Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tacos for the Homeless

Thanks to a stolen base by Jacoby Ellsberry, a Bosox ChowdaHead, everyone in the United States wins a free taco from Taco Bell. The free tacos can be claimed on October 30, from 2 to 5 pm.1 Even if you never eat at Taco Bell, drop in for a taco and give it to someone who could use some help feeding him- or herself.

By the way, if a corporation can afford to give away a potential 260 million of its products in a three-hour period, that company is making some serious money.

1Thanks, T-bell, for giving these away during business hours on a weekday.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Reading Kerouac in Denver

What do you read to the audience when the evening's biggest draw has been dead for almost forty years?

On the evening of September 20th, The Tattered Cover, an independent bookstore on 16th and Wynkoop in downtown Denver, hosted a reading and discussion featuring John Leland, author of Hip: The History and most recently Why Kerouac Matters, and me, the representative for The Original Scroll publication of On the Road.

When I was a faculty member at Dickinson College, I attended department-sponsored readings of the very-much-living Ian McEwan and Tobias Wolf that had smaller audiences than all the Kerouac events I have participated in since becoming connected to this project. From this, I have learned a few lessons.

First, the very name Kerouac can fill a room, can convince three hundred people to walk for three hours in calf-high snow through downtown Denver to see the location where Neal Cassady's father swapped haircuts for baked goods. Second, when you are the emissary from the Kingdom of Kerouac, you should keep your mouth shut and let his words do the talking. Even better? Let the audience do the talking.

People attend literary readings for any number of reasons: to be in the presence of a favorite author, to be read to, to have a book signed so you can flip it on eBay, to get in out of the cold. But moreover, people want to ask questions, want to offer their opinions, want to interact with others who care about the same things that they themselves care about.

Bakhtin praises the novel for functioning as a site of heteroglossia, a myriad of interwoven voices that occur simultaneously and uproot the theories of those who find the novel to be the juggernaut of normative ideology. The novel speaks, and its name is Legion. Kerouac was adept at writing narratives that give voice to the voiceless; in his work, the heterogenous articulation that is society speaks in its multiple voices. Kerouac's work is cacophony, is a John-Cage-like requiem, and for this reason so many hear themselves in those pages. When we ask questions after the reading, we speak a non-vocalized declarative below the interrogative utterance; we say, I am here with you.

As a person lucky enough to be asked about Kerouac—and for that asking to occur in fabulous rooms filled with people who care at least as deeply as I do about the work—I try to remember that the question is in (the largest?) part a request to be allowed to speak one's mind about Kerouac's work. And so the dogma of academia, the posturing that says I must answer definitively and leave no doubt, has to be wrestled into the back seat so that I might ask, What do you think? You tell me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Eurocopter Down

On July 27th, two rival news station helicopters collided over Phoenix, AZ, as they shot competing live footage of a high-speed police chase. Both helicopters crashed, killing their crews, which included two pilots and two photographers (the term of choice for those who shoot video footage).

High-speed chases have been in the national spotlight not because of cultural schaudenfreude, but because so many high-speed chases result in destruction of property, both public and private, and personal injury to the suspects, the pursuers, and passersby (350 people die per year as a result of these chases).1 In fact, earlier this year the Supreme Court heard a case filed by a suspect who was paralyzed during a Coweta County, Georgia, high-speed chase when a police cruiser rammed the Cadillac he was driving, causing the teen to lose control of the vehicle and crash into the bottom of an embankment.

In this latest high-speed tragedy, perhaps the first including the deaths of "eye in the sky" television personnel, a new wrinkle has been added to the debate:

The police chief [Jack Harris] said the suspect will likely face criminal charges for the deaths in the helicopter crash."I think he will be held responsible for any of the deaths from this tragedy," Harris said. (
While the death of a police officer or civilian bystander seems easily attributed to the participants involved in the chases—and here I mean to include the officers pursuing the suspect—Chief Harris's assertion is less easily justified.

In a culture that uses the words "personal accountability" to justify cutting social programs and retracting sympathy from those it deems deviant or criminal, all personal accountability for crew and bystander safety has been wrested from the helicopter pilots and their respective networks. As is a long-standing tradition in America, that responsibility has been judiciously given to the stigmatized individual, the criminal on the lam.

This transference of blame serves a crucial ideological function, and for this reason culture is likely to embrace Chief Harris' desire to attribute the deaths to the suspect. By blaming the suspect, we do not have to blame ourselves. As hungry consumers of spectacle masquerading as news, as viewers titillated by the rhetoric of "high-speed chases" (which so often are disappointingly dissimilar to Hollywood's representations of them), these news crews died in their attempt to deliver a valuable commodity that we, the consumers, by-and-large demand.

In an age when entertainment and news are often indistinguishable—consider the number of viewers whose knowledge of current events comes either from Bill O'Reilly or Jon Stewart—it has become increasingly important for us, the news consumers, to reject these spectacles and demand that time and other resources are put into actual reportage of legitimate news.

The story of the suspect in Arizona can be summarized in a single sentence—suspect in alleged stolen vehicle flees police. Car theft is, unfortunately, common. Since 2000, statistics show that a vehicle is stolen in the United States every 25.5 seconds, resulting in roughly 1.2 million thefts per year ("FBI Unified Crime Reports"). Yet for this theft, labeled a "high-speed chase," both Channel 13 and Channel 3 sent helicopters to cover events that unfold twice per minute.

Consider the following transcript of pilot-to-pilot communication immediately preceding the collision (only the voice of Craig Smith, the late pilot for Channel 15, could be heard):
"Where's 3?"
"Like how far? Oh, jeez."
"3, I'm right over you. 15's right over you."
"Oh, jeez." (
Clearly, at least one of the pilots, Channel 3, was unaware of the location of the other helicopter, a mistake which seemingly caused the helicopters to collide, killing the crews.

However, the network got the spectacle it wanted, as viewers on Channel 15 heard the collision live on air and saw the signal drop, that ubiquitous sign of things turning from bad to worse. Now, some major news agencies are running pictures of the collision on the front page of websites (perhaps you've seen it somewhere? I've elected to use a picture of the infamous low-speed chase of one Orenthal James Simpson), using the resultant spectacle from an otherwise unremarkable police chase to attract those news fans left unsatisfied after July 27th's interrupted high-speed coverage.

