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

Sunshine Noir II

San Diego City Works Press Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Anthology:
“Sunshine/Noir II: Writing From San Diego and Tijuana”
Friday, October 16th at 6:00 PM at the Glashaus Mainspace
1815 Main Street in Barrio Logan

By 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.  

Sunshine/Noir II is dedicated to the late local poet Steve Kowit, who was an original member of the San Diego Writers Collective and, as so many San Diego writers can attest to, a fellow traveler and one of our community’s great treasures. His work appears in the anthology along with poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from Sandra Alcosser, Marilyn Chin, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Stephen-Paul Martin, Mel Freilicher, Elizabeth Cazessús, Perry Vasquez, and many more. Local journalist Kinsee Morlan formerly of San Diego City Beat as well as Doug Porter, Anna Daniels, Brent Beltran, and Frank Gormlie of the SD Free Press and OB Rag appear in the anthology along with former SDUT Book Review editor and columnist Arthur Salm.
  [Read more…]

San Diego Democrats to Progressive Base: We’re Just Not That Into You

via Facebook

By Jim Miller

Last week over at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Logan Jenkins had some fun pondering what might happen if the “Dems go dark” this upcoming mayoral election.   His conclusion?  It would push Faulconer to the top-tier of Republican candidates for Governor in 2018:

And, it should be deduced, a cakewalk sweetens Faulconer’s prospects in Sacramento.

In 18 months or so, Republicans will be looking for a governor candidate who can appeal to Latinos and independents as well as the conservative base. The Democrats have a long electable bench. Republicans? Not so much.

If Faulconer is re-elected by a landslide in a major Democratic city, he’s going to rise to the top tier of the GOP’s A+ list.

  [Read more…]

Taking the Leap: Imagine a New World

healthy planet

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.  During all of this, we were also reminded that every GOP candidate for President has absolutely nothing to offer in the face of this deadly threat.  

Clearly we need to change the game and do it quickly.  But how?     [Read more…]

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

interfaith tree

By 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 including the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice, SanDiego350, St. James and St. Leo Parish, the California Nurses Association, the Environmental Health Coalition, Foothills Methodist Church, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council Environmental Caucus, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, the Climate Action Campaign, Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Peace and Justice Ministry, the Christian Fellowship Congregational Church, the Islamic Center of San Diego, the San Diego County Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, and more.  

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.”   [Read more…]

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

worked to death

By 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.  

In the jungle of Amazon, everyone is subject to this kind of sadistic postmodern Taylorism, and they have the choice to either like it or leave. 

Of course, only a fraction of those who start at Amazon stay for any length of time, but that is all OK according to the good folks there because their survival of the fittest model helps them keep only the best.     [Read more…]

Happy Labor Day? The Jury is Out


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.   [Read more…]

Disposable People: Obama, the TPP, and the Betrayal of Human Rights

tpp slavery

By Jim Miller

During the lead-up to the vote on the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) that the President narrowly won, Obama and his surrogates consistently suggested that those in labor and other allied groups opposing the deal were “fighting the last war” and were against “the most progressive trade agreement the world has ever seen.” Indeed, he even went so far as to accuse critics like Senator Elizabeth Warren of “making stuff up”.

As we know, Obama defeated labor and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and, in concert with Republicans and just enough New Democrats like San Diego’s own Scott Peters and Susan Davis, he succeeded in forwarding the multinational corporate agenda.

Since that time the gaze of the national media has turned elsewhere and, as negotiations have encountered difficulties, the administration has sunk to new lows in its zeal to finish the deal on the TPP.   [Read more…]

Why Teach? In Defense of the Public Good

harpers cover

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.”

In this insightful piece William Deresiewicz hits on themes familiar to anyone who has been around higher education for the last few decades. Neoliberal education is a product of “market fundamentalism,” an “ideology that reduces all values to money values. The worth of a thing is the price of a thing. The worth of a person is the wealth of a person. Neoliberalism tells you that you are valuable exclusively in terms of your activity in the marketplace—in Wordsworth’s phrase, your getting and spending.”   [Read more…]

Ready for the Revolution? Clinton, Sanders, #BlackLivesMatter and Other Tales from the Campaign Trail

Photo by JeepersMedia

By Jim Miller

Last week, Hillary Clinton paid a visit to her base in San Diego at a breakfast fundraiser in the home of Qualcomm executive Irwin Jacobs, which was billed as “A Conversation with Hillary.” Clinton arrived in a motorcade with two San Diego police cars and entered through the back door.

