". . . 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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Weeks of Infamy -- 4th Anniversary of the Beginning

Up here we're on the edge of another tropical storm. Winds and humidity and periodically Big Rain Storms. It is impossible not remember what happened this day 4 years ago. And what can happen again. And will, without a doubt, in a country that can't bear to have a single payer health plan because it means somebody might possibly get something they don't deserve, and that would, you know, make this nation of obese couch potatoes weak sissies instead of manly strongies.
We had coffee this morning with a friend, an artist - dancer - actor, who is South African but lives in France. He has just bought an apartment in Paris, with the help of a bank loan. No problem for this fellow who makes far less a year than we do to get a loan to buy a nice place in Paris -- and it's not even as expensive as I thought it would be. He said, "It's so easy in Europe. I don't know how people live in this country. It's awful."

Remember, everything They tell you about other countries is lies, like everything They tell you about this country is lies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview With Ned Sublette Re New Orleans

Now up on my blog an interview with author, historian, and musician Ned Sublette:

Some you may know Ned as one of the co-conductors in the recent performance of Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail (for 200 electric guitars).

Ned is the author of two great books about New Orleans: The World That Made New Orleans and the just released The Year Before The Flood.

The Year Before The Flood describes the year Ned Sublette spent in New Orleans researching The World That Made New Orleans. During that time, Ned and his wife Constance (also and author) lived in the historically tough working class neighborhood known as the Irish Channel. After ten months and a brief return visit to take in Satchmo Summerfest, Ned returned to his home in New York just ahead of hurricane Katrina which hit Louisiana on August 29th and - thanks to decimated wetlands and an inadequate levee system - destroyed so much of a city he had come to know and love.

The Year Before The Flood resonates with me on a number of levels. I lived in New Orleans for five years (1994 to 1998) meeting and collaborating with many incredible visual artists, dancers, and musicians. I met my wife in New Orleans and we were married there in a ceremony that brought family and friends together from as far away as Texas, Minnesota, Florida, and Atlanta. My CD project Saints & Devils – a five year recording project inspired by stories and icons of the deep South with performances by musicians from New Orleans – was mastered just two weeks before hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast. As artists, we sometimes find that the purpose of our work is to bear witness to a history we do not control.

This month (August 2009) I chose to spend a lot of time mediating on the history of New Orleans, the experience I gained as a result of living there (1993 to 1998), and the possibilities for its still uncertain future. Ned graciously took time to answer some questions for me.

Chris Becker

Monday, August 24, 2009

Current Workout Book -- "Life Mask" by Emma Donoghue (2004)

The narrative voices here are all people who were prominent inhabitants of England's Beau Mode, "The World," of the late 18th C, in those decades post the conclusion of war with the 13 North American colonies and the beginning and early years of the fires set off around the world by the French Revolution. (O yes, from the point of view of Europe, it was the French Revolution that changed the world, not those upstart cousin clods on the Atlantic coast across the pond.)

The three most heard from voices, the three points-of-view, are: Lord Derby, the richest and ugliest man in the House of Lords; his passion, the up-by-her-own-bootstraps celebrated and rigorously chaste actress of Drury Lane, Eliza Farren; the aristocratic widow of a miserable marriage whose husband committed suicide when he went bankrupt, the sculptor, Lady Anne Damer -- about whom float malicious whisperings of 'sapphism.' All three are good friends -- for a while. Other characters include but are not limited to Pitt, Fox, Walpole, the Duchess of Devonshire, her husband and the Duchess, Elizabeth Cavendish (more infamously familiar as "Bess"), Beckford and Sheridan.