Instead of attempting to pin pilot error on the suspect below (could he or she be said to know that helicopters were involved?), let us pin the error on our own chests. The suggestion that we as individuals are somehow directly responsible for the welfare of those to whom we are in no way connected is a terrifying one (if I leaned out of my window to try to snap a picture of the chase to post to my blog, and if I fell out of that window, would that fall also be the fault of the suspect?). If we were not a culture addicted to the gruesome, if we did not readily accept spectacle and cheap entertainment as news, there would have been no need to send those helicopters into the sky where they collided, dropped signal, and made some great television.

1 Sherman, Mark. "High Speed Chase Reaches Supreme Court." USA Today. 24 Feb 2007. 28 July 2007 .

2 AZCentral gathers demographic information before allowing a user to proceed to the news story. Here is the link.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ice Water for Jesus

Driving through South Dakota—or Montana or Wyoming or—one cannot help but see signs for Wall Drug. Even if you have not made the trip yourself, you are likely to have heard of the store from resources like Roadside America or public radio or television. Wall Drug, with its historical photo galleries and jackalopes, seems to embody something inherently American—founded in a small town in an underpopulated part of South Dakota, a family's hard work builds an empire.

With the promise of cheap coffee, free doughnuts for veterans, and free ice water for all, Wall Drug's signage projects the down-home quality that camper nation prefers to patronize.1 In the free brochures (stacked beside the ubiquitous free bumper stickers) and on the Wall Drug website, the founder of Wall Drug Ted Hustead's story is the story of a devout, educated, and hard-working husband and father who perseveres against the odds.

From the introduction:

It was December 1931. Dorothy and I had just bought the only drugstore in a town called Wall on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands. We'd been open a few days, and business had been bad. I stood shivering on the wooden sidewalk. In this little prairie town there were only 326 people, 326 poor people.


We were living in Canova, South Dakota, when we began our search, covering Nebraska and South Dakota in our Model T. As we searched, we were sure of two things: we wanted to be in a small town, and we wanted the town to have a Catholic church. In Canova, the nearest parish was 20 miles away. We wanted to be able to go to mass every day.

In Wall, where the drugstore was for sale, we found both a small town and a Catholic church. And when we talked to the priest, the doctor and the banker, they all told us that Wall was a good place with good people and that they wanted us to come live there.
Hustead, a trained pharmacist, and Dorothy, his wife who teaches literature in high school, pray on the decision to move to Wall, and they agree to make a five-year experiment of the move and the store—if Wall Drug does not succeed within five years, they will pack up and move elsewhere.

Despite filling prescriptions for those who needed them, the Husteads believed they were wasting their God-given talents:

The first few months went by and business didn't improve. "I don't mind being poor, " Dorothy said to me. "But I wonder if we can use our talents to their fullest here in Wall."

When Dorothy spoke of talents, my heart sank. My wife had a teaching degree and had taught literature in a Sioux Falls high school. Was I being fair, making her work in this prairie drugstore?

But the next minute Dorothy said, "We shouldn't get down, Ted. I'm sure we can use our abilities fully here. We can make this place work!"
The spirit of this passage is quite sincere, and the notion of Hustead valuing his wife's work in the early 1930's seems anomalous for the time. In what reads like a religious vision, Hustead's wife leaves the store early, attempts to sleep but cannot because of the "jalopies [on Route 16A that] just about shook the house to pieces."

Hearing the noise of the cross-country drivers, Dorothy discovered what would keep Wall Drug's doors open under the Hustead's proprietorship:

"Well, now what is it that those travelers really want after driving across that hot prairie? They're thirsty. They want water. Ice cold water! Now we've got plenty of ice and water. Why don't we put up signs on the highway telling people to come here for free ice water? Listen, I even made up a few lines for the sign:

"Get a soda . . . Get a root beer . . . turn next corner . . . Just as near . . . To Highway 16 & 14. . . Free Ice Water. . . Wall Drug."

As travelers stopped for their ice water, they began to purchase ice cream cones and other items from Wall Drug, making the store a huge success. In 2007, the store can host as many as 20,000 shoppers on a summer day, demonstrating the power of free ice water.

The story closes with these words of Ted Hustead's wisdom: "Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that's that there's absolutely no place on God's earth that's Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!"

The last lines of this story, while ostensibly about Christian fellowship and the benefits of practicing charity, are used to justify capitalistic success. One wonders why the Hustead's were not satisfied by providing medicine to the sick of Wall, yet feel that their God-given talents were utilized by turning a quick dollar through a clever marketing campaign.2 In this story, as in the stories of many who work in finance, "need" and "talents" and "reaching out" are used in the spirit of equivocation. And as a culture we buy into this story, through the teller's ethos—in this case his devout, bootstrap-pulling story—and the innocence of the telling (here, the economic windfall seems perhaps unplanned or at least ancillary to the goal of practicing Christian charity).

An ice-cream cone or a freshly-poured soda might have been what the travelers thought they really needed, but they got water for free and paid for the rest. And the Hustead's were fulfilled, and that alone was good.

Stopping at Wall Drug on the way to Colorado from the Badlands, we filled our water bottles from the free ice water taps in the courtyard and bought a coffee, five cents, and a maple doughnut, $1.37 after tax. Of course, the coffee is mostly water.

1I aspire to camper-nation status, and I mean this without irony.

2The story touches on this only once—in the midst of the first day of free ice water, a businessman comments on the signage: "'Hey this free ice water is a great idea,' said a salesman, sidling up onto a stool. 'How about selling me an ice cream cone?'"

Thursday, May 3, 2007

An Open Letter to Mr. Daniel Henninger

The following is a letter I submitted in response to Daniel Henninger's editorial column "After Imus," part of his "Wonder Land" series, published by the Wall Street Journal on May 3, 2007. Read Mr. Henninger's opinion here.

While Mr. Henninger might have made a legitimate argument about censorship, he chooses to embrace one of the most untenable (and often criticized) counter-arguments, which may be paraphrased as, "Well, black people use these words, too"; "Disparaging remarks about women at the supposed greatest intellectual institution are okay"; and "An entertainer's profession is equal to the head of an administration, political party, company, or university" (please consult Jon Stewart vs. Tucker Carlson).

