Under the Perfect Sun

In the Dark Forest of the Self – 2016 Summer Chronicles #1

June 20, 2016 by Jim Miller

dark forestBy Jim Miller

Summer is here and it’s time to take a break from my usual column and stretch the form a little with some chronicles. As I explained last year, the chronicle is a literary genre born in Brazil:

In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil [The Brazilian News] not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil.

As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes.

The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

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Dream Big: Why Voting for Sanders Still Matters, Despite the Electoral Math

May 31, 2016 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

bernie sanders big ideaWhat struck me the most about the recent Sanders rally in National City was how much the crowd embodied the notion of the beloved community.

As opposed to the corporate media caricature of Sanders’ supporters as a group of mostly angry, white “Bernie bros,” this huge gathering of over ten thousand people was diverse in age, gender, sexuality, race, and class.

It was also a kind, gentle crowd that fell silent when Sanders, in a moving gesture, stopped his speech when …

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On Dark Patches and Redemption

May 23, 2016 by Jim Miller
Thumbnail image for On Dark Patches and Redemption

By Jim Miller

Despite all our best efforts, things don’t always go the way we would hope. Sometimes we are stunned by the unexpected bad turn and left groping for answers.

Last week in my column about what motivated me to go on the March for California’s Future, I explained how the stories of my students inspired me:

As a community college professor at City College, I am particularly attuned to the painful realities of economic and racial inequality because I see the costs of poverty on a daily basis …

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The California Way of Poverty

May 16, 2016 by Jim Miller

Miller-marchers-walt-e1303747766621

By Jim Miller

Last week, I pondered the obscene spectacle of holding a mega-concert catering to the wealthy in the Southern California desert town of Indio where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

The truth is that events like this that underline the contrast between the heedless luxury of the affluent with the deprivation of the poor are not the exception to the rule, but rather, a basic fact of everyday life in our era of historic economic inequality. It’s just the way we live now.

And in sunny California, San Diego in particular, the poor are accustomed to watching the party from the outside.

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Oligarchy Rocks at the Desert Trip Festival

May 9, 2016 by Jim Miller

raving mic

By Jim Miller

This easy life knows no pity.

Recently Nelson D. Schwartz of the New York Times did an interesting feature on luxury tourism on cruise ships, “In an Era of Privilege, Not Everyone is in the Same Boat,” that described the experience of travelers as “a money based caste system” catering to the rich rather than the unwashed masses.

While there is clearly nothing novel about elite travel, the story noted that “What is new is just how far big American companies are now willing to go to pamper the biggest spenders.”

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Listen Liberal: What’s the Matter with the Democratic Party?

April 18, 2016 by Jim Miller

listen liberal pointBy Jim Miller

Thomas Frank has written the most important political book of 2016, and one that should disturb and hopefully influence progressives for years to come. If you have ever found yourself not just horrified by the lunatic right but also frustrated by the hapless and compromised “left,” Frank is your man.

If you want to feel good about “your side” but are still troubled by the fact that economic inequality remains at historically high levels despite the last eight years of Democratic Presidential rule, Frank has some uncomfortable truths for you to ponder.

And it’s not just about those damn Republicans.

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Go Padres! “Vivas to Those Who Have Failed!”

April 4, 2016 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

in the standsToday is opening day and with it, if history is our guide, what is most likely another season of futility is born. Having grown up a Padres fan, this is par for the course as the Pads have only gone to the postseason five times and have a meager .463 winning percentage over the life of the franchise.

They are, in short, losers.

So why go? Why will I be sitting in the stands this afternoon as the Padres take on the Dodgers hoping against hope that the outcome will be different?

Sports psychologists inform me that my addiction to losing baseball might have some rough consequences. As Larry Stone reports in “The Psychology of Being a Sports Fan,” researchers have found that When your team loses, it’s like you lose a part of yourself, because your identity is so merged with the identity of the team and the fan community . . . Sports in the U.S. makes such a difference in people’s lives, a loss can be distressing.”

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A New American Majority in San Diego?

March 7, 2016 by Jim Miller

Brown is the New WhiteBy Jim Miller

Last week I had the pleasure of going to see a talk at Alliance San Diego by Steve Phillips, author of Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.

The central point that Phillips makes is that, at present, we already have a new American majority of 51% of the electorate comprised of progressive people of color and like-minded whites.