The narrative is a leisurely carriage ride among classes and political movement and that Other Caste, of artists from the theater, wielders of pens, painters and so on. Long conversations among the characters concerning manners, gossip, virtue, political perils (we are treated to many political conversations, debates and Parlimentary addresses), etc. are reflective of what are contained in the popular works of the time, such as works by Rousseau. I'd have been fairly inclined to skim and / or skip these if I were reading them on the page. As the equivalent while working out these passages tend to land lightly upon the porches of my ears. However, these passages of conversation or individual rumination are valuable to the overall construct, as from our place in the 21st century, at least the characters complacent expectations jump out that they shall always and forever by exempted from any inconvenience that comes from Liberty and Equality and Reform. They are members of privilege, if only relatively as with Eliza Farren (the opposite of her previous novel, Slammerkin). Their personal shocks as the world changes around them, at least for awhile, due to the events in France, are convincingly realized by Donoghue.

What differentiates Donoghue's book of this time and place so vividly from so much of the historical fiction that has been following the trend of locating in this era is that the reader remains centered upon the characters' sensibilities, and the realities of class and wealth of the time. That all her period detail is accurate is NOT the point. She manages to keep all that at the same level of notice for the reader that the people of the time would have had noticed. So much fiction written these days seems to be about showing off how many details of the period the author knows, rather than how these endless details shape the flow of a daily life.

As more than one character in Life Mask declares, the events in France are the most enormous, most exciting, most life-changing thing to have happened in the world in many ages. Donoghue convinces you believe this is true for them, even though we, from our perspective in the 21st century, know how well that turned out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Now You Know How Hopeless It Really Is

Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.

So far history has shown us that when a profession admits women in large numbers that profession is no longer worthy. It wasn't an accident that when Nixon started dismantling our terrific health care system the medical schools finally opened to women in large numbers. Women are now the majority in law school enrollments, and we know just how broken our legal system is as well.

So when economists start going around saying "Women and girls are the solution" to the mess we're in globally, you KNOW just how hopeless things really are.

Also, when the mess is so big, of course we are going to have the females clean it up, coz yanno, the menz just aren't able to clean properly. Their thumbs aren't in the right place or something. Besides they have to, um, do Other Stuff.

Bitter? Cynical? Moi?

This week's New York Times Sunday Magazine is all about this.

Where Are All The Men Bloggers?

This is a necessary discussion that is of importance to us all, whether we are men or not.

The comments are filled with insightful points of view on the matter, so the comments are must read.

Also why I luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurve young(er)feminist geeks!

This Week Is For -- Diaghilev!

A centenary celebration exhibition of Diaghilev and his multiple achievements is up at the NYPL system's Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

The slide show that accompanies the NY Times article, "Admiring the Man Who Made Ballet Modern," provides a sample of the exquisite materials in the exhibit.

"The library’s exhibition is loosely organized chronologically, from Diaghilev’s years in St. Petersburg to his death in 1929 in Venice and after, and includes blown-up pictures of his major choreographers (Fokine, Nijinsky, Nijinska, Balanchine, Massine) and photographs of his legendary dancers (Alicia Markova, Alexandra Danilova, Felia Doubrovska); video clips of the Royal Ballet on loan from the BBC; costumes donated by the Joffrey Ballet, one of a few contemporary companies whose repertory includes Ballets Russes pieces; costume designs by Goncharova, Bakst, Aninsfeld; scores by Stravinsky; and giant reproductions of Picasso’s spectacular costumes for “Parade.” And, of course, a pair of point shoes worn by Pavlova. But there are also some surprises: correspondence from Diaghilev, which gives a deeper sense of the man."

There will be re-staged performances of some of Diaghilev's productions at City Center next month -- but we'll be in New Orleans during most of that run. Somehow, somehow ....

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Four Freedoms by John Crowley

We've had over a week by now of very high temps coupled with very high humidity and pollution. Our aged air conditioner isn't able to handle it effectively. Our thinking on this:

Until now we were fine since the temperatures were lower than normal until this heat wave rolled in. My sense is that once Hurricane Bill's wind cone edge reaches up here, which it will be doing fairly soon -- more thunderstorms are predicted for today and tomorrow -- the temps will fall into the 70's. The near close of a stupendous heat wave isn't the best time to buy an a/c unit, methinks .... We could comparison shop and order a new one, later, online. Installation would be easier in cooler weather too. As well, come September we're going to be gone a great deal, particularly Vaquero. So that's the decision: We'll wait.

