". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, January 30, 2009

Women Are Not "Pork"

Sent via iPhone
Begin forwarded message:
Date: January 29, 2009 22:51:02
Published on Thursday, January 29, 2009 by Religion Dispatches
Women Are Not “Pork”
by Ruth Rosen

Responding to President Obama's request, House Democrats cut a provision [1] from the stimulus package that would expand contraceptive family planning for Medicaid patients-usually poor women and girls.

Why did this happen?

For years, reproductive justice activists have argued that the religious right's real agenda is not just to eliminate abortion, but to end the historic rupture between sex and reproduction that took place in the 20th century.

I understand why that rupture is unsettling. Ironically, I was on my way to lecture about Margaret Sanger in my history course at UC Berkeley when I heard the news. Sanger was vilified for wanting to give women the choice of when or whether to bear children. In short, she challenged all of human history by proposing an historic rupture between sexuality and the goal of reproduction. But if reproduction ceased to be the goal, sexuality might become yoked to pleasure.

That is the legacy the religious right has fought against, and it's that agenda that cut funding for family planning.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said [2], "How you can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?"

Well, here's the answer. Consider the teenage girl who's sexually active. What happens to the economy when she bears a child without the means to support it? Conversely, what happens when she finishes her education, enters the labor force, earns a salary, and pays taxes? Do we want an unemployed poor woman to have more children than she can already feed, or do we want her to have access to contraception, get her life back on track, and hopefully find work instead of raising another child she cannot afford at this time?

The Congressional Budget Office also reported [3] that by the third year of implementation, the measure would actually save $200 million over five years by preventing unwanted pregnancies and avoiding the Medicaid cost of delivering and then caring for these babies. The same CBO report found the House version of the stimulus would have a "noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years, with much of the mandatory spending for Medicaid and other programs likely to occur in the next 19 to 20 months." During the first three years, the CBO report said, the cost and savings are negligible.

This decision was an unnecessary political capitulation to Republicans. According to the AP and the Austin American-Statesman [4], the president was "courting Republican critics of the legislation" who had argued that contraception is not about stimulus or growth. Unfortunately, too many people have uncritically accepted that argument. But many others have noted that the package is filled with provisions for health care, which certainly includes family planning. Many other provisions, moreover, are also not growth-oriented, and yet it was poor women's bodies that Democrats bartered for the approval and votes from Republicans that they don't need and will seldom get.

That same morning, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert asked [5] "Why anyone listens to [Republicans]?" Why, indeed. They want the Democrats to fail. They want the new president to fail. And so they described women's bodies as "pork" and asked that the funding be cut for contraception.

Women's groups are legitimately outraged at what has happened. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America called [6] the measure a "victim of misleading attacks and partisan politics." Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said [7]: "Family planners are devastated that President Obama and Congress have decided to take funding for critical family planning services out of the stimulus. Their willingness to abandon the millions of families across the country who are in need is devastating."

"The Medicaid Family Planning State Option fully belonged in the economic recovery package," said [8] Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "The Republican leadership opposition to the provision shows how out of touch they are with what it takes to ensure the economic survival of working women and their families."

While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) defended the measure as recently as last Sunday, President Barack Obama and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, bowed to Republican pressure and agreed to drop the measure. And although the Senate has not yet voted, it's unlikely that funding for expanded family planning will be approved. In short, the Democrats decided it just wasn't worth fighting about. According to the Washington Wire, one House Democratic aide said [9], "It ended up being a distraction and it will be removed."

So, poor women who want reproductive health care and contraception are both "pork" and a "distraction." Is this the change we have dreamed about?

President Obama certainly believes in contraception for poor women and girls on Medicaid. He won the election, as he recently pointed out [10]. He doesn't have to cave in to Republican demands to restrict women's choices and health care.

The best way he and Democrats can handle this terribly misguided decision is to pass legislation to fund expanded family planning as soon as possible, before half the population wakes up and realizes that once again, women have been treated as expendable, and that their bodies have been bartered for political expediency.

© 2009 Religion Dispatches

Ruth Rosen, a journalist and historian, is professor emerita of history at the University of California, Davis and a visiting professor of public policy and history at UC Berkeley. For 11 years, she wrote op-ed columns for the Los Angeles Times, and from 2000-2004 she worked full-time as a political columnist and editorial page writer at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Authentic Literary News Reported in the NY Times

This hasn't happened, it feels like, in years.

Of course the death of Updike. It's hard to comprehend Updike has died. He's been a presence as writer and critic my whole life. He was never my favorite writer or the most interesting speaker on literary matters, but he got more interesting as time went on -- or maybe, the older I got?