The problem we face, Phillips argues, is that we are failing to mobilize that majority because many in the consultant class and the upper reaches of the Democratic Party don’t believe the numbers and/or are stuck in an old pattern of chasing after the elusive “swing voter” typically identified as white who could be persuaded to vote for a Republican or a Democrat.

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Where is the Climate Crisis in Our National Discussion About the Future of the World? – The Stunning Moral Failure of the Presidential Debates

February 29, 2016 by Jim Miller

Climate-Crisis-300x204By Jim Miller

If you are an observant reader you might have noticed that last week, amidst the usual banal political commentary surrounding the Presidential race, the New York Times matter-of-factly reported that, “Seas are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries”.

If you managed not to spit out your coffee, you read the alarming news that:

The worsening of tidal flooding in American coastal communities is largely a consequence of greenhouse gases from human activity, and the problem will grow far worse in coming decades, scientists reported . .

Those emissions, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, are causing the ocean to rise at the fastest rate since at least the founding of ancient Rome, the scientists said.

And if that didn’t send you into a morning funk, you might have …

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Pragmatic Realist: Dissing the Era of Big-Program Liberalism a Cover for Attack on Bernie

February 15, 2016 by Jim Miller

(Salvador Dali)

By Jim Miller

Last week, in a New York Times editorial, Mark Schmitt joined the chorus of clear-eyed “realists” chiming in against Bernie Sanders’ bold agenda in “Is the Era of Big-Program Liberalism Over?”

While acknowledging the political appeal and strategic advantages of universal programs, Schmitt argued that, given the presumably inevitable constraints of the present, the future belongs to an incrementalism that is “most interesting and novel for the absence of big, universal programs that require legislative action.”

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Whither 2016 Ballot Measures?: The Oracle Jerry Brown Weighs In

January 25, 2016 by Jim Miller

Photo by Freedom To Marry

By Jim Miller

As I noted in my New Year’s column, many in California’s labor and progressive circles had high hopes for ballot measures extending Proposition 30’s taxes on the rich to fully fund education and for raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

But it did not take long for Governor Jerry Brown to rain on his presumed allies’ parade.

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American Media in 2016: Those Afflicting the Comfortable Need Not Apply

January 11, 2016 by Jim Miller

NewsmanBy Jim Miller

Just before the New Year I highlighted Project Censored’s pick for the most underreported story of 2015—the fact that 2016 will be when the top 1% will control half of the world’s wealth).

In that same column I focused on two other largely ignored stories that broke subsequent to Project Censored’s annual report that also underline the perils of domestic and international economic inequality.

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Censored 2015: The Most Underreported Story of the Year

December 28, 2015 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As I wrote back in mid-October, Project Censored recently released their list of the most underreported stories of 2015. The number one story on their list features the news that 2016 will be the year when half of the world’s wealth will be controlled by the top 1%. More specifically, they document how:

According to the Oxfam report, the proportion of global wealth owned by the 1 percent has increased from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014 and is projected to reach 50 percent in 2016.

In October 2014, a prior Oxfam report, “Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Poverty,” revealed that the number of billionaires worldwide had more than doubled since the 2009 financial crisis, showing that, although those at the top have recovered quickly, the vast majority of the world’s population are far from reaping the benefits of any recent economic recovery.

Even more staggering, the world’s richest eighty-five people now hold the same amount of wealth as half the world’s poorest population. “Failure to tackle inequality will leave hundreds of millions trapped in poverty unnecessarily,” the report’s authors warned.

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Three Progressive Literary Stocking Stuffers for 2015

December 21, 2015 by Jim Miller

Santa Claus w dogBy Jim Miller

It’s Christmas week and as we do every year, the grown-ups in my family are keeping up the tradition of buying nothing for each other.

But for those of you who must endure the fear and loathing of the consumer frenzy, here is my annual list of books that might serve as good stocking stuffers for the alienated progressives or other likely suspects on your list (with a special focus on some of the best work that received less attention than it deserved):

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March and Rally for Climate Justice -Sat, Dec. 12

December 7, 2015 by Jim Miller

save the planetBy Jim Miller

Last week as the big climate talks kicked off in Paris it was my pleasure to co-host with Masada Disenhouse of SanDiego350 a community screening of Naomi Klein’s new film This Changes Everything.

We used this screening to help facilitate a discussion among folks from the local labor and environmental movements along with representatives from various community and student groups that was focused on the intersection between the climate crisis and the fight against economic inequality. Many folks expressed spirited opinions on how we might join the interests of the poor and workers with those fighting to save the planet.