In the meantime though, sleeping has been sporadic, coming up with meals that don't include turning on the oven has challenged the imagination, focusing on much of anything at home has been nearly impossible.

Fortunately I had the perfect novel to to take me to another time and place, in which, often, the characters were feeling the same heat and humidity.

John Crowley's new novel is The Four Freedoms. It is an historical novel of the U.S. in the WWII era, but it isn't a battlefield novel. What we have is a detailed, generous imagining of our culture, and the social interactions among people -- women, disabled, etc. -- who had been by-and-large mostly left out of the job market until they became essential to the industry of supplying the war with everything from transport to manufacture of armaments, planes and ships.

The central point of view is that of a young man named Prosper Olander, whose smaller disability was made more severe by a well-meaning operation on his spine. However, due to the happy fortune of who brings him up, he retains a curious and optimistic nature, which many, including a variety of women and the reader, find attractive.

Via Prosper, the life stories and interactions with the women he encounters, a portrait of this nation at home is built layer by layer, from the Depression through WWII. This novel also gently provokes the reader into comparing and contrasting then with where we are in the first decade of the 21st century. Yet, even now, wheelchair and other disabled access to so much is still not available in our country. Women still struggle with many of the same expectations, dilemmas and obstacles.

The prose that tells us this story is beautifully composed, but it is not of the quality people like to call 'lyrical.' It is a prose that has lifted 'serviceable and transparent' to the enduring level of literature, that reveals the joy experienced by people from getting the job done, and done right.

I particularly appreciate how comfortably familiar everything in the novel appears. This is a novel about work as much as it is about everything else it is about. This is the history of all of us / US; we have absorbed it, more, and less, via our older relatives and their friends. Like the voice of Hank Williams, the matter of The Four Freedoms is in our national dna.

I hope this nation can get back to work soon. Please.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A long article explaining the emergence of geonomic archeology and the benefits thereof, from Harvard Magazine, titled "Who Killed The Men of Britain: The written record of history meets genomics, evolution, demography, and molecular archaeology," by Jonathan Shaw. Here's a pull:

In the Anglo-Saxon example, genomic archaeology--a new approach to genetics, demography, and mathematical simulation that uses genomic data from living people to illuminate major events in the past--eventually led to an explanation of how the males in Roman England might have been wiped out. Another study has traced the geographic spread of a gene variant that allows adults to digest the sugar in milk; possessing that allele appears to have conferred a tremendous evolutionary advantage during the last 10,000 years. Isotopic studies of human bone have revealed prehistoric dietary shifts, and shown that Neanderthals were more like us than previously imagined. Reconstructions of ancient mammalian DNA have led to new, climate-related theories about the extinction of megafauna (such as wooly mammoths) in which humans appear less to blame than previously supposed. And innovative technologies allow the identification of hearths and buildings in layers of soil, revealing the presence of entire villages at sites long thought to have been abandoned. The study of the human past, in other words, has entered a new phase in which science has begun to tell stories that were once the sole domain of humanists.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Could teh Stupid Be Bigger?

Gigantic arcology of the future designed for New Orleans.

How many more punches to the gut is this city supposed to take?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cracks Open in U.S. Wall Around Cuba

There's a huge amount of activity going on behind the scenes right now, both for and against. But -- Plans are being made. Looks like it's gonna happen. Yay!

Cracks Open in U.S. Wall Around Cuba
By David Adams

St. Petersburg Times
August 13, 2009

Three times during the last eight years, John Tredway applied for a license to take American students to debate their counterparts in Cuba. Three times, he was denied.

Then the other day he got word that a new request to take students from New College in Sarasota had been approved by the Treasury Department.

"It really came out of the blue," said Tredway, 60, director of USA Youth Debates, which sends groups of students all over the world. "We had been reading in the press about Obama's new Cuba policy for Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba, but nothing indicated that the policy had changed with regard to other Americans."