Of course, to be part of the conversation, you had to drop $1,000 to $2,700, the maximum contribution for an individual allowed under federal law.

Indeed, the Clinton machine has been hauling in big bucks for months now and, as of early July, had raised $48 million and is well on the way to the $100 million goal the campaign has set for the end of this year with the lion’s share of that money, both in this cycle and over the course of her career coming from moneyed interests, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.   [Read more…]

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

on the brink

By 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.

He noted that our time is short and the stakes are high. He evoked the future of our grandchildren and the fate of the poor and powerless around the world at this very moment. For this we should applaud him.
  [Read more…]

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

open sign

The maps of our memories fray like fine gauze

By 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.   [Read more…]

Summer Chronicles #6: Lost in the Woods


By Jim Miller

Every year I make an effort to find my way to the deep woods. Living in California, we are lucky to have access to some of the world’s precious dwindling areas of real wilderness, including the last vestiges of old growth redwoods.

There, if you are intrepid enough to get out of your car and go a few miles past the first markers, you can still lose yourself in the ancient forest. Take a difficult trail and, after a while, you just might find yourself alone with the tall trees, banana slugs, birdsong, and bear scat.

From a vista you might spy a lush green ocean of ferns and fallen logs bathed in ethereal light filtered through the dense canopy overhead. Inside the husk of a giant downed by lightening or flood, you discover a new universe of fungus, flowers, and thick moss whispering to you that there really is no death.   [Read more…]

Summer Chronicles #5: A Field Guide for Getting Lost in San Diego

salvation mountain

By Jim Miller

Back in 2011, over at the OB Rag, I did a column where I had some fun applying the idea of psychogeography to our fair city and played with the notion of the dérive observing that, “The purpose of dérive is to detourn the calculated space of the city, to turn it around and reclaim its lost meanings. The Situationists wanted to see how certain neighborhoods, streets, buildings, or other spaces ‘resonated’ with states of mind or desires. They wanted, as Sadie Plant reminds us, to ‘seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed.’”

I then offered “A few general principles to remember…”   [Read more…]

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


By 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, the Pyrenean Ibex, the Spix’s Macaw, the Liverpool Pigeon, the West African Black Rhino, the Black Faced Honeycreeper, the Alaotra Grebe, Holdridge’s Toad, the Formosan Clouded Leopard, the Pinta Island Tortoise, the Vietnamese Rhino, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, the Yangtze River Dolphin, the Po’o-uli, the Zanibar Leopard, the Marianas Mallard, the Javan Tiger, the Magagascan Dwarf Hippopotamus, the Bush Wren, the Caspian Tiger, the Great Short-Tailed Bat, the Mexican Grizzly Bear, the Central Hare-Wallaby, the Caribbean Monk Seal, and on and on and on.

Since 1980 the losses have been 71-297 times larger than during the last mass extinction. Our ecosystem’s warning signs are pointing toward collapse.   [Read more…]

Summer Chronicles #3: The Wonders of the Invisible World

subatomic particle2

By 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.” Then you wonder if that means that once you are done with your coffee, the article you are reading may not still exist, so for once in your life you click on the link and discover that:

An experiment by Australian scientists has proven that what happens to particles in the past is only decided when they are observed and measured in the future. Until such time, reality is just an abstraction.

  [Read more…]

Summer Chronicles #2: That Music You Are Hearing


By 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.”   [Read more…]

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


By 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.” As a novelist, Pontieri tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.” It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less–I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with two novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe. Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector. So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”   [Read more…]

The Clinton Playbook: Taylorism on the Campaign Trial


By Jim Miller

One of the more interesting pieces amidst the glut of ridiculously early pre-primary news stories floating around the Internet and social media was Ruby Cramer’s largely laudatory profile of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook. Wonder boy Mook, the story tells us, is all about “a ‘new kind of organizing’” that was “going to change politics.”

More specifically Mook’s “new kind of organizing” seems to be modeled on a somewhat perversely postmodern form of Benjamin Franklin’s “bold and arduous project” of arriving at “moral perfection” which, for Franklin, was all about mastering the virtue “Order” among other things through rigorous time management that he monitored in his little book. While Franklin ironically observed his own weakness and admitted to never being able to master himself, young Mook’s project is, it seems, beyond irony.   [Read more…]

From the TPP to the Death of Tenure: Neoliberalism Hurts Us All

No neoliberalism

Depending on how things line up, this week may be when we learn whether or not the House of Representatives delivers Obama a win on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a bipartisan effort that will more thoroughly enshrine a neoliberal structure in U.S. law in the service of bolstering corporate control of our democracy.

