". . . 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, November 30, 2007

Female Genital Mutilation - Yet Another Debate

Do non-practicioners have any right to criticize this practice and attempt to end it? Is this practice really bad for women at all, or isn't merely western cultural colonial point-of-view? Some African women, who are anthropologists, are currently presenting a different perspective.

These women seem to have voluntarily undergone the ritual in their home regions, as adult women choosing for themselves, which, I would think, have a different effect and reception upon those who are choosing to experience the practice as physically mature women, with all the rights of being American citizens, with full cultural-anthropological knowledge, than it is upon those it was forced upon as infants, children and pubescents, all with the spoken or unspoken enforcement of ostracization, inability to be married, etc. if not mutilated -- in other words you must be mutilated to be part of the group. Inside the group is protection (as far as that goes these days); outside the group there is nothing for you other than prostitution and degradation. While with the more severe forms of fgm, you have massive infection, sterility and / or fistula. (The number of African somen suffering from fistula is enormous, and far higher than anywhere else, and is directly connected to severe fgm.)

Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, writes:

[ It is difficult for me — considering the number of ceremonies I have observed, including my own — to accept that what appears to be expressions of joy and ecstatic celebrations of womanhood in actuality disguise hidden experiences of coercion and subjugation. Indeed, I offer that the bulk of Kono women who uphold these rituals do so because they want to — they relish the supernatural powers of their ritual leaders over against men in society, and they embrace the legitimacy of female authority and particularly the authority of their mothers and grandmothers. ]

The article about this conference, with links to the writing / work of the African anthropologists - apologists for fgm, is in the NY Science Times here. The discussion thread following the article should also be read.

And, as it inevitably does in any discussion of female genital mutilation, the practice gets called circumcision, and becomes skewed to discussing of male circumcision, and then gets compared to vanity-cosmetic surgeries among non-African women.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New Hobsbawm on the Way!

On EmpireAmerica, War, and Global Supremacy, written by Eric Hobsbawm.

Unreconstructed marxist who has lived through just about everything he's been writing about over his very long life-career.

Vaquero and I have read his works aloud to each other for many years -- coz, well, he's been doing his work for so long. So we haven't read them all to each other. Vaquero, however, who has better eyes than I do, has actually read all the volumes, in sequence, of Hobsbawm's marxist analysis of the history through which he's lived.

An astounding career, and mind.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Listen Again! Tonight ....

The reading and roundtable discussion observing the publication of the first of the Experience Music Project's anthologies of participants' writing about music is tonight.

Vaquero's presentation will be on the Cuban Cha-Cha-Cha and its influence on pop music. He will even dance to illustrate what he's talking about. Trust me folks, that is not to be missed.

The event is free, though you do need to rsvp at 1-212-992-8405.

It's at the Kimmel Center, NYU, 60 Washington Square So., #914, at 7:30.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Legal But Unpopular Political Activism

Bringing the War on Terrorism Home: Congress Considers How to ‘Disrupt’ Radical Movements in the United States

[ Many observers fear that the proposed law will be used against U.S.-based groups engaged in legal but unpopular political activism, ranging from political Islamists to animal-rights and environmental campaigners to radical right-wing organizations. There is concern, too, that the bill will undermine academic integrity and is the latest salvo in a decade-long government grab for power at the expense of civil liberties.

David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martin's University who studies government surveillance and harassment of dissident scholars, says the bill "is a shot over the bow of environmental activists, animal-rights activists, anti-globalization activists and scholars who are working in the Middle East who have views that go against the administration." Price says some right-wing outfits such as gun clubs are also threatened because "[they] would be looked at with suspicion under the bill." ]

[ One pressing concern is definitions contained in the bill. For example, "violent radicalization" is defined as "the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change."

Alejandro Queral, executive director of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, asks, "What is an extremist belief system? Who defines this? These are broad definitions that encompass so much. ... It is criminalizing thought and ideology." ]

Tell your congress critters NO! to The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 1955) and its companion bill, S. 1959.