After eight years of cultural freeze, it seems the ice is thawing between the United States and Cuba. In the coming months, a major Hispanic musician from Miami and a New York orchestra are planning to perform in Cuba, an apparent reversal of the Bush administration policy of isolating the island regime. A sudden surge of Cuban performers are coming here as well.

"The president (Obama) has himself stated that people-to-people contact is good for both countries," said Timothy Ashby, a Cuba specialist with the Miami law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. "It's pretty clear that's the policy."

The Obama administration has approved a Sept. 20 peace concert in Havana's Revolution Square by Colombian rocker Juanes, who lives in Key Biscayne and is one of Latin music's hottest artists. Cuban officials also say they are also looking forward to hosting the New York Philharmonic in late October. An orchestra spokesman confirmed that a trip to Cuba is being planned and that final arrangements are being worked out. Juanes visited Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss plans for the concert.

"We have no official role in the concert, but the Department of State is in favor of these types of cultural exchanges since they increase understanding among nations," a State Department spokesman said. "We have respect for Juanes and we wish him lots of luck with the project."

Juanes, whose real name is Juan Esteban Aristizãbal, may need it. The concert is under attack from hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami who accuse Juanes of naively providing legitimacy to Cuba's communist regime.

"The concert promises to be nothing more than a shameless, thoughtless and heartless appearance by the 36-year-old singer and his fellow performers," according to Joe Cardona, a Cuban-American filmmaker in Miami. "It will be one more tacit legitimization of the hemisphere's most oppressive 50-year-old dictatorship," he wrote in an op-ed in the Miami Herald.

Exiles object to Juanes receiving a license to perform in Revolution Square, usually the scene of Communist Party rallies. But Juanes has defended the concert, pointing out that Pope John Paul II held an open-air Mass in the square in 1998.

"It's a neutral place," Juanes told Univision, the Spanish-language
television network.

He noted that the square is built around a monument to Cuban independence leader Jose Marti, who is revered in both Havana and Miami. "No one is using me," he insisted.

The 1962 economic embargo against Cuba prevents Americans or U.S. residents from traveling to Cuba unless they obtain a license from the Treasury Department. Over the years a number of specific categories for licensed travel have been created, including journalists, professional researchers and Americans on approved commercial business for food, agricultural and medical sales.

Last year the Treasury Department approved 21 licenses for "public performances" in Cuba - mostly for athletic events - up from only seven in 2007. Already this year 20 licenses have been approved, according to Treasury Department spokeswoman Marti Adams.

Last month actors Robert Duvall, James Caan and Bill Murray visited Cuba for four days under an unspecified professional research license, which is generally easier to obtain than one for events that can generate revenue or publicity for the Cuban government.

More Cubans, from actors to academics, are being allowed into the United
States as well. A group of 12 Cuban actors presented a Spanish-language
version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the University of
Alabama this month.

"This is beyond uncommon. No musician or performing group has been allowed in this country like this from Cuba since 2003," said Ned Sublette, a performer and composer from New York who has studied and written about Cuban music.

Other licenses are pending. The Sarasota Yacht Club last month applied for a license to organize a regatta to Cuba in May 2010, one of a number of boating events in Cuba next year that Florida sailors are hoping to attend if restrictions are eased.

The increased number of licenses does not represent a change in law, but rather a more permissive interpretation of existing regulations, said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., who favors lifting all travel restrictions.

"Now they are granting licenses the way they are supposed to, as the regulations were written," he said.

David Adams can be reached at Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

The Willie Nelson Lonesome Highways album, with Vaquero's song dropped yesterday too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BonTaj Roulet -- And It Did Not Rain!

The BonTaj Roulet site is here, including the information as to where part of the money for the tix goes.

A classic summer evening in New York City.

Bonnie Raitt is not only talented, not only classy, she's also so smart and organized that she not only has put together her own promotional-production company, but she has an activist organization that works with a variety of foundations and other organization, providing funding and other assistance.

