, this news from Boston:

-- A Boston police officer who sent a mass e-mail referring to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as a 'banana-eating jungle monkey' has apologized, saying he's not a racist."

A rousing chorus of the signifying monkey may be in order here . . . .

What are we learning from our media's coverage of this teachable moment?

It would seem that people who make racist remarks are not racists, but someone who says that a particular white person behaved "stupidly" is.

The power to determine definitions still rests where it always has . . . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Earlier today Glenn Beck, speaking on the Fox News Network, said that our President is a racist, that he hates white people.

This would not only be a real surprise to the thousands of folks who stood with me on the campus of Penn State last year to listen to then-candidate Obama, but I'm pretty sure it would be a grave disappointment to the president's dear departed mother and grandmother.

But look; during the campaign it was not enough for Obama to disagree in public with remarks made by Pastor Wright; Obama had to denounce the Reverend in public and drop his church membership. It wasn't enough for Obama to disagree with Minister Farakhan (and will I ever live long enough to see the day when all black public figures are no longer required to express an opinion on Farakhan?), but he had to denounce and renounce the Minister using the precise words dictated by his white interlocutors.

So, here's what I propose (go ahead, call me a strategic essentialist). For the next two weeks, any white person who appears on television must be required to denounce Glenn Beck, renounce Beck's statement, and promise not to watch Fox News until Beck has been fired. A Republican congressman must introduce legislation denouncing Beck (and requiring him to produce his long-form, original birth certificate while we're at it.)



Ran down to Sherri Barnes's place in Ventura recently for a book celebration to honor publication of A Change in the Weather, the first critical book from poet Geoffrey Jacques.

I first met Geoffrey years ago when we attended an outdoor jazz concert together in L.A. In 2005, his great book of poetry Just for a Thrill came out from Wayne State University Press.
James Smethurst says of the new book: "This is the most exciting work on the development of literary and artistic modernism in the United States that I have read in a long time. Unlike many other scholars who see African American modernism as either distinct from or on the margins of high modernism, Jacques takes a leaf from Mary Helen Washington s famous question about American Studies and investigates what happens when we put African American expressive culture at the center of modernism. . . . The breadth of the author s interdisciplinary knowledge is stunning. . . . Much of this study is groundbreaking."

Monday, July 27, 2009




I am posting the complete recordings from the police side of the Gates incident -- You can hear the original 911 call, and the radio traffic between Sgt. Crowley and the dispatchers. This should significantly shift the discussions we're hearing!


THIS JUST IN -- The 911 call that led to the Gates arrest

I've just listened to the recording of the original 911 call that set in motion the chain of events leading to Prof. Gates's arrest in Cambridge, and it is revealing.

Remember those reports in the press that the police had been notified of two youngish black men with backpacks? Give the call recording a listen. Gates's neighbor refers to "gentlemen" with what looks like suitcases. She raises the prospect that the men seen at the door might live there. She makes no reference to their race.

Now, we have not yet been given recordings of the dispatcher's call that Sgt. Crowley was responding to, but this makes it abundantly clear that the Cambridge Police went into this situation with the knowledge that they might be dealing with the lawful residents of the property.

Also of great interest, at least to me. This passage from Sgt. Crowley's report:

"As I reached the door, a female voice called out to me. I turned and looked in the direction of the voice and observed a white female, later identified as Lucia Whalen. Whalen, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand and told me it was she who called. She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of ___ Ware Street."

How do we account for the apparent difference between what we hear Ms. Whalen say on the 911 call and what Sgt. Crowley reports she told him?

Well, CNN reports that Whalen's attorney has contradicted Crowley's report absolutely. Here's the link. And here's the take-away quote: "Let me be clear. She never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Trouble with E-Books

Today's WASHINGTON POST carries a piece by Rob Pegoraro, titled :"Barnes & Noble Repeats Amazon.Com's Errors on E-Books."

It starts out, "Stop me if you've read this before . . ."

