Sunday, March 09, 2008

Blogs, Boutiques, and the Public Square

Here's the paper I gave on Thursday about poetry blogs at the "Markets: From the Bazaar to eBay" conference held by the University of Toronto's Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. Special thanks to Jonathan Mayhew, Eileen Tabios, and Del Ray Cross, who emailed in response to my call for contributions and whose comments I incorporated into the paper. I didn't see Barbara Jane Reyes's response in time to include it in my paper, but I'll try to post a response to her remarks a bit later. Thanks also to the folks at the conference for their helpful questions and comments. Further responses are, of course, welcome.

In 1993, the poet Charles Bernstein created an email listserv for the discussion of poetry and poetics, hosted at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he was then a professor. The “UB Poetics discussion group”—later to become known as the POETICS list—focused on innovative and experimental writing, particularly work related to Language writing, a movement of the 1970s and 1980s of which Bernstein was a founding member. Beginning with a few dozen subscribers, the list quickly became an authoritative forum for poetics, featuring heated debates over aesthetics and politics, announcements of new publications, and circulation of original work. Today the list’s membership is estimated at over 1300 people; although most subscribers seem to be based in the United States, the list has a worldwide reach, and Canadian critics such as Peter Quartermain and George Bowering have been prominent voices since the list’s inception.

When I first joined the POETICS list in the mid-1990s, it seemed to be very much the center of discussion on avant-garde poetry. But in the past few years, the list’s hegemony has been challenged, most notably by an explosion of blogs devoted to the discussion of experimental poetry. In 2002, the poet Ron Silliman, a colleague of Charles Bernstein’s from the Language movement, started a blog on which he posted daily reviews and commentary on poetics. I started my own blog in 2003, following a number of my friends in the San Francisco poetry community. Soon the number of poetry blogs seemed to be growing exponentially.

For a time, the POETICS list took little notice of what was going on in the blogs, though bloggers often commented on things happening on the list. Gradually, though, it began to seem as if the center of gravity was shifting towards the blogs. Ron Silliman’s posts to the list became updates on what was new on his blog. List subscribers made increasingly frequent mention of blog discussions. But it soon became clear that the list’s dominant attitude toward blogs was one of discomfort, even resentment.

The exchanges that made this clear to me—and that put in play the terms that stimulated this paper—occurred on the list in December 2003. The poet Leslie Scalapino, having taken issue with a post Silliman made on his blog, posted her response to Silliman to the POETICS list, complaining that Silliman had refused to respond to her emailed critique. Another list member, Tom Bell, responded:
I think you've hit on the weakness of blogs. There is no need for
publishing dissent.
(A technical note: At this point, Blogger, the program used by most bloggers in the poetry community, lacked a built-in commenting function. A few bloggers, Silliman included, had installed third-party programs that allowed commenting, but they were awkward to use and often unreliable.)

In another post, Bell elaborated:
If I 'own' a blog I don't have to publish aything I don't want to publish. While this is true of other forms of publication it's most obvious when one person controls all.
Finally, subscriber Robert Corbett brought the metaphor to a head:
blogs are shops, while the list is the public square. you can control discussion in a blog, but not on list. (though a strictly monitored list becomes a mall). note: my capitalist analogies are not meant to be disrespectful, although at the moment they do seem appropriate.
Corbett’s “capitalist analogies” bring the poetry blog, perhaps surprisingly, into contact with the discourse of the market that is this conference’s subject. I say “surprisingly” because it is far from self-evident that contemporary poetry in North America has any significant relationship to the market at all. For decades, poets and critics have bemoaned the declining general readership for poetry. Fewer and fewer trade publishers produce books of poetry, and poetry is less and less frequently reviewed in the major book reviews. No poet expects to make money, much less earn a living, writing poetry. Indeed, poets often observe that much contemporary poetry operates on a gift or barter economy: small-press publications or chapbooks sent out free or at minimal charge to friends and colleagues or swapped for the publications of other poets, labor such as that of editing and printing done at the individual publisher’s own cost with little prospect of recouping one’s investment.

