Friday, October 20, 2006

Protest This: A cri de coeur.

Well, it wasn't exactly the March on Washington, was it?

Wednesday's protest by UCSC students on the occasion of the visit of the UC Regents, garnered some media attention, with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in addition to the analysis in the local Santa Cruz Sentinel. In Fosco's original post on the matter, he poked some gentle(?) fun at the protesters because, well, it all seemed a bit silly.

But the more Fosco reads about the protest and the fallout, the less silly it seems. Rather, it is becoming clear that this protest was colossally stupid.

"Yeah, yeah," you say, "Fosco is totally in league with The Man." He's "corrupted by White Upper Class Privilege." He's "scared to Fight the Power." He's "gone soft" in academia, where he is "complicit with State Interests." I would disagree (although maybe not completely), but it's a pointless exercise for me to try to convince this critic of my leftist credentials. I think it's enough to say these two things:

  • I don't approve of many things that the UC Regents do (or have done).
  • I am willing to nonviolently protest against specific policies (and have done so many times in my life).
Therefore, while I may not be leftist enough, I certainly can be considered generally sympathetic to leftish causes (and not just in an armchair way). And that's why I'm pissed off about this protest.

This is the big problem with the protest: why were the students protesting? Now, I know that there are tons of potential issues that could have been the cause of this protest and I am sympathetic to all of them: student fee hikes (non-Californians, did you know that, by law, the University of California cannot charge tuition? It gets around this problem by charging "fees." Sneaky, eh?), the funding of nuclear weapons research, cuts to humanities programs, a living wage for UC custodial workers, etc. I would love to hold the Regents accountable for all those things. But here's the problem: no one seemed to be protesting those things!

You don't believe me? Let's listen to the students (from the Sentinel article):
"I agree it wasn't the most successful protest, but at least it is a step away from our image as apathetic youth. For your readers blinded by upper class stability (something I admittedly enjoy), I ask that they recognize us as idealistic human beings, raised in their world, but willing to shed our egos and join together for a better world through a fairer distribution of power."

"These people [the Regents] smile real smug like they got your number and it's real frustrating."

"What we did accomplish is making ourselves known," activist Tomasso Boggia said. "We're here and really pissed off."
What the fuck? These kids tried to surround the UC Regents and (some of them) entered into violent confrontations with police officers because the Regents are smug? Or, to prove that they're not apathetic? This is ridiculous.

This protest lacked the two things that make a protest coherent: a leader (or spokesperson) and a message. To me, this seems like Protest 101 (which, if it were going to be taught on any university campus, would probably be taught here...). Where was the message? Who was speaking for these protesters (and if it was the people quoted above, they need to be fired)? Oh and what about some chants? "We're here and really pissed off!" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" (N.B., the queer one has the additional benefit of offering an actual demand.)

And here's the bigger problem: when UCSC Acting Chancellor Blumenthal sent out his campuswide email today deploring the protest, I (and, I suspect, a lot of other people) actually agreed with it. I don't think this is a good thing--I don't like agreeing with the administration. But when the Chancellor says,
What was both unexpected and completely unacceptable was pushing, kicking, biting, spitting, heaping verbal abuse, and throwing bottles and decayed fruit at staff and visitors, as occurred on Wednesday. Staff members, including our police officers, were verbally abused and physically injured. Guests from the community were pushed and spat upon. [...] Students, faculty, staff (including UCSC police), and visitors are all members of our community and are entitled to civil and respectful treatment.
it's hard to disagree.

Ah, my radical little Banana Slugs... I hate to say it, but maybe you could take a lesson from your compatriots at UC Berkeley. This is how they spent their Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

UC Regents Open Fire on Protesters

Okay, not really. But isn't that an awesome headline?

The University of California Regents are on campus at UCSC today--for only the second time in the last forty years. The official report on their visit has them participating in "tours, talks, and hands-on activities." What exactly does "hands-on activities" mean? Are they going to pull carrots at the campus organic farm? Pour concrete at the library expansion? Attempt to subdue Angela Davis (hint: bring a Taser)?

Fosco had forgotten about the Regents visit, so this afternoon, he and Michael and Laurel (the Canadians!) headed for the taqueria at Merrill College (one of UCSC's ten residential colleges). On the way, we passed by the new humanities complex (soon to be Fosco's home) and remembered that the Regents were, at that moment, inside at their "public Q&A session." We saw a number of people milling around on the plaza (mostly a bunch of juggling hippies to tell the truth) and continued on our way.

About half an hour later, filled with burrito, we passed again by the building, but now there was a full force (maybe 20? 25?) of police in full riot gear (face masks, body armor, batons) guarding the building. Laurel saw what appeared to be some arrestees (but Fosco did not--he was driving). What, we asked each other, could have happened?