What is lost in Mr. Henninger's opinion are the very real effects of this language use—no matter who is doing the speaking. The case of the former Harvard president, Larry Summers, suggests a gender bias at the highest level in the administration—what female faculty member would not have reason to think that her career was likely to be or had already been impeded by such bigotry? Such comments cannot be unmade, and Harvard has every right to improve the culture and morale at that place of business by correcting the problem. Moreover, it has a responsibility to do so. 1

While many cogent arguments might be made that affirm the firing of Imus as an overreaction (which I contend it was, as well), I wonder why an implied conservative (I've not read Mr. Henninger before, so he may well be a self-defined conservative) laments the market correcting itself: to suggest that CBS and MSNBC fired Imus for ideological reasons (their own or those promoted by Rev. Sharpton et. al) is absolutely ludicrous, but sponsors' abandonment of Imus's programs is a much more likely cause.2

Ultimately, Mr. Henninger chooses to write on behalf organizations and people long associated with white privilege, and he seems incredulous that one's words might bespeak one's beliefs and that those beliefs matter when put into practice.

Then again, Mr. Henniger is a journalist himself, now isn't he?

Perhaps this is why Mr. Henninger feels secure in his ability to trivialize hip-hop in his article by hyperbolically stating the number of WSJ readers who do not listen to hip-hop:

For the eight or nine Journal readers who don't listen to the rhymes of hip-hop, "b" rhymes with witch, and "n" rhymes with bigger.

Only the obdurate or the willfully ignorant would ignore the racial implications in such a claim, as well. Yet if someone were to hold Mr. Henniger accountable for those implicit ideas, he would likely consider himself a victim, largely ignoring the demographic impugned by his remarks for the ostensibly-different demographic that is the WSJ's readership.

Mr. Henninger, a number of my closest friends are partners at Wall Street houses, and I have enjoyed many an occasion with them when we have listened to hip-hop music without smug irony (and to respond to your inevitable thought right now, we are, in fact, Caucasian).

Enjoy these days, Mr. Henniger; your era is passing.

1Mr. Summers has also made several comments about Cornell West which were quite suspect. In response to Mr. Henniger's claims that Mr. Summers' "entire career as president of Harvard was immolated," it is important to note that Mr. Summers has been invited back to Harvard after the 2006-2007 school year. Flame on, fiery phoenix, indeed.

2Read this article about it at the Washington Post.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Icarus 2000, One Apple's Story

As [Daedalus and Icarus] flew the ploughman stopped his work to gaze, and the shepherd leaned on his staff and watched them, astonished at the sight, and thinking they were gods who could thus cleave the air.
—Thomas Bulfinch, The Fall of Icarus

America is terrified of the black hole. Within a universe that was presumably reordered for the last time with the displacement of the Ptolemaic model in favor of the Copernican, a change that dislodged Earth from the center of the scheme and placed it as one among many secondary objects within the solar system, the black hole represents a limit, an emptiness filled with our cultural anxieties.

The black hole is disorder incarnate. It is, for now, unknown and unknowable--composed of a singlularity so dense that it distorts and attracts completely, that it renders the escape-velocity null--the black hole is a myth that is filled so many of our collective fears: the event horizon may be a kind of death, and the black hole a vehicle toward non-existence; the black hole is perceived as a destroyer of matter, an object that annihilates without creating; the black hole produces distortion, creates a space where normative concepts of light, movement, perception are unhinged. The black hole is a limit, a gateway to the incomprehensible.

So should it is no surprise that perhaps the world's only celebrity astrophysicist, Stephen J. Hawking, a pioneer in the study of black holes, can neither "speak or move," that he is diagnosed with a progressive neurological disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease ( Hawking's 1988 book A Brief History of Time was a long-standing bestseller; written for a general readership, A Brief History of Time offers an explanation of the universe "from the big bang to black holes," as the cover tells us.

The cover also tells us that the mind capable of conceptualizing the entirety of time and retelling it so that we, the uninitiated, might understand is housed within a prodigious body. Thus, Hawking becomes a sign from antiquity--the oracle, the magician whose incredible powers of intellect or perception are paid for by what is seen as a physical impoverishment. His impairment is the counterweight to his extraordinary intellect. When we see the cover or A Brief History of Time, we see a maxim affirmed. In the juxtaposition of non-normative qualities—extraordinary body, extraordinary intellect—we are reminded that no one can have it all, that excess is compensated with lack, that suffering is the coarse bed from which our most delicate flowers bloom. All of this is untrue, but we believe it.

Now, Stephen Hawking has taken flight. In a widely-publicized event, Stephen Hawking, cloaked in his The Sharper Image-emblazoned flight suit, has experienced zero-gravity aboard a flight chartered from Zero Gravity Corp.

This moment is Hawking's emancipation. As an astrophysicist, Hawking through this flight "walks the walk," experiencing some of the material events which he has written about in theory, and in so doing achieves a kind of supposed union of the body and the mind. In Hawking's flight, we see, in part, a holistic sign; Hawkins becomes the warrior-poet of astrophysics.

Yet would we be so rapt, so full of joy and astonishment, filled with wonder, if it were Einstein afloat in the hold of the airplane? In a word, no. We applaud Hawking because of his impairment. The Associated Press claims that Hawking is the first person with a disability to experience zero gravity ( One wonders that no private citizen who has paid for Zero Gravity Corp's service has worn contact lenses, had high blood pressure, was asthmatic, and so on. However, the AP's claim rests on our cultural assumptions of disability—disability looks like Stephen Hawking; those with disabilities are burdened; and the extraordinary measures of modern science hold the key to emancipating those with disabilities.

As published on, the AP article continues: "The scientist floated in the air, free of his wheelchair and electronic communication gear for the first time in 40 years." Are we then to believe that Hawking has been in one chair for forty consecutive years, that he is bathed in the chair, that he sleeps in the chair? Just as the flight of Icarus (or Superman, as Zero Gravity Corp's marketing collateral claims) promises freedom from our Earthly burdens, as the physical freedom from gravity is offered as a palliative to the metaphoric weight and gravity of situations and psyches, zero-g flight is framed as the method by which Hawkins is furloughed from the prison of his body.