You can do so here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Venezuela Forum Debates: Revolutionary Change in U.S.?

[ A five-day rolling panel discussion on “United States: A possible revolution” was the central event at the third Venezuela International Book Fair, which took place here November 9-18.

The 22 panelists, four or five of whom spoke each day, included political activists and writers from the United States expressing diverse political views, as well as a number of U.S. citizens living in Venezuela. Hundreds of Venezuelans and others took part in one or more sessions, with dozens raising questions and making comments from the floor. The forum was covered by Venezuelan television, radio, and newspapers. The issues debated on the character of the working class and prospects for revolution in the United States sparked a political discussion that permeated the book fair. An article on the fair itself will appear in next week’s Militant. ]

More here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

More To Do In Our Town

The African Diaspora Film Festival.

The African Diaspora Film Festival kicks off today, "reflecting the global black experience: 102 films from 43 countries in a 17-day arc of documentaries, comedies, musicals, dramas and romances."

[ The New York premieres include John Sayles’s new film, “Honeydripper,” the tale of a rural Alabama lounge owner’s efforts to save his business, starring Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Stacy Keach and Mary Steenburgen. “El Cimarrón” by the Puerto Rican director Iván Dariel Ortiz tells a story of love and slavery in Puerto Rico in the 19th century. “Youssou N’Dour: Return to Goree,” directed by Pierre Yves-Borgeaud, is a documentary about a jazz concert on the island of Goree in Senegal featuring Mr. N’Dour, the renowned Senegalese singer, to commemorate all the Africans stolen from there and brought to the New World as slaves. ]

About the directors ( I find what Dr. Barroso-Spech says re film in Cuba when he was a child to be of particular interest):

[ Dr. Barroso-Spech was born in Cuba of Haitian and Jamaican descent and received his doctorate from Columbia, where he teaches a course on using film in language education. His mother began taking him to films when he was a child in Havana, he recalled. “With the Castro revolution many Africans came to Cuba and with the Africans, film,” he said. “Those films were very important in my formative years. It created in me an understanding of the value of art and culture as a way to uplift me — and not just me, but a whole population.”

Ms. N’Daw-Spech is of French and Malian heritage. Together, the two now comb film festivals around the world for black images that speak about both common human experiences and the particulars of race. ]

The schedule and more information are here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hot 8 Brass Band:

They are up from New Orleans, playing several venues including an 11:30 set at Joe's Pub Saturday, a few songs at Monday's Lincoln Center tree-lighting; and a workshop/discussion, with Jazz writer, Larry Blumenfeld, at Harlem's Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts on Tuesday.

Larry's also got a nice article about them in the Village Voice.

Tomorrow night, SOB's is having Bobby Sanabría's group playing. They are just back from a gig in England. They went on one of the venerable English television music programs -- with The Who. They met the guys and were very impressed. Bobby said via e-mail that The Who kicked major ass. "They are filled with ashé," he said. We are probably going to do this when we get back into the City after dinner with friends upstate.

So it is time for me to check on the cherry glazed pork roast I'm contributing to the feast.

Cherry-Glazed Pork Roast

14-ounces cherry preserves
1/4 cup red wine (or to your own taste!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
3 pound boneless pork roast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Combine first seven ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes. Add almonds. Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper. Place roast, fat side up, on rack in a shallow roasting pan. Bake, uncovered, at 325°F for 45 minutes or until browned. Brush with cherry mixture; turn roast, and brush with cherry mixture. Insert meat thermometer, making sure it does not touch fat.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

James Brown Conference

There's going to be a James Brown conference at Princeton (You knew you would live long enough to see this happen) November 29-30.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Letter Re Cuba

{Foxessa here: I strongly recommend going to and scrolling thrugh the list of those who have signed on to this letter.

It's an impressive group, running from Vaquero, to Gloria Steinem, to Gore Vidal, to Sean Penn, to Mickey Hart, to Erica D. Zielinski, General Manager, Lincoln Center Festival.