Along with other good points, Pegoraro joins me in arguing that the publishing industry is following the pathetic lead of the music industry in the migration to new media markets. Though they have not yet stooped to suing 13-year-olds for downloading pirated copies of the Potter novels, they have been aping all the music industry's major errors, and are endangering the development of a market that could be good for them and for readers. Anyone who has had the frustration of dealing with e-books that are tied to propietary platforms knows what needs to be done. We can only hope that the publishers will wake up before it is too late.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On Beyond Stupid

I've been thinking over my own contacts with police officers over the years. One incident in particular comes to mind -- I'd been stopped on the street by a particularly aggressive officer who wanted me to go to the office with him. (This was one of those very hot D.C. summer days -- I still think he was just looking for an excuse to get back to the air conditioning.) When I asked if I was under arrest, he responded: "Would you like to be?"

That's the sort of abuse of police power that we're facing in the Cambridge incident.

There was something about the arresting officer's report that had me puzzled until I read David Savage's column in this morning's Los Angeles Times.

Sgt. Crowley's report lets us know that Prof. Gates was arrested outside his house. In that photograph you have all seen multiple times by now of Dr. Gates handcuffed (and by the way, the fact that his hands are cuffed in front of him, rather than behind his back, is the give-away that nobody on the scene thought he was any sort of threat), you will note that Gates is literally just a step outside his own doorway. There could be all sorts of explanations for that, but I think Savage is on to the real explanation.

In Crowley's report, he states that Gates had been "yelling very loud" and accusing him of "being a racist." The report then states that Crowley complained the "acoustics of the kitchen" made it difficult to communicate, and so, Crowley says, he "told Gates that I would speak with him outside." Do you begin to see what's going on here? I've never been in Dr. Gates's kitchen, but I seriously doubt that there's any problem hearing clearly in that room, at least not so much of a problem that stepping outside might be an improvement. Crowley's report makes much of the fact that Gates continued his loud talk outside, while his own report reveals that they were only outside at Crowley's insistence.

As Savage reports in his article on the latitude that "disorderly conduct" laws afford the police, Massachusetts courts, and those in several other states, have held that "disorderly acts or language" must take place in public where others can be disturbed in order for an arrest to be lawful.

And there you have the real explanation for the oddities of Crowley's report and the photograph. Savage quotes Boston University law professor Terry Maclin as saying: "I would not say it's constitutional to arrest someone in his home just for being loud and abusive to a police officer. That's why the cop asked him to come outside, where he could be arrested for being disorderly in public."

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Unbearable Stupidity

Like President Obama and Gov. Patrick, I am not in possession of all the facts surrounding the arrest of Dr. Henry Gates in Cambridge.

I am, however, in possession of Sgt. Crowley's report of the incident as it has been republished in the newspapers.

Even if you take Sgt. Crowley entirely at his word and believe everything he says, there is no defense for his arrest of Dr. Gates.

According to Sgt. Crowley's own report, he had already concluded that Dr. Gates was the owner of the house prior to placing him under arrest.

According to Sgt. Crowley, Dr. Gates was not engaging in any behavior that involved anyone other than Sgt. Crowley.

According to Sgt. Crowley's own report, Dr. Gates had at no time attempted to make any physical contact with Sgt. Crowley.

Even if you believe absolutely every word of Sgt. Crowley's report, it is clear that whatever tumultuous speech act Dr. Gates may have been conducting would have ended had Sgt. Crowley simply departed. There is nothing in the report that indicates that Dr. Gates was a danger or even an inconvenience to anyone else.

The inescapable conclusion is that that Henry Gates was arrested for mouthing off to an officer.

For seven years I was employed in law enforcement, as a guard at a hospital and as a campus police officer. During those years I had to deal with many unhappy and loud people. I never arrested any of them.