Of course this only provides more depressing evidence in support of recent research on the state of American democracy by scholars James N. Druckman from Northwestern University and University of Minnesota’s Jacob R. Lawrence showing that “presidents from both Republican and Democratic parties mainly serve and are guided by the wishes of the wealthy and political elites and exploit public opinion in order to serve those ends.”   [Read more…]

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Vote: A Character Defining Moment


A couple of weeks ago, Bill McKibben penned a very sharp editorial in the New York Times in response to the Obama administration’s choice to allow drilling in the Arctic noting that, “The Obama administration’s decision to give Shell Oil the go-ahead to drill in the Arctic shows why we may never win the fight against climate change. Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no.”

Indeed, it is precisely this kind of political cowardice that may very well cost us far more dearly than we can imagine. In his defense, Obama went to Twitter and had little to offer other than red herrings and equivocation about the limitations of existing regulations.

But the bottom line could not be clearer: in the face of a stark moral choice, the President punted.   [Read more…]

Remember the Dead

wound dresser

Memorial Day wouldn’t be a holiday if not for the Civil War.

One version of the birth of Memorial Day pegs it as beginning in April of 1866 when four women in Columbus, Mississippi got together to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. Then, as Deborah Fallows tells it in The Atlantic, “They also felt moved to honor the Union soldiers buried there, and to note the grief of their families, by decorating their graves as well. The story of their gesture of humanity and reconciliation is now told and retold in Mississippi as being the occasion of the original Memorial Day.”

Another version of the story has it that Memorial Day was the invention of black freedmen who gathered on May 1st to decorate the graves of soldiers—Union soldiers—who had died in Charleston, South Carolina as prisoners and “Martyrs of the Race Course.”   [Read more…]

The Fight for Progressive Tax Reform Continues: It’s Time to Make It Fair

make it fair 2

When Proposition 13 was first approved by voters in 1978 it was sold as a protection for single-family homeowners. But what voters were not told is that Prop. 13 contained giant loopholes that allow big corporations and wealthy commercial property owners to avoid paying their fair share of local property taxes.

This gives tax avoiders an unfair advantage over smaller, competing businesses that are paying their part and deprives our communities of much-needed revenue. As a result, California has made deep cuts to public safety, fallen behind in student funding, and been forced to close parks and libraries.

Now the battle to reform Proposition 13 is on in earnest.   [Read more…]

On Turning 50


Last week I turned fifty, and someone asked me what was the most important thing I had learned in half a century of life. I sighed. Never having been one to make too much of personal landmarks, my response was that this was just another day.

And now that that day and that question are already past, what matters most is the unspeakable beauty of this second as my fingers touch the keyboard, and I breath in and out and listen to the sound of my son singing in the background, my wife talking to the cat, and the birds chirping in the branches of the tree outside my window.   [Read more…]

It’s the Neoliberalism, Stupid


You can’t decry the social problems of Baltimore while politically promoting the very kind of trade policy that helped cause them…

Last week when the Baltimore Orioles played a game without fans in Camden Yard, there was much media coverage marking how the surreal event was unprecedented in American sports.

Perhaps, but it was not completely without precedent globally as the 1987 soccer match played to an empty stadium in Madrid, Spain came before it.

On the occasion of that strange contest, French social theorist Jean Baudrillard observed that “thousands of fans besieged the stadium but no one got in” and that this punishment of unruly soccer fans did much to “exemplify the terroristic hyperrealism of our world, a world where the ‘real’ event occurs in a vacuum, stripped of its context, visible only from afar, televisually.”   [Read more…]

Is San Diego Up for the Challenge of Marrying Environmental and Economic Justice?

“A beautifully sustainable city that is the playground of the rich doesn’t work for us.”

By Jim Miller

Some of the best political news in America in quite a while happened last week in New York City. While much of the country is still under the sway of the climate-change denying right and thus fiddling while the world burns, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio came out with precisely the kind of bold, visionary plan that we need to address not just the existential threat of climate change but the equally pressing and dangerous trend toward deepening economic inequality.

Indeed, taking a page out of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, de Blasio made the interrelated nature of the two great crises of our age clear when outlining his “One New York: The Plan for a Just and Strong City” as he asserted that, “I believe fundamentally that you can’t have environmental sustainability without economic sustainability.”   [Read more…]