Do you realize that there have been no Cuban artists or musicians allowed into the U.S. since 2003? And we are certainly not allowed to go there. This letter and signatory list of names is in support of a letter by Alicia Alonso, on the occasion of once again, bringing the issue of the Embargo Against Cuba, the vote of the United Nations. }

Friday, November 16, 2007

2 Nights At The Whitney - Second Night

"Slavery is not a fit subject for children."
This is the beginning of a section I wrote for The World That Made New Orleans that attempts to explain why so few white Americans have any real sense of what slavery here in this country was for those enslaved, for those who owned the slaves, and for everyone else too. The Whitney's show of a ten-year arc of Kara Walker's work, My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, takes head on this subject so unfit for children. One of the great consequences of slavery are children, products of coerced sex with slave women by their owners, children raised by slaves, children separated from their families and friends, children who are taught that one is superior forever, and one who is taught s/he's little more, maybe even less than an animal, forever, in the regard of the rulers of the world. Images of fornication, birth, babies, small children, twisted into every possible configuration, are present in all 7 sections that make up this show of Walker's work at the Whitney, images of love, hate, lust, murder and contempt. It's all about submission and dominance, in any form one can imagine, for that is what slavery is. There is no pretending otherwise.
As an early critic of Walker's art expressed her aethetics as "looking like a cross between a children's book and a sexually explicit cartoon." History is always the backdrop to the 'stories,' the self-conscious narratives she tells. However, history is also inevitably intwined with fact and fantasy, with romance and fiction. She draws from text narrative fiction and fantasies as much as the mode of her work draws upon art modes of the past, such as her justly famous cut-paper Silhouettes. This was a popular art in which the sisters Peabody excelled, of whom one narried Nathaniel Hawthorn, and another had expected that she might marry him first. just from this knowledge you know there is a high quotient of the gothic present in Walker's work. Another favorite popular entertainment form from the 19th C Walker likes are panoramic murals.
An example of a Walker panoramic mural is titled:
Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a GRAND and LIFELIKE Panoramic Journeyi nto Picturesque Southern Slavery or "Life at 'Ol' Virginny's Hole' (sketches from Plantation Life)" See the Peculiar Institution as never before! All cut from black paper by the able hand of Kara Elizabeth Walker, and Emancipated Negress, and leader in her Cause, the artist reinvents Eastman Johnson's painting Old Kentucky Home -- Life in the South (Negro Life at the South (1859).
You can see the Johnson painting here. Her imagery specifically quotes that of the white painter, in which you see ambiguous depiction of idleness (of the 'negroes' of course) and interracial interactions -- "a white mistress enters the yard of the slave quarters and finds a man playing the banjo while a child dances with his mother." Walker renders this as a gothic, carnivaleque scene, verging into the grotesque (Goya, particularly his Caprices are another deep influence upon Walker's work, which is more prominent in her drawings in another section of the show).
It too, like Lawrence's, is a huge show. The crowd for this night was different in composition than the dinner night. For one thing, there were people of color present, though, surprisingly to me at least, not anywhere the number I expected. It was more obviously 'bohemian,' for another. And it was HUGE. More and more people arrived as the three hours of the viewing went on. Again, excellent liquor and snacks, though no servers this time. In the last hour other celebrities that one might reasonably expect to see at an event like this in NYC appeared too. One of the actors from The Wire arrived -- it's because we know him that we recognized him, otherwise I wouldn't have, probably. I'm terrible at that.
Now, I love this artist's work. For one thing, it references so much of 'my stuff,' from the illustrations of Uncle Tom's Cabin, to minstrelsy and blackface appropriation, to the American 19th C gothic Romanticism, to history, to slave narratives and novels -- 19th century American Victoriana, all filtered through the institution of American slavery of the 18th and 19th century -- Thomas Dixon's The Klansman, from which came Griffith's vile The Birth of a Nation.
Others did not like it. The material is so strong, and so disturbing. In particular "African America, Narrative 5". I heard a (white) fellow say to his 2 female companions, "Let's go look at the Hoppers and see some good American art." This one is a combination of black-and-white film and video set of 8 different narratives, one of which is a re-telling of Disney's Song of the South. Another one shows a white man hoisted by a rope up a tree, brought to life by a young negro boy sucking his cock, and the come shot is all over his face -- which carrodes away the face all together. This was way too much for a lot of people.
However, not everyone who dislikes her work is white. One of my African American friends, and her sister, went to the show yesterday and they hate it. "She's been doing this shit for 10 years now and she's still doing the same thing." Another of my African American friends feels much more like I do, but then, like me, she's deeply involved in history.
So then. How do you get from Kara Walker to Lawrence? She's on the 3rd floor, he's on the 4th. You take the elevator, of course. And if you go, you should take the middle elevator, because in that one is played the music from the albums, Monsters from the Deep and Ships At Sea, Sailors and Shoes, that Ned made from Lawrence's art, with musicians and singers out of the many great popular musics that African Americans have made in this country, and which have spread around the world. And when you get to one floor from the other, you will encounter deep intelligence, deep knowledge of the world and of the human heart, you will find sly and slick humor, a sense of the comic, and a great deal of love. And ego. What strikes me most of all is how Lawrence, being male, has had no trouble and no questioning of his RIGHT to make his art, just as he wishes to. Walker, being female, has had, and receives, a great deal of criticism for making art just as she wishes to. She has the extra hurdle to get over, that of 'the presumption' of a woman creating universes out of her choice, where Lawrence does not.
But the path to reconcilliation, at least, is through music, as it always has been in this country, and in almost all of our personal experience.
Walker herself says , "I don't know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them . . . ."
But she's provided us something, and it may just be more honest than redemption, and perhaps more whole, and more inclusive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