For instance, as well as shows by Taj Mahal, herself, and she and Taj together (plus, of course, the soundchecks), this is what she did: she had dinner with a few local friends; she held a 20 minute meet and greet fundraiser for Congressman John Hall; she put together a personal list of invited guests to the concert and to attend a small reception after the fundraiser, with refreshments, so she and her friends could chat a bit before she had to get back on her environmentally clean powered busses and start for the next show.

She brought her own sound system and her own light design system plus light, and her own stage decor, which was very effective, fairly easy to handle, and went well with the musical material and presentations.

So much blues, much r&b, some down home rockers (Bonnie guitar slings with the best, and she really can play, and she keeps studying music, her musicianship and getting tutorials in the history of the musics she loves) -- woo, how the women go wild seeing this small woman in her 60's doing her stuff and doing it with such authority, such authenticity -- many lesbian couples and groups in the audience, natch -- slow ballads in which she did vocals only and left the guitar off, smarting off talking duets with Taj.

It was so humid last night, but it never rained, to the great joy of so many thousands of people, including the Celebrate Brooklyn people and the BonTaj people.

We met two musicians we've known of and about for a long time and vice versa. That doesn't include meeting Taj Mahal -- Vaquero gave both Taj and Bonnie copies of The Year Before the Flood for all the obvious reasons, but also because both of them have read and commented to him on his previous two titles. But Taj and Vaquero hadn't previously met.

We didn't get home until late. Nevertheless, I wasn't able to sleep -- maybe my back pain? so I've been dragging around all day, which is frustrating. Nevertheless it is a privilege to know some people who are living their life with such grace and generosity, who not only keep improving the talents with which they are born, but keep finding more ways and more effective ways to do good in the world in the face of the neocons and the insane ten percent.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Unknown Soldier" - Civil War in Uganda

From Vertigo, the 'edgy' imprint of DC Comics, a new series, The Unknown Soldier.

"The series, written by Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli, is set in Uganda and includes a reference guide with more than 20 entries, including background on the brutal rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army; the peace activist Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, who was killed; and the Acholi, an ethnic group from the northern part of the country.

Unknown Soldier, published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, is about Dr. Lwanga Moses, a Ugandan whose family fled the country for the United States when he was 7. He returns as an adult in 2002 with his wife, Sera, also a physician, hoping to put their medical skills to use in a part of the country that has experienced civil war for 15 years. He finds a world filled with violence, boys used as soldiers and girls punished for innocent acts like riding bicycles. Along the way he also encounters an Angelina Jolie-type character in Margaret Wells, an actress and activist.

This hardly seems like the stuff of traditional comic books, but Unknown Soldier is a regular series; a collected edition, which reprints the first six issues, will be in bookstores beginning on Aug. 26. Dr. Moses, the title character, whose face is wrapped in bandages, is actually a reimagining of a DC protagonist from 1966 who was disfigured during World War II, wrapped in heavy bandages and sent on espionage missions."

Link to the full article here; there's also a pdf of an excerpt from the series available.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chris Rock's Documentary Film, "Good Hair"

The film is discussed today in Glen Greenwald's salondotcom column by his vacation replacement, Pam Spaulding.

..."In our world, the issues of beauty and conformity run very deep -- and men don't always understand how truly deep those issues go for women," says executive producer Nelson George. "It reaches all women: Asian, Hispanic, black, and white." And for black women, the issue can be incredibly polarizing, affecting other areas of their lives -- there's a segment in the film where men discuss not ever having touched their wives' hair. "One thing we didn't really know when we started," says George, "was how deeply we would get into this whole question of black men and women, and the financial considerations and intimacy issues that evolve with taking care of a woman's hair. That was something we discovered -- literally, Chris is amazed on screen to touch a black woman's hair AND REALIZES HOW LOADED THAT MOMENT IS. That's the moment it hit him. The film really builds on this issue of intimacy and how something like hair can affect how people love each other."