Well, the answer isn't too surprising. As there is no daily student newspaper at UCSC (which is ridiculous when you think about it), we have to rely on the Santa Cruz Sentinel for the story. According to the Sentinel:

In a show of protest to UC policies, dozens of student protestors attempted to force their way inside a campus lecture hall and disrupt the Board of Regents’ second official visit to UC Santa Cruz in 40 years.

Police used batons and pepper spray to subdue the crowd.
You can read the full story here, but actually, by reading the quote above, you have read the full story (I expect more in-depth coverage to appear somewhere tomorrow--I'll update then.)

The best part about the Sentinel's coverage at this point is the series of pictures, including the one you see above (protesters post-pepper spray) and this one:

Fosco's favorite part of this picture is the masked man in the center who remembered to bring his drum to the protest. I guess you never know when a drum circle might break out.

Now, of course, Fosco is no fan of the UC Regents. Judging from their bios, pretty much every one of them is repulsive: the Schwarzenegger ones for being appointed by Schwarzenegger, most of the others for being businesspeople, and the remaining few for being suspiciously underqualified for running the UC system. Add the fact that there is likely to be a very nasty contract battle between the TA Union and these very Regents next spring and, well, let's just say that Fosco would be more than happy to have them trapped in that Humanities Lecture Hall surrounded by drumming hippies for a long, long time.

No, Fosco's only disagreement with most of these protesters is aesthetic. I know that "aesthetic" is a troubled category, but all I mean is that I like me my protesters to wear shirts and not to wear bandanas (oh yeah, and no drums.) Pay attention, hippies: you could win the support of extremely left-leaning academics like Fosco if only you dressed a little better for your protests. If you put on some khakis and let me know the next time the Regents are in town, I'll bring a pack of my grad school pals and we'll do a thing. Is it a deal?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Denouement: 10/1-10/15

Over the last two weeks, while you were planning a week of Oakland A's World Series parties, Fosco was

We're here, we're queer, and we're going to Valhalla.

Hey Homos! Last Wednesday was National Coming Out Day! And as it should be apparent from every single post on this blog that Fosco is queer, he didn't feel the need to write a celebratory post or anything (although he probably should have).

But how happy was Fosco when approaching his Friday afternoon seminar at Oakes College (one of the ten residential colleges at UCSC) to find that his path led over a RAINBOW BRIDGE! Luckily, Fosco has this new camera phone thingie:

The colors are a bit washed out in these pix, but trust me: this baby was vibrant.

Naturally, I love the gayness here. What's not to love about a 100 ft long homosexual bridge?

But, I must point out that this installation evoked a different meaning as well: at the end of Das Rheingold, what do Wotan and the other gods do? They cross into Valhalla by means of a rainbow bridge revealed by Donner's hammer blow. You can be sure that the music was in Fosco's head all afternoon.

Heda! Heda! Hedo!
Zu mir, du Gedüft!
Ihr Dünste, zu mir!
Donner, der Herr,
ruft euch zu Heer!

(Er schwingt den Hammer)

Auf des Hammers Schwung
schwebet herbei!
Dunstig Gedämpf!
Schwebend Gedüft!
Donner, der Herr,
ruft euch zu Heer!
Heda! Heda! Hedo!

Actually, Fosco might like to Schwing Donner's hammer...

Maybe next year, Joyce...

The first few weeks of October are both exciting and frustrating for Fosco. As the Nobel Prizes begin to trickle out of Stockholm, he has to put with the almost daily announcements of useless awards (like Physics or Medicine) until they finally get around to the Literature award.

Fosco loves the Nobel Prize in Literature (as he loves most other literary awards). Actually, the thing that Fosco loves most about the Nobel Prize in Literature is handicapping it. Who will win? Who should win but won't? Who might win but shouldn't?

To tell you the truth, Fosco's favorite thing about the Nobel Lit Prize is the perrenial presence of Skeletor, er, Joyce Carol Oates on the media's "shortlist." Yes, our JCO is Literature's Susan Lucci, tapped by both the newsmedia and the betting books (yes, you can bet on this!) as one of the heavyweights for the last several years. JCO's annual candidacy has even led the editor of the JCO infosite to provide this tart reply. Personally, I doubt that JCO will ever win the Nobel Prize for Literature, for the following reasons:

  • She teaches at Princeton with previous Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison (Winner in 1993). How many Literature Nobels are they going to throw at Princeton?
  • She's written somewhere in the neighborhood of, oh say, 6500 books and yet, NO ONE I know has read one of her novels. (Fosco has read more of her novels than he would care to admit, but all against his will. Ask him what that means, sometime.)
  • She's written (by a conservative estimate) about 9,740 books. Every time you look away, another book by her appears on the "New Books" table. Can the Nobel Committee really come to terms with that kind of oeuvre? Do they care to?
  • Although she's written roughly 4200 books, a close reading reveals that she's actually written the same 5 books, 840 times each. That's something I expect the Swedish Academy to notice. Eventually.
  • There's that whole mess with her accusing James McGreevey of killing all those teen vagrants. Stockholm doesn't really like teen sex killings.