As we watch handlers tug and pull Hawking's body, rolling him, righting him, we are reminded that in this weightlessness Hakwing is not free. We no longer think of Hawkins as the warrior-poet; instead, we think of telethons, we think of United Way commercials where NFL athletes, signs of mythic corporeality, attend to children with disabilities. In the grin of Hawking, within the frame of media discourse surrounding that grin, we are fed the image of the cripple. In the tube protruding from Hawkins' pants leg, we are reminded of Icarus, of the moral lessons we learn about those who dare fly to close to the sun, to escape the boundaries and the limits nature has established.

As we are meant to do, we look upon Hawking's body, its rigidities and supplenesses, and it becomes our event horizon--the demarcation of a line, a limit, beyond which many of us cannot comprehend, a line that we are afraid to approach, a point with gravity enough to attract us all and render us powerless to escape. Like a black hole, when we see Hawking float obscure; we are unsure about what we are, in fact, witnessing. Thus, Zero G's staff suspends a Newtonian apple beside Hawking, whose body becomes the apple's analogue—both are objects meant to illustrate.

"Physicist Hawking experiences zero gravity." 27 Apr 2007. 28 Apr 2007.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Imus in the Mourning

Shock-jock Don Imus has broadcast below radar through much of the Aughts, with no major controversies to push him into the national limelight. However, Imus and crew's remarks concerning the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team in early April 2007 have once again brought the country's eye (and ear) to Imus in the Morning, the long-lived deejay's flagship broadcast.

After the Tennessee-Rutgers Women's NCAA Basketball Championship game, Imus in the Morning featured a section of commentary on the game that dealt less with the athletic achievements in the contest than the normative beauty of the contestants.1

IMUS: That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and...

McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.

IMUS: That’s some nappy-headed hos there.


IMUS: I’m gonna tell you that now, man, that’s some...whoo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like, kinda like, I don’t know.2

McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing.

IMUS: Yeah.

McGUIRK: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes, that movie that he had.

IMUS: Yeah, it was a tough...

McCORD: Do The Right Thing.3

McGUIRK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

IMUS: I don't know if I'd have wanted to beat Rutgers or not, but they did, right?

ROSENBERG: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.

IMUS: Well, I guess, yeah.

RUFFINO: Only tougher.

(April 4th edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning)
Those who object to Imus & Company's language point to the phrases "hard-core hos," "nappy-headed hos," "the Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes," and (most-inexplicably) "they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors." Each phrase is alleged to be racially-based, and Imus & company's usage is alleged to reflect racial bias. For these usages, critics from Reverend Jesse Jackson to Reverend Al Sharpton to Jemele Hill have called for Imus' termination.

This is not the first time that Imus has been at the center of such a controversy. In the past, Imus has referred to sports columnist Bill Rhoden as a "New York Times quota hire" and PBS anchor Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady."4 In a more high-profile instance, according to Media Matters in America, "in June 2001 [Rosenberg made racial comments] about Venus and Serena Williams, two African-American female professional tennis players. According to a November 20, 2001, Newsday article, Rosenberg said on the air: 'One time, a friend, he says to me, 'Listen, one of these days you're gonna see Venus and Serena Williams in Playboy.' I said, 'You've got a better shot at National Geographic.'' Rosenberg also referred to Venus Williams as an 'animal.'" 5 These comments are far more egregious than the exchange concerning Rutgers.

Many critics gloss the fact that "ho" is now widely used in American vernacular, a result of its rampant usage in a former object of these same critics' ire, hip-hop music and culture. Whatever the cause, many men and women from disparate racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds now refer to women of all virtues and professions as "hos." While the mainstream usage in hip-hop may have, at the beginning of the word's dissemination, indicated African-American women, current usage no longer restricts the meaning in this way. For good or ill, "ho" is an epithet applied equally across racial and ethnic lines. Thus, Rosenberg's use of "ho" is perhaps a dig at the women's moral virtue, a presumption based upon Imus's reference to their tattoos, once a sign of the presumed "hardness" of the bearer.

When Imus refines Rosenberg's comment, calling the team "nappy-headed hos," he provides his critics with clear evidence of racist thinking. Nappy, as an adjective, means "kinky," and dominant American culture has long considered this "kinky-ness," attributed specifically to the qualities of many African Americans' hair, to be an aberration of normative (i.e. European in origin) beauty. However, Imus claims that the Lady Volunteers "all look cute." While Imus's critics have pointed to the percentage of African-American players on Rutgers as an indication of his racist intent, these critics do not mention that Imus considers attractive a team that has approximately the same percentage of African-American players. Thus, by examining his actual discourse, Imus does not criticize Rutgers players because they are African American, but because, in part, of how they adorn themselves.6 This distinction is subtle, but important.

Few listeners or viewers could endure the usage of "jigaboos" without raising an eyebrow or spitting out their coffee, yet the usage of "Jigaboos versus the Wannabes" is also problematic for non-racist reasons. "Jigaboo" is unequivocally a racial slur aimed at dehumanizing an African American by defining him or her as a caricature built upon presumptive physical features.7 However, this usage comes in the form of a quotation from a Spike Lee film, School Daze, in which Lee lampoons intra-racial conflicts on a college campus. In the same way that wide usage of the word "nigger" in various media reporting on or disseminating hip-hop music and culture has brought this inflammatory slur into common, but contentious, usage once again, Lee's satirical usage has as a byproduct the effect of rendering the term "jigaboo" acceptable for continued ironic usage. That this term in this particular instance was uttered by a Caucasian male is not insignificant.

Finally, Imus and company claim that the Rutgers women's team looks like the Toronto Raptors, an NBA franchise composed entirely of males. Here, Rosenberg is claiming that Rutgers appear presumptively mannish. While this is, perhaps, offensive with respect to gender, this claim in no way suggests a racial bias.8