So why is the language of the market being injected so strongly here into discourse around poetry, and why should it be attached in particular to the specter of the blog? Although it’s true that a commercially hosted blog may have more obviously market-oriented elements than an academically hosted listserv—an issue to which I’ll return a bit later—I don’t believe that the debaters on the list had that in mind exactly. Instead, I think that the metaphor of the market was being used in a political fashion, to register anxiety about an apparent shift in the medium of poetic discourse.

Let’s think a bit more carefully about the opposition Corbett sets up: between the “shop” (or, as he would put it in a later message, the “boutique”) and the “public square.” The contrast here is not between two different kinds of commercial spaces (say, blogs are Starbucks and the list is Wal-Mart) but between a commercial space and one understood as non-commercial. The “public square” is, of course, the space not of commercial speech but of political discourse and rational debate; its alliance with the Habermasian “public sphere” of print culture is evident in Tom Bell’s remark, which notes that the blog does not have to “publish dissent” (presumably in contrast to a newspaper, which prints divergent opinions and publishes letters to the editor). Placing poetry and discussion about poetry in this “public sphere” makes it a species of rational discourse.

In contrast, the notion of the blog as “boutique” frames blog discourse as purely instrumental speech, with its contents a commodity to be purchased. It brings poetic speech into the realm of private property—the blog’s author, as Bell puts it, as the “owner” of its contents. The blog, in this opposition, is a privatized and commodified space in which reasoned debate is replaced by monologue—an accommodation of poetry to the market that it seems we’re not meant to welcome.

How should we evaluate these claims? Well, one can see at a glance that the blog may appear to be more permeated by market forces than the POETICS list. Although most blogging services are free to both authors and readers, nearly all are hosted by commercial providers. If you had gone to a typical Blogger page in 2002 or 2003, you might have seen small banner ads, tailored to the page’s content, at the top of each page; shortly after that Blogger’s success attracted a buyout from Google, and the ads largely disappeared. While more widely read blogs are supported by author-solicited advertising, I have never known a poetry blogger to seek out advertising for the blog. In short, the “commercial” element of the blog is structural and technological rather than proprietary. But perhaps that’s the point. The blog template is certainly far slicker than the plain-text format of the POETICS list. And the list is hosted on an academic rather than a commercial server.

I would argue that it is this residual nature of the POETICS list—its protection from any signifiers of market penetration—that allows it to be a site of nostalgia for a “public” that predates the commodification of everyday life. But if the POETICS list offers a backward glance at the mythical “public square,” the picture it paints is not always flattering. Just as the ostensibly “public” sphere turns out to be almost entirely the realm of white men, so it has often been observed that cyberspace—particularly in the 1990s—is an overwhelmingly white and male realm. And the POETICS list has been no exception. My experience of the list has always been—to put it crudely—that of a bunch of men arguing with each other. And although things have certainly improved in this regard, a rough count I’ve done of messages posted to the list just in the past month suggests that the gender imbalance is still severe.

My estimate—going simply by the names of posters—is that of over 600 messages posted to the list in February 2008, 132 were by women, and 515 by men. In other words, men posted nearly four times as many messages to the list as women. Furthermore, every one of the group I would call “superposters”—those who posted more than 10 times over the course of the month—were men; 13 men posted more than 10 times, and 6 posted more than 20 times. Only one woman—the list’s moderator—posted more than 10 messages.

So clearly, the “public square” of the POETICS list is one that continues to be dominated by male voices. And—as the ranks of superposters suggests—by loud male voices. If the idea of the public square is now summoning up images of speakers on soapboxes trying to shout each other down, you’re not far off. Like nearly all listservs, the POETICS list has been plagued since its earliest days by “flame wars”—ad hominem or otherwise vicious attacks and counterattacks that have caused many prominent members to withdraw from discussion.

It’s a bit harder to make an authoritative statement about the racial makeup of the list, though it certainly seems to be overwhelmingly white. What I can say about this topic stems mostly from unpleasant incidents around race I experienced during my time as a subscriber. In two instances a subscriber posted poems with images I felt bordered on anti-Asian racism; when I posted critical comments, I found myself quite aggressively attacked, almost entirely by white male subscribers, and only one or two other poets of Asian descent made themselves heard in the debates. After the third incident—in which list members were rather unbelievably having a blithe conversation about whether or not a certain anti-Asian slur could be used in polite company—I left the list. (After leaving, I received messages from a number of women and writers of color saying that they had left the list due to similar experiences of racism or sexism.)

