Saturday, October 15, 2016

Literature Update and Bob Dylan

Today's post comes in three parts.

First, I am just tickled that Dylan won the Nobel Prize. Three pieces of increasingly pedantic information on the topic:

* He is the first American to win since Toni Morrison in 1993.

* He is the first English-language poet to win since Seamus Heaney in 1995, and the sixth overall (the others are Derek Walcott in 1992, TS Eliot in 1948, WB Yeats in 1923, and arguably Rudyard Kipling in 1907. I do not count Joseph Brodsky as his main opus is Russian.)

* Dylan is not the first songwriter to win the award. In 1903 Norwegian poet Bjorstjerne Bjornson won, whose poem 'Ja, vi elsker dette landet', written long before he won the Prize, was adopted as Norway's unofficial national anthem in the 1860s - a post it retains to this day, since Norway has no official anthem.

*     *     *

Second, many years ago, in 2012, I made a list of the Nobel Prize-winning authors I'd read. At that point I'd read only 20% of the 104 recipients. This prompted a desire to acquaint myself with the complete laureate's list. Now, after Dylan's win and 113 recipients, my stats look like this:

So far I have read works by:

Bjornstjerne Bjornson (1903).  I’ve read ‘Poems and Songs’.

Frederic Mistral (1904). I’ve read ‘Mireio’.

Jose Echegary (1904). I’ve read ‘The Great Galeoto’.

Giosue Carducci (1906). I’ve read ‘Barbarian Odes’.

Rudyard Kipling (1907). I’ve read ‘Just-So Stories,’ ‘Kim,’ and selected poetry.

Rudolph Eucken (1908). I’ve read his ‘Collected Essays’.

Selma Lagerlof (1909). I’ve read ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’.

Paul Von Heyse (1910). I’ve read ‘Barbarossa and Other Tales’.

Maurice Maeterlinck (1911). I’ve read ‘The Blue Bird’.

Gerhart Hauptman (1912). I’ve read ‘Before Daybreak’, ‘The Weavers’ and ‘The Beaver Coat’.

Rabindranath Tagore (1913). I’ve read his essays ‘Nationalism’ and his poetry collection ‘Gitanjali’.

Verner von Heidenstam (1916). I’ve read ‘The Charles Men’.

Karl Gjellerup (1917). I’ve read ‘The Pilgrim Kamanita’.

Carl Spitteler (1919). I’ve read his ‘Selected Poems’.

Jacinto Benavente (1922). I’ve read ‘The Bonds of Interest’.

William Butler Yeats (1923). I’ve read ‘The Tower’.

Wladyslaw Reymont (1924). I’ve read ‘The Peasants: Autumn’.

George Bernard Shaw (1925). I’ve read ‘Pygmalion’, ‘St. Joan’ and ‘Major Barbara’.

Grazia Deledda (1926). I’ve read ‘Reeds in the Wind’.

Henri Bergson (1927). I’ve read ‘Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic’.

Sinclair Lewis (1930). I’ve read ‘Main Street’.

Erik Karlfeldt (1931). I’ve read ‘Arcadia Borealis’.

Ivan Bunin (1933). I’ve read ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories’.

Luigi Pirandello (1934) I’ve read ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’.

Eugene O’Neil (1936). I’ve read ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’.

Roger Martin du Gard (1937). I’ve read ‘The Thibaults’.

Frans Sillanpaa (1939). I’ve read ‘People in the Summer Night’.

Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (1944). I’ve read ‘The Fall of the King’.

Gabriela Mistral (1945). I’ve read ‘Madwomen’.

Herman Hesse (1946). I’ve read ‘Siddhartha’.

Andre Gide (1947). I’ve read ‘The Immoralist’.

T.S. Eliot (1948). I’ve read ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’, ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘The Waste Land’.

William Faulkner (1949). I’ve read ‘The Sound and the Fury’, ‘As I lay Dying’, ‘Light in August’ and ‘Go Down Moses’ and the short story ‘A Rose for Emily’.

Bertrand Russell (1950). I’ve read ‘A History of Western Philosophy’ and the essay ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’. I intend to read ‘The Philosophy of Leibniz’.

Par Lagerkvist (1951). I’ve read ‘Barabbas’.

Winston Churchill (1953). I’ve read his speeches and intend to read ‘The Second World War’.

Ernest Hemingway (1954). I’ve read ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and the short story ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’ and intend to read ‘A Farewell to Arms’.

Juan Ramon Jimenez (1956). I’ve read ‘Platero and I’.

Albert Camus (1957). I’ve read ‘The Stranger’, ‘The Fall’ and ‘The Plague’, and the essay collections ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ and ‘The Rebel’.

Boris Pasternak (1958). I’ve read ‘My Sister, Life’.