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Clinton and the New Democrats’ Tired Third Way

November 23, 2015 by Jim Miller

dem socialismBy Jim Miller

Recently I noted how movements like the Fight for $15 and the insurgent Bernie Sanders campaign have revealed a widespread thirst for an overtly left politics that makes the battle against the billionaire class a central rallying cry.

Indeed, Sanders has continued to force Hillary Clinton to tack to the left on multiple issues, and he has had a genuinely transformative impact on the national political discourse by unashamedly bringing democratic socialism to the stage.

This is why Harold Meyerson argues that the Sanders’s campaign represents “the largest specifically left mobilization—and by ‘specifically left’ I mean it demands major changes in the distribution of income and wealth and major reforms to U.S. capitalism—that the nation has seen in at least half a century.”

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The Day After the Day of the Dead

November 2, 2015 by Jim Miller

day of the dead robot

By Jim Miller

It’s the day after the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday which traditionally is both a time of remembrance of lost loved ones and a moment when the dead mock the pretenses of the living. Death is the leveler of rich and poor, proud and humble.

It reminds us that, in the end, all our bones are equal.

As Octavio Paz observes in “The Day of the Dead” from his classic book The Labyrinth of Solitude, “Death is a mirror which reflects the vain gesticulations of the living. The whole motley confusion of acts, omissions, regrets and hopes which is the life of each of us finds in death, not meaning or explanation, but an end.”

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Sunshine/Noir II: A Continuing Exploration of Literary San Diego and Tijuana

October 12, 2015 by Jim Miller

San Diego City Works Press Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Anthology:
“Sunshine/Noir II: Writing From San Diego and Tijuana”

Friday, October 16th at the Glashaus Mainspace
1815 Main Street in Barrio Logan
Sunshine Noir IIBy Jim Miller

This fall, San Diego City Works Press marks its 10th anniversary with the release of Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana, an anthology of local writing about San Diego edited by Kelly Mayhew and myself.

As we note in the introduction to the anthology:

It’s been ten years since San Diego City Works Press published its first book, Sunshine/Noir: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana and, much to our surprise in many ways, we are still here.

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Taking the Leap: Imagine a New World

September 28, 2015 by Jim Miller
Thumbnail image for Taking the Leap: Imagine a New World

By Jim Miller

Last week the Pope came to America and delivered his groundbreaking message about the interrelated problems of climate change and economic inequality as well as the moral imperative to act to address them.

We heard this message at the same time we learned that we have lost half the world’s marine animals since 1970 and that Exxon’s own research had confirmed the human role in climate change decades ago even as they were heavily funding efforts to block solutions.

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Answering Earth’s Call: An Interfaith Forum on Climate Justice

September 21, 2015 by Jim Miller

interfaith treeBy Jim Miller

Drawing inspiration from Pope Francis’s encyclical, the San Diego Coalition to Preserve our Common Home (SDCPCH) is holding an interfaith forum on climate justice this Thursday, September 24th at 7:00 PM at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The SDCPCH is comprised of people from many faith traditions as well as activists from local environmental, labor, and social justice organizations.

We’re presenting this forum in the face of increasing opposition to climate action on the part of those linked to fossil fuel interests. As Joe Romm recently pointed out in Climate Progress, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and his allies now “apparently believe the role of the ‘exceptional’ and ‘indispensable’ nation is to actively work to undermine the world’s best chance to save billions of people — including generations of Americans — from needless misery.” This is, Romm rightly notes, extraordinary:

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Against Work: We Need to Stop Glorifying the Wasting of Our Lives

September 14, 2015 by Jim Miller

worked to deathBy Jim Miller

Recently the New York Times did a thorough exposé of life inside Amazon’s “bruising workplace” where the managers celebrate what they call “Purposeful Darwinism.”

The focus of the piece was not on the poor folks turning around the goods in the warehouses but on the presumably more privileged white-collar workers who are encouraged to regularly challenge and report on one another when they are not busy answering texts at 3:00 AM or pushing themselves to work 80 hours a week.

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Happy Labor Day? The Jury is Still Out

September 7, 2015 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Toward the end of June, as many liberals were cheering the Supreme Court’s unexpectedly nonpartisan legalization of same-sex marriage and its equally surprising upholding of the Affordable Care Act, they missed the signal of some potentially very bad news to come this fall.

Indeed, while it was fun to see the Republicans being frustrated by a high court of their own making, that very same court reserved the right to bring some serious pain to progressives for the long term by agreeing to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in its next session.