And the conflicting views of the much lauded Bolaño -- Latin Americans and his widow say he wasn't a druggie outlaw revolutionary. That the U.S. publishing, promo and critical machinery manufactured that figure because that's what they imagine. It sells, especially to that always most desirable young male demographic (why is this demographic so much more desirable than the young female demo, or, for that matter adults of whatever persuasion?). If this profile was deliberately manufactured it confirms again that the U.S. is stupid in every aspect of its so-called culture. Evidently we have a deep-seated need for our artists and musicians to be tortured and be 'bad boys'. We don't need to take them seriously and we can feel superior to them.

Maybe that's why I liked Updike. He wasn't tortured, he wasn't bad, he loved and enjoyed life. He was an adult, whose fiction dealt with adult matters.

Then there's the bad news reported in the NY Post:

[ FOR the nation's magazines, seven is proving to be an unlucky number.

Ron Burkle's magazine distribution company Source Interlink Cos. is joining Anderson News in demanding publishers pay an additional 7 cents for each copy of a magazine that it delivers to retailers, regardless of the actual number of copies sold by those retailers. ]

This could be the death knell for many small, valuable publications, like The Nation. One wonders then, what Mr. Burkle will do after he's driven all the magazines he distributes out of business? How stupid is capital? As stupid as this so-called culture, evidently.

And finally, this is the current hottest theater ticket in town, dealing with racism and cultural appropriation and cultural identy, "The Shipment," written by young playwright, Young Jean Lee. The New Times describes it like this: "An Evening in Black and White From a Playwright Who Is Neither."

Blumenfeld: WSJ: Unlocking Congo Square, Reopening Mahalia Jackson Theater

Larry writes:

Whenever a piece of mine sits awaiting publication, as this one did, I conjure a complete rewrite in my head. Still, the following describes the scene I found at Armstrong Park in New Orleans earlier this month, set against the backdrop of a reality-check. For me, the spiritual value of unlocking Congo Square trumps all else. LB


January 28, 2009/ page D7
"The Arts Come Marching In Again By Larry Blumenfeld
New Orleans

Once alight with bulbs that spelled out "Armstrong," the large steel archway above North Rampart Street, across from the venerable Donna's Bar & Grill, was dark much of the past decade, largely rusted. Beneath it, the main gate to a park named for trumpeter Louis Armstrong had been padlocked for more than three years, save for the occasional special event. Just inside, Congo Square - where two centuries ago enslaved Africans and free people of color spent Sundays dancing and drumming to the bamboula rhythm, seeding the pulse of New Orleans jazz - had been effectively off limits. The adjacent Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts, home to opera and ballet performances for more than 30 years, sat empty and in need of repair after taking on 14 feet of water in 2005.

Check out the full piece at the link above.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ship Wrecks and Dickheads

Friday we walked through the Met's "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy" exhibit, which was largely uninteresting. NY Times review here.

Too many dishes, we thought, even if the dishware is maiolica. We're the plebian sort, generally interested in plates as far as what is on them is for us to eat. We gave most of the objects and paintings cursory attention. As well I was beyond my endurance, in screaming pain, after 3 hours in the "Beyond Babylon" exhibit. But the Met is like that. Once you're there, you keep going because you are forever stumbling on something that takes your breath away. The problem is that destroys me for the rest of the day, and the next one – and that's when I'm lucky. Marble floors and standing are absolutely counter-indicated for someone with my spinal condition.

What was of interest among the many depictions of weddings, pregnancy and childrbirth, couples and clasped hands (emblematic of fidelty), were the round, ornate gift boxes in which the bride then kept the smaller, valuable gifts from her betrothed and others, such as jewels, cosmetics and their ornate containers, sewing tools, encased in their own ornate, gilded and be-jeweled containers, such as needles and pins, and again ornate, gilded and embossed in the perhaps silver chased leather cases, her writing implements. These are not the same object as the canzoni, the huge, ornate chests with narrative painted panels. These are all customs of the wealthy and powerful. What the lower classes do with betrothal, marriage, childbirth and whoredom is not present in these galleries.

There were also a few pornographic – erotic, since this a museum and everything is art? objects included in the section called, if I recall correctly, "Sensual Love." My favorite was a print of a Venetian courtesan, whose skirt can be lifted by the viewer in order to see her nether parts garbed in lace trimmed transparent silk, a 16th c predecessor of the pop-up book. In the exhibit the skirt is permanently lifted by a pin for our delectation.

An exception to the boring maiolica was a plate that memorializes 'The Dickhead.' You can see it too, if you scroll down the screen here.

You can also learn more about "The Dickhead" here.

I badly wanted to visit "Provocative Visions: Race and Identity—Selections from the Permanent Collection, but I could hardly walk, so we went home. The pain was worth it.