Salvatore Quasimodo (1959). I’ve read ‘The Incomparable Earth’.

Saint-John Perse (1960). I’ve read his ‘Eloges’.

John Steinbeck (1962). I’ve read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1964). I’ve read ‘Being and Nothingness’, ‘Nausea’, the plays ‘No Exit’, ‘The Flies’ ‘Dirty Hands’ and ‘The Respectful Prostitute’, the short story ‘The Wall’, and the essays ‘Portrait of an Anti-Semite’, ‘Self-Deception’, ‘Marxism and Existentialism’ and ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’.

Giorgos Seferis (1963). I’ve read his ‘Logbook II’.

Nelly Sachs (1966). I’ve read ‘O the Chimneys’.

Samuel Beckett (1969). I’ve read ‘Waiting for Godot’ and intend to read the trilogy ‘Molloy’, ‘Malone Dies’ and ‘The Unnamable’.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1970). I’ve read ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’.

Pablo Neruda (1971). I’ve read ‘Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair’ and ‘The Yellow Heart’.

Harry Martinson (1974). I’ve read ‘Chickweed Wintergreen’.

Eyvind Johnson (1974). I’ve read ‘The Days of His Grace’.

Eugenio Montale (1975). I’ve read ‘Cuttlefish Bones’ and ‘The Occasions’.

Saul Bellow (1976). I’ve read ‘The Adventures of Augie March’ and intend to read ‘Herzog’ and ‘Henderson the Rain King’.

Vicente Aleixandre (1977). I’ve read ‘A Longing for the Light’.

Odysseas Elytis (1979). I’ve read ‘The Axion Esti’.

Czeslaw Milosz (1980). I’ve read his ‘Selected Poems’.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982). I’ve read ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, the short story ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ and the essay ‘Word Are in a Hurry, Get Out of the Way’ and intend to read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.

William Golding (1983). I’ve read ‘Lord of the Flies’.

Jaroslav Seifert (1984). I’ve read his ‘Selected Poems’.

Claude Simon (1985). I’ve read ‘The Georgics’.

Wole Soyinka (1986). I’ve read ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’.

Joseph Brodsky (1987). I’ve read ‘To Urania’.

Naguib Mahfouz (1988). I’ve read ‘Children of Gebelaawi’.

Octavio Paz (1990). I’ve read ‘Eagle or Sun?’ and ‘A Tale of Two Gardens’.

Derek Walcott (1992). I’ve read ‘Omeros’.

Kenzaburo Oe (1994). I’ve read ‘Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness’.

Seamus Heaney (1995). I’ve read ‘North’.

Wislawa Szymborska (1996). I’ve read ‘View with a Grain of Sand’.

Dario Fo (1997). I’ve read ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’.

Gao Xingjian (2000). I’ve read ‘Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather’.

V.S. Naipaul (2001). I’ve read ‘A Bend in the River’ and intend to read ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’.

Harold Pinter (2005). I’ve read ‘Betrayal’.

Tomas Transtromer (2011). I’ve read ‘The Great Enigma’.

Mo Yan (2012). I’ve read ‘Life and Death are Wearing Me Out’.

Svetlana Alexievich (2015). I’ve read ‘Voices from Chernobyl’.

Bob Dylan (2016). I’ve…read? ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, ‘Blonde on Blonde’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Time Out of Mind’, ‘Modern Times’, ‘Love and Theft’, ‘Desire’, ‘The Basement Tapes’, ‘John Wesley Harding’, and ‘Nashville Skyline’.

So I’m a little familiar with 76 of 113, or 67%. I intend to read them all.

*     *     *

Third, and finally, in recognition of Dylan's poetry, here are ten favorites, presented chronologically:

Bob Dylan’s Dream – 1963

While riding on a train goin’ west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had

With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’ till the early hours of the morn

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one

As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split

How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

Oxford Town – 1963

Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev’rybody’s got their heads bowed down
The sun don’t shine above the ground
Ain’t a-goin’ down to Oxford Town

He went down to Oxford Town
Guns and clubs followed him down
All because his face was brown
Better get away from Oxford Town

Oxford Town around the bend
He come in to the door, he couldn’t get in
All because of the color of his skin
What do you think about that, my frien’?