2 Nights At The Whitney - First Night

The first night was the viewing of the Lawrence Weiner retrospective (a sample of his work here on the left), plus the dinner party. The appetizers were ample, imaginative and varied and every one of them was delicious. The servers brought you another one before you'd finished chewing and swallowing the the tidbit currently in your mouth. The wines were excellent, and someone was offering to replenish your glass before you even thought about going to one of ghe bars to get another. The dinner was very far from what people often expect at such event -- all of it was very good, beautifully served. The entrée, as the main course is called in the U.S., was billed as "Grilled Steakhouse Tournedo of Beef, Topped with caramelized onions and Frizzled Yams, Horseradish Mustard Sauce, Sweet Roast Garlic Smashed Potatoes, Tarragon Creamed Spinach."
The show is spectacular. We've known Lawrence for many years, and Vaquero has done several projects with him. Nevertheless, to see that much Lawrence work gathered in one place left one breathless. It took quite some time for me to 'get' Lawrence's work -- he is one of the major and founding figures of the Conceptual Art movement. It is deeply intellectual in that manner you will encounter only in the art world, that brings together physics, chemistry, geometry, optics and philosophy -- very etherial and difficult things for an ignorant, mostly self-educated farm girl to grasp.
He has become one of my favorite living artists now. Perhaps that was inevitable as he's one of those artists with whose work I have lived intimately for so long. I mean 'intimately' literally. For his art is constructed of words -- "The Work Need Not Be Built" -- is a part of Lawrence's works that Vaquero built a song of, with Kim Westen, great r&b singer, from Detroit, and other great music artists, including Junior Mance, the Persuasions, and other classic performers of jazz, r&b, gospel, and other classic musics. The words, inscribed on card stock, addressed to us and sent through the mail, along with other cards of Lawrence's work, was on our refrigerator door for months and months and months, fastened there by a humble magnet, while Vaquero would play with them on his guitar, trying out "Some of this, Some of that," (part of another Lawrence work). These songs can be found on Monsters From the Deep, and on their first album, Ships at Sea, Sailors and Shoes.
Thus, since he's a deep-dyed sexist of the old school (he is my friend, but nevertheless, you have to call them as you see them), and a member of the highly intellectualized art movement, you might expect his art to be cold and abstract. But the impact of seeing his life's work in one very large, intense viewing is of heat and warmth, of joy and humor. The entire night was filled with all of these, because everyone there was personally connected to Lawrence and his work in one way or another, and many of us know each other through him, and through working with each other. The dinner was as different from the Richard Price experience at the Guggenheim in September as you can get. Lawrence kept getting up and talking to people -- the place was crowded, but he didn't miss a table. Other people got up to talk to each other. People were nicely dressed, and they were all attractive, but nobody was wearing 100,000 dollars on their backs, hands and feet, as at the Prince show. Instead of having a prolonged and dull sequence of speeches of thanks and praise, there would be short ones between courses, and most of these were devoted to thanking specific people, people everyone in the room knew, and understood why they were getting special recognition. Above all, everyone gave the deepest thanks and appreciation to Alice, Lawrence's long, long-time partner. At one point we all just stood up and applauded Alice for what seemed ten minutes, and each one of us had particular knowledge of something she'd accomplished for Lawrence, that deserved that applause. I just loved that.
Like all of Vaquero's closest friends, Lawrence is another one who keeps all the people in his life close, no matter how far back it may go. His ex-wife, whom he left in 1969, was even there ....
So, then, you may wonder, how ever in the world is the Whitney connecting this most masculine of intellectual artists -- moreover I don't think I saw a single person there Tuesday night who was a person of color -- with Kara Walker, an artist who deals unflinchingly with the most messy sins of men, women, race, history and perception. in a double-star exhibition?
I will try to answer that in my next post. But one of the ways they are connected are through those two albums mentioned above, that Vaquero and Lawrence made -- note who all the performers, excluding Vaquero, are.

