City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Books I read in 2018

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Books I read in 2018 were mostly novels, meaning that I probably did not read enough books in 2018, because I do not read many novels.

In order (January-December):
SHADOWBAHN, Steve Erickson (I have read all 10 of his novels, his two nonfiction books and probably everything else he has written and not burned or otherwise destroyed since 1985, and SHADOWBAHN is arguably my second-favorite Steve Erickson (THE SEA CAME IN AT MIDNIGHT) with less arguably his best soundtrack (true story: I first heard about this book from the Mekons’ Facebook page)–the greatest living unknown novelist in and of America, in my opinion, despite killing himself off in at least two novels so far and hopefully not for the last time)
BLACK WAVE, Michelle Tea (in which the world begins in San Francisco and ends in LA, in the words (almost) of Phil Ochs; also, Matt Dillon is in this book, as is Bourgeois Pig, which I went to before it was known to be so cool that it is no longer cool in this novel)
WAR PORN, Roy Scranton (disturbing, repeatedly and intentionally)
THE ALGIERS MOTEL INCIDENT, John Hersey (a 2017 movie that I have not seen)
THE WAGES OF WHITENESS: RACE & THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS, David Roediger (I love David Roediger, and not only because he responded, thoughtfully, to my December 2016 email about his sundown towns article in CounterPunch; Noel Ignatiev’s related How the Irish Became White may be on my reading list for 2019 but based on my small sample sizes, Roediger is a better writer)
FREEDOM’S ORATOR: MARIO SAVIO AND THE RADICAL LEGACY OF THE 1960s, Robert Cohen (I never knew Mario Savio was a stutterer, or how he used the Socratic method, or where he went after the Machine Speech–fascinating, if you are fascinated by such things)
DHALGREN, Samuel Delany (it only took me 22 years–meaning in this case I began reading DHALGREN in 1996, no, seriously; I never realized this book was an extended allegory on what happened to everyone who didn’t belong–outcasts in any sense–when the 60s as such were over–whether it took the form of communes, riots, self-destruction (whether cultural, literal, sexual) and the impermanence of it all; Delany’s more obscure true life sequel may be on my list for 2019)
HUBCAP DIAMONDSTAR HALO, Camden Joy (nonessential reading by the author of a 90s novel I loved, THE LAST ROCK STAR BOOK, OR LIZ PHAIR, A RANT)
JERUSALEM: ONE CITY, THREE FAITHS, Karen Armstrong (this book ends in 1996, and doesn’t)
AMONG THE BLACKS, Raymond Roussel & Ron Padgett (two authors, one title)
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, John Kennedy Toole (how can you not love writing like “The siren, a cacophony of twelve crazed bobcats, was enough to make suspicious characters within a half-mile radius defecate in panic and rush for cover. Patrolman Mancuso’s love for the motorcycle was platonically intense”?)
THE QUIET AMERICAN, Graham Greene (a 1958 and 2002 movie I have not seen (Brendan Fraser as Pyle? really?)

Bonus films I saw in 2018:
ISLE OF DOGS (Yoko Ono!)
BLACK PANTHER (now I get it)
THE LAST JEDI (porgs!)
R.B.G. (she is amazing, but Sotomayor is still my favorite justice)
FIRST REFORMED (the best 1970s film of 2018, and probably the best film of 2018, period)
SICARIO 2: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (I don’t get the gratuitous Isis thing at the beginning, other than it’s 2018 and Hollywood can’t not do Islamophobia in a nominally progressive film)
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (read the Jacobin article, see the film; it almost lost me with the horses, but, you know, wild horses couldn’t …)
BLACKKKLANSMAN (this is true, but also Washington and Driver are great, and the Belafonte scene alone is worth the price of admission)
AT ETERNITY’S GATE (63 year old Willem Dafoe as 35 year old Vincent Van Gogh, which works because Willem Dafoe has never not looked 63 years old)

Top ten albums of 2018 (maybe)
Earl Sweatshirt, MORE RAP SONGS
Phosphorescent, C’EST LA VIE
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, SPARKLE HARD
Low Cut Connie, DIRTY PICTURES (Part 2)
Alejandro Escovedo, THE CROSSING



Books I read in 2017

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Not a typo; I missed a year last year.  (2018 is now in process.)
I would try to categorize these, but no obvious themes occur to me other than Books Trump Will Not Read.  The other common theme is that they were all print books.
Also: I went to the Strand in the East Village last night for the first time in about 12 years.  Depressingly, they have more of everything than I remembered except actual books.  (I have seen the global village …)

