Lily Ledbetter Employment Fairness Bill Passes

I am pleased to relate that by a vote of 256-163  The Lily Ledbetter Actpassed today in the   U.S. House of Representatives.


If the legislation moves through the Senate with equal dispatch this equal pay for equal work amendment to the Civil Rights  Act of 1964 could become the first piece of legislation awaiting signing on Presiden Barack Obama’s desk. Such a prospect is inspiring beyond measure. But then again I have the phrasing wrong: the measure is as it always should be: a matter of dignity and a real paycheck. These things can be measured in the lives of real families and their children.



House to Vote Tomorrow on Equal Pay Act

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote tomorrow on the Lily Ledbetter Actwhich is designed to restore equal pay for equal work to the nation’s workforce. Named for Lily Ledbetter who was the plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging gender based employment discrimination the act is aimed at repairing the damage done to the rights of American workers by the right wing supreme court. This drive by the legislative branch to reassert the principles of employee’s rights is very much akin to the work that was successfully conducted to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act last year. In these teribly difficult economic times one can scarcely imagine a more pressing issue than the rights of workers unless of course we are thinking about homelessness or hungry children–matters that of course are entirely related to human rights in the workplace.

By the Sea, the Large and Distinguished Sea

I am visiting the Pacific University low residency MFA creative writing program as a faculty member and the program has its winter residency in a beach front hotel in the town of Seaside Oregon. Our plane trip from Iowa to Minnesota and then to Portland was a cinch but getting from the airport to the coast was quite a journey owing to the debestating flooding that folks are experiencing in both the states of Washington and Oregon. ON the way here it was hard to tell the sea from the land in many of the low lying communities.

The sea is the realm where the effects of global warming are most catastrophic. Coming out of Iowa where last summer’s epic flooding shut down the University of Iowa and nearly destroyed   the city of Cedar Rapids I couldn’t help but feel today as we made our way to the coast that the damage to our planet has produced wider effects across our continent than our slack government was prepared to acknowledge until very recently.

One feels the futility of talking about literary art while the planet is reeling. I taught last summer while thousands of students and local citizens tried to save the University of IOwa’s library by sandbagging in a vast industrial line.IN despair at the terrors of the second world war Auden once remarked that poetry makes nothing happen. May he be wrong always. Can we solve the crisis of climate devestation? Al  Gore says we’re nearly out of time but there’s still a slim window.

A slim window. Like those windows in the Aran Islands, built narrow to keep out the north sea. A narrow window with an hour glass.

O let us be stewards.

Last night I dreamt that a holy man, a bishop told me to eat only the tenderloin insects. I shall trust like John the Baptist that our ways shall be made straight.

I think my unconscious was calling for a simpler life. The planet could subscribe to human simplicities.



The Deleterious Effects of Memory

Today I had a lovely and lively lunch with two professors from Grinnell College and together we discussed among other things the ways in which memory must be understood in broader terms as an active engagement of the past and the present–much in the manner of mythological intelligence. WE were thinking of this along the lines of recent theoretical work in autism and with the associated sense that autistic people remember things not merely as “the past” but they see that past as static and very much a part of the present. This was a smart conversation and then as my friends drove away I thought in a more low comedic fashion about all the dreadful junk that’s stored in my memory banks (and yours too I may venture) and I remembered the horrible visage of the 1950’s TV humanoid figure known as Speedy Alka Seltzer. He was a dancing plasticine boy with an oversized curl of plasticine hair that fell over his bulbous forehead; he had an Alka Seltzer tablet for a torso and another tablet poised atop his immense head–so that it resembled a sailor’s hat. He was a dreadful apparition then and now and if I was possessed of a sharper memory I might never be able to put this little rascal out of mind. I’m glad sometimes that I’m not as smart as my friends who have autism. I can forget Speedy Alka Seltzer for moments. I can hum to myself something from the Tales of Hoffman instead. One may suggest these are the same thing. I can’t say.I could however use an Alka Seltzer right about now.