While it would be easy enough to attribute the facts I have described to a particular listserv, or even to the listserv form itself, it’s also true that the racial and gender makeup of the list reflects a long-held sense among many critics that avant-garde writing continues to be understood as a white male practice. In the late 1970s, poet Rae Armantrout authored an essay called “Why Don’t Women Do Language-Oriented Writing?”, and more recently critics have worked to incorporate women and black writers into an avant-garde tradition that has historically neglected them.

It’s my sense that blogs have provided a space where a wider variety of voices in experimental writing have been heard. Again, it’s hard to provide concrete numbers, but in the list of blogs maintained by Ron Silliman, the gender gap does seem a bit narrower: my rough count suggests that Silliman lists 277 blogs written by women to 575 by men. There’s also a striking presence of blogs by Asian and Latino writers, including well-known figures such as Lorna Dee Cervantes and Nick Carb√≥. And particularly in the earlier days of poetry blogging, many of the most influential and prolific bloggers, from Stephanie Young to Eileen Tabios, were women or writers of color.

Now how does this apparent fact—the blogosphere as more welcoming to diverse voices—square with the commercial metaphors that surround the poetry blog? In order to understand that, we need to turn to the bloggers to see how they frame their own practice. The question of the blog as marketing tool arose as early as May 2003, when Ron Silliman took note of the emerging network of “the 50 or so active poetry bloggers [who] have fallen into the process of referring obsessively back & forth to each other’s daily posts." The result, Silliman suggested, was that each of us could “now count at least 50 other bloggers who are probably intrigued at whatever else they might be writing.” Silliman called this building an audience, but it might also have been called marketing: the blog as a teaser introducing people to your work.

It’s true that there are some poets who use blogs in this fashion: as places to post announcements about their readings, samples of their work, hints about what they’re writing. But such bloggers rarely build much of an audience, because they are not fully realizing the potential of the blog form as a new medium. The most interesting poet blogs tend to be engaging hybrids—some combination of the essay, the review, the notebook, and the diary, with generous helpings of gossip and social networking thrown in. Perhaps the most telling sign is that relatively few of these blogs by poets are blogs of poetry; in other words, poets are not simply seeing the blog as an electronic version of print publication, but as something else entirely that seems to be shifting the bounds of poetic discourse.

So if we want to understand the “blogs are boutiques” metaphor, we have to look beyond the idea that they are a conventional marketing tool. Instead, I think we have to understand the opposition between the “public square” of the listserv and the “boutique” of the blog as not merely a commercial metaphor but a spatial metaphor, one that is particularly relevant to space in the era of globalization. If the public square is understood as a central space for mass civic gatherings, boutiques suggest a decentralized public space that has been parceled up into individualized spaces of consumption. And we can certainly see how this maps onto the list vs. the blog. On the listserv, all communication must pass through a central node—the listhost—thus ensuring that every member of the list receives the same information. In contrast, the dizzying array of poetry blogs appears to have no center at all; each reader chooses the particular blogs she wishes to read, which may have only limited overlap with the constellation of blogs chosen by her peers.

Isn’t it possible to see, in this anxious narrative of transition from list to blog, an allegory of the advance of transnational capitalism? We have the shift from a centralized public space, whose boundaries are defined in the political terms of the state, to a decentralized landscape of consumption in which political boundaries have given way to the imperatives of commerce. And if we continue along those lines, understanding the ways in which blogs might represent a gain for poetic discourse—if we are to see the diversity of voices presented in blogs as something more than a wider range of consumer options—may be analogous to seeing the potential for a deterritorialization that allows new kinds of networks and communities to emerge.