So who did win? Some Turkish guy. Actually, to be more accurate, it's some Turkish guy who has faced political repression (a lil' bit) in his home country. Huh. Well, at least the Nobel Committee isn't predictable or anything.

So who should have won? Actually, I'm fine with Pamuk winning. I've never read his stuff, but it seems to review well. I mean, if Margaret Atwood thinks it's okay who am I to argue? (Atwood herself is something of a gunner for the Prize, eh?)

Next year, I'd love to see it go to Salman Rushdie (especially if the Academy really wants to make a statement about creative freedom) or Haruki Murakami (cuz I like him).

Actually the writer I think most deserves it (as he is certainly the best living writing working in English) is Philip Roth. However, he will never win it. Never. Why not? Because I don't see another American Jewish man (who writes about aging American men) winning. It turns out that Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize that should have, thirty years later, gone to Roth. Time plays such cruel jokes.

Don't worry, Joyce--you still have that cushy gig at Princeton, even if Toni makes fun of you behind your back. And, as this post proves, you don't need to have a Nobel to do that...

"Did a shadow pass?": Learning to fear Kaja Silverman

The problem with graduate school (well, okay, one of the problems) is that four times a week (on average), there is a talk on campus that Fosco would like to attend; however, due to Fosco's workload (or frequent need for restorative naps), he almost never makes it to any of them. His good intention to attend a talk almost always replaces his need to actually attend one. However, every so often, a talk strikes Fosco as unmissable... such as last Wednesday's visit to UCSC of Kaja Silverman.

Anyone familiar with Fosco's interests may find strange his desire to attend a Kaja Silverman talk--after all, he doesn't do much Lacan and absolutely NO film theory (in fact, Kaja Silverman probably watched as many films last month as Fosco watched in the last five years). In addition, Silveman's topic seemed almost deliberately obscure: a (long-past) video installation by Irish artist James Coleman (an artist that, incidentally, Fosco has never heard of). So why would Fosco want to go to this talk?

Because Fosco was Kaja-curious.

You see, Kaja Silverman is not just some Lacanian film theorist: she's a full-fledged Star in the Theory firmament. Kaja Silverman and Judith Butler are the Endowed Chair-holding Titans of that Powerhouse of Interdisciplinarity known as the Berkeley Rhetoric Department. So, regardless of whether Fosco was going to be able to understand a word she said, there was no way he would miss out on an opportunity to see a genuine Theory Rock Star! (Just as Above The Law likes to pretend that judges are rock stars, Fosco likes to do the same with theorists... Hmmm. Now do you understand why we were college roommates?)

And what did Fosco learn from this Kaja Silverman talk? Well, for one thing, she is brilliant. Although that's not a huge surprise--Berkeley doesn't just give you an Endowed Chair for being sassy (that's really more of a UC-Merced kind of thing...). The big surprise is that the talk was actually extremely interesting: Fosco forgot how much he enjoys art criticism talks. But this was no normal art criticism talk--she also managed to provide an extremely complicated meditation on time and space, drawing on Bergson and Deleuze. Did you know that you and I can both be living in different presents? At the same time? Wait... that sounds strangely familiar...

Okay, okay--all kidding aside, it actually was a really amazing meditation on space and time. I don't feel like saying any more about it though, as this blog is what I do when I don't want to explicate theory...

But here's the most interesting thing I learned about Kaja Silverman: she is SCARY. No, really! SCARY! Some of my compatriots in the audience have speculated that she might have hooves, but I don't know--I think she was actually wearing black ballet shoes and I would think it might be hard to get cloven feet into those.

How is she scary? Well, for one thing, she has this habit, during the question and answer period, of shadowing your question with "uh-huh"s until she feels that she fully understands the question; then, she cuts you off to answer it. None of that "wait until the questioner is done asking the question before answering it" stuff for Kaja Silverman. That would waste valuable seconds! The freaky art installations of the world aren't just going to explain themselves, dammit--Kaja Silverman has things to do!

You might think I'm making too big a deal of this, and I probably am. But, I guess I'm still a little surprised at it all. I watched her do it to FACULTY for christsake! Tenured faculty! She was clearly on a level above the mere mortals in the room and wasn't thrilled to have to suffer their questions.

I'm also pretty sure that I saw her outside on my balcony last night. [shiver]