"The Wreck of the ship Ululubrun", i.e. "Beyond Babylon," where we spent the most time, later.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ms Franklin's Inaugural Hat

It's mind boggling the idioic talk and behaviors that have been perpetrated around Ms. ranklin's choice of headgear for her appearance at the 44th Inaugural.

It's worse than mind boggling. It's excruciatingly embarrassing.

What makes even so many blowhards who are residents of metropolitan, culturally diverse cities so abysmally blind and ignorant of what they might well see in the streets at least every Sunday, if they just opened their eyes?

News flash for all of you in the the bloviating and so-called fashion industries, which should include at least some knowledge of the history of clothing:

Ms. Franklin's hat is in the venerable tradition of Ladies Church Hats. In the eponymously named comic strip, "Curtis," the mischievous boy, about 11 - 12, amuses himself in some strip arcs with making fun of the hats worn by the ladies of his church, which earns him some serious ear-boxing and talking to by his mom, when she hears him. His little brother threatens to squeal on Curtis, when their mom doesn't hear. See how easy it is to know this? The strip is in most papers that still have comic sections, and your job includes reading the papers, yes?

You see these hats featured annually here in NY Time's coverage of the Easter Parade.You see them on the streets, particularly on Sunday. You saw many of them this last Tuesday worn in honor of the Inauguration, if only to work, though also likely to the many viewing parties here for the swearing in.

But even more than that -- Ms. Franklin's church hat on Tuesday signalled a wider cultural connection, and a lengthier cultural history. Those bows that somebody -- DO YOU HEAR ME, STUPID LITTLE SUPERIOR WHITE BOY ASSISTANT TO RON KUBY ON AIR AMERICA'S "DOIN' TIME"? -- made fun of, as being even bigger than she is -- those bows are points, the points that are part of the art of tying tignons worn by women of color, free or not, throughout South America, the Caribbean and the United States (there are other names for the traditional head scarves, depending on the region).

How you tied your tignon could even be a language that could tell a skilled reader many things, including whether the wearer is approachable by an eligible man.

Women of color in so many places (such as New Orleans, for instance), whether free or not, were required by law to cover their heads. Out of this the women made a fashion statement of style all their own. These arts reach even further back to the arts of the head, the hair and textiles in Africa.

Ms. Franklin's choice of hat on Tuesday was not an arbitrary matter, it was not something she happened to choose. She knew exactly what she was saying to a most significant portion of those she was singing to, and she wanted them to be sure they knew she knew she was singing very specially to them.

So shut up already about Ms. Franklin's hat. Unless you apologize for discourtesy and insults. And don't say, "Oh lighten up, will ya? It's all in fun." Yeah, fun for you, you ignorant unthinking entitled and stupid kid. And you older talking head pundits too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More Good News on This Good News Day

Caroline Kennedy has 'withdrawn her name for consideration' to take Hillary's senate seat. Guess Paterson decided she wasn't the One.

Since Hillary got confirmed today (that's not on my long list of good news* coming out of D.C. / the Oval Office today -- hey! howz 'bout that Executive Order thang for getting stuff done right now right away?), Paterson ought to be telling us in the next day or two who the replacement will be.

I assume it's going to be Andrew Cuomo. Another dynasty / legacy name. Except, unlike CK, he's been working and doing things all along. He has a record you can look at, and experience.

* The Dow evidently went up today.

Not Only Bankruptcy of a Party and A Regime and A Nation, But The End of A Political Era

In our national history that was brought in by Reagan. His election meant the end of activist government on behalf of the people that reached back to FDR. His inaugural address announced that goverment was not the answer to anything, but that private, corporate initiative was the answer to everything.

It took 30 years, but with the CriminalGangOfCronies galloping to the Apocalypse as fast as they could pillage, loot and destroy, this regressive, elitist perspective has bankrupted any semblence of the integrity of that belief. That political ideology never had any integrity for anyone who paid the least bit of attention to what they did, even more than what they said. The ideological rhetoric was always a smoke and mirrors distraction to distract from the looting, pillaging, corruption and cronyism, the establishment of an inpenatrable elite that live from the exploitation of everyone else and the earth we all share.

There's been a lot of negative commentary about Elizabeth Alexender as poet and for the poem she read yesterday. First, it's maybe an impossible assignment, a poem for the inauguration of new POTUS, particularly when you are following a speechmaker of such oratorical power as Obama. However, maybe there was something in that poem that the critics are still not able to hear, still mired in the world view of the bankrupt neoCONS, whether the critics realize it or not. Look at the poet's choice of words to include her poem for such an historical occasion:

[ ".... Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road . . . ." ]

There are the words, 'darning,' 'repair,' 'dirt,' 'bus.' "Someone is trying to make music somewhere with ...." and she lists actual musical instruments, not a digital simulation of what music used to be.