I take the latter idea not only from my own experiences but from the thoughts of other bloggers on this issue. Take the standard practice of linking to other poets’ blogs in your own posts. In the absence of a central channel, this is the primary means of keeping a conversation going; but it’s one that must be done consciously, with a careful sense of how one is positioning oneself in a discourse. In a response on the POETICS list, one blogger, Chris Murray, puts a different spin on the “shopping” metaphor:
in blog writing there is also the sense of being part of an arcade, of wandering-via-writing…perhaps the Walter Benjamin kind of arcade?
Murray refers, of course, to Walter Benjamin’s unfinished Arcades Project, which takes Paris’s glass-covered shopping arcades as its central metaphor but extrapolates that consumerist trope into a textual wandering through an encyclopedia of sources, creating a new literary landscape of the nineteenth century. It’s that sense of unexpected, underground connections through decentralized wandering that I think can be drawn from the market metaphor of poetry blogging. Back in 2003, here’s the take I gave on linking in my own blog, in response to Silliman:
Linking is conversation; linking is courtesy; linking is acknowledging that you have readers, most of whom are lonely bloggers themselves. And linking is multidirectional; it's usually several different people talking in different directions at once, which may be disorienting but is also exhilirating and keeps things moving. It's what keeps the blog from being a monologue or a book review.
In preparing this talk, I solicited input from other bloggers as well, particularly from those who had been blogging since the early days. Jonathan Mayhew, who was among the first bloggers I read, said in an email to me about the “market” metaphor:
I'm not selling anything and haven't made a dime by blogging…Far from being isolating, I've found blogging to be a way of making connections with people I'd otherwise never meet. Some I end up meeting and some I don't, but NONE of them was anyone I had laid eyes on before I began blogging. The personal blog doeesn't replace any other format: journal, book, listserve. It comes closest to journal, if we take the journal/diary/newspaper connection seriously. I don't really know what the connection is between the market and blogging. Blogging would be advertisement, then? It's more an advertisement for oneself than for one's books, though.
Another prominent and prolific blogger who wrote in was Eileen Tabios, who is an editor and publisher in addition to being the author of numerous books of poetry. Tabios, a Filipina American writer, agreed that blogs have been helpful for writers of color:
blogs are a means of drawing attention in ways not otherwise covered by other media. One thus can say MOST DEFINITELY YES to the impact on writers of color as a category...because one can say that just for individual authors. I am not the only obscure writer who is just a tad less obscure today because I blog...and that has affected my book sales as well as poetry reviews!
Tabios expands on these ideas in an unpublished essay called “Thoughts on Blogging.” Precisely because poetry blogs offer a dizzying array of voices, Tabios argues that
poetry blogland more accurately mirrors the nature of Poetry than has traditional canon-making poetic machinery… There is no center – or there are many centers – in poetry.
In contrast to the relative absence of Asian American poets participating on the POETICS list, even a cursory survey reveals an astounding number of Asian American poet-bloggers. Ron Silliman’s blogroll contains at least three dozen Asian American writers, including Nick Carb√≥, Linh Dinh, Cathy Park Hong, Barbara Jane Reyes, and Patrick Rosal.

Tabios also edits the blog-based book review Galatea Resurrects, a mixture of original reviews and reprints of print reviews that she regards as a form of “cultural activism” because it calls “more attention to poetry in all its forms, schools, approaches and other variety.” She also argues that blogs may allow “poetry to expand its audience beyond other poets”—in part, I would add, because most blogs do not require one to be a subscriber to read their content.

A final set of remarks came from poet Del Ray Cross, editor of the online journal SHAMPOO. As I mentioned before, most poets’ main blogs do not, in fact, consist primarily of poems. Cross’s blog, anachronizms, is an exception, but one that is not uncommon among poets: a blog dedicated to a specific, ongoing writing project, a way of writing in public. Of his blog, Cross says simply:
there is no economy here, really -- i get very few readers. i opt not to put up links there. so it's a very hesitant or ambivalent way for me to be part of some community. mostly it's just a record, a work in progress, and a motivating factor for me.
The ambivalence of which Cross speaks is actually, I think, central to the blog’s appeal to poets and its role in forming poetic communities. While the solitary work of writing has always been counterbalanced by forming communities with like-minded writers, many poets remain ambivalent about the constraints and demands such social ties can bring. For every poet who remains a member of the POETICS list, I can think of several others who have quit the list after finding it exhausting.