Obama had it right. This arrest was beyond stupid.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


A couple years ago, Colleen Sheehy and others organized a major conference on the life and works of Bob Dylan, sponsored by the University of Minnesota in conjunciton with a traveling exhibit on Dylan that was on display in the university's gallery. Now Sheehy has co-edited with Thomas Swiss this new book, Highway 61 Revisited: Bob Dylan's Road from Minnesota to the World. The press describes this volume as "the first cultural and historical geography of [Dylan's] dramatic rise, storied career, and unmatched iconic status." The editors' project is to map "the terrain of Bob Dylan's music in the world."

A large ambition, granted, and the scope of the contributors and topics is equally far-reaching. You will find here such established Dylan scholars as C.P. Lee (writing on the British reception of Dylan), Greil Marcu (on Dylan's home town) and poet Anne Waldman (who went on the road with the Rolling Thunder Review, and writes here on Dylan and the Beats). Other contributions include a chapter from Gayle Wald and Daphne Brooks on women's covers of Dylan songs, Mick Cochrane on Theme Time Radio, Thomas Crow on Dylan and Warhol, Alessandro Carrera and Mikiko Tachi on Dylan's recpetion in Italy and Japan respectively, Robert Reginio on minstrelsy and the cultural economy of race in late Dylan, Kevin Dettmar on Dylan in the classroom, and many others. This is by no means simply a record of the previous conference. My own chapter, for instance, is an entirely different paper from the one I presented in Minneapolis. (That presentation, on Dylan and video, will have to reappear in a different form that will make sense to readers who don't have access to all the videos I referenced.) "Crow Jane Approximately" is an essay in which I sketch out Dylan's lyric engagement with race, making connections to such conteporaries as Amiri Baraka.

Click here for the Minnesota page for this book. Highway 61 Revisited is available through Amazon as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sotomayor Sessions

After watching two days of the confirmation hearings, I can only conclude that the Republican Senators have neglected to learn the lesson of the law of unintended consequences.

The more the likes of Sessions, Graham and Kyl have at her, the more they demonstrate that Sonia Sotomayor is, as it turns out, a wise Latina.

Monday, July 13, 2009


By now you've probably heard about the string of racist comments that were posted at the Free Republic web site when the editors posted this photo of Malia Obama and invited visitors to offer captions. What has proved more interesting to me than the string of insane, racist invective Free Republic unleashed among their posse, though, has been the site's defenses of its response.

The first line of defense seems to be attack.. You know, along the lines of briefly acknowledging that these racist comments may have been "over the line" but then immediately leading to a lengthy diatribe about leftists who supposedly remained silent as Sarah Palin's children were viciously attacked by other leftists. That's the drill and we can't expect anything more original from those quarters.

But some times the defense is more revealing than it may intend. I just saw an official spokesperson for Free Republic appearing on MSNBC. Predictably, he started out by claiming that the posted comments weren't as bad as has been represented (google it; I think you'll find it difficult to exaggerate just how vile these people are). Then, defending the web site's "system," the spokesperson stated that this is a moderated site.

In other words, one or more of the volunteer moderators at the site had eyeballed these racist rants before they went live, and had thought they were just fine.

Ain't it great to live in a postracial society?!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Since getting my first Amazon Kindle, I've advised the curious who have asked me that unless they were likely to use a Kindle on a daily basis, it would be wise to wait for a second iteration of the device, likely to be both improved and less expensive. I was thinking of the anger many early adopters of the iPhone felt at the way they'd been suckered by Apple.

Amazon turns out to have learned both the good and the bad of product improvement and release from Apple. A while back they offered the Kindle 2, which was indeed improved, but was no less expensive. I held off, quite pleased with my original Kindle. Then Amazon released the larger format DX, shortly thereafter dropping the price of the standard issue Kindle.

Take that, early adopters.

But I made a quick calculation, realized that my first Kindle had already more than paid for itself just in the savings its electronic versions of my newspaper and magazine subscriptions had brought me over the hard copy delivery price, and so I put my name on the list to get one of the first DX devices.

Like the Kindle 2, the DX has a slightly improved e-paper system. It didn't seem to me that the page-turn was significantly faster. On the other hand, the device proper is faster; in particular, the download time for my newspapers, magazines and books is markedly imrpoved.