We have at least three generations now who have grown up in an entirely disposable culture. What do we know of sewing on buttons, sewing a hem, darning a sock? We know nothing of taking a bus, much less of walking to get somewhere we want to be -- we have always been driven. *

It is time we learned to repair again, not throw away. There is nowhere left to dispose of our disposables. It is time to repair, refurbish, make do, renew, to make things that are useful, functional and of lasting value. It is time to stop calling people who actually produce things, make things work, make an economy grow and move, "Suckers," while we believe that we are exceptions to their lives because we are going to become billionaires by the time we're 30 by extracting the meat from the economy by playing with zeros and ones in our sweet corner office.

Or, as you might hear in New Orleans:


* My background and training was an exception to this, which is maybe why I applaud the plain song of the poem was saying, while the critics did not. I still sew on buttons and darn my beloved winter wool knee sox. Living n NYC, a premiere walking city, I walk in the way I walked and rode my bicycle while growing up in the country.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Administration Installed, End of the Regime

Where were the RPGs when, like, you know, they could be useful, was the thought of some of us at least as Outgoing Criminal In Chief was heli-O-vacing away, post his 8 years of executing the Constitution, not to mention the accompanying evisceration of the Bill of Rights. Well, maybe those were not the best of thoughts, but surely others shared them. And we can say things like that now. It's no longer illegal as the crime lords are no longer shielded by high office.

So here's the scoop as to why Darth Vader (or Dr. No, if he'd only had a long-haired white cat in his lap) was in a wheel chair: he messed up his back scooping out the last coupla gold bars left in a corner of the U.S. Treasury. As he settled into his helio-o-vac he chuckled with glee, "So long suckas! All yr monies r belong to ME!" and off to Dubai he's gone, getting away with the biggest heist in the history of the world.

At our entirely diverse, inclusive (except there seemed to be not a single rethug present), community brunch + Jumbotrons, Aretha brought it home, wearing a queen's crown of Church Ladies' Hat, the Benediction raised the roof. Michelle was the total elegant mom. There were a lot of messages in that speech, weren't there? Some of us were both thrilled and anxious by what he said. Seriously talking tough to terrorists (though the biggest perpretrators of terrorism on this nation have gotten clean away without a bit of punishment, and very, very, very rich).

Everyone was ecstatic, embracing, dancing, cheering and applauding. Fortunately for Our Host, no one threw anything at the screens whenever the Outgoing Criminal In Chief appeared. He must have been medicated to the gills. Everyone booed when he appeared, though nothing could equal the volume of the boos received by Cheney.

We did the S.O.B.'s Obama Lunch and Celebration with some friends, hosted by the owner, who is someone we have known for many years now. Somehow we didn't expect S.O.B.'s to be packed to the gills. Maybe because we always go there at night? Fortunately the owner gave us a table even though we didn't have reservations. We didn't think we'd need them. Who besides us would go to S.O.B.'s at 11 AM?

It. Was. Amazing. So many people I didn't necessarily know but recognized as we've encountered each other for years in the street and in local stores. Some of our friends and neighbors from our building were there too.

Among those with whom we shared the table, were a gentleman man whose father is Barbadian and his African American wife, born in Alabama. After the swearing in he said he was going call his father down in Barbados in a few minutes -- but not just yet because "I know my dad is in tears." This Inauguation means something personal all over the world.

The PoC couples seated around us in S.O.B.'s were dressed in 'good clothes,' the clothes you would wear to an official occasion, something just a bit nicer than what you would wear to a job interview for a 'professional' position (gads, I've always disliked that division in work -- between professional and, um, whatever all the rest are). When we walked back home we saw so many middle-aged women of color wearing hats. Not winter-warm-your-head-and ears hats, but the hats they wear on Sunday for church.

I've never watched an Inauguration before. For one thing I was in class or working. For another, I have lived without television most of my life. And with Those Who Are Forever Gone (But. Not. Punished. Yet.), there is no way I could have stood to watch. We are in a different age for sure.

Hooray! The end of the regime, the start of administration.

My great regret, that seems to have been kind of fizzing around in my psyche all day is that Odetta wasn't there, as they'd originally hoped. Odetta, you are seeing everything from Your Heaven. You are singing. You are dancing.

To further complicate things today, the publisher just sent some possible covers for TYBTF. There are some stunners among the possibilities, incorporating a Vaquero photo, so many really nice ones in fact, it will be difficult to choose.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Vaquero on Chris Lydon & "Open Source Radio"

You can hear Vaquero live talking about history, New Orleans, music, politics here:

New Orleans, the Recovery Model: Ned Sublette

Chris had the cojones to leave in Vaquero's wistful wish that George Bush not leave the White House ... in a suit, rather than in an orange arrestee's prison overall, in company with his criminalgangofcronies.