Imus's claims, and his colleagues' claims, were tasteless. However, when ESPN-columnist Jemele Hill asks her readers to "Take a stand against indecency and cruelty," one wonders what form that stand should take.9 In a preemptive strike against a part of this very argument, Hill claims:
I'm still boiling because too many people continue to defend Imus behind lame free-speech arguments -- remember, speech is free, but consequences are not -- and the idea that black women just don't know a good joke when they hear one. Tell you what, if this "nappy-headed ho" comment is as harmless as some of you say it is, say that phrase to your wives and girlfriends tonight (or even a woman on the street). If they laugh, I'll write an entire column about how humorless I am. (Hill)
In part, I agree with her. The comments are demeaning to these specific women: they claim that the women on the Rutgers team are ugly and that they look like men. The comments are not funny. However, these two facts do not supersede the First Amendment (although in recent years the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are often treated like so many comic strips adhering to the skin of Sill-Putty), and Hill's claims amount to legislation based upon matters of taste.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Americans are granted the freedom to be tasteless, mean-spirited, and abrasive. The guarantee of these freedoms comes part and parcel with the guarantee for other, more socially-acceptable freedoms. A person's right to be a dullard, a bore, a misogynist, a racist, a [fill in your own unpleasant iteration of humanity], is held to be unrestrictable, for in time tastes change and today's enlightened discourse might become tomorrow's restrictive language (one need only think about early twentieth-century eugenics discourse as a model of "progressive thinking" turned atrocity-in-waiting). If one determined legality based upon contingent tastes in a given time, one shudders to think about the advances in gender and racial equality that would not have occurred in a largely patriarchal and racist America.10

Thus, calling for Imus's termination because of alleged racially-insensitive commentary misses the mark. Termination is an overly-simplified solution to a larger problem. An intelligent discourse about the impropriety of his remarks, a public condemnation of his actions (which is taking place through his two-week suspension that is, conveniently, only to begin next week after stations and networks can figure out what to air in his absence) will do more to eliminate these kinds of sentiments and their easy enunciation in the future than simply sacking him.

Let's imagine this hypothetical situation: A group of white supremacists take offense at Reverend Al Sharpton's pro-African American discourse and his criticism of racially-biased speech and demand his immediate resignation or removal from office. As a culture, we would dismiss this claim outright not just because white supremacy is at the forefront of cultural distaste (and is often linked to measurable detrimental effects upon minority cultures), but because their claim has no constitutional or legal basis; it is made upon taste alone, and we would dismiss it outright due to its foundation. Organize, we might tell them (if we acknowledged them at all), and have him voted out if you feel so strongly.

Consider the reaction to Doctor Laura Schlessinger's anti-gay comments on her syndicated talk-radio show. Because of her tasteless remarks, critics called for a boycott of her show and her show's sponsors, and this opposition had measurable success. Not only was Doctor Laura censured for her remarks (remarks which she is fully free to espouse despite how hurtful they might be), but the assumptions conditioning her discourse were brought into the national consciousness and productive discussions resulted from them.

Ideally, the aftermath of Imus' apology and his meetings with Sharpton, the players, and so on, will result in a wider understanding of the implications of all our utterances and an attempt to choose language that most-accurately reflects what we are trying to say. Although with the popularity of comics like alleged-plagiarist Carlos Mencia, a comic who "reclaims" ethnicity and race by utilizing many racist assumptions in his jokes (and let's not even mention the way he targets people with disabilities, because, well, no one cares about them, right?) the outlook is not so bright.

If Imus, in the future, does not change, those of us who disagree with the spirit of his discourse will shake our collective head sadly. If, however, he does change and racial tolerance is in some way advocated to his broad audience, real progress will have been made.

1 The WNBA itself adds to this confusion, often promoting its players, and thereby itself, based upon their mediagenecity: players in presumably seductive outfits who claim that they aren't "as sweet as you think," etc.

2 Candace Parker, the media focal point on the Tennessee Lady Vols, is a phenomenal player, capable of taking over a game and dominating opposing teams. She is, however, surrounded by other standout players, like Shannon Bobbitt and Aleix Hornbuckle, that allow her to dominate. Look for Parker on the cover of the SI Commemorative Issue.

3The correct Spike Lee joint is, of course, School Daze.

4 Davis, April. "Debate continues about boundaries for inflammatory talk radio." First Amendment Center 28 July 2000. 10 April 2007.

5 Chiachiere, Ryan. "Imus called women's basketball team 'nappy-headed hos.'" Media Matters for America 4 Apr. 2007. 10 Apr. 2007.

6 The Lady Volunteers may be equally tattooed as Rutgers, but based upon what Imus and company actually said, the perception is that they are not. New Critical theory has taught us nothing if not to distrust and discount an author's intent.

7 The Oxford English Dictionary identifies the first usage of this term in the 1909 Weston & Barnes song "I've Got Rings on My Fingers."

8In fact, the Toronto Raptors are arguably the most heterogeneous team in the NBA; the roster is comprised of a mix of races and ethnicities, including African American, Caucasian, Spanish, Slovenia, and Italian.

9 Hill, Jemele. "Take a stand against indecency and cruelty." Page 2 10 Apr. 2007. 10 Apr. 2007.

10Hill is not without contemporary precedent. The logic of her argument is preceded by President Bush's withdrawal of the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty: "'The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world,' [Bush] said" (

Full Disclosure: I do not listen to Imus (or any other shock-jock, for that matter). I think he is impossibly sanctimonious (a common trait among pundits and shock jocks alike), and that characteristic, mixed with his patent non-funny banter, makes me turn the dial or the television station each time I hear or see him.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

M(y)ellow Journalism

Reading online news from several sources this morning, one learns that:

Scholars and theorists have written much about media oversaturation, how the glut of information can dilute the very importance of the news a given media outlet is attempting to report. For most viewers of the evening news, this malaise manifests as an itchy clicker-finger, and suddenly syndicated reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond become full canteens of potable water in the Death Valley of broadcast news.

Only you know when you reached this tipping point about coverage of the war in Iraq. Perhaps it was this morning when you saw the headline "U.S. opens push into Baghdad's Sadr City" and thought, "Way to go, the world's most state-of-the-art military only has been occupying it for years." When we become ironic about the news coverage, we become disinterested in the subjects the news chooses to cover. For me, this morning, irony overwhelmed my sense of injustice at the conflict, it subsumed earlier periods of rancor at an administration that engineered support for this war through cunning public relations, it crested like a wave over the bodies of Americans and Iraqis that will tossed like drift wood through those Baghdad streets.

Only you know when you reached this tipping point about the omnipresence of Ann Coulter in the media. Perhaps it was this morning when you read about her open use of hate speech and how she defended it1. Simultaneously denigrating gays and the addicted (while perhaps channeling Rick Santorum), Coulter has learned that ethos and pathos do not trump logos outright. Perhaps you thought, Good, that will take some wind out that pundit's sails, but then you realized that her audience laughed at her jokes. This meta-awareness of offensive and hateful language—see Michael Richards, George Lopez, Sarah Silverman—only supports the stereotypes that those whose schtick is built around it claim they are attempting to subvert. Those who use the terms "faggot," "nigger," or "cripple" bring those associations into the world, and by arguing explicitly for how to transcend the barriers those words imply, those users reinforce them2.

