Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Monday, October 22, 2012

Candidate Debates at UD: A Lesson in Human Rights

Protester Ejected from UD Debate
Innocence and Optimism

Tuesday morning October 16 began with a lesson on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, what President Ronald Reagan called “a standard by which any humble person on Earth can stand in judgment of any government on Earth." Before the day was out, the lesson would be undermined by the University of Delaware-sponsored electoral debates.

I had asked my Freshman English class to select some favorite passages in the Declaration and tell why they spoke to them. I circled the room to see their work and to engage those innocent, optimistic youths in some dialogue. Among the most popular was Article 19:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Next in line was Article 21, paragraph 1:

Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

I made some remarks that the debates to take place in the University’s Mitchel Hall that night were excluding Green, Libertarian, and Independent Party candidates and perhaps abridging their freedom of expression and participation in government. At the same time, I noted that rights were subject to limitation when necessary, as Article 29 prescribes, to secure “due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, [and] public order.”

A Train Wreck

What happened that night was a train wreck of rights in conflict, brought on by the University’s decision to limit the public discourse to those with the power of money. UD exacerbated the clash by overreacting to a Green Party and Occupy Delaware “mic check,” a brief, call-and-response demur endured with infinitely more patience at New Castle County sheriff’s sales, national rallies, and even at a speech by President Obama last November.

The stage was set for the clash by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication (DPC), which organized the debates. Headed by Ralph Begleiter, a former correspondent for CNN, the CPC demanded that candidates meet standards set by the Pew Debate Advisory Standards Project, which suggests that forums either require candidates to raise high sums of money or have the parties go to great expense on polls to prove the popularity of their candidates. Other than the two dominant party candidates, only unaffiliated Alex Pires, a wealthy businessman, was able to buy his way into the debate. Several other debates in Delaware, including those at Widener Law School and the Jewish Federation of Delaware (after some urging), welcomed all ballot-qualified candidates, but the publicly-funded UD imposed its own form of political correctness. As I argued in my Broken Turtle Column August 10, “[f]or UD to take part in this pseudo-debate is a violation of its educational mission.” Let us note that Sen. Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney both sit on the Advisory Committee of the Center for Political Communication that protected them from alternative views.

The Palm of Information Control
When Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Bernie August rose before the debate began to protest his exclusion with a mic check and invite the audience to an alternative debate outside of Mitchell Hall, the University let lose all the accoutrements of information control: Plainclothes cops descended on August and his supporters. Unidentified men in suits head-locked protestors out the doors. An usher in the Mitchell Hall lobby threw her hand over the camera snapping shots of someone in a suit and a uniformed UD cop ejecting a man they later charged with resisting arrest. UDaily, the University’s on-line newsletter, only mentions UD Police and says nothing about plainclothes private security, who, if they were involved, take the university into dangerous legal ground. While August says the police who held him at the Newark Police station were polite and professional, police were very slow to tell friends and family where he and the other arrestee were being held and waited until almost 1 a.m. to release them, pending trial.

UD could of course argue that the rights of the candidates to speak and of the audience to hear were disrupted by the boisterous mic check, even though the University had used its less boisterous power to silence views the audience would surely have welcomed. These views include what the Greens say about environmental issues and national single-payer health care and what the Libertarians say about the war on drugs and the anti-teacher provisions of Race to the Top. Indeed, writing in The Delaware Libertarian blog, Steve Newton reports that the same Pew Study that recommended the restrictive guidelines also noted that 53 percent of voters wanted third-party candidates included in debates. Had the Center for Political Communication given the citizens the debate they wanted, maybe they would have filled the considerable number of empty seats at Mitchel Hall and avoided a bumbling demonstration of arbitrary power.

When President Obama was similarly mic checked by Occupy Wall Street on November 22 of last year, he responded, “"I'm going to be talking about a whole range of things today, and I appreciate you guys making your point, let me go ahead and make mine, all right? And I'll listen to you, you listen to me."  The University can redeem itself by dropping all charges against the two arrestees. UDaily reported only that the protesters were removed, apparently finding the arrests too embarrassing to mention. Or they can double down on this disgrace and throw their weight around, the way they did when they intimidated investors from bidding on the old Chrysler site by threatening to seize it through eminent domain, something I learned from Left Behind, a film produced by Ralph Begleiter and his students.

In an academic environment, taboos must be broken and assumptions subjected to challenge. This debate bolstered received wisdom, gave the entrenched a free pass, and suppressed the predictable reaction.

Competing Honors and Competing Rights: Drop the Charges

Recently Ralph Begleiter was honored by Common Cause of Delaware for his role in breaking the taboo against exposing the flag-draped coffins of American war dead. Almost simultaneously, Occupy Delaware was honored by Delaware Pacem in Terris as “Peacemakers Among Us” for breaking the two-party taboo against exposing the plutocratic one percent. I hope Ralph Begleiter will join me in urging the University of Delaware to drop all charges against those arrested and disclose if private security agents were involved.
My students demonstrate a fairly broad spectrum of views and I try to let them sort it out themselves as they contemplate competing rights. However, everything we do at the university is part of the learning environment. What will students take away concerning freedom of expression, participation in government, and Human Rights in general from this truncated debate?