In order (January-December):
TYRANT MEMORY, Horacio Castellanos Moya (worth it for the epilogue) (note: this link is not about the epilogue, but it’s a good summary of the book, which I don’t remember in detail now that it’s almost 2019)
ROAD TO WIGAN PIER, George Orwell (Orwell’s socialism book, appropriately free from–sharing is caring)
THE ARGONAUTS, Maggie Nelson (what I hoped it would be from reading this, only better–possibly this generation’s version of I LOVE DICK, a personal 90s favorite)
DEEP SOUTH, Paul Theroux (more thoughtful than a Cletus safari but no more fulfilling, and at times outright uncomfortable; worth reading because it’s Theroux but–)
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, Arundhati Roy (it only took me 20 years to read, as long as it took her to write the followup, which is on my list for 2019)
GOING HOME, Doris Lessing (I want to read more about apartheid South Africa, because I know far less than I feel like I should–this memoir of sorts is non-essential for that purpose as well as non-essential Lessing, but it’s a decent read)
WHITE TEETH, Zadie Smith (it only took me 17 years to read this, or any Zadie Smith other than the occasional New Yorker column)
STAYIN’ ALIVE: THE 1970s AND THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORKING CLASS, Jefferson Cowie (I probably heard about thishere or here–thanks, Erik Loomis)
BROKEN CONTRACT: A MEMOIR OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL, Richard D. Kahlenberg (remember when law schools–at least the “elite” ones–actually taught Critical Legal Studies, and it was debatable enough to be teachable that the indeterminacy of legal doctrine masked the ways in which law favored the wealthy and powerful?)
DOSTOEVSKY: A WRITER IN HIS TIME, Joseph Frank (a worthy biography; also enormous)
THE RED PARTS: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A TRIAL, Maggie Nelson (a true crime book about the crime of autobiography)
RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA’S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION, 1863-1877, Eric Foner (still unfinished–I mean Reconstruction; I finished the book)

Also, films I saw in 2017:
LION (train stations in India, and Nicole Kidman acting Australian)
PATERSON (Adam Driver as William Carlos Williams’s #1 fan, directed by Jim Jarmusch–I like this film better in retrospect; I remember nothing happening in it but maybe something happened that I don’t remember)
KEDI (street cats of Istanbul–I will be moving to Istanbul)
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (remake; Johnny Depp; everyone did it (sorry))

Black History


you talk to me about
black history
but you think Mick Jagger wrote
“Midnight Rambler”

but he did
but he did

I’m making 1969 in my basement
I’m singing the white blues in my soul
we got a party goin’ on down here
round midnight

outside the economists are burning down Detroit
everything is dark except the past
you said, somebody woke up Jim Crow
& he can’t stop dancing

Image: “Mr. Prejudice,” Horace Pippin (1888-1946), (c) 1943.

Low at Underground Arts, 11/10/2018


Me to meathead checking IDs at door: “Is it sold out?”
Him: “Uh I don’t think so”
Me: “I get tickets downstairs?”
Him: “Yeah”
(I start to walk downstairs)
Him: “You have a ticket?”
Me: “That’s what I’m going downstairs to get”
Him: ” “

Cracker King

Crown Elvis

come on everybody do the twist & stomp
come on everybody do the twist & stomp
tell em, womp womp

come on sister do the twist & crawl
come on sister do the twist & crawl
& build that wall

come on brother do the twist & swing
come on brother do the twist & swing
I’m the Cracker King

Him, Returning

your poetry
is too much like
that thing
I ran from

once I knew



broke n****s thuggemup
coke n****s druggemup
joke n****s fuggemup
woke n****s duggemup

protest wrote the Constitution

protest wrote the Constitution
fugitive slaves freed the slaves
(we say enslaved)
our cities were never surrounded in flame
we never heard sirens in the night
beckoning us back to the rocks
where our dreams are over
and we carry on
wash the blood off the flag
and wave it proudly*

*Mari Matsuda, “Voices of America: Accent, Antidiscrimination Law, and a Jurisprudence for the Last Reconstruction,” Yale Law Journal 1991

Big Head, NJ

Bay Head NJ.JPG

gonna crawl back in my hole
gonna be a mole
gonna slither back on the beach
gonna be a leech

I’m hiding from the light of day
outside where good mole children play
I’m hiding from the sun
my bloodletting days are done

Big Head, New Jersey is my home
I’ll sleep amid the dunes
I’ll drown myself in ice cream cones
I’ll find love in the ruins

And we’ll go racing in the street
We’ll shut ‘em up and down
I’ll take the boardwalk with me
Obliterate this town

The Iran deal

The US’s withdrawal last week from the Iran deal thanks to three billionaires means more emails to my Congressman, a Democrat who is decent on labor issues and not a terrible human overall, urging him not to support our latest preemptive war of aggression. Our last exchange, back in 2015:

* * *


Dear Congressman Norcross:

I’m writing with regard to your mailing opposing the Iran deal on the basis that it “rewards a known sponsor of terrorism by lifting economic sanctions without providing enough assurance that Iran will be restricted from developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon,” concluding that Iran “must stop funding terrorist organizations and must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon under any circumstances.”

