"As long as we are not chased from our words we have nothing to fear. As long as our utterances keep their sound we have a voice. As long as our words keep their sense we have a soul." -- Edmond Jabes, from The Book of Yukel, Return to the Book

Monday, November 23, 2015

#Adele25: 25 tweets on '25'

I bought the new Adele album Friday and, having now spent the weekend with it, offer some thoughts. I decided to tweet them out in what is an incremental music review. It's a bit of an experiment -- I'm curious to see what readers think, both about the use of individual tweets and the compilation of them at the end.

My basic take on "25" is that it is a nice pop record with some excellent songs, but lacks what makes her first two records so good. Let me know what you think.

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Friday, November 20, 2015


This is, partly, an experiment in form pulled together to show my class that we can tell stories using a variety of platforms. This one is generally called the Instagram essay, which has been used by writers like Neil Shea and Jeff Sharlet. I am working on a longer version of this for NJ Spotlight.

Let me know what you think of this as a storytelling medium.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Brief Notes: Mersault, Musa and the Paris attacks

This is making the rounds on Facebook and Instagram and is worth reading.

I woke this morning deeply disturbed by the news from #Paris, but more amazed by the attention it received on social media. I understand Paris is a beloved and familiar space for a lot of people, but it troubled me that #Beirut, a city my father grew up in, had received so little attention after the horrific bombings two days earlier. It also troubled me that #Baghdad, a place I have absolutely no connection with, received even less attention after the senseless bombing that took place there last week. Worst of all, I found the understanding of the refugee crisis skewed and simplistic. If you've been following the journeys of the people leaving their homes around the world right now, perhaps you'll understand why the words #SyrianRefugeeCrisis are just as devastating as #PrayForParis. It's time to pray for humanity. It is time to make all places beloved. It's time to pray for the world.
A photo posted by Karuna E Parikh (@karunaezara) on

I would edit it some -- we should pray for Paris, if we are to pray, but also for Beirut and Baghdad, and the refugees fleeing violence, and the Jews being attacked in Jerusalem, and the Palestinians horded into camps, and African Americans who continue to be victimized by our racist past and present, and the Latinos who are viewed as somehow less valuable and who have been made the convenient scapegoats of American politics, and... and.... But I can't pray. And not because I am irreligious. I can't pray because if I were to pray, then I would do nothing but pray.

I am reading The Mersault Investigation, Kamel Daoud's novel written as a response to Albert Camus' The Stranger. Daoud's point of departure is the murder of the unnamed Arab on the beach and the conceit is that the Arab -- actually, the Algerian -- has a name and a family. It is written in the voice of Harun, the brother of Musa, and is an effort to reclaim a sense of humanity taken from not only Musa, but from Harun and from all of Algeria by the West. The Stranger essentially posits a hierarchy of importance, Daoud's novel claims, placing the Frenchman Mersault above the Algerian, consigning the Algerian death to footnote status in a novel about the absurdity of life (the trial in The Stranger is only nominally about the murder and centers around the speaker's alienation).

The response to the awful events in France is totally appropriate, but as this meme makes clear it is wholly insufficient and betrays a western chauvinism that is at least a part of what creates this cycle of violence. The French dead, for whom we should mourn and for whom we should seek justice, are like Mersault. The dead in Beirut and Baghdad and elsewhere, perhaps because of the regularity with which deaths occur in these places but also because too many of us think these dead lack the same humanity as the victims in France, also deserve justice. But they are no longer mourned in the west, no longer even mentioned. They have been stripped of their names. They are all Musa's.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Real stories, real problems, real people, real journalism

I attended a community forum last night on the state of local journalism sponsored by the Free Press' New Voices project. The aim of the event was to connect journalists to community members in New Brunswick and to reinforce the importance that both play in maintaining an informed and engaged citizenry.

Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, summarized the event in a tweet:
During his comments, he made this basic point (summarized in my tweet):
Charlie Kratovil, editor of New Brunswick Today, offered a similar comment (again, my tweeted summary):
Most of the evening was devoted to small-group work, to journalists mixing with community members to ensure that citizens understand what we do as journalists and the constraints under which we operate and that journalists focus our attentions on what is most important to the community.

A lot of issues were raised, some of which will result in stories down the road, but the big takeaway (ugh, biz speak) was something I've been trying to impress upon my students -- and before them, my reporters: Everything has to be about the reader and the community in which we work. The stories we write are not being written for the mayor or the police chief, but the mom and dad who take their kids to soccer on Saturday morning, or the worker struggling to pay bills on minimum wage.

I met a New Brunswick resident, Reynalda Cruz, who is also an activist with New Labor. The focus of her work has been on wage theft, on trying to force businesses to pay workers what they owe. The issue, despite what the Chamber of Commerce has told me in the past, is not as simple as going to the state and getting a judgment. Too many employers know that workers like Cruz have little recourse -- many are undocumented and scared of doing anything that might get them deported. Employers take advantage of this.

New Brunswick has a wage theft law that gives the City Council the ability to strip business licenses from businesses who are sanctioned by the state, but it has its limitations. A New Labor member -- whose name I failed to get -- told me through an interpreter that he lives in New Brunswick, but works at a Princeton restaurant. Princeton has a wage theft law, but it only applies to landscapers. The upshot is that he is still waiting for his employer to make good on a state judgment.

Cruz explained, as well, that many New Brunswick residents -- especially those in the Latino community -- work at warehouses outside of the city. They are technically employed by New Brunswick-based temp agencies, which are not covered by the New Brunswick rules. That leaves another group vulnerable to wage theft, she said.

These are the stories journalists should be focusing on, she said.

This is not a new idea, but in an age that prioritizes entertainment value and web clicks, it has become a radical notion.

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