Me and my gal, my gal’s son
We got met with a tear gas bomb
I don’t even know why we come
Goin’ back where we come from

Oxford Town in the afternoon
Ev’rybody singin’ a sorrowful tune
Two men died ’neath the Mississippi moon
Somebody better investigate soon

Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev’rybody’s got their heads bowed down
The sun don’t shine above the ground
Ain’t a-goin’ down to Oxford Town

The Times They Are a-Changin’ – 1964

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Love Minus Zero / No Limit – 1965

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing

Ballad of a Thin Man – 1965

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says
“It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone?”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, “How does it feel
To be such a freak?”
And you say, “Impossible”
As he hands you a bone

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To ax-deductible charity organizations

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word “NOW”
And you say, “For what reason?”
And he says, “How?”
And you say, “What does this mean?”
And he screams back, “You’re a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Desolation Row – 1965

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on pennywhistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
A perfect image of a priest
They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get Outa Here If You Don’t Know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row”

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands – 1966

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes
Oh, who among them do they think could bury you?
With your pockets well protected at last
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass
Who among them do they think could carry you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

With your sheets like metal and your belt like lace
And your deck of cards missing the jack and the ace
And your basement clothes and your hollow face
Who among them can think he could outguess you?
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to impress you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

The kings of Tyrus with their convict list
Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss
And you wouldn’t know it would happen like this
But who among them really wants just to kiss you?
With your childhood flames on your midnight rug
And your Spanish manners and your mother’s drugs
And your cowboy mouth and your curfew plugs
Who among them do you think could resist you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

Oh, the farmers and the businessmen, they all did decide
To show you the dead angels that they used to hide
But why did they pick you to sympathize with their side?
Oh, how could they ever mistake you?
They wished you’d accepted the blame for the farm
But with the sea at your feet and the phony false alarm
And with the child of a hoodlum wrapped up in your arms
How could they ever, ever persuade you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

With your sheet-metal memory of Cannery Row
And your magazine-husband who one day just had to go
And your gentleness now, which you just can’t help but show
Who among them do you think would employ you?
Now you stand with your thief, you’re on his parole
With your holy medallion which your fingertips fold
And your saintlike face and your ghostlike soul
Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

Tangled Up in Blue – 1975

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

Not Dark Yet – 1997

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree
I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Thunder on the Mountain – 2006

Thunder on the mountain, fires on the moon
There's a ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand
Look into my heart and you will sort of understand
You brought me here, now you're trying to run me away
The writing's on the wall, come read it, come see what it say

Thunder on the mountain, rolling like a drum
Gonna sleep over there, that's where the music coming from
I don't need any guide, I already know the way
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

The pistols are poppin' and the power is down
I'd like to try somethin' but I'm so far from town
The sun keeps shinin' and the North Wind keeps picking up speed
Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need

I've been sitting down studying the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want some real good woman to do just what I say
Everybody got to wonder what's the matter with this cruel world today

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church and I've said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

I got the porkchops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams

Thunder on the mountain heavy as can be
Mean old twister bearing down on me
All the ladies of Washington scrambling to get out of town
Looks like something bad gonna happen, better roll your airplane down

Everybody's going and I want to go too
Don't wanna take a chance with somebody new
I did all I could and I did it right there and then
I've already confessed – no need to confess again

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I'll plant and I'll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer's on the table, the pitchfork's on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself

Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 Nobel Prize for Literature

Scene: a shadowy room, with typical low-lighting and cigar smoking. Around a large boardroom oval are beefy men, sweating through their white-collared shirts, sleeves rolled up and black ties loose from top buttons left open.

Shadow One: As apparently very incongruous and not at all Norwegian-looking members of the Nobel Committee, we must decide on a winner for this year's prize.

Shadow Two: We've only got three hours before Thursday's presumed deadline.

Shadow One: At last check the Committee was split between Murakami, Adunis, and Ross.

Shadow Three: Murakami is by far the most famous serious novelist on the global stage. We've only awarded five Asian Literature prizes - we need to give it to him.

Shadow Four: But there's only been one previous Arabic-language award. We've had two Japanese winners already. Adunis will help address this imbalance. And he's Syrian.

Suspiciously Trim and Handsome Shadow Five: But... Ross.

Shadow One: No one reads his blog.

STH Shadow Five: But it's so good!

Universal murmurs of approval.

Shadow Four: Due to the obviously political nature of our award we have to be very careful in giving it to an American. They may get ideas about their literature being quality.

Shadow Six: Haven't we nominated Philip Roth, like, fifty-eight times?

Shadow Seven: And Joyce Carol Oates?

Shadow Six: Oates would bring important representation to non-human authors. As a sock puppet her body of work is extraordinary.

Joyce Carol Oates, middle.

Shadow Three: There are more than four billion Asians. Five prizes in 115 years. Murakami.

Shadow Four: We all know that the Peace prize is going to go to Santos. We can't lose sight of Syria. It's the most important human rights disaster in the world today. We can't just acknowledge European Modernists, and turn a blind eye to those of the Middle East. The only Arabic author was from Egypt.

Shadow Eight: Speaking of Africa, what about Ngugi Wa Thiong'o?

Awkward silence.

Shadow Eight: No one read his work, did they?

Awkward shuffling and coughing.