Blogs offer a far more provisional and decentralized model of community, one that may shift with each set of links. The nostalgia for the “public square” that I have described speaks to the anxiety such deterritorializations may engender. But they may well, as the bloggers I quote suggest, create a more open and free-wheeling environment that is especially well suited to poetic practice, while also opening up new lines of connection across aesthetics, gender, and race that might not happen in more conventional forums. “Shopping” is not the only metaphor for the aimless, unprofitable, and occasionally exhilarating wandering that constitutes the world of poetry blogs. Like any other space of late modernity, it may be conditioned by market forces, but the surprising new connections it forges across previously rigid boundaries is a promising example of the new communities that may emerge in the global bazaar of cyberspace.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Call to Poet-Bloggers

If you're a poet who blogs (or someone who blogs about poetry), I'd love to have your input on a talk I'm giving at a conference next Thursday here at the University of Toronto. The conference is on "Markets" and is being sponsored by the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. (Full program in PDF can be found here).

I proposed my topic a long time ago, so you'll have to forgive that it's based on a rather ancient comment from the POETICS list, from about four years back, to the effect that "blogs are shops, while the list is the public square" (or, in another incarnation, "the list is the Forum, the blogs are the Boutiques"). My interest is less in the particulars of the good old Poetics list vs. blogs debate than in the commercial metaphor that's in play here, suggesting the blog as an attractive but isolating and potentially commodified space for poetics.

So my primary interests in the talk are:

--what kind of space the blog is vs. other print & electronic media for poetry (books, journals, listservs, etc.)
--what the relationship between the poetry/poetics blog and the market for poetry (and criticism) is
--whether the blog form (as I hypothesize) has provided new spaces for women and poets of color that have historically been absent in other forums for discussions of poetics

Here's where I'd love to have your help. If you have thoughts on or around any of these topics, I'd really like to incorporate them into my presentation, where I'll be showing various websites and blogs and talking about the kind of economy created among them. But it would be great to hear not just from me but from a spectrum of bloggers on this topic. So if you would be interested in putting up a post on your blog around these issues sometime in the next week, I would (with your permission, of course, and giving you proper credit) try to display some of your comments during the course of my talk.

Please feel free to participate or not participate in whatever manner you see fit; I'll be very grateful for any contributions to the discussion. If you do post something, drop me an email so I know to look for it. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Toronto

So there we were, three Americans in Toronto on Tuesday night, watching MSNBC streaming on a Mac desktop monitor and each of us with laptop open on our laps and hitting refresh on our browsers. Nerds.

I knew I'd be obsessing about the Super Tuesday results, but it's not like you can go to a Canadian sports bar and demand that they put on CNN. So why not have company? Add that we're all basically Obama fans and we were biting our nails until 1 a.m.

How did things look from north of the border? Pretty much the same, although it did mean that we couldn't switch away from Chris Matthews when he was getting too annoying (although I gotta say he was pushing the idea of Obama's "unstoppable" momentum pretty hard). I guess everything did feel slightly more abstract and distant, and I didn't get the thrill of walking into my Hyde Park polling place in Chicago and hoping that maybe I'd run into Obama voting--I had to be satisfied with adding my absentee vote to the Illinois landslide. (A home-state comparison: Clinton beat Obama in New York by 17 points. Obama beat Clinton in Illinois by 32 points. Actually, it's even worse if you really think about it: Clinton's real home state is Illinois. She grew up in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge.)

Obama's apparent strategy--concentrating on a large number of smaller states where a modest investment of organization could produce an overwhelming victory, while relying on national momentum and exposure to keep him close in the biggest states--worked brilliantly, producing 13 states won to Clinton's 9. It's funny to see how this got spun in various outlets, and how it looked like we had a different "winner" depending on how the information was presented. The Obama folks must have known quite well that Obama's run would look extremely good on TV, and it did: MSNBC kept putting up a list of states won by each candidate, and Obama's got so long it had to be written in a smaller font.