Bruce Springsteen on America

Bruce Springsteen on America

from radio producer Mike Stark of Lakewood CA:

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen talks about his view of America today and what is in our future. I've pulled some of his key segments from the article - the points that rang truest for me. It is troubling that a guy who's primarily viewed as an entertainer makes more sense than ANY politician out there today. "Shut Up and Sing", indeed.

Bruce Springsteen Says:

On America today:
I’m optimistic as far as people go and pessimistic as far as the government goes, for pretty clear reasons. In 2006, the American people said “Throw these bums out!” They would have voted Bush out at that moment if they could have. There was a clear message about the war in Iraq, and yet we sit here today with no front-running presidential candidate on either side who’s going to take us out of there.......To think that the country could veer this far rightward or that no one has addressed poverty since Lyndon Johnson – with the exception of John Edwards, who makes it a big part of his campaign – I find that disappointing. I don’t believe you can create a great society, a real American civilization, with an enormous percentage of the people in the country suffering, left out, disempowered. And isn’t that what we’re trying to do? Wasn’t that the idea when those guys sat down at the start?

On the Internet:
There’s a democratizing effect to the Internet, but it has a runaway dynamic of its own that makes you very frightened. On one hand, there’s enormous access to information. On the other hand, there’s so much damn noise, you can’t find it. There’s an enormous amount of nonsense and idiocy.

I think what it calls for is new skills to be taught to children, interpretive-media skills. The educational system hasn’t caught up with some of the essential changes in technology.....There needs to be classes in those things that begin with children at a very young age. Otherwise, there’ll be the recurrence of a lot of what we’ve experienced over the past few years, where bold lies come off as truth. From here on in, the fight against the Orwellian nature of things is going to be a constant battle. The only thing that’s going to help that is an educated and wised-up citizenry. You need a bunch of optimistic skeptics out there.

On issues facing America over the next 20 years:
Race, poverty – those things get lost, and not unintentionally, through the use of other issues. There is an issue with national security that’s real. But the movement has been toward a plutocracy. People say, “We’re in a second Gilded Age.” There’s a price to pay for that. It weakens the foundation of the country, and it denies us freedoms, denies us connection with our own neighbors and citizens. Those are big issues that have failed to be addressed for so many years.