STH Shadow Five: America hasn't won in 20 years. In an election year when they can nominate an insane man such as Donald Trump, it would be wise to nominate an author who has always stood up for truth, justice, and the American way. Ross would be a good choice, and, like Adonis, he has only one name.

Shadow One: Has he ever been published?

STH Shadow Five: ...No.

Shadow Seven: Wait a minute... You're not a beefy Norwegian. Who are you?

There's a pause, STH Shadow Five throws something, and after a bang, runs out of the room amidst a cloud of smoke.

Shadow One: Well that narrows it down somewhat. But we've still only a few hours before we need to announce.

Shadow Six: ...I think we need to postpone our statement.

General murmurs of assent.

Shadow One: You're right. Let's take one more week to decide.

Will the Nobel Committee reach a decision by next week? Which author's work will they decide is the world's greatest? What became of the Suspiciously Trim and Handsome Shadow Five? 

Find out next week on 'Nobel Prize Theater'!

Who will win?

Sunday, October 2, 2016


For the first time since May, 2009, I didn't post for a full month, with no updates for all of September.

The reason for this is writing. Namely, as the school year started up, I discovered my students couldn't write.

For the first time in a few years I am teaching high school again, and my students have a weekly essay assignment (nothing monstrous - just a page/page and a half). The first one I collected required 90% to rewrite. Now, as six weeks have gone by, they've gotten better. Now it's 70% rewrites.

My life/work balance has shifted rather dramatically, due to the need to edit and line-edit these works. It's easy to slap a grade on it and move on, but then they won't get any better. So I take time and work closely with them. Which cuts into the free time I had during evening and weekends.

Due to the volume of work (I have three sections of high schoolers) I've subsequently not had any desire to do any writing of my own; hence the month lapse on the blog.

*     *     *

One thing I've been thinking about a lot is how 'Millenials', such as myself, are consistently touted, and perhaps rightly, as the best-educated generation America has ever seen. (Although this claim is increasingly dubious considering the number of Gary Johnson supporters in our age bracket.) The rising generation, whoever they are, share one disturbing quality: they are the No Child Left Behind generation. Bush-era educational models have ruined many of these kids, which is how you can get a class of juniors and seniors in high school who can pass a standardized test, but not write a one-page essay.

Moving forward I can't help but think this is going to be one of the big tensions between the generations, a source of decades-long friction, as a highly-educated older generation despairs for the poorly educated youngsters who follow. Granted, this form of woe for the future is not new ("Young men these days are graduating from University without having to learn Latin! Can you imagine?"). But, for all of its terrible consequences, NCLB at least provided us with data, so now we have the stats and figures to back up our concerns for the end being nigh.

Back in 2008, during the primaries, I voted as a Massachusetts resident for Hillary Clinton. She had the better education plan than Obama. Obama has done some work in dismantling NCLB, but not as much as I'd hoped. Granted, he had a lot on his plate. As this surreal election continues, of course, I am supporting Hillary again. On her website she has a nice section on ideas to fix education. Unfortunately, the standardized testing core is not mentioned.

By comparison, Donald Trump is crazy. So.

(For the sake of quasi-journalistic blogging integrity I waded through his website to find his views. He wants tax dollars to pay for private schools. The guy is nuts.)

*     *     *

It's a lazy Sunday afternoon here in Berkeley. I'm listening to the slack guitar of Hawaiian musician Sonny Chillingworth. The sun is out. And the real reason I wrote this post? To postpone for another half-hour grading the rising generation's essays.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where to Invade Next

In high school the guy who made my life hell didn’t even know I existed. It seemed like everything he did, though, was targeted towards me and my friends: every stupid, callous action, every bit of trash-talking, his overreactions and underreactions, his weak-ass moral code… And for all his hate of me and my kind, I gloried in hating him right back. I made fun of him, my friends all talked shit about him; I even used his face for a dart board in my room.

I am of course referring to George W. Bush.

I had this poster in my room.

And then I went off to college, and this asshole followed me there for another four miserable years.

But during high school I had a lot of friends who supported me. Aaron McGruder was one – when the country lost its mind and backed Bush McGruder stood firm and kept reminding people the President was an idiot. 

One of the best comic strips the U.S. ever ran.

Michael Moore was another. After deciding to go to school in Colorado, after Columbine, his documentary was very influential for me. I remember buying it on VHS while in high school – and kids in my class would get together and watch it.

Most of my VHS I’d replaced over the years, but somehow I’d not gotten the DVD of Bowling for Columbine, and, while purchasing other movies last week, found it on sale for $2. So I bought it and rewatched it for the first time since I was 17.