Vaquero feels he's justified himself to a degree by getting that statement out there, on the radio waves, on the last day of the crime regime.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Library of Congress

Since so many people are converging on D.C. this weekend, The NY Times has provided a guide to the LOC as a tourist might visit the facility, with the focus on its core and the mission vision of the LOC Founder, Thomas Jefferson. Rather than sell off his wine cellar for much needed cash, Our First Debtor sold his library to the government for $24,000 -- guess he'd already sold off his 'spare' slaves for that year.

The building, designed by John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz, was meant to overwhelm, and it does. The ceilings are vast and ornate. The staircases rise like great pastries of marble. There are arches, pillars, domes and skylights, and virtually every surface is decorated — with a mural or a mosaic, some gold leaf, a statue or some ingenious little putti. Standing in the Great Hall and gazing upward is like finding yourself inside a Fabergé egg. If great thoughts — not just the idle reflections of the moment, but the really big ideas — could take physical shape, this is probably what they would look like. The sensation you feel is one of mental levitation — like wisdom, only more exciting. In the Great Hall there are two bronze statues holding aloft not the torch of knowledge but the light bulb of illumination. This is appropriate, since the building was one of the first in Washington to be constructed with electrical wiring.

And the library may be the most technologically enhanced tourist site in Washington. There are computer kiosks everywhere, like giant iPhone screens. Touch one, and a detail of the building or one of Jefferson’s books or even his rough draft of the Declaration of Independence is in front of you; touch it again for a close-up, a translation or an explanation. Using a little passport you are issued on entering, part of the official “Library of Congress experience,” you can even save some of these details for further study on your home computer.

The library’s Web site {I use it all the time} is so extensive and elaborate that, had I only known, I could have toured the whole place without ever leaving home.

The Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, is at First Street SE, Washington.[End Quote]

I've been to the LOC, but most of my time there was taken up with copyright law and procedure seminars and touring the underground copyright registration and cataloging facilities. The LOC is one of the very best research facilities in the world, and it is something this nation should rightfully be proud of. It was the most efficiently operated institution anywhere -- until Reagan decided that a national library was nothing a government should be supporting and began the cutting funds and staff, particularly cutting funds for hiring staff. He wanted to eliminate the Library of Congress.

NeoCONS, never miss a chance to CON the nation out of what it needs and what works in their never-ending drive to destroy government and turn the U.S.A. into the Congo. You don't like government? Move to Somalia, advises da Fox. (Don't think the cons have dropped their mission just because Barack Obama is going to sit in the Oval Office either.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blindspot & Generation Kill

Thank goodness for them both, as I've been down with a nasty flu since Friday. Which means I've been missing so much good music with all the artists in town for APAP for the last few days, and for Globalfest, which has been this weekend. Tonight the musicians from New Orleans are killing everybody for the second time at Sullivan Hall. First a reception with New Orleans pies and gumbo. Vaquero was given a table for his friends -- and our 15-year-old friend's dad already wrote the note of excuse for school tomorrow, because no way is either musician dad or his son gonna miss this chance to hear Big Sam's Funky Nation in person. Vaquero sent 15-year-old friend some MP3s of Big Sam's a while back and the guy's not stopped listening ever since. But I? I am reduced to sniveling in bed with my heating pad and bed tray, and the magic chicken-vegetable-New Mexico chili stew that make and which cures everyone else except me almost instantly. Waaaaa.

Blindspot (2008) is a first novel, an historical, written by two historians, who both are deeply cognizant of 18th C America, Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore (her history, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan (2005) is also in the house, though Vaquero is reading it first). Kamensky is chair of the Brandeis History Dept., while Lepore is Chair of the History and Literature program at Harvard. The novel looks delicious. The back jacket where all the blurbs are aggregated, include blurbs from everyone who is Anyone in the 18th century, from Samuel Johnson to "John PUFF, the prolific author of very many eighteenth century blurbs." The authors are in no way lacking in a sense of the comic, nay, even the absurd, when that sentiment is called for.

Another form of history: Evan Wright's Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War (2004). Wright was the Rolling Stone journalist embedded with the 1st Recon Marines battalion. He mounted up with Bravo Company's second platoon, riding in Team One's Humvee, behind Team Leader, the Iceman (Brad Colbert). Their previous tour was Afghanistan.

1st Recon was the spearhead of the March 2003 invasion in many ways, and the first to enter Baghdad. Generation Kill is the story of that as seen from the unarmored Humvee Wright rode in, sitting behind Colbert, for a month, on their way, as well as in their holes, the mud, the sandstorms, the firestorms, and all the rest these elite legal killers need to put up with for the joy of killing (I'm only sayin' what they say). 1st Recon is the Marine elite, or -- the U.S. military's shock troops, 374 marines all together, are all men -- women aren't allowed into this. The three companies we are following consist of 160 men (Alpha, Bravo and Charlie platoons). They are in their late teens, early 20's. Plus all the service, supply and others support sectors.