And what about delegates? The immediate spin in news outlets of Tuesday as a (very slight) Clinton win was based on the idea that she had won the biggest states and had eked out a tiny edge in delegates. But all the most recent estimates of delegates actually won on Super Tuesday --not including, in other words, unpledged superdelegates who can do whatever they want--suggest either a tie or an outright win for Obama. The Obama campaign estimates an 845-836 win; yesterday's AP estimate was that Obama had a 546-542 edge; and CBS projects a tie at 715. (And CNN currently gives Obama a 635-630 lead in pledged delegates over the entire primary season.) The Clinton campaign's response to this is to assert that "Hillary continues to lead Sen. Obama in the race for thousands of delegates and superdelegates nationwide"; including superdelegates in the claim suggests that Clinton does not dispute that Obama may have won more pledged delegates. Thus there has been no direct rebuttal to the claim that Obama won more delegates on Tuesday.

More states. More delegates. In short: Obama won.

Well, of course, it doesn't seem to be that simple. Check out that New York Times headline: "Obama Is Making Inroads, but Fervor Fell Short at End." The NYT's coverage has been nothing short of schizophrenic, alternating worshipful rock-star coverage of Obama with dutiful recitations of Clinton-camp spin. But the sense that Obama somehow "fell short" Tuesday seems to be shared by a lot of Obama partisans too, if the long litany of "is disappointed" in my list of Facebook status updates today is any indication. How is it that Obama backers could be disappointed when their candidate won every state he was reasonably expected to and then managed to pick off a couple (Missouri, Connecticut) that he wasn't supposed to?

One word: California. The fantasy that Obama might somehow win California--stoked by one lousy poll--transfixed everyone, but no one, I think, so much as early Obama adopters who thought that California, of all places, would ultimately "get it" and join the Obama movement. I think this is less a reflection of California reality than a sign of the role California plays in the liberal imagination: as the ultimate open-minded, forward-thinking, progressive haven, a beacon for the benighted heartland. (This also accounts, to my mind, for the inordinate emphasis placed on Clinton's unsurprising win in Massachusetts, which is, in the liberal [and that includes the media's] imagination, the seat of good old Northeastern liberalism, represented by the Kennedys. Never mind that it is also the home of Mitt Romney.) Not winning California jolted a lot of Obamaites, I think, because it made them realize that many of the voters who they think of as their party's base remain unconvinced by Obama.

In this case, it's the heartland--and, to a lesser degree, the South--that seems to "get it" when it comes to Obama: Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, South Carolina, Georgia. And I think that's a good thing: it's these places, not California or New York or Massachusetts, that are going to be the battlegrounds in the general election, and Obama's shown he can win there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Barack vs. Bill

While I'm not crazy about the ongoing Barack Obama-Bill Clinton smackdown, I get why it works for both campaigns.

As we saw in the quick "truce" over Hillary's comments on Martin Luther King, Obama and Hillary Clinton realize that direct attacks on each other (especially on volatile issues like race) are tricky. If she attacks him head-on, she risks looking mean-spirited and petty (and at worst racist); if he attacks her head on, he risks looking nasty in a way that drags down his positive campaign (and at worst, he looks sexist--cf. "you're likable enough").

But Barack vs. Bill is a lot more comfortable--the press and public seem to rather enjoy watching two men whaling on each other. And Bill's enormous popularity among African Americans ("first black president," etc.) seems to insulate him from any suspicion of racism, in a way that doesn't seem to apply to Hillary.

Still, I can't help thinking that continuing down this road is not good for anyone. The risk for the Clinton campaign is that it reveals--and tests--the extent to which Hillary's campaign rests on nostalgia for Bill's presidency (an appeal to which I am not totally immune); if "the man from Hope" begins to look like a meanie who's trying to bring down Obama, I don't think it bodes well for Hillary the rest of the way. On the other hand, it could also significantly weaken Obama by forcing him to more aggressively attack Hillary, which I think is a losing proposition for him. (This is where I think maybe the Reagan comments were pretty smart: it allows Obama to (rhetorically, at least) distinguish himself from "Clintonism" without having to attack either Clinton head-on.)