Parts of it have not aged well. Parts have. It succeeded, I guess, in that it made me angry all over again. By comparison, when Fahrenheit 9/11 came out my family stood in line at the theater for it – but I hardly recall any of that film, and, after all these years, remembered most of Bowling. That’s due to multiple viewings versus one, but it also just struck a chord that Fahrenheit didn’t – because Fahrenheit didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

And I'm sure that's why Bowling won an Oscar and Fahrenheit didn't.

This problem is echoed a bit in Where to Invade Next. However, it is a weak echo. Most of the film is rather fabulous, and most of it I did not already know – or at least not the specifics. Moore travels to different countries and unabashedly cherry-picks the best elements of their societies to bring back to the U.S. Obvious spoilers ahead (and throughout the remainder, really):

Here, then, are those cherry-picked ideas:

Italy – eight weeks paid for vacations, honeymoons, and family leave
France – amazing school lunches and real sex education
Finland – how to do education right (no homework, 20 hours of class a week, etc)
Slovenia – free college tuition

So these countries thematically cover birth to adulthood. Then he focuses on working conditions in Germany with work/life balance before moving on to:

Portugal – drug tolerance and death penalty abolishment
Norway – prison reform

Here he pauses, acknowledging the socialist tone of the film so far. We’ve all known, for a while now, that Scandinavia does it better. He asks “Where next? Sweden? Denmark?” before settling on the most unexpected choice, Tunisia, chosen because it has passed a women’s equal rights amendment, with half of their parliament being female, and all women have free state-sponsored access to abortion clinics. In Tunisia. Following this thread he looks at Iceland, both its feminist culture and how they jailed their bankers after the 2008 financial crisis.

Tunisian women

Unexpectedly he takes the final segment back to Germany. Here, with a friend, they reminisce, having both been present during the first nights that people started chipping away at the Berlin Wall, and how within the week, the Wall was gone. He marvels at this, and repeats his still-present astonishment “Built to last forever.”

All of the ideas he “claims” from his “invasions” are doable in the United States. And he addresses issues like the difference in taxes (deflating the arguments in the process). They seem impossible now, but five years ago so did universal gay marriage. Especially important is how each good idea is backed by a coherent rationale. Regular people explain why the changes came about, for example studies of stress or societal norms regarding human dignity. Everyday people have been taught the societal values, considered them, and embraced them as the rational steps their governments must take to improve the lives of everyone. It was all so reasonable, and sensible, which Moore backs up by often discussing the issue in question before and after these changes – with the after always being a clear improvement.

Tunisian women have free access to abortion clinics… It was those moments which were hard to take. This is a problem, the flip side to Moore’s optimism is, of course, that it exposes and reminds you of how fucked up we are in many ways. The footage of the prisons in America was, not surprisingly but still painfully, horrible. His segment on Germany, besides worker’s rights, also addressed how their national education system deals with Nazism and the Holocaust, by acknowledging it, head on, and not pretending it didn’t happen, or burying it out of embarrassment. I couldn’t help but think of the case in Oklahoma where they tried to stop teaching AP US History because, they said, it emphasizes “what is bad about America”. I hate to break it you, but much of our history is really that wretched. And we have to own it to move on.

This should not be a thing in 2016.

So this documentary was very pleasant. It reminded me why I liked Moore’s work, and how much further we have to go. All of his conquered ideas were, to my way of thinking, good ones. I’d love to live in a U.S. where these ideas were adopted (many are straight out of Sanders’ playbook, of course). And after the Berlin Wall his very last point was to show how each of these ideas wasn’t actually derived from other countries – they had all originated right here, in the United States. We could, if we wanted to, bring them back. That’s the real way we could make America great again.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Back to High School

I'm teaching my first high school class in six years.

In 2010 I left Reno and my one-year contract, and spent six months sleeping on my dad's floor in the Bay Area. To pay my student loans I got a job tutoring a middle school girl. While commuting up and down the peninsula I filled out paperwork, got accepted to, and prepared to teach abroad in Singapore.

The students in Singapore were admittedly high school age. But over there those four years are 12-16. My students were past that - young adults who were doing two years of junior college prior to entering University. They were, by the test scores, the best in the world - second in math, fourth in science, fifth in reading. The reality was more complex, but it was college - my classes had hundreds of kids. I never really learned all their names. I stood in front of a crowd and talked into a mic in a lecture hall. In my seminars we just went over more PowerPoints - because that's what I was required to do. I left for Southeast Asia in December and came back one year later, to the day.

Then I spent six months travelling America, sleeping on couches of indulgent friends from college.

I landed on my mom's couch, in Boston. For a few months I searched for jobs. I'd never intended to return to the East Coast. In the under-croft of Trinity Church (where it was quiet) I landed a job at a boarding school in Connecticut.