Skinny Arms, No Tattoos Please


Yesterday I wrote about being stuck at a railway crossing and how I was unable to proceed with my destined rounds. I pointed out that there was a tattoo parlor on my side of the tracksand I opined that I’m too sensitive to get a tattoo. My friend Bill Peace wrote to say that he has a tattoo and with the exception of the chest area getting a tattoo isn’t  necessarily all that painful. So I wrote him “back” and added that if truth will out, the problem for me isn’t the pain its the fact that I have these really skinny arms–why my arms are so skinny that Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl looks like Sy Stallone by comparison. This is true. It doesn’t matter whether I lift weights, swim long distances, carry variorum editions of Victorian novels up long flights of stairs–nothing makes my arms thicker than those bread sticks you see at the Olive Garden. That by the way is the second time I’ve typed the word “olive” and that must mean something but I’m not sufficiently well read on the significance of fruits and vegetables in the unconscious. D.H. Lawrence would probably say that this is a feminine symbol but I don’t know. But I do have pitiful arms and this is all the more amusing because I have a huge and I do mean advanced upper body. I look like an opera singer in the chest region. Once while being rushed via ambulance   to the emergency room because they thought I was having a heart attack (though this turned out not to be the case thank goodness) the EMT looked at me there on the bouncing gurney and said: “Jeez, I wish I had “pecs” like yours.” So there it is: I can’t get a tattoo on my arm because the only thing they could put there would be puny and unheraldic, a gnat or some kind of wormy thing and who wants that on his or her arm? Bar Sinister: an earthworm with the Latin motto: “Don’t Step on Me”? I think not. Meantime Bill has written to say that he too has skinny arms etc. but I don’t believe him. I think he may have thin arms as he attests but when we get together we shall have to roll up our sleeves for a contest in the pitiable biceps  department. I’m just sayin’.



Applause: Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a Good Pick

If you're a person with a disability or you're a family member or friend of a pwd I think you can be heartened by the selection of  Dr. Sanjay Gupta to become the new Surgeon General. I say this largely because my friends D.J. and Ralph Savarese appeared last spring on Dr. Gupta's CNN television program and discussed with him the subjects of autism and the associated dynamics of human identity and personal dignity. Dr. Gupta treated these two advocates for people with autism with intelligence and the interview represents one of the best examples of media coverage of autism and disability that I know of.

Americans are by nature curious people. We have a spirit of inquiry in this country that assures we will be able, eventually, to rid ourselves of our equally strong penchant for knee jerk assumptions. The latter are a coefficient of Puritanism–unbridled religiosity makes for the American habit of adopting ideas through the marriage of superstition and a herd mentality.The best book on this subject is the classic study Anti Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter.

When the subject is disability its often the case that even smart people in the media will comport themselves with Victorian sentimentality or flat out dunder-headedness. I know something about this on a personal level having been the subject of two lousy interviews on Dateline and Oprah.

Dr. Gupta demonstrated in the interview with D.J. and Ralph respect for people with autism and a strong sense of their respective intellectual gifts. Dr. Gupta is sufficiently curious about the complexities of disabilities to be potentially the first Surgeon General to understand that pwds are important contributors to our nation's life rather than representing merely some kind of outworn social burden.  



Iowa City

So here in this corn town, this little prairie village where the railroad still carries tens upon thousands of tons of corn sweeteners every month; here where poets and novelists, writers of nonfiction,traffickers in translation–where we all meet and scribble; here you can find your way forward on street or sidewalked blocked by parked trains. And not just once in awhile but on a daily basis. Today I was on my way to a doctor appointment and not for the first time when headed to this establishment I found my path blocked by a freight train.

The locals are used to this. They are philosophical about the matter. If you don’t get where you’re going then it wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve stood at the train crossing for up to 40 minutes waiting for the damned train to move but I haven’t had any luck. I imagine as I’m standing there, blind, with a dog, stuck at a railroad crossing beside a parked train that some engineer half a mile up the line sees me standing there and that he feels a sense of power. “Look at that poor slob trying to get to his psychiatrist’s office. Hahahaha!”

The spot where I’m routinely stuck is adjacent to a tattoo parlor and I’ve thought about going in for some body art while waiting for the Rock Island Line to haul its ethanol and whatnot up the line.

But I don’t like pain. No one can assure me that tattoos aren’t painful.

IN the end I always call the shrink’s office and tell them that once again I’m stuck at the north side of the railroad crossing.

The receptionist is familiar with this scenario. Apparently lots of their patients can’t make their “talking cures” because Casey Jones is on his lunch break.

I’ve tried to schedule my appointments at differing times but Casey Jones always seems to know when I’m on my way. Far ahead I can hear the bells and then the deep and resigned klaxon of the locomotive.

Once again Casey will have his cigarette and I will contemplate a tattoo before giving up and turning around and walking back to something, anything more productive.

This is the Zen of a prairie town. People waiting. Things still happening on 19th century time. All commerce or mental health stops because now there’s a train.