Video clips from the film are included in the piece.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Girls, Guitars, The Crimson Grail-Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center

Now I know what 219 guitars and basses look like. It is a sight that is much more extensive than one might have imagined. I saw it before the house was opened, so the vastness of the musical enterprise that is The Crimson Grail, the largeness of the space in which the music was to be heard, was forcefully absorbed. This was an orchestral work, not a rock band work, yet, still, this was larger than a symphonic orchestra. All the sonic timbres and levels that the variety of instruments in an orchestra provide were brought to musical life by guitars and basses in The Crimson Grail.

Two rows of musicians, their instruments and amps, stretched forever around Damrosch Park on three sides. There were four conductor stands (Vaquero was one of the conductors; his was the first section, far from the bandshell stage, at the back). Above them on the bandshell stage, the composer - primary conductor, Rhys Chatham. The lighting was crimson, that beautiful shade and tone of red I hardly ever see anywhere except as the finest clear red lipstick coloring a lovely, youthful Chinese actress's mouth in a Chinese film.

I don't know how many chairs were inside the venue -- more than a thousand, but fewer than two thousand. An even larger crowd stood at the back; there were many more than that crowd who never were able to get into the fenced off venue at all. This was An Art Event.

The musical cues were signaled by Rhys, which cues had to be seen by the sub-conductors and conveyed to the musicians of their sections. Thus the cues had to be as large, and as plain, as possible. The technical and musical logistics of performing The Crimson Grail are mind-boggling. This wasn't something simple, a 'beautiful mess of noise' put out by non-musicians, as Rhys's music used to be characterized. As Vaquero put it in rehearsal, "If you cannot count forwards and backwards throughout, you can't do this." I got caught up at times by the musicians' counting; they were encouraged to verbalize their count, to express the count physically, and many of them did. I could see on their faces the joy they were feeling, having this life-time memory musician experience of making a piece as an orchestra (an experience that guitarists don't get much). It was an orchestra that was playing a very particular piece with specific objectives, which were reached, by everyone working very hard at doing it right. It was very beautiful.

It was also transcendant, judging by the audience which could not remain seated by the last movement. It had a touch of the trance inducement that I'm so aware of from African and African heritage music, but it didn't -- couldn't -- quite go there.

The composition of musicians wasn't 50 percent women, but there were at least 15% women, including Rhys's 17 year old daughter, who doesn't speak English very well, and has wild, long blonde dreads. They didn't do as well with musicians of color: perhaps three black people and a few more Asians.

Vaquero and I discussed the why there were so few musicians of color who applied for the experience. It surely wasn't because the guitar isn't an instrument of interest in these communities. Africans were playing prototypes of guitars long before they brought what became the guitar to Spain. Listen to any African or Afro Latin group and there are guitars all right. So it had to be outreach.

One of the women in Vaquero's section, is Valerie Opielski. She's one of the volunteers at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls that takes girls from 8 to 18. The camp is named after Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, a blues and rock performer/songwriter who was one of the first women to play the music that came to be known as "rock n' roll. One of Opielski's groups is playing at Lincoln Center outdoors free later this month.

Girls do love to play guitar.

Edited to add a review of the show just went up on The New York Times.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Radical Ideas Concerning This Nation's Culture

Given space in The New York Times, no less.

First, Bob Herbert expresses clearly what has been terribly obvious for decades, that the foundation culture of this nation is violence, the cornerstone of it is hatred of women and girls, sexual and violent assault is committed against women and girls, statistically every two minutes.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations. . . .

Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation’s women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female.

A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count.

There were so many sexual attacks against women in the armed forces that the Defense Department had to revise its entire approach to the problem.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

Second, Rocco Landesman, the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts addresses the anger, contempt and hostility with which so many in this nation regard art and artists (not to mention authentic intellectual endeavor -- which has been warred upon by the neocon think tanks and other institutions set up to war up authentic intellectural and artististic work).

Mr. Landesman, 62, made clear that he has little patience for the disdain with which some politicians still seem to view the endowment, more than a decade after the culture wars that nearly destroyed it.

He was particularly angered, he said, by parts of the debate over whether to include $50 million for the agency in the federal stimulus bill, citing the comment by Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in February, that arts money did not belong in the bill. That kind of thinking suggests that “artists don’t have kids to send to college,” Mr. Landesman said, “or food to put on the table, or medical bills to pay.”