Again, the students were high school age, but when I looked at the art on the wall...when I started teaching... The deficits were so noticeable. I told my AP students to save their money and not take the test - they always bombed my quizzes, and couldn't be bothered to turn in their work. My Art History elective had a single student to start - by the end of the semester we had three. 

The reason I'd gotten the job was I'd worked this population before - severe emotional and behavioral disorders. 

They were good kids, and I'm so proud of some of them for making it. I hope the others get there someday. The classes I taught, though, weren't really real. I had a special niche at the school for teaching the tough stuff - AP, Philosophy, Art History. I taught World History for a semester and the students flipped out because they weren't get As for participation. Parents flipped too. Remarkably, the administration had my back - most of the time it felt like an us v. them, both regarding the admin and the students.

After giving notice at the two-year mark, with nothing lined up, I lucked out and got a position back in the Bay. But for two years I've been stuck teaching middle school - which I have no background in, and the content has been technology - which I assiduously avoided when I was a history teacher.

I was told I'd be given a social studies position after a bit, but I'm entering year three, and all I've secured is a high school elective of Film Studies.

This past week was the first week back at school. And for the first time since 2010, I'm teaching high schoolers something in the social sciences department.

*     *     *

Back in Reno I'd taught Sociology (which I largely made up based on my college Social and Developmental Psych courses, peppered with whatever Anthro I could remember), World and US History. US was the hardest, since I'd not really studied it since high school myself - it was already clear World would be my specialty.

Most of the time, looking back on those classes, I'm not too proud.

My biggest difficulty has always been grading. I was never the A student - so it's hard for me to know what that looks like. I was always a C student, when my headmaster, a relic from an earlier era, used to remind parents there's no shame in "gentlemen's Cs". C was average - fine. Not bad. Nothing special, but not bad.

Now everyone wants As. And for my entire academic career I never got those. One time, from fifth grade to graduate school, I got an A+. It was Fall semester of my Junior year of college. The class was Teaching and Learning. It helped me feel like I was doing the right thing by going into teaching.

Back in Reno I had a lot of students ask for letters of recommendation. Some Singaporean students asked as well. Even a couple of kids in Connecticut - but that was the gig that changed me. I'd always been Mr. Professor - suit jacket, briefcase, all that jazz. The right sort of teacher to ask for a letter. When my boarding school students were so vulnerable I had to shed some of that. On top of my teacher role I was also in loco parentis.

Coming to teach at a normal school, working with young kids has actually helped. The age gap steadied me these past two years with redeveloping the Mr. Professor persona superficially. But the change hasn't gone away. Since Connecticut, I no longer act. Teaching isn't a performance anymore. These days I talk to students as I talk to anyone else - just watching my cursing.

So when this week kicked off the 2016-17 school year, it was a jolt to be teaching high school kids again. Many things struck me. They're less talkative. They're less likely to act out - but more willing to be rude to your face. And after two years of eleven year-olds, they were harder to read than I remembered.

I was always ill at ease at my first teaching job - I assumed the students could smell I was a phony. Every single day was an indulgence by them. They sat quietly and didn't push back too much, because they needed me to pass them so they could move on with their lives. They knew the score. So they didn't give me a hard time, not out of respect, but because I was like an edgy dog - if you moved the wrong way I'd start barking, and it was easier to tread carefully under my stare and persistent growl.

Back in Reno... Been thinking a lot about that job lately, and that part of my life. It was the only time, really, I did what I'd trained for - taught social studies to high schoolers in a typical school. (I mean, it was a low-income serving charter, but that population describes most of America's students it seems, these days.) This Film Studies elective, which has three sections, is my new chance to do it better. 

But despite all that's happened since I was twenty-three - any questionable growth - I've still not become an A+ student. And sometimes I wonder if that's why I'm still doing this teaching. Every year it's an embarrassment when, for staff morale, we share why we got into the gig. Everyone else comes off the exercise feeling the rejuvenation of renewed focus on their life's purpose. I feel shitty for having lied again.

One of my good professors, Greg, asked me once. I told him the truth:

"Teaching is seen as noble."

And when someone says they admire the work I'm doing - having never seen me in the classroom, it kind of sucks. I've no real faith I'm one of the good ones, because my answer is not everyone else's. Nor are my answers to the other questions we get asked. This year it was "What's something you learned from a student?" I couldn't come up with anything. For five minutes I sat, and glanced at others writing. A week later and I'm still blank. After an hour of listening to how relationships are so important I feel awkward, not glowing. I don't want to get to know my students. It's hard enough to put names to faces. Their successes and failures are not why I get up in the morning. The great teachers I had in my life aren't like me. They cared.