I agree that Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons. But I also think Pakistan shouldn’t have nuclear weapons. Nor should India. Nor should Israel. Nor should the US. Given that these countries do have nuclear weapons, it’s difficult for me to argue Iran should be treated differently.

Nor does state-sponsored terrorism differentiate these other countries from Iran. Pakistan’s ISI has supported militants in Kashmir as well as the Taliban. The current ruling party in India is the political wing of the paramilitary group RSS, which has been linked to Hindu terrorism. Israel funded Hamas in the 1970s to weaken support for the PLO and sabotage potential peace negotiations, and has also provided weapons, training, and/or intelligence to Somoza’s Nicaragua, Salvadoran death squads, and the Ferguson police force. As far as US state-sponsored terrorism, the CIA along with the UK removed Iran’s democratically elected prime minister when their oil cartel was threatened; supported the Shah, whose SAVAK intelligence force tortured and executed political opponents; and has provided support for MEK (People’s Mujahedin of Iran), an anti-Iranian terrorist group within Iran. Why should Iran’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas be treated differently?

I won’t tell you Iran can be trusted because I don’t know what trust means in the context of countries, who speaks for whom or to whom. I will tell you I don’t think the US, or Israel, or India, or Pakistan, or Iran has the moral authority to determine which countries should or shouldn’t obtain or possess nuclear weapons. None of them should, ideally, but since many of them do, all of them should be able to. Only when those weapons are used, not simply obtained or possessed, can we demand otherwise. But so can they.

“Diplomacy has worked and can continue to work,” you conclude. “That’s why I urge all parties back to the bargaining table to develop an agreement that ensures a nuclear-free Iran and a more stable, peaceful world.” I agree, and encourage a broader discussion with other world nations that will ensure a nuclear-free Pakistan, a nuclear-free India, a nuclear-free Israel, a nuclear-free America, and a nuclear-free world. I don’t disagree with a nuclear-free Iran, but why stop there? Where’s the bargaining table if only one side is bargaining?

Lastly, I note that the mailing I received was “prepared, published and mailed at taxpayers’ expense.” I appreciate the honesty, but not the waste of my money. Please stop.


H. Wechsler

* * * *

September 18, 2015

Dear H. Wechsler:

Thank you for reaching out to me with your concerns regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement (JCPOA) with Iran. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with me on this issue. As your Representative, I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to you directly.

While I fully support the administration’s diplomatic goals, I am deeply skeptical that the Iranian regime shares America’s values and desire for peace. When we are dealing with nuclear weapons there are no do-overs and no second-chances. Iran must never be allowed to become a nuclear threat to the world. Not today. Not ten or fifteen years from now. Never.

Since the agreement was announced last month, I have met twice with President Obama, including a briefing inside the White House Situation Room. I was also briefed by Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and senior members of the U.S. Department of Defense. As a member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, I had the opportunity to review classified documents related to the Iran nuclear deal multiple times.

I had the opportunity to visit Israel last year and again this August with fellow members of Congress, which gave me a crucial opportunity to hear what this deal means to Israeli officials, military officers, and everyday citizens. I have also met with a variety of constituent groups from South Jersey over the past few months to hear their thoughts on the issue.

In April, prior to the announcement of a deal, I wrote a letter to President Obama, voicing my concerns over the negotiations with Iran and missed deadlines. In it, I outlined my belief that an acceptable deal would be long-term, fully transparent, and provide for the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program all verified by intrusive inspections in exchange for phased sanctions relief. Unfortunately, the JCPOA falls short in each of these criteria.

The Iranian regime is a known sponsor of terrorism that has openly expressed its hatred for both the United States and Israel. Lifting economic sanctions at the outset essentially rewards past behavior and infuses billions of dollars into their economy that could be used to buy more weapons and outsource more terror. Moreover, the deal does not provide enough assurance that Iran will be restricted from developing nuclear weapons, so this windfall may ultimately help fund their nuclear ambitions.

I’ve listened, I’ve studied the issues, and after careful consideration, I must vote against this deal.

I applaud the Obama Administration and other world powers that worked diligently on a diplomatic solution. We all know no deal is perfect or iron-clad and I am not looking for perfection, but I do believe that a better deal can be achieved. Diplomacy has worked and can continue to work. We have not exhausted all possible efforts. I urge all parties to go back to the bargaining table so we can continue a dialogue that can help us achieve an accord that ensures a nuclear-free Iran and a safer world. To that end, I promise to work with Congressional leaders to foster more diplomatic action.

Thank you again for your interest. If I may be of any assistance to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Donald Norcross
Member of Congress

Well, he responded. Maybe now, in 2018, he can visit Oaklyn, or West Collingswood, or Camden, or (gasp) Tehran or Gaza, and hear what withdrawal of the deal means to everyday citizens from places other than Israel.