In American politics generally, he added: “The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay. . . .”

“We need to have a seat at the big table with the grown-ups. Art should be part of the plans to come out of this recession.”

“If we’re going to have any traction at all,” he added, “there has to be a place for us in domestic policy.”

He was less clear about the details of this ambitious agenda, though he talked about starting a program that he called “Our Town,” which would provide home equity loans and rent subsidies for living and working spaces to encourage artists to move to downtown areas.

“When you bring artists into a town, it changes the character, attracts economic development, makes it more attractive to live in and renews the economics of that town,” he said. “There are ways to draw artists into the center of things that will attract other people. . . .”

“Someone who works in the arts is every bit as gainfully employed as someone who works in an auto plant or a steel mill,” Mr. Landesman said. “We’re going to make the point till people are tired of hearing it.”

Speaking of art, tonight at 7:30 sharp, The Crimson Grail kicks off in Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park Band Shell. Vaquero's one of the conductors. He formally studied conducting as an undergrad with under a fine Viennese conductor, the late Kurt Frederick, a former pupil of Webern who escaped from the Nazis to Albuquerque. He loves conducting, though he doesn't get to do it very often because of the musical styles he works in.

I'm looking forward to this. From the reports Vaquero has provided out of rehearsals this is going to be a performance of very great beauty of sound.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

“Mais oui,” the young Lord Greystoke said . . . .

This summer in Paris Tarzan is the subject of a show at the Musée du Quai Branly. Incidentally, in England “Me Cheeta,” the comic “autobiography” of Tarzan’s sidekick, now a septuagenarian, was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. The article further points out, amusingly, that the French have stuck Tarzan in a semiotic jungle.

"Its organizers cogitate, with Gallic élan, on Tarzan’s proto-environmentalism; his philosophical roots in Rousseau and the 19th-century nudist movement; his literary antecedents in Kipling and H. M. Stanley; and his mythological reliance on the stories of Hercules and Romulus and Remus. The exhibition also makes hay about the first words Tarzan uttered not in ape grunts but the language of civilized men:

“Mais oui,” the young Lord Greystoke said.

The exhibition’s principal curator, Roger Boulay, stressed how not just Tarzan films but also comics and books became a barometer of shifting political and social standards, in France no less than in America. The blue-blood colonialist defending Africa for white people for years played off against this country’s foreign escapades as well as its anxieties about miscegenation. Expurgated and unexpurgated versions of the comic strip were published here, one with Jane dressed for innocent French youngsters, the other with her in nature’s own to please more seasoned aficionados. An alliance of French Catholics and Communists eventually pushed through a law that, for a while, purged Tarzan from French movie theaters.

“For the Catholics it was the nudity,” Mr. Boulay explained. “For the Communists it was the fact that he was a violent, unemployed aristocrat who ate bananas.”

In America, Tarzan on screen, as he did in some of the later Burroughs books, went the way of late Dick Tracy in the funny pages. By the 1970s Tracy was battling outer space criminals on the Moon in a rocket-powered garbage can. Tarzan vanquished Vikings and ancient Romans and during World War II joined the Foreign Legion to fight the Japanese on Sumatra.

The exhibition ends with a French television advertisement for men’s perfume, directed by the great Jean-Paul Goude, from 2005. A male model joins leopards and monkeys drinking at a watering hole. “Guerlain Homme,” a voice-over intones. “For the animal in you.” It’s a throwback to the Tarzan who hadn’t yet morphed into a time-traveling Superman.

That’s one plausible explanation for the show’s popularity: fondness for a gadgetless hero from the days before “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

There’s also the cachet of the eco-warrior, which the exhibition pushes hardest and which plays well here in France: Tarzan protecting the jungle from greedy commercial interests. But Libération no doubt had it right. The Parisian boys glued the other morning to a video monitor playing a clip from “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934) didn’t seem to be rapt by the concept of environmental preservation."