Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pimped Out at the U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois seems determined to sacrifice its integrity for the sake of alumni dollars, which reveals that the latest controversy over the "chief and the campaign to force professors from their jobs for protesting against him, is not just another attack on the left coming from organized right-wing students, which is bad enough, but of the importance of college sports as a business that has become too high a priority at many schools. As the above article, as well as the next one shows, these sports programs often cost more money than they bring in.
I guess now it's an endless cycle, and nothing will stop the University of Illinois's Board of Trustees from getting on their knees for alumni bucks.

The story: The mascot or, as the university prefers to call it, "symbol" of the team is the Chief Illiniwek, a white student in redface, moccasins, and head-dress, who does a made-up "Indian" dance at sports half-times shows. The university, which has about 100 Native American students, has had this mascot since the 1920s. The mascot was first challenged by American Indian activists in the 1970s, but activism gained real momentum in the 1980s with the founding of the University's Native American studies program. One of the many activists who have opposed the "chief" is Charlene Teters, is featured in the movie "In Whose Honor," an excellent documentary about the impact of Native American mascots on actual Native Americans.

in 2000, faculty at Illinois resolved that the "Chief" interfered with the educational mission of the institution.
In 2001, faculty threatened to send out a letter to athletic recruits about the mascot.

In 2005, the NCAA took action and said that the Illinois team's mascot could not appear at Post-Season games and that the school could not host post-season games at all. A great move by the NCAA.

However, things are now stuck in court; the University isappealing the NCAA decision, and has reportedly attempted to pass off the trademarked symbol to the alumni association - though this didn't work.
Exasperated with the intransigence of the university, a group of faculty finally did send out a letter
to recruits, and now an angry student has created a petition calling on the professors who signed the letter to resign.
Although it seems like an odd thing to imagine that a fraternity brother's rallying of "school spirit" could actually have influence on the jobs of professors, particularly those as notable as historian David Roediger, whose name is now featured as one of the "chief villains" on the student's call to resign petition, I'm worried about the climate that we're in, given the recent skewering of Ward Churchill over his article about September 11th, and the kind of money involved in college sports programs.
When I read about the Chief Illiniwek conflict, I feel like I'm living on another planet from the rest of America. I was also horrified to read that students at the U. of Illinois, which has the largest fraternity and sorority system in the entire country, recently held a "fiesta" at which students dressed up as Mexican immigrants as a joke. As Aimee Rickmann, a graduate student who wrote the above-linked-letter to the student newspaper protesting the party pointed out, the Illinois mascot sets the tone that excuses such behavior.
People at Illinois claim that they are really "honoring" Native Americans with their chief, despite the fact that the Native American students who go to the university find it offensive. So, abstract made up Native Americans inspire "awe and reverence" in the Illini fans, but actual Native Americans are just a drag.

Reading about this "Illiniwek" symbol I was reminded of another story about Native Americans and school sports, which was not about the mascot, but about the experiences of a group of Native Americans who played highschool basketball in South Dakota, which I'd heard a few years ago on "This American Life"(key word search "high speed chase" and you'll find the episode).
Following the game, white students chased the Native American
girls, called them Prairie Niggers, and fired shots at them from their car. They didn't think they were racists either.
If the Illini, and other "Indian" mascots were really honoring Native Americans, wouldn't the culture of sports be more friendly to Native Americans, promoting actual Native American athletes? Since the people who protest the "chief" and other mascots are often Indian, and the people who chase them around, make threats and create a climate of fear at these institutions are mostly white, I would have to say that it doesn't look like these symbols are doing much in the way of increasing understanding.

But I guess it doesn't matter. For the University of Illinois, keeping the bills paid on their sports program must be more important than maintaining a university that serves as an institution for everyone in the state of Illinois. I just wonder how much more shameless this "ho" university will get.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Back to the Blog

It's been a long summer and my blogging has been infrequent, but finally, this new draft of my book is done and is going in the mail on Monday morning. That means that I'll be back to writing regularly here. It also means that my living room is now a little less cluttered than it's been for the last few months. Books are going back in the shelves, or back to the library, or to my office. Notebooks are going to be indexed and stored in boxes. Now, it's just a matter of waiting to hear back from the press's readers to see what they think of this new version. Later tonight or tomorrow morning, I'll do a regular blog post.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

American Genius,A Comedy

After we've waited so long for a new novel by Lynne Tillman whose last novel No Lease on Life pulled the skin off the Lower East Side, American Genius, A Comedy from Softskull press is now out in the stores.
All I knew about this novel before now was that it, unlike Tillman's previous works, featured very long sentences. I had no idea until just this morning, when I read the bookforum review, that the novel made skin into its leaping-off point for meditations on history and the human condition. I'm pleased to see that my Aunt (yes, we're related) has written this new novel from the point of view of a former historian (and I was just talking to her yesterday about how the worst thing about being historian must be torturous process of editing footnotes!). This current historian is now a designer, fascinated by chairs.