Vote Early and, Etc.

We at the “Sorrow and Pity Department” are pleased to have selected Blue Girl as our favorite online diarist for indeed her plangent, bosky prose (leavened with the tears of Sofia) daily marks the path to the sinister unconscious. We recall James Joyce’s apt phrase: “He was Jung and Freudened.” Her daily wil-o-the-wisp catechisms of domestic terror and its unforeseeable   joys keep us at the S and P department in a constant state of playpen howlings. Why, we read Blue’s posts and shake our slats. We toss our rattles. We—well, never mind. As Cicero once said: “There’s only so much pity to go around.” (Cicero by the way is a nickname. Cici is Roman for garbanzo bean. The man had a nose like a bean and wags called him Cicero which meant “bean shnoz” and you can look it up. Talk about S & P. The poor sod. And we made that quote up. We’re always doing that over here. If we were real bastards we’d have translated that into Latin for the full effect. Still for all our reprobate hobbies we do have what Oscar Wilde used to call “taste” and we therefore, by virtue of the power and authority invested in the venerable traditions  of S & P are pleased to give Blue Girl not only our vote (which we shall do as soon as we can escape the pen) but also this lovely Waterford crystal sling shot which she can display atop the TV set that won’t go digital no matter what apparatus one is tricked into buying. As another sage philosopher (who we are making up) once said: “Pity is the maiden of the dropped mitten, sorrow is the other mitten.” Ohio people tend to understand this we’re told.


To vote for Blue Girl visit:




Disability, Higher Education, and the Culture of Contemporary College Administration


A friend (who is a professor with a disability) writes that he’s pessimistic about the current status of students with disabilities at our nation’s campuses, noting the alarming trend by administrators to underfund disability support services while the numbers of students with physical and learning disabilities continues to grow. He points to undereducated faculty who, in the absence of reliable information about the varieties of learning disabilities or the accommodations that should be afforded grow impatient, even dismissive of LD students and “pass them off” to the campus writing center with no effort made to engage or work with these students.

What’s emerging is a Mad Hatter’s world of signs that mean nothing and a paternalistic sequence of discredited and dishonest affirmations about the equal access that’s afforded to students with disabilities

I know more than a little bit about college administration having grown up in a household that was entirely in the service of my father’s two college presidencies. I remember that my father pushed hard in 1969   for the development of African Studies at the State University of New York at Albany. It’s easy to say that progressive ideas were simple in those days but in fact a dollar per dollar analysis of budgets then and now shows that today’s universities are possessed of deeper pockets than their 1960’s counterparts.

What has changed? The administration of higher education is now modeled in large part on the American corporate business model of the 1980’s: a silo management of budgets that invests less and less into the standing architectures of learning (or in the case of the corporate model in the business of R & D( while saving money as a pure asset.

I am not entirely pessimistic about the direction of higher ed when it comes to disability but I’m very aware that the current economic downturn makes it easier for administrators who don’t see the benefits of growing an organic citizenship of disability to ignore the potential for imagination and ignore the opportunities to do something exciting.

Supporting disabled students and novel curricula and pedagogy is an enterprise that bodes well for establishing the relevance of post-secondary education in a society where 1 in 4.5 citizens is understood to have a disability and in which the discretionary income of families affected by disability is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The schools that make hay with this cultural turn of events will be rewarded by alumni support that will easily exceed the meager piggy bank dreams of administrative bean counters.

The universities and colleges that hear this message and truly act on it will be richly rewarded both in their intellectual enterprises and in their drives to stand as models of cultural opportunity.


Playing Pooh Sticks

I was talking with my pal Lance the other day and we were discussing the joys of playing Pooh Sticks the game from A.A. Milne’s fictional world devoted to Winnie the Pooh. I was put in mind of the game while reading a new biography of John Lennon who apparently also loved the game well into his adulthood. Perhaps there’s a hidden message somewhere in the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”? Who knows? I wonder if playing Pooh’s favorite game is different when one is taking L.S.D.? Well of course it is. How silly of me.

I grew up in rural New England in the last days of what used to be free spirited childhood, a matter that many people in my age group (Baby Boomers born in the mid 1950’s) generally wax nostalgic about. We were sent out into the soggy or brilliant days by mothers who didn’t expect to see us again until twilight.

Pooh Sticks was a good game. Standing on the bridge and watching torn branches disappear and reappear beneath our feet was a heck of a pastime.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to play Pooh Sticks when spring arrives.