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Why Teach? In Defense of the Public Good

August 24, 2015 by Jim Miller

normal_education

By Jim Miller

These days it seems a new school year can’t start without being greeted by yet another pronouncement that my profession and/or higher education itself is heading for the dustbin of history.

Last year around this time, I pondered the proclaimed death of the English major and this year the front page of the most recent issue of Harper’s is bemoaning “The Neoliberal Arts: How College Sold Its Soul.”

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Staring Over the Brink: Obama, Brown, and High Stakes Climate Politics

August 10, 2015 by Jim Miller

on the brink 2By Jim Miller

President Obama made big news last week when he unveiled his plan to significantly reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants as part of his strategy to address the climate crisis. His speech was urgent, moving in fact, and showed that, at least rhetorically, he is committed to making this part of his legacy:

[W]e’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it. And that’s why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late.

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Ten Moments in Places that No Longer Exist in Downtown San Diego – Summer Chronicles #7

August 3, 2015 by Jim Miller

The maps of our memories fray like fine gauze

open signBy Jim Miller

We are where we are from. Place, our place or “home,” gives us a sense of rootedness and identity, but it is also transient, always moving and changing as we ride the river of time and space.

Some places are fundamentally grounded in a central idea of what “home” is, of what defines a locality—the people in such places hold fast, perhaps futilely, to some notion of what it means to be there.

Not us though, not here in San Diego where history and tradition outside of empty tourist spectacles are cast off like a snakeskin and our sense of place is transformed by the whims of boosters and marketing schemes, sometimes erasing whole communities in the service of civic marketing.

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PETA Opposes SeaWorld Orca Habitat Expansion at Coastal Commission

July 24, 2015 by Source
Thumbnail image for PETA Opposes SeaWorld Orca Habitat Expansion at Coastal Commission

by James Sullivan/ Science Recorder / July 24, 2015

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has asked that the California Coastal Commission reject SeaWorld San Diego’s efforts to expand its killer whale tanks.

The project is estimated at $100 million, to be completed in 2018, but has yet to received endorsement from the Coastal Commission.

“This item has been postponed because of all the information submitted,” said commissioner Alex Llerandi.

“The coastal staff is taking the time to ensure all potential issues and viewpoints are considered in any final recommendations.”

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Summer Chronicles 4: Mourning Time: Animals Are Passing From Our Lives

July 13, 2015 by Jim Miller

extinctionBy Jim Miller

Last summer about this time, I did a couple of pieces about the clear prospect that we are in the midst of the sixth extinction. Since then, the news has continued to get worse, with a recent study showing that the current rate of extinction is ample cause for alarm.

In “Vertebrate Biodiversity Losses Point to a Sixth Mass Extinction” published in Biodiversity and Conservation Malcolm McCallum summarizes recent findings succinctly when he writes that “the great speed with which vertebrate biodiversity is being decimated are comparable to the devastation of previous extinction events.”

More concretely, that means we have bid adieu to:

  • the Golden Toad,
  • the Baoji Dolphin,
  • the Hawaiian Crow,
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Summer Chronicles #3: The Wonders of the Invisible World

July 6, 2015 by Jim Miller

subatomic particle2By Jim Miller

Just when you think you can go about your daily routine unmolested, you come across an article while you are having your morning cup of coffee telling you that, “Scientists show that future events decide what happens in the past.”

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Summer Chronicles #2: That Music You Are Hearing is the Grateful Dead

June 29, 2015 by Jim Miller

TranslucentBy Jim Miller

Gary Snyder is a courage teacher. His fine new book of poems, This Present Moment, is a meditation on wonder and impermanence. In it, for instance, we learn to value our laptops –

“Because whole worlds of writing can be boldly laid out and then highlighted/and vanish in the flash at ‘delete,’/so it teaches of impermanence and pain.”

And it’s true, the miracle of creation that comes out of “a formless face/which is our Original Face,” but as soon as the words are formed the self who made them is no longer there.

Still there is beauty, and moments of grace are there to be found and cherished in “the morning and night coming together,” the “glacier scrapes across the bedrock,” and “the deep dense woods.” You just need to follow “the shining way of the wild” and “hang in, work it out, watch for the moment.”

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Summer Chronicles #1: The Day After Father’s Day

June 22, 2015 by Jim Miller

sad-fathers-dayBy Jim Miller

In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil [The Brazilian News ] not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,”a genre peculiar to Brazil.

As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle:

“allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes. The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.”

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