According to Matthew Sharpe,

Magnificently, Lynne Tillman makes skin do what Herman Melville made boats do--contain multitudes. American Genius, though less macho, belongs in the same class as Moby-Dick and Gravity's Rainbow: encyclopedic novels about America and the world. Grand and minute, elegiac and hilarious, this book will also contradict anything anyone can say about it."

If that's true, it's best to take a look for yourself. It's been excerpted in Bomb magazine, and you can read a snippet online.
It's got a web-presence already, being blogged at books are pretty and Midnight Ambulette twice, actually. Earlier this year, Dennis Cooper was celebrating Lynne Tillman Day. And a fellow in Buffalo includes the new novel on his list of books the New York Times should review in comparison with what they have reviewed, which seems to be Phillip Roth and more Phillip Roth.

I'll have more to say about it after reading it, which I will do on the plane on my way to the American Studies conference in Oakland (about which I will surely blog). What I can say for now is this: Lynne Tillman has remained true to her vision as a writer of serious literature. In a world of "Chick Lit" and navel-gazing memoirs, t's not easy to remain true to a marginalized field in which women are even more notoriously marginalized by critics who are obsessed with boys. So the comparison made in the blurbs to boy-cult author, Thomas Pyncheon, delights me.
From what I know of her work, this novel will do what others have failed at: integrate personal reflection with the weight of American history. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

still cute

Nine pounds and 15 ounces, and yet said his mother, "totally painless." Who is it?

it's Benji

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News News News

My brother and his wife just had a baby last week, and here are some pictures. Isn't he cute? I've visited him once since he was born, but since then I've disappeared back into a corner covered with knee-high piles of books and similarly high stacks of spiral binders.
Every time I do a major writing project, I say to myself that I will do all the footnotes as I go along. I was slightly more responsible that way this time around, but with about 150-200 footnotes per chapter, I still am spending a lot more time than I'd like making sure that every little detail is taken care of before I put the ms in the mail. So that's why I've been absent from the blogging world. However, the end is really in sight.
* * *
But, enough about me.
In honor of Benji's arrival,and in a somewhat shameless imitation of my friend Dave over at Axis of Evel Knievel, lemme take a look at some historical coincidences. Once I've done compiling, I will whiz the data all around and make a prediction about Benji's future.

Benji was born on the anniversary of a number of important historical events: On September 28 in 48 BC, the King of Egypt assassinated Pompey of Rome, (which you might have seen on TV if you watched HBO last year.) In 1066, the Norman Conquest began. On September 28th in 1542 - Navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo of Portugal arrived at what is now San Diego. In 1787, the US Congress voted to send the brand new United States Constitution (at that points sans Bill of Rights) to the states for ratification. In 1928 on that day, the United Kingdom banned marijuana, and followed up by banning medical marijuana on Sept 28, 1971. Stalin and Hitler signed their infamous pact to divide Poland on that day in 1939. In 1958, France ratified the Constitution of the fifth Republic, and its colony, Guinea declared independence.And last year on this day, Tom Delay was indicted for violating election laws by a Texas grand jury.
Little Benji celebrates his birthday along with the following famous people: Carravagio, Ethel Rosenberg, Marcello Mastroianni, Ben E. King, John Sayles,Janeane Garafalo, Mira Sorvino, Koko Taylor, Al Capp, Brigitte Bardot, and Hilary Duff.

Benji's Mom is a believer in astrology, so I think we should add that to the mix as well. According to this computer generated chart
Benji is a Libra, with Pisces rising and his moon is in Sagittarius, and will be a creative, empathic, idealistic and perfectionist guy who likes everything to be beautiful and scorns ugliness. He works well with others, likes to have a partner for projects, but also likes to "get his own way" all the time, and yet he can't always decide what that way is.

So, let's stir up all the info....

I predict that Benji will be an artist, will not smoke marijuana, will be good looking, have great taste in clothes and interior decorating and since he's social he'll throw some good parties. He'll also be interested in politics, and at some point he will either found or conquer a new country, or both. Short of a new country, he may create a little community of like-minded people with its own rules, and with a beautiful decorating scheme, of course, perhaps out West. When he chooses a partner with whom to work on this project, his sensitivity and empathy will keep him from choosing someone like either Hitler or Stalin to be his co-founder. Don't worry Mom and Dad.

And that's my prediction. If I'm still blogging in forty years or so, I'll do a follow up.

Welcome to the World Benjamin

My new nephew, Benjamin Nathan.