PS: The Complete Mic Check

I am Bernie August and I am the Green Party candidate for the US House of Representatives. My voice, and the people's voices that I hope to represent, are being silenced with this debate. Because I am not a member of one of the entrenched parties, because I am not independently wealthy, and because I refuse to take corporate donations, I am not allowed to participate, even though I am a ballot qualified candidate.

As a result, I am protesting this partisan and farcical mockery of a debate and ask that you join me at THE REAL DEBATE to be held outside this hall and right after this message, where I and other 3rd party candidates will answer your questions. I urge you ALL, audience members and candidates on the stage, to join me so that we can have a truly free and open debate. All of our voices matter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Short History of Public Poetry Readings in Wilmington & Newark

Somehow I've managed to become the one who keeps the record of Delaware's literary history. There are two reasons for this, one is a rather oversized propensity for curiosity, and the other is to get some idea of the scope and composition of Delaware's literary community from the time we became "The First State" up to today. Not everyone appreciates my effort and my best indication of that is when those who attempt to refer to our literary history get it wrong. Some of it may be some fault of my own because I've not emphasized it in the right places, or failed to repeat certain features of it over and over again. Certainly, the failure by others to pay attention or to remember correctly shares that blame. Recently there was some confusion regarding the history of live poetry readings, especially in and around Wilmington and Newark.

The history of public poetry readings is a relatively short one. Before the early 1980s public poetry readings were rare and sometimes exclusive events. They may have been limited to well known poets giving a reading in an academic setting, or during a commemorative event connected to something of historic significance.

Today's public poetry readings largely grew out of the counter cultural movement of the late 1960s. Nearly every local counter cultural periodical since The Heterodoxical Voice published occasional poetry. It demonstrated to us that poetry could be appreciated by a general readership. During this period, local poets began to gather, in salon fashion, to privately read their poems to one another. This led to the next step toward staging public readings.

Yours truly reading at that 1982 reading in the Collins Room.
Phillip Bannowsky waits to read next.
There may be those who wish to differ, but I usually associate the advent of the current public poetry readings with one held sometime in the autumn of 1982 at the University of Delaware, in the Collins Room at the Perkins Student Center. The actual date is obscured because no one could have predicted the reading would launch a movement. The event was organized by former University of Delaware English Professor Gloria Hull with the intent to include academic poets as well as those from the community. On August 13, 1983, a poetry reading was held in the backyard of then Delaware Poet Laureate e. jean lanyon's home at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and North College Avenue in Newark, which was also open to the public. This reading was a kind of test run for the first fully public reading promoted by the literary group that called itself the Eschaton Writers, along with many of the same people who had been involved in the Dreamstreets project. That first real public reading was held at the Wilmington Public Library on August 31, 1983. Reading at that first event were Robert Bohm, Patricia E. Eagan, Douglas Morea, e. jean lanyon, Mafundi, and myself. On September 30, 1983, the same poets read at the Newark Public Library with the addition of poets Lew Bennett, Bob Chartowich, Jameelah and Suzanne Michelle. On October 15, 1983, two literary groups, The First State Writers and the Eschaton Writers, came together and held a joint poetry reading at O'Friel's Irish Pub in Wilmington. Reading at that event were Samuel Borton, Elizabeth Cory, Douglas Morea, Mafundi, Robert Bohm, Jameelah, Suzanne Michelle, Patricia E. Eagan, e. jean lanyon, and myself. This was a significant reading because Kevin Freel, the owner of O'Friel's invited us back for the next second Saturday, on November 12, 1983, thus launching the regular 2nd Saturday Readings, which prevail to this day.

Additional readings continued to be held. On November 3, 1983, the Eschaton Writers held a reading at the Concord Pike Public Library, north of Wilmington, with many of the same poets cited above. There was a short series of regular poetry readings at The Hen's Teeth Bookstore on East 7th Street in Wilmington and in October a poetry reading, held in observance of the 100th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx, was held at the Walnut Street YMCA. On December 3, 1983, a reading commemorating the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe was held at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, thus rounding out that year of successfully launching the poetry reading movement in the area.

In October 1990, Dreamstreets launched regular readings in Newark on the 3rd Saturday and later on the 3rd Sunday. The record for these readings, which lasted until May 1994, can be found on the website It was around the time these Dreamstreets readings ended that the "poetry slam" movement began. Before the end of the millennium, new readings emerged at the Newark Arts Alliance's Art House in Newark and at Saints Andrew and Matthew Church in Wilmington. 