I really like the larger format screen -- It has been advertised as being specially designed for newspaper and magazine reading, but what I like is that it makes the book reading experience more like a "real" book -- reading on the first Kindle was not as annoying as trying to read a book on my cell phone, but it was still a mild annoyance to have to do a page turn every paragraph or so. Having just finished reading the Michael Thomas novel Man Gone Down in its Kindle version (which now keeps tab at the bottom of the screen on what percentage of the total text you have read so far), I can report that the reading experience is even more comfortable than on the earlier model. Further, when I am giving a lecture somewhere, I like to use my Kindle as a sort of teleprompter. This bigger screen is ideal for the purpose. I much prefer this to reading from a laptop perched on the lectern.

Here are the cons, in my view: Amazon is all too Apple-like in its approach to marketing and pricing. The prices of many of the books are creeping upwards. Likewise, the small price Amazon charges for emailing your documents for conversion to your Kindle is creeping up. It's insulting to early adopters to drop the price of the Kindle after just a few months (though I suppose early adopting has to be seen as its own reward any more). Also like Apple, Amazon has now sealed off the battery so that you cannot replace it yourself. While the new battery lasts longer than the original, this is still entirely unacceptable. With the original Kindle, I could carry a spare battery to switch out when I didn't have an opportunity to recharge the device. Truly heavy users will miss this option. It's true that the battery will last a long time if all you do is read -- but if you are using the download function at all you will drain the battery much more quickly. Amazon has also eliminated the memory card slot that was on the original (and let me add that the "cons" I am listing were all introduced with the Kindle 2). The memory of the DX is impressive; this thing can hold an entire library. Still, I miss being able to carry odd things on the memory card and poping it in and out at will.

Neither pro nor con, the feature that will "read" a book out loud to you. If your text has any sort of specialized vocabulary, you will get a good laugh from listening to Kindle's pronunciation. This thing is not going to replace audio books any time soon. But this won't be a terribly important feature to many people anyway. Though I hasten to add that I look forward to the day when an improved Kindle will read BEING AND TIME to me as I drive to the beach.

But there are many "pros" in addition to the faster download speed and the larger screen. You can load PDFs directly to the device and read them "natively" now. (And you can still email document files to the device that will be converted to Amazon's peculiar format.) The new arrangement of the keys and buttons makes it far less likely that you will change pages accidentally. Some users have complained about the smaller buttons on the keyboard, but I find them easier to use than the earlier buttons. The highlighting function is much improved now. You can highlight exactly the passages you want, rather than the boxes you were stuck making on the old one. And one of the neatest tricks the DX does is that, like the newer cell phones, you can turn it on its side and use landscape view. That is good for reading many graphs, but also, as you can see in the illustration, makes this a great device for reading, of all things, music. The cover that came with the original Kindle was pathetic, so they started selling the Kindles without covers! I had purchased a really cool leather cover for my old Kindle from a British company. Amazon now sells its own leather cover for the DX -- it's pricey, but it's nice. I would advise getting one, though I'm sure somebody will start marketing an even more impressive cover shortly.

Things Amazon needs to do for us:

Rejigger the audio book function. At present it only works with one proprietary audio book company's product. Anything else you have to put on the device as an MP3 and listen to the same way you'd listen to music.

Go back to a removable battery and memory card.

AND MOST OF ALL, work with the publishers and convince them they should not follow the disastrous path of the recording industry. Unlike files you put on the Kindle yourself, books you buy from Amazon come in a ludicrous proprietary format, which means that you can't read them on any other device. E-books need to be like MP3 files, readable on ANY device, transportable from one machine to another. Yes, this means that someone can give a copy to someone else, but they are going to be able to do that anyway. Anything can and will be scanned and passed around in time. People who buy Kindles are people who already buy lots of books. They will buy even more if the experience is as easy and as portable as what we have had with the sturdy codex format all these generations.