You could make the argument (as I think some Democratic activists are) that these fisticuffs are a good thing--they get everyone sharper for the general election. This is especially true for Obama, whose ability to go negative and/or respond to vicious personal attacks has not been as obviously tested (although my theory, as I've suggested, is that such personal attacks do not seem to work very well against Obama, which I think is one of his major strengths for the general election). The worst-case scenario for me would be that a long series of attacks back and forth turns Democrats off of both candidates and dampens enthusiasm for November. I don't think that's likely, but it is already taking some of the fun out of all of this.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obama Wins at Caesars!

This is totally awesome. The Nevada Democratic Party site has caucus-by-caucus results, which means you can see exactly how each candidate did at the casino caucuses.

The theory was that these at-large caucuses would help Obama, since the culinary workers' union (which represents many casino workers) had endorsed him. It doesn't seem to have worked out that way--Clinton edged him out in most of the casinos. However, Obama did win the caucuses at Caesars Palace and the Luxor. Right on!

Also, I now think Obama has material for a good attack ad. Which casino gave Clinton her biggest margin of victory? Paris. I can see the commercial now: "Hillary Clinton...they love her in Paris!"

P.S. So...the more I think about it, the more I can't see in what way Obama didn't win. This is a caucus, so there is no "popular vote." All the caucuses did was to choose delegates to the county conventions, whose sole job (at least as far as presidential politics is concerned) is to choose delegates to the national convention. And it seems that according to the way Nevada apportions its delegates, even though Clinton numerically has more county delegates, Obama will end up with 13 national delegates to Clinton's 12--it's a little like losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral College.

So it's a win, right? At least that's how the Obama camp is seeing it.

P.P.S. The Nation breaks it down, though they seem to be the only ones running with this "maybe Obama really won" story.

Obama and Clinton...Tie?

While everyone is reporting that Hillary Clinton has won the Nevada caucuses, it appears that Obama will be awarded more delegates in the end. Quoth DailyKos: "Obama wins Nevada."

So...shall we call it a tie and move on?

Friday, January 18, 2008

No One Is Safe

for Steve Halle

Dear Mongolian Death Worm,

No one is safe from my bureaucracy of cheese. We may as well pretend that this high-salt Easter is a peanut of plenty. But digging deeper we find overt Elizabeth, filthy with time. Yes of course this is straight from the heart.

Now I am in my spidersuit and running for Wolf Catcher of the World. Don't think you'll tell me how much you "like" me: I know.

Hurry up and turn that tumor over while I got my mind set on it. No parents are home to give us gumdrop drips, so just call every woman man and child to sharpen the blades of this straight-talk lawnmower. You know the way. It's just a little tickle, nothing serious like what's seeping through the wall.

Friday nights I stay home and watch Queen of Sheba reruns on my gunmetal eyes. Click this, click that, bushy-tailed and karaoke-red.

Begin interview with hard right, then throw over and stabilize somewhere two miles below center. Then query each node crushed underfoot before dicing and eating. Don't get all, you know, accusatory on me. In this new order we'll take it one spay at a time.

Sleep well,

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Al Gore for...VP?

Came across this wacky post from the Times (UK) Online suggesting that Al Gore would be a great candidate...for vice president, with Obama at the top of the ticket.

Now I think Al Gore is great and all, but this seems like a profoundly dumb idea. (Okay, you can't blame this guy for coming up with the idea: see also here, here, here, and here, for starters.)

Here are the columnist's 10 reasons for the idea, along with my responses:

1. He brings experience to the ticket. Inexperience is Obama's greatest weak point.
Inexperience is, in fact, Obama's greatest strength. His advantage is that he is a fresh face, with no record to bog him down, and that he represents change. Gore's long record of accomplishment would in fact be an albatross; the entire campaign would become about attacking Gore.

2. He represented a southern state, so he would broaden the geographical base of Obama's campaign.
Gore won exactly one state south of the Mason-Dixon line: Maryland. (Well, he also won Florida, and hence the election, but that's another matter.) There's no Southern advantage here.