There may be public poetry readings that are not known by me currently happening regularly in the area. I do know that the 2nd Saturday Readings still occur just outside the city limits in Wilmington at the Jackson Inn on Lancaster Pike. In Newark, the Mocha, Music & More event, currently held at Central Perk on Main Street, features regular poetry readings. 

The history of public poetry readings in northern New Castle County is now 30 years old, a record that should be relished by local literary artists.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Done Written

For the past several years I have tried to stop writing prose fiction. It's been more than 50 years since I began writing literature. I've been most recently commemorating that time in 1962, just after graduating from high school, that I plunked my old Underwood on the kitchen table of my parents' house and started banging out short stories. Before the end of that year I wrote about a half dozen of them and launched my literary career, such as it would turn out to be, by sending them to The New Yorker. One of those stories became my first published story in 1966 in a small college literary magazine that's not worth mentioning.

Almost a decade later, in 1973, slowed by war, getting immersed in the counter culture movement, and kicking around the country, I renewed my aspirations by writing my first novel, The Afternoon Detective Agency. Except for a chapter published in Expresso Tilt in 1984 and part of a chapter published in Dreamstreets 3, the novel remains unpublished. What ensued during the next 39 years is a matter of record. My published work can be found on every floor of the University of Delaware library. Whoopee do! The greater remaining amount is unpublished.

Today as I grapple with the certainty that I will be living in the same poverty as I'm living now for the rest of my life, I don't see any reason for continuing to waste my time trying to be a literary artist. The problem is that writing ideas keep coming. My final challenge is to keep from being tempted to write. While I might give in to this impulse, I will not share the results. No one will ever know. I'm convinced, with the exception of a few, that no one is interested, cares, or even curious about what I write.

Within the past few weeks I wrote my final two short stories, which I sent to The New Yorker so they could reject them, as a means to commemorate my original gesture 50 years ago, as well as to ascertain some measure of progress. Well, I've got my measure. I know who to blame, and it's not myself, and that's why I'm so bitter.

My final novel. Only 6 copies exist.
The first of those two recent short stories, entitled "Chasing Sugar," picks up where The Afternoon Detective Agency ends. Wences Minion finds himself chasing Sugar Heartstraps through the subways of New York City. It is a world where all the conspiracy theories have turned out to be true, from a Kenyan born Muslim who had been sent packing, to chem trails and HAARP really being used to control the weather and used for mind control respectively. Minion finds himself in a United States flagrantly run by a new breed of Nazis. He is chasing Sugar because she has his dossier containing some vital information these new Nazis, the Archon Falange and their Secrepo agents, want. As for what happens, you'll never know until some one pays me to publish it. It's not likely to happen.

The second story is entitled "Christmas at Collinswood." In this story, Mark Lucas wakes from a coma. He's in the hospital and the first person he sees is Dr. Julia Hoffman. She's just finished up her studies to be a doctor at the New York School of Medicine. It's Christmas of 1945. Lucas had returned from the service during World War II and Dr. Hoffman helps him through that first post war Christmas. Shortly afterward, Dr. Hoffman gets an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The two lose touch. Living in New York, Lucas eventually gets a job as a stagehand with the help of a new neighbor named Fred Mertz, who lives in an apartment building in Manhattan with his wife Ethel. The other neighbors are Ricky Ricardo and his wife Lucy. Lucas later moves to an apartment building in Brooklyn. His new neighbors are Ralph and Alice Kramden on the second floor, and Ed and Trixie Norton up on the third floor. Not long after, Lucas runs into Fred Mertz and his friend, comedy writer Buddy Sorrell, who hooks Lucas up with his co-employee Sally Rogers. Lucas and Sally have a brief fling and just as it sours, he learns about Dr. Julia Hoffman. She has gone to Maine to help a man named Barnabas Collins, who has a rare and ancient blood disease. It's 1966 and things come to a head during the Christmas season. What happens? You'll never know until some one pays me to publish it. Not likely.

Sorry, I just can't afford to give it away anymore.
My Vietnam War novel. Only 6 copies exist.

As I declared at the beginning of this article, writing ideas keep coming to me. For a while I'll used this Brokenturtle blogspot to provide quick synopses of fiction ideas that occur to me but which I will never write. I'll give that much. It only takes an hour to whack out these blog articles, but I'll also write these synopses to get it out of my system, to purge the poison of wasted creativity from my life.

By the way, a few articles ago, I suggested that I might be deleting the file on Valdemar's Corpse, my non-fiction book about Delaware's past literary artists. The verdict is still out. The book is still hanging by a couple of threads. One of those is a query to a publisher for which I'm still awaiting a response. There is another publisher who wants to publish it, but there are issues, mostly having to do with printing costs. There are those who are rooting for Valdemar's Corpse never seeing the light of print. Perhaps they'll get their wish and like the corpse of Valdemar in Poe's story, after the link has been broken, my book will rapidly decompose never to be heard, or in my case, read forever.