Only you know how long ago you stopped thinking The Onion was funny. Perhaps it was this morning when you read the headline "Anchor Ad-Libs News With 97 Percent Accuracy"3. In its heyday, The Onion was the only source of satirical infotainment, a lone impostor that pointed out the growing trend of softcore news and reporting that the mainstream media was disseminating. Now, many television networks and rival websites offer FAUXnews, and the ironic websurfer or cable-subscriber is forced to make this 21st century decision—"Because I only have a finite amount of time during my workday to surf, what is my preferred source of satirical news reportage?"

The Onion's success perhaps suggests a new dominant assumption in American culture—the media is inherently ludicrous and we should expect nothing better from it. The mainstream media outlets have helped this transition: Panicked by the success of these satirical news outlets, mainstream media has embraced "Offbeat" news and, in fact, a certain "hard news" site actually reposts Onion articles.

The conventionalization of The Onion is nothing to mourn. Even the best comedy sources wear out over time—Robin Williams, K-Fed, Saturday Night Live4—so it is no surprise that The Onion is no longer fresh.

Plus, The Onion can fully pass into irrelevance for it has accomplished its mission: when we read "Anchor Ad-Libs News With 97 Percent Accuracy" we truly believe it could be true. We see it happen every day, and we couldn't really care less.

1 From
Coulter made her comment in Washington during an address to the 34th annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, during which she gave her opinions about the Democrats' slate of presidential hopefuls.

"I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I'm - so, kind of at an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards, so I think I'll just conclude here and take your questions," said Coulter, whose comment was followed by applause.

Coulter does not attempt to undermine the potency of the term "faggot," but she does attempt to undermine the belief in tolerance and diversity that allows us to realize that using such a term is wrong by attempting to trivialize the repercussions of hate-speech use. Simultaneously, she trivializes rehabilitative therapy--perhaps her acquaintance with the entertainment industry, where each act of excess (no matter how understandable given certain teen-stars exorbitant weath) is "solved" by a stint in rehab. For the millions of Americans who suffer through a loved-one's addictions (even newborn babies who have to be "rehabbed"), rehab is not a joke.

2This is not to say that one should ignore history, for the history of each hate-speech term has measurable consequences felt by real people in the real world. However, by attempting to "rob" a hateful word of its power, one can only reintroduce its use, legitimize it, and ultimately have no control of its usage or denotations.

3. Your turn against the Onion likely happened as part of a complex social practice: you graduated from college, you no longer thought it imperative to keep a bottle of "Jager" in the freezer, you started tucking both front AND back of your oxford shirt into your slacks, and you found yourself spending more time on than The Onion.

4Which is, actually and in my opinion, on an upswing again--I love Seth Myers' Kaufman-esque sense of comedy. His, "offbeat-ness," if you will.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

And like a Mighty Wolverine

There is still no cure for cancer and AIDS research could benefit from more funding, but researchers at Manchester University have perhaps unlocked a key to understanding an affliction with a world-wide hot zone: beer goggling.

In a study funded by Bausch & Lomb PureVision, researchers developed a formula that they think accounts for an inebriated person's inability to apply his or her general standards of taste when selecting a potential sexual partner.

In prose that reads like an Onion front-page story, BBC News reports that factors such as "the level of light in the pub or club, the drinker's own eyesight and the room's smokiness" are as likely to cause morning-after obloquies as impaired cognitive function and an unlocked libido.

According the study, "68% of people had regretted giving their phone number to someone to whom they later realised [limey sic] they were not attracted." The BBC does not report the percentage of respondents who had regretted giving something more intimate than a number, but suspicions suggest that the number is high.

One wonders, though, about Bausch & Lomb's stake in this research. Is the futur
e filled with display cases stocked with beer-goggle-eliminating eye drops, perhaps located beside pills to end hangovers? Will GQ and Cosmo converge, both hyping stylish pairs of spectacles to be worn during long nights on the town?

And, moreover, do those afflicted with beer goggles need another excuse beyond their own excesses to explain their sloppy conquests? One imagines talk in the fraternity and soror
ity houses: "Well, without my contacts I have 20/40 vision, so if I only funnel once and then stick to Solo cups of Natural Light...." How many hearts have been broken on nights that begin with such promise?

And are our young men and women, or our career drinkers of all ages, prepared
for the higher math that this study requires? I submit that they are not1.

1Especially considering our international rank of 25th in aptitude in Mathematics.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Your Country Is Now His, by Way of Our Actions. Or: Ignignokt Has Posse.

Consider the phrase "bomb hoax."

Consider the phrase "bomb scare."

Consider the phrase "guerrilla marketing campaign."

Despite the bomb squads that gingerly removed the "electronic light boards depicting a middle-finger-waving moon man" from the greater Boston area, we learn that the War on Terror is now being fought in a new theater: Semantics.

Initially, the two men responsible for constructing and placing the Ignignokt LED devices, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, were arrested for placing "hoax devices" in a public places, a felony charge that could result in substantive imprisonment. Yet, the usage of the term "hoax device" is perhaps the greatest fraud in a series of misconceptions, deliberate or otherwise.

A hoax (noun)1 signifies "1 : an act intended to trick or dupe; 2 : something accepted or established by fraud or fabrication." As a transitive verb, "hoax" signifies "to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous."

Both definitions rely heavily on intent: in the noun definition, the act must be "intended to trick or dupe," while in the transitive verb definition, one must "trick2 into believing or accepting [...] something false." In short, for a hoax to be a hoax, the hoaxer has to mean it.

By repeatedly referring to Berdovsky and Stevens' actions as a "bomb hoax" (or suggesting that the two men were "planting" "hoax devices"), authorities in Massachusetts in general and Boston in specific are inscribing motive onto an act that simply does not exist3. Through language, Berdovsky and Stevens are rendered guilty, and as the general population comes to know the events of January 31, 2007, as a "bomb hoax," our perception of Berdovsky and Stevens changes: freelance artists become collaborators, a ridiculous notion supported by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's belief that "Berdovsky was 'in the employ of other individuals' as part of the marketing campaign" (CNN). By dusting off that chestnut from the cold war ("in the employ of other individuals"), often used in conjunction with alleged espionage, an ominous enemy is invoked and the needle on the widespread-panic detector is pegged in the red4.