3. He would rouse the Democratic base, stoking their desire for revenge for 2000 and increasing the turnout on the Dem side. This would allow Obama to concentrate on swing voters.
You misunderstand the psychology of the Democratic base, which prefers to shunt its previous "losers" into oblivion. Remembering the 2000 election makes the average die-hard Democrat ill and discouraged rather than angry. Bush makes them angry.

4. He would bring lustre to the ticket, which could be important if facing John McCain. The Republican will not be able to boast a VP candidate who has won both an Oscar and a Nobel prize.
The ticket does not need "lustre." Obama is riding high precisely because he is a media darling, a superstar with far more charisma than Gore. And if Gore does bring lustre, that's a bad thing; the VP should never outshine the top of the ticket. (The idea that Americans will vote for an Oscar and a Nobel winner is laughable. Jimmy Carter won a Nobel and I don't see anyone proposing him as a candidate.)

5. He is a good debater with an excellent track record in the VP debates.
No one watches VP debates.

6. He would push climate change up the agenda during the election, exposing Republican weaknesses.
Climate change is a winner if it is *an* issue (one that shows the ignorance and intransigence of the Bush administration), but not if it is *the* issue (showing that the Democrats are really tree-huggers bent on destroying the economy). And it doesn't work if McCain is the nominee.

7. He would bring the Democratic establishment behind Obama without him having to select Hillary.
The less Obama is associated with the "Democratic establishment," the better.

8. He served in Vietnam, volunteering even though he opposed the war. This remains an issue and would certainly be one if McCain was the Republican candidate.
Obama is too young for Vietnam service to become an issue. Gore has never seemed comfortable making an issue of his own service anyway.

9. His record on terror and Iraq inside the Clinton White House was a good one. He would be able to deploy this to help Obama when foreign policy comes to the forefront.
The last thing the Democrats need is a round of finger-pointing about whether Clinton/Gore or Bush/Cheney are to blame for making the country more vulnerable to terrorism. Right now the responsibility is solely on Bush's shoulders; leave it there.

10. His re-election would be exciting for the media and another first, helping the Obama bandwagon roll. No VP has run for a third term. But there is no law against it.
Um...I don't know. Isn't electing the first black president of the United States enough for the media to chew on?

Moral of the story: British (and also, I'm afraid, Canadian) punditry on U.S. politics should be used for amusement purposes only.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Let's Face It...

It should also tell you something about where my current energies lie that I'm assuming the only way anyone will even know I'm making posts here is when they see it in the feed on my Facebook profile.


I am weirdly realizing that this blog has been inactive far longer than it was ever active. Looking back at my archives, it seems like my most active posting period lasted only from about March 2003 (!) to August 2004--just under a year and a half--which was followed by a 6-month gap. So that makes over three years of mostly sporadic posting.

Maybe it's not surprising that the urge to blog coincides with those periods where I am, or should be, working most intensely. It started when I was making the first real push to write my dissertation; I'm feeling like resuming now that I'm trying to finish up the last revisions on that dissertation--now a book project--by the end of the month.

Looking back through the archives does have its pleasures, though. I am particularly pleased with the prescience of this particular post from May 2004:
There's also an awestruck profile of Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama that should strike terror into the hearts of the right; this guy is good. At one point, an Illinois congresswoman goes into a meeting with George W. Bush sporting a campaign button:

On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her "OBAMA" button. "He jumped back, almost literally...And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a 'b'. And I explained who he was. The President said, 'Well, I don't know him.' So I just said, 'You will.'"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

MLA Marathon Reading

Dodie Bellamy, Garin Cycholl, Kevin Killian
Okay, so it's been, oh, 6 months or so since my last entry. But I'm popping back up to share the slew of photos I took at the MLA marathon reading in Chicago. I tried to get a shot of every reader, but I think I missed a couple at the beginning and maybe in the second half when I got up to stretch my legs and raid the snack table. Aldon Nielsen's pics put mine to shame (he got that darn flag-through-the-window shot I was trying to get all night). Organizer Bob Archambeau and participant Philip Metres offer their takes as well.

Relive the whole thing at PennSound.

Also, I nominate Dodie and Kevin for most photogenic.