I know I've made a huge difference in the lives of a few, and that's nice, if not motivating. At my first job, only, I mentioned the other reasons I'd gone into teaching. Besides society's noble view, which could maybe help me down the line, it was also out of a concern for civilization. The teacher I was sharing with was fascinated. Her response had been the standard - to make a difference in children's lives. Entering the field that reason, that motivation,  hadn't even really occurred to me. Teaching was bigger than helping needy kids - it was to be a vanguard of civilization. Teachers make sure society doesn't end up batshit crazy and stupid. We fight to preserve reason. That excited me - and doing it through the lens of history, sharing the fascinating stories I was so passionate about.

Returning to high school social studies, even just Film Studies, brought a bit of that back.

For two years I've been hitting snooze on my alarm - because I have no desire to go to work in the morning. (Except Wednesdays, when I hang out with my fabulous Tech department coworkers. Only fun part of the week.) Halfway through the first year of Tech I redid the curriculum to incorporate more history, just so I wouldn't want to jump out a window from boredom. But when I taught history in the past, I never had to hit snooze, because I was going to spend the day doing something fun and important - teaching history to the rising generation, that they might learn the crucial lesson that reasons we're here are arbitrary, and therefore we have the power to change our world and make it in the image we see fit. That's the attitude I'm trying to bring to this elective, even though I've no idea whether or not I can do my job, and still feel like I'm faking it after all these years.

On Friday, after I provided manically excited context for the rise of German expressionism in the 20s, a girl in Film Studies said "You should be a history teacher."

And, honest to god, I don't know if she meant it sarcastically or sincere.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Académie Américain?

Many years ago, never mind how long exactly, I learned of the French Academy. I immediately thought it was a cool idea: 40 seats, each one rotating with the greatest minds of the Arts and Sciences - the most notable contributors to French culture and life. In place since 1635, it is a veritable 'whose who' of great French people. Their not-subtle motto is "to immortality".

The seats are numbered, and have included: Seat Two: Montesquieu, Seat Three: Georges Clemenceau and Marguerite Yourcenar, Seat Five: Joseph Fourier, Seat Seven: Henri Bergson, Seat Thirteen: Jean Racine, Seat Fourteen: Pierre Corneille and Victor Hugo, Seat Seventeen: Louis Pasteur and Jacques Cousteau, Seat Eighteen: Alexis de Tocqueville, Seat Twenty-Four: La Fontaine, Marivaux, Sully Prudhomme, and Henri Poincare, Seat Twenty-Nine: Claude Levi-Strauss, Seat Thirty-One: Jean Cocteau, Seat Thirty-Three: Voltaire, Seat Thirty-Five: Georges Cuvier, Seat Thirty-Eight: Anatole France and Paul Valery, and so on.

Now, the purpose of the Academie is to protect what the French hold most dear: their language. But as I conceived of an American version of this traditional body, I figured it would be best to have such notables advise the country in a meaningful way. The Seats, too, should be fixed, so as to not end up with lopsided membership (fourteen novelists, for example).

After considering the roles that would be suited to the task I went ahead and made some basic rules:

American Congressional Academy

Purpose: To make an annual report to Congress and the public of the areas in which the United States should direct its energies, financial, intellectual, and professional, with a focus on problem-solving.

Membership requirements: 1) American Citizen and resident for at least 10 years. 2) Significant innovation or influence in the field. 3) Not currently serving in the United States Legislature, Judiciary, or Executive branches of government in an elected position. 4) Must be able to attend the three annual meetings in person

Foreign membership requirements: 1) Significant innovation or influence in the field, of global recognition. 2) Must be able to attend at least one of the three annual meetings in person.

Organization: The Academy consists of twenty-five permanent Seats, each representing a different facet of American life. One individual serves as Secretary General, whose position must also reflect a significant contribution to the field of Activism. All of the Academy Membership requirements apply to the Secretary General. The Seats, initially filled by Congress, are lifetime appointments, allowing for an Academy Member to resign at any time, with possibility of reappointment. Seats are appointed by a 2/3 majority of the sitting Academy Members. The Secretary General is also appointed by 2/3 majority of the Academy Members. In addition, five International Seats will also be appointed by the Academy Members, by 2/3 majority. Being an International Member provides the same contribution privileges, however they do not vote on new membership of any type except Secretary General. As with Academy Membership, International Members are lifetime appointments, but may resign with possibility of reappointment. The Secretary General may be recalled from the post by a 2/3 majority vote of the entire Membership, consisting of both the Academy and International Seats. If recalled, the individual may be appointed to a vacant Seat, or later reappointed as Secretary General, or Academy Member.