Wright's dedication reads: "To The Warriors of Hitman-2 and Hitman-3: "The strength of the Pack is the Wolf." This second line is from Kipling, of course, The Jungle Books, whose human center is a feral boy brought up by wolves in the Indian jungle. These marines are boys too. Sort of. Or maybe, as they like to believe at least, they are pure distilled men-- yes, male, not humanity including women, but men.

This was published initially in 3 parts in Rolling Stone. The Simon-Burns team made it into a mini series for HBO. There are some significant differences between Wright's book and the HBO Generation Kill. I spent some time a while back trying to learn what others who were part of the invasion of Iraq, other marines, other military, thought of the book and of the series.

Despite criticism, which seems to come mostly from people who were not there, were not marines, or are retired, as far as I can discern, Wright is an excellent journalist and the reader can trust his reporting of what he saw. One sign of his excellence is how he's hardly in the book, and though he's a character in the series (not played by himself, though a couple of the guys from the platoon play themselves), he so effaces himself, that though you see him on the screen he's hardly there.

Others, elsewhere in the line, sometimes saw something else, or saw what was seen differently.

Wars and battles are chaos, by definition. Wright saw only what he could see, just as the warriors in Bravo saw only what they saw, knew only what they were told -- and they weren't told much, it appears, both by f*ck-up and by design. Also, in any operation in the Iraq desert, the conditions of the geography and the weather, made seeing most of the time as limited as it was in battle of the Napoleonic era. High tech devices that are supposed to transcend such limitations didn't work because of atmospheric conditions, because the supply chief didn't bring the right batteries or any batteries, because the necessary lube wasn't brought (even for the weapons! -- and wtf! sending these guys out in forward ops with unarmed Humvees, which they had not been trained to drive and had never driven before -- the gunner stands in the open -- sheee-it!), because every group has their own encryption codes, and their com devises were all mutually inpenetrable (like what happened at the Two Towers with the cops and the firefighters -- and that still isn't fixed, anymore than this was fixed in the military). Much friendly fire.

The HBO series was brilliiant television -- with one caveat -- they filmed in Africa, and fellas, you cannot substitute Africans for the inhabitants of Iraq and not have an audience notice that these people are not Iraqis, but indeed, they are Africans. I noticed and went wtf? before I learned that indeed this wasn't the Middle East, as I suspected from some of the landscapes and the urban area architecture, and then by looking at the people, I knew this wasn't the Middle East. Really, no one would have expected them to film in Iraq. But I'd assumed initially this was in Kuwait or at least North Africa somewhere. Nope, very far from there. At least I know when what I'm told I'm seeing isn't what I am seeing. That's reassuring. That's why the neocons and such ilk hate me so much, no doubt. Dawg, I'm hard to fool.

However brilliant as television, the HBO series is a fictionalized version of Wright's book. The differences sometimes are subtle, and sometimes broad. If you watch the series you owe it to First Recon to read Wright's book too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Wire Rap

Five Seasons in 5 Minutes --- "sheeeeeeeeeit!"

Thanks to badgerbag for the heads up.

It's always a pleasure to encounter any of the actors from The Wire elsewhere now. Wendell Pierce I've seen recently, but don't quite recall. He's busy with the pilot for the Simon and Burns New Orleans series.

Remember Ziggy, played by James Ransome, from season two, "The Wharf?" He's a primary character, Cpl. Josh Ray Person, in the Recon Marine Company that Burns and Simon made from embedded reporter Evan Wright's Generation Kill, for HBO last year.

The actor, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., who played Clay Davis showed up as a minor figure in Enchanted, dressed in 18th court ball clothes in the final scenes, iirc.

Friday, January 9, 2009

24 Photos On Glossy Paper, Full Color Insert

Is going to be produced for TYBTF -- 24 of Vaquero's photos from 2004-2005, plus a few others scattered around, but those will be printed on the text pages in b&w.

This is filled with the awesome, as far as we are concerned. Nobody does this anymore because it costs to much. But the editor, publisher and marketing want to do it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's The 74th Birthday of the King


Guantánamo: A Working Class History Between Empire and Revolution

Guantánamo: A Working Class History Between Empire and Revolution (Dec. 2008) is by a newly-achieved Ph.D. in history, who arrived on the faculty of the history dept. at Tulane in 2006, Jana Lipman.

Unfortunately the publisher of this book is aloof from contact, thus no reviews, thus no one knows about it. For example, we could review it, if we had a copy.