Boston has made itself look like one homogeneous fool: the "devices" (i.e. "ads") had been in place for almost two weeks prior to the "hoax," and nine other U.S. cities (including New York City and Los Angeles) had experienced a week or two of Ignignokt giving the finger as hard as he could without causing a major panic5.

In the days since 1-31-2007, the language has softened and the event is frequently referred to as a "bomb scare." With this language, Berdovsky and Stevens are largely let off the hook, while the government's reaction becomes the locus of the event. People were afraid that the ads were bombs, thus the event becomes a scare6.

Yet even with this change in reference, Berdovsky and Stevens are described as having conducted a "guerrilla marketing campaign." The term guerrilla (noun) signifies "a person who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage." While this phrase has been long used to describe unofficial marketing campaigns or even anti-advertising campaigns (think Obey, or Andre Has Posse), the term is reinscribed and the significations of guerrilla resonate as acts of terror, not acts of defiance or pop art.

How will this end? Likely, without asking those in public office or in the media to choose their words wisely. Turner Broadcasting has already pledged two million dollars in restitution to the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston (and considering that 2.6 mil bought 30 seconds of Super Bowl advertising air time, Turner Broadcasting is coming out light years ahead), but what about Berdovsky and Stevens? Will they be living in their own private Guantanamo without recourse?7 As a citizen of the culture of fear, I predict a grim end to our Lebowskian heroes.

Yet these two hapless hair-mongers, under the employ of the Leviathan TBS, have brought us to what is arguably the most significant crossroads we've encountered in the post-9/11 world. Can people learn that their own fear is not everyone else's problem? Can a prank ever be a prank again?

Or are we the caricatures of Americans that Ignignokt and Err lampoon: "You have deeply offended us and our god, and our god is a god of vengeance... and horror. Our god is an Indian that turns into a wolf. The wolfen will come for you with his razor."-Ignignokt (Aqua Teen Hunger Force).

1FYI, "hoax" is not an adjective.

2As a transitive verb, trick signifies "1 : to dress or adorn fancifully or ornately; 2 : to deceive by cunning or artifice." So, in the case of the first definition, Berdovsky and Stevens are guilty of a hoax as a trick: They tricked out light posts and other banal objects in the greater Boston area. But since we are not talking about an MTV-style show "Pimp My City," the second definition of trick seems most appropriate, and again this definition speaks to intent (which Berdovsky and Stevens did not have; after their press conference, once concludes that, likely, they intend very little as a matter of course).

3And let's not even mention the silly repetition of the term, sans scare quotes, by mainstream media outlets.

4It is a dark day when I come to defend an advertising campaign.

5Bostonians have a right to be wary of unexplained, ominous devices: Boston was affected by the tragedy on September 11th, 2001, more than any city besides New York; Bostonians were on the airplanes. Yet this history does not justify the lengths of overreaction, and it seems like the vehement rhetoric spewing from politicians is in reaction to becoming, however briefly, a national laughingstock. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley captured the insanity in this poignant quotation: "'[The Ignignokt ad] had a very sinister appearance,' Coakley told reporters. 'It had a battery behind it, and wiresa'" (CNN).

aThis on the same day we learn scientists have created Maxwell's Daemon--if we're scared of batteries and wires, how will we feel about a machine the size of a single atom ?

6Having been in Boston earlier in January, I had noticed large Ignignokt billboards looming over the city. One might suspect that billboards are no longer effective marketing tools because no one seemed to put two and two together.

7Apologies to the B-52's and Denis Johnson for the co-mingled pun.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Denver is Lonesome for Her Heroes

The course Jack Kerouac Wrote Here, a sociology course taught by Dr. Audrey Sprenger at SUNY-Potsdam, is based upon the work of Jack Kerouac, and the literature courses are primarily taught by Penny Vlagopoulos and Joshua Kupetz, with Adira Amram teaching the texts as the basis for performance.

The seminars focused on Kerouac's poetry and prose through two assignments: Sketches of New York and DharmaPops on Avenue A.

Sketches of New York

Penny Vlagopoulos and Joshua Kupetz, two of the four co-editors of the forthcoming scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Adira Amram, a New York City-based actor and performance artist, conducted literary seminars and performance workshops aboard the California Zephyr and the Lake Shore Limited. The workshops explored the development of Kerouac’s narrative technique through the more-conventional prose in On the Road to the spontaneous prose techniques in Visions of Cody.

While the courses focused on close reading and the ways that Kerouac uses grammar and syntax to convey meaning, students also considered how those intentional styles affect cognition, and how that cognition effects performance.

Based upon these discussions, students completed both conventional and spontaneous narrative assignments, culminating in Sketches of New York, spontaneous prose descriptions of people and places in Kerouac’s New York which the students will perform at Goodbye, Blue Monday in Brooklyn, January 11, 2007, at 7:30 p.m.

DharmaPops on Avenue A

Penny Vlagopoulos and Joshua Kupetz, two of the four co-editors of the forthcoming scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Adira Amram, a New York City-based actor and performance artist, conducted a literary seminar on Kerouac’s use of spontaneous prosody in his “Western haikus,” a form that he felt “must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery.”

After examining a selection of Kerouac’s haiku, or “dharmapops,” students composed their own dharmapops on the streets of New York and workshopped them at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, at the foot of First Avenue between Houston and Bleecker.

Penny Vlagopoulos is a PhD candidate in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She holds an M.A. and M.Phil. in English from Columbia. Currently, she is an Adjunct Professor at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study and is working on her dissertation, which examines the underground in post-World War II American Culture. She is also, along with Howard Cunnell, PhD, George Mouratidis, and Joshua Kupetz, editing Jack Kerouac's scroll manuscript of "On the Road." It will be published by Viking Penguin in 2007.