So far so good. With this in mind, I came up the Seats, and suggested inaugural members:

Inaugural 2016 Academy Membership:

Seat 1, Health: Louis Wade Sullivan, 82

Seat 2, Physics: Steven Weinberg, 83

Seat 3, Prose: Toni Morrison, 85

Seat 4, Mathematics: Persi Diaconis, 71

Seat 5, Poetry: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 97

Seat 6, Chemistry: EJ Corey, 88

Seat 7, Law: Sandra Day O’Connor, 86

Seat 8, Education: Sal Khan, 39

Seat 9, Technology: Elon Musk, 45

Seat 10, Music: Wayne Shorter, 82

Seat 11, History: David McCullough, 83

Seat 12, Architecture: I.M Pei, 99

Seat 13, Journalism: Gloria Steinem, 82

Seat 14, Human Rights: Dolores Huerta, 86

Seat 15, Economics: Amory Lovins, 68

Seat 16, Anthropology and Sociology: Jared Diamond, 78

Seat 17, Astronomy and Cosmology: Neil deGrasse Tyson, 57

Seat 18, Biology: E.O. Wilson, 87

Seat 19, Design: Paula Scher, 67

Seat 20: Philosophy: Saul Kripke, 75

Seat 21, Two-Dimensional Art: Kara Walker, 46

Seat 22, Three-Dimensional Art: Maya Lin, 56

Seat 23, Psychology: Philip Zimbardo, 83

Seat 24, Theater Art: Lin-Manuel Miranda, 36

Seat 25, Film and Television: Spike Lee, 59

Secretary General (Activism): Angela Davis, 72

Inaugural 2016 International Members:

Art: Ai Weiwei, 58, China

Science: Jane Goodall, 82, United Kingdom

Social Science: Muhammad Yunus, 76, Bangladesh

Politics: Kofi Annan, 78, Ghana

Law and Journalism: Tawakkol Karman, 37, Yemen

Given the ages of the membership above I'm pretty sure Seats would open very soon. Any suggestions on who should be elected to the Seats next in the various categories? Or were any of the Inaugural Seats poorly filled? I'd be interested on folks opinions.

I called up everyone I thought of, and they very graciously flew out to Berkeley for a photo op. Terribly nice of them.

Friday, July 1, 2016

New Definition of 'Middle Class' in U.S. to Apply in 2017

Over five days experts gathered at the historic Mount Washington Hotel, located in Bretton Woods, NH, where in 1944 modern economics was born. Their task was to determine - once and for all - a definition of ‘middle class’. “There’s surprisingly little agreement, not just among academics, but also policymakers, which is a problem,” said Mani Ratnam, a research fellow of the Lawrence J. Breckenridge Institute, a long-time socioeconomic bellwether.  “For example, the poverty line provides a pretty clear lower-threshold, but we found in a study of 218 government-issued publications that the discrepancy for upper threshold could be as much as fifty thousand dollars a year.”  Or twice the income of a family of four living at the poverty line.
Convening last Sunday, June 26, the national leaders on the issue fell into a routine of breakout meetings in the morning, followed by full-assembly lunch meetings in the Rosebrook section of the Hotel, looking out onto the mountains. “It was some of the best food I’ve ever had,” said Chen Kaige, Nobel-laureate and Economics Professor Emeritus at Duke. “After the spectacular meals, instead of afternoon sessions, we usually didn’t have any energy, and just went back to our rooms.”
It was the second-to-last day when the breakthrough came, fittingly while in the Rosebrook. “I was sitting next to Elsa Morante,” an independent researcher who published The Middle (Class) Way in 2009, “and noticed she was taking a picture of her lobster baked with gruyere and new potato shavings. That’s when I hit upon the definition we’d all been looking for in charts and statistics for four days.” 
With great excitement, according to the fellow members, the idea was shouted across the room to the conference head by Alex Mackendrick, the man sitting next to Morante’s lobster-doting photography: “Food porn!” “And with those two words, the room erupted,” he recalls. 
About half an hour was spent wrangling over the new official definition, to be implemented in all U.S. publications starting in January of 2017. The main contention was whether you qualified as ‘middle class’ by being able to afford taking food porn pictures at restaurants or if you had to produce the salivating-worthy dishes - and pics - at home. “There was definitely a pro-restaurant faction,” Kaige disclosed. “I was one of them!” But in the end, the at-home delegation won out. To be properly middle class in America means you must have the means, know-how, and camera filters to pull off food porn in your own kitchen. The conference attendees upheld the motion almost unanimously, 136-14.
With the decision made, and rather hastily written up, the panel dispersed, to enjoy the “food comas” brought on by “a truly marvelous spread”. The final day of the conference was mainly spent in the Rosebrook. The White House, whose top representative at the “New Bretton Woods” was Deputy Treasury Secretary Al Jolson, issued a statement this afternoon. In it the President lauded a new definition which he said “will replace a confusing, and sometimes contradictory set of numbers” with “a common-sense understanding all Americans can get behind.”
Additional reporting provided by Reuters