Fortunately, due to the Cuban Revolution's 50th anniversary January 1, Lipman scored a spot on "The Lenny Lopate Show" here on WNYC -- and um, how many people under 30 even have radios or listen to them? Or over 30 for that matter?

By chance I heard this segment while doing some housecleaning. The author is personable and knows her stuff. One of the most interesting parts was her description of how employment at the base worked, the employees joining the AFL-CIO, which backfired on the employers -- they expected it to give them more control over the Cubans, and how some of the Cubans employed at the base managed to smuggle out both goods and arms for the Revolution.

Listening to her speak with such energy and enthusiasm about the city of Guantánamo brought back happy memories. It's a beautiful city in the mountains of eastern Cuba, where culture remains deep and history vital.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Historical Novels

My mother had the novel, Lord Vanity (1953) by Samuel Shellabarger* , on her shelves, via maybe her brother's gift? I remember the first time I read it, in the summer before I started fourth grade, having already devoured all the books I was able to bring home from the Wahpeton Leach Library, on our weekly trip to town, to makes purchases and visit the grandparents.

What a revelation this novel was! It may have been the first 'adult' novel I ever read, and it was, I think, the first historical novel I ever read. I loved it. It was my introduction to so much.

Naturally I had no idea what any of it was about. But the characters and their adventures and relationships came through clearly though I was ignorant of the historical milieu against which they were played. My favorite fiction ever since has been a good historical novel. Alas that so little is being written today. I don't count books like Girl With A Pearl Earring, for instance, as a 'real' historical novel. It's a lovely novel, and beautifully written and it was a joy to read. But there was no swash -- I loves me my swash and intrigue, betrayal and honor. The closest to delivering what I like so much these days has been Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales, though I fear he's turning it into a series. Quality and delight inevitably fall off with open-ended series.

The next Shellabarger novel I read -- pulled from the Wahpeton Leach Library, natch, was Prince of Foxes (1947) It turns out Prince of Foxes was made into a movie (1949) -- with -- get this! -- Orson Welles as Cesare Borgia! O joy! I have the dvd. It is lousy weather. I look foward to tonight. Vaquero's off to KGB for the Mark Jacobs radio show, so I plan to have a very personal revel.

Something else we've lost with the loss of historical novels -- they are most excellent portals into reading and studying history itself. I'm certain this is one of the reasons history is seldom taught, or inadequately taught these days -- the loss of the historical novel as a major publishing genre.

*Shellabarger has a connection to the Civil War. Wiki informs us that "Samuel was therefore reared by his grandfather, Samuel Shellabarger, a noted lawyer who had served in Congress during the American Civil War and as Minister to Portugal. Young Samuel's travels with his grandfather later proved a goldmine of background material for his novels." I wonder if I were to read his novels today if I'd notice objectionable attitudes that the Civil Rights struggle made no longer acceptable in fiction of certain kinds?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bob Palmer Bio-Documentary

For This Hand of Fatima, the bio-documentary of Bob Palmer, great Bluesman / music and culture critic, former pop music reviewer for the NY Times, Contributing Editor of Rolling Stone back in the great days. That back-and-forth across Cuba in a Soviet Lada with Bob back in the summer of 1990 was a turning point on our lives. Vaquero's a presence in the film.

Its first public viewing will be held via DocuClub, which is a screening series of works-in-progress documentaries.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Art, Culture, Activism -- Tavis Smiley -- Black Latino Summit

This weekend Tavis Smiley re-ran his two-hour radio program (heard here on Sats. and Suns., 2 PM, in two parts, one each day) made from the "Black Latino Summit" held in Los Angeles late last year. One of the moderators and spokespeople is Wendell Pierce (Bunk - The Wire -- he's also starring in the new Simon series set in contemporary New Orleans).

Wendell Pierce is a serious artist. He's also a cogent thinker and articulate. He spoke clearly to the need for people to not confuse art with culture, that these are not necessarily the same sorts of expression. He defined the differences. He followed up with describing how art can, and may, and often does, grow out of culture. Then he connected both art and culture with activism, while insisting that there is a necessary place in any community's culture for art, and that parents should do their best to bring up their children with art as much as culture. IOW, museums, theaters and ballet lessons are as important for nurturing identity and community as is church and other cultural expression.

He describes the split between the African American communities and the Latino communities. He explained how his move to Los Angeles taught him what their communities shared culturally. His connection of the funeral second lines of New Orleans to the Latinos' El Día del Muertos was brilliant.He and the other moderators did a spectacular job too, of explicating just how the power structure works -- and spends lots of money on -- keeping the African American and Latino communities divided, along that same old effective strategy of 'divide and conquer.' We all must be smarter than to be used that way.