Adira Amram is a New York based actress and performance artist. After graduating from the State University of New York at Purchase she appeared in the Off-Broadway production of "Door Wide Open" as the young writer Joyce Johnson, a play based on the letters between Joyce Johnson and Jack Kerouac. This year she debuted in "The Sopranos" as Stacey in the season finale. She can be seen in the feature film "Some Kind of Awful" set to be released August 2007. She is a fixture of the NYC downtown alternative comedy scene. Her CD "Me & Bill," out on Northstreet Records, received a rave review from "Jane Magazine" as well as interviews with National Public Radio, "WBAI," "" and "The Gothamist." She is currently in production with a new CD due out in 2007.

Friday, January 5, 2007

All Your Doors Are Open

David Amram slept on the floor of the Blair-Caldwell branch of the Denver Public Library, his coat folded into a pillow and Pull My Daisy1 projected on the white wall at the head of the room. He needed sleep after four days in San Francisco with students from the class Jack Kerouac Wrote Here: Criss-crossing America Chasing Cool. Artie Moore, stand-up bass bandleader sitting in with Amram while Jack Kerouac Wrote Here occupied Denver, lounged out in the hall with Tony Black, a drummer with a flair for the martial that stretched through the weekend, also light with brushes, who uses his elbow to distort the tom head, wringing new notes out of the old blue tub.

The room was set for two hundred, but the librarians and event planner had to pass more chairs into the room like a bucket brigade, while kids had sat on the floor and flat-backed on walls. Amram looked across the crowd, already at capacity, twenty minutes before the event’s scheduled start, so he gave a nod to Moore and Black and they played a number to pass the time, Amram switching from a keyboard to winds, his jazz French horn with the bell whanged out by some past drop, his tin whistles that he will play two-at-once, his great head bobbing with the rise and run of his sets of notes.

And the room kept filling. Kerouac was back in town, "Denver at last!" indeed.

Beat crowds have a certain look in the east—teenagers in Salvation Army couture, middle-aged men in bajas, a few turtlenecked, bespectacled elders in long white hair—but this beat crowd in Denver looked like Denver—men and women in fleece, straight-legged blue jeans or khakis that drooped to hiking boots rimed with salt from the snowy archipelagos of sidewalks.

The crowd came to honor Kerouac and to hear Amram, jazz musician and arranger, Kerouac’s first musical collaborator, and the crowd always goes loose from Amram’s music—his original compositions and repertoire of jazz standards, the tables littered with wind instruments and drums. Yet, most people who see Amram are most taken by the man’s erudition—he speaks knowingly and lovingly about music from classical to rap, and he tells stories that highlight what Amram identifies as beat, often quoting Kerouac’s should-be-famous phrase “Live your lives out? Naw, love your lives out”2.

In this, the 50th anniversary year of On the Road, the focus of these celebrations is on Kerouac and his life’s work, yet as these events accumulate—the longer I take my place beside academics like Audrey Sprenger and Penny Vlagopoulos, beside icons like Ed White and John Cassady3, I realize that Amram is the jewel-center of this contemporary quest narrative.

When Amram invites his daughter, Adira, to perform, her scat jazz vocals reach moments of the golden treble in the heart’s center—the audience feels it the way shower-stall vocalists feel those notes that float beyond them, the notes that if sung would say all the ideas and purge all the feelings the singer has carried around since the last exultant phrases.

And only Amram’s words of pure encouragement, not a put on or a false up-with-everything mock beatitude popular among those who seek justification for their excesses, can gird Elijah, a nineteen year old from upstate New York, for a room full of ears attuned to Amram’s band’s professional polish and free ideas, and allow Elijah to stumble through a few bars of freestyle before finding it, the pocket, and to let his words tumble in the harmony of an August rain, drops so heavy and rhythmic with the variations from a shifting wind.

When Amram, with Artie Moore and Tony Black, blow the final notes after the screening, the crowd is rapt and they want more, and Amram has to be told to stop, to keep some in the tank for tomorrow and the next nine days of travel across the country, where he will keep improvising on his horn, his whistles and flutes, proselytizing the spirit and accompanying the multitude.

The people will keep coming.

1Pull My Daisy is, according to Amram, “a kind of a home movie” based, loosely, on a script written by Jack Kerouac and starring Amram, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, among others, and filmed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie.

2From “Beatific: Origins of the Beat Generation” (Good Blonde).

3For a complete list of the many talented people who are making Jack Kerouac Wrote Here possible, visit the website.

Chasing Cool

The first friend I made in Denver, Steve, has a dog named Japhy. We met at a picnic hosted by our partners' work, and after everyone had eaten and the rockies were climbing toward the sun, someone produced an Ultrastar1 and we wound up in the grass throwing long forehands to one another. When he called for his dog, a single "Japhy!" I answered "the greatest Dharma bum of them all" across to him. Steve seemed surprised that I knew the source of his dog's name and said that people always asked him about it.

After tomorrow, Denver may not need to ask Steve that question again.

On January 6, 2007, the scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac's On the Road will go on display at the Central Branch of the Denver Public Library, and Denver's finest publications—from the glossy 5280 magazine to the hip Westword, Denver's answer to the Village Voice—plan to run articles about it. A perennially newsworthy author, Kerouac will once again steal the limelight during this, the 50th Anniversary year of On the Road's publication.

A huge tourist destination in its own right, Denver will this weekend experience the influx of a roving band of academics and students, all part of Dr. Audrey Sprenger and David Amram's course "Jack Kerouac Wrote Here: Criss-Crossing America Chasing Cool," offered in conjunction with SUNY-Potsdam. The course is designed to introduce Kerouac's literature in terrains where it takes place: the San Francisco of The Dharma Bums2, the Denver of On the Road, the New York City of The Town and The City3, the Lowell of the oeuvre, as much a sociological study as a literary one.

Dr. Sprenger asked me to participate, so when the cohort arrives—scheduled on a Friday morning flight from San Francisco, while Denver is again beset by heavy snowfall and the cattle are starving, ranchers cut off from their herds by four feet of snow and eight-foot drifts—I will join them for a week-and-a-half train trip east and through history and fiction.

Along the way we'll converse with musicians, painters, writers, literary agents, and Kerouac's friends and loves, and we'll read On the Road, the Dharma Bums, and a selection of his poetry.

For daily updates, please visit the Lowell Sun, Kerouac's hometown newspaper, and this blog, which I will attempt to update daily as we move east, toward "the great and final city of America" (Road).

1Flying disc manufactured by Discraft, the official disc of the Ultimate Players Association.

2& The Subterraneans & Visions of Cody &....

3& Vanity of Duluoz &....