The Tavis Smiley show website is here.You may find the broadcast archived there, or listen to it streaming, depending on the time it broadcasts in your area. Listening is highly recommended.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009's Reading, Watching,Writing & Listening Is In Play

A fair continuation of 2008's. I'm looking forward to finding what sharp turn into something I've no glimmer of as yet.

This is the half century, 50 year celebration of the Cuban Revolution. I've assumed there was no need for me to remind anyone of this around here, where people are generally so very well informed.

¡Cuba Libre!

This was also an enormous change around when it happened:

Trudeau, Noah Andre. (2008) Southern Storm: Sherman's March To the Sea. HarperCollins, NY

[ P. 162: "It took until sundown for the rear of the Fourteenth Corps column to pass entirely through Shady Dale, but each segment was greeted as if it was thefirst to arrive. “Here the colored peoples give us our entertainment,” noted an Indiana boy. A new band would appear, begin to play, and in a short time it would be surrounded by a throng of black women and children “dancing and bobbing their heads in ecstasies of delight.”

When the First Division settled into camp near Shady Dale, the general commanding, William P. Carlin, was witness to a remarkable scene. One of the bands had launched into yet another performance of “John Brown’s Body” when about a dozen young African-American girls came out of nearby houses, “formed into a ring around the band at the head of the column, and with a weird, plaintive wail, danced in a circle in a most solemn, dignified, and impressive manner,” wrote Carlin years afterward. “What their meaning was I did not know then, nor do I now, but I, of course, interpreted it as an expressive of goodwill to our cause.” ]

This is the behavior rummywolfierovercheney&bushwah expected in Iraq. Funny how people can tell the difference between liberation and invasion right off.

This book is told in the words taken from letters and journals and reports of participants on both sides. So far a single rape has been mentioned. One. Rather different from the propaganda and the memories of Georgians and South Carolinians. Though Sherman's men did ransack and burn Columbia, SC to the ground, and seemed to have planned to before-hand, burning with hatred for the rebels as they were. Not pretty. On the other hand, there was no one to stop them. The Confederacy gummit, army and all the men in general had skedaddled right off, leaving behind the old men, the sick, the women, the children and the slaves. This is about what the march came up against throughout. Their strongest opponent was the weather and the terrain. Sherman forbade the firing upon of the 16-year-old and younger cadets from the Citadel, who were all the city was able to marshal for a defense.

I've just made a lovely chili chicken soup, very hot, with not only lots of chili pods, but lots of yellow bell pepper, and other things. Potatoes are roasting in the oven. Vaquero is sick, sick, sick. But we're listening to the Phil Schaap's decades' long running jazz show on the Columbia radio station, WKCR, and it's just smokin' (he should be named a National Treasure), Traditions In Swing. Shoot, I've been listening to Schaap for decades myself by now (well, maybe two). What's up right now is from the late twenties, which may be my favorite period for jazz. You can stream Traditions in Swing. So Vaquero isn't quite as miserable as he might be. And he's reading a book I got him, The Bin Ladens by Steve Coll. Do I take care of my baby or what?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

First Entry of 2009

It is a frozen day. I just now made brunch. We are moving very slowly around here, partly because it is cold, and partly because we didn't get back until very late. Haven't done that in a while. It was a networked Haitian Vodoun New Year -- all the houngans here in NYC timed their actions so they would all be doing / calling / invoking / blessing the same things at the same moment all around the city.

It was a special New Year's eve. For one thing I was in company with four of the people I love most dearly -- Vaquero, of course, the Houngan Artist that Vaquero first met in Buffalo back at the end of the 70's, Houngan Artist's Haitian mambo wife, and Editor Amiga. I felt so much last night, sending and receiving.

We've been invited to a couple of open houses today, but staying in feels more attractive. We've got the movie, Band of Angels (1957), based, probably loosely, on the novel of that name (1955) by Robert Penn Warren, with Yvonne de Carlo playing the beautiful slave and Clark Gable, the slave trader who buys her and sets her up on his Louisiana plantation. Sidney Poitier is also in the movie, a highly educated black man that Gable rescued when a baby in Africa during his slave trading days. I've never seen it. I don't think it's been available on dvd until recently. Vaquero saw it several times when a little boy and is eager to see if the actual film matches his memories of it. We also have The Court Jester (1957) -- Danny Kaye in 12th C England.

I made posole yesterday, which was one of the most successful posoles I've ever managed. Posole is one of those stews that's even better the next day. We have tortillas and cheesecake and beer and bubbly in the refrigerator. Omar Sosa's wonderful cd is playing – A-FREEcanos is one of my favorites this year. Vaquero's happily composing his favorite recordings of 2008 essay for Da List. Outside it's only 25º, the open houses are far apart from each other, and seem far away. It feels so nice in here, and we are feeling so very lazy.

Happy New Year!