Race and poverty clearly are major issues. And what’s so disappointing is that they were major issues forty and fifty years ago, yet at least then they were part of the national conversation. It feels as though the conversation about those things has stopped at this point.

I’ll tell you when it wasn’t stopped – when a guy that doesn’t care that much about it had to say something about it. When people turned on the television during Hurricane Katrina and said, “Where did all those poor people come from?” And why wasn’t it stopped then? Because you were seeing them. This is an explosive issue that is hidden on a daily basis intentionally by the dynamics of the system. And you could feel its explosiveness when you saw those images, those people. The president had to come out and say, “Uh . . . we’ve got to do something about that poverty.” Then that was the last you heard of it. It shamed people. It shamed him. Not easy to do. It shamed us as Americans. Those are issues that need to be addressed.

How do you think this time will be remembered forty years from now?
Many parts of it will be remembered with the same degree of shame as the Japanese internment camps are remembered – illegal wiretapping, rendition, the abuse of prisoners, cutting back our civil rights, no habeas corpus. I don’t think most people thought they’d ever see the country move far enough to the right to see those things happen here. And I don’t believe those are things that strengthen us. The moral authority to stand up and say, “We are the Americans,” is invaluable. It’s been deeply damaged, and it’s going to take quite a while to repair that damage, if we can.

This will be remembered as a low point in American history – as simple as that. People are going to go, “Was everybody sleeping?” But people get frightened, and when they get frightened, they get crazy. You wonder where political hysteria can take you – I think we’ve tasted some of that.
All I want to do is be one of the guys that says, “When that stuff was going down, I threw my hat in the ring and tried to stand on what I felt was the right side of history.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Making of Hillary Clinton

The first of a 3- part series on Counterpunch went up today:

From Nixon Girl to Watergate


HRC and the Arkansas Elite.

Bridge No Place for Free Speech

[ In the genteel world of bridge, disputes are usually handled quietly and rarely involve issues of national policy. But in a fight reminiscent of the brouhaha over an anti-Bush statement by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks in 2003, a team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.

At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, “We did not vote for Bush.”

By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of “treason” and “sedition.”

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail. ]

More at the NY Times story.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer Has Died.

Norman Mailer the writer has been a part of my awareness since high school, when my then dearly beloved English teacher loaned me his copy of The Naked and the Dead, and on hot, dull, summer afternoons, read his long, fascinating articles in old issues of magazines like Life, sprawled out on one of the beds down in my maternal grandparents' basement.

Oh those basements of the houses in town to which both sets of grandparents had retired, after lives of endless, constant farm work. How much eclectic past was collected in those basements, family and county, state and nation, and the world's. How much information I gleaned about those worlds before my time, and the world outside our little nowherelandia, so very very isolated from what I early began to think of as "the real world." I pawed through stacks of mildewed books and magazines, boxes of letters, greeting cards for holidays, birthdays, baptisms and funerals, albums of photographs and trunks of treasured dresses and jewelry from other times, collection of carefully washed medicine bottles, all of it equally mysterious, and somehow, glamorous, because all of it was from a time now gone.

Mailer was a great writer. Perhaps not as great as he intended to be or wished to be. But he was a writer of elemental force, perhaps the last of such writers. He was the first to open many worlds to me -- many of them worlds I wish were not so, such as men seeing women as their primal, primary antagonists, the holders and withholders of sex. That was a difficult concept to grasp for a girl who, as yet, had no idea what sex even was, but instinctively I got the message that this was something I needed to understand, if only as self protection. That is how good a writer he was.

As a child and young adult, down in my grandparents' basements, pondering the flotsam and jetsam so carefully collected and preserved of worlds that I did not inhabit, I began to understand that these basements preserved stories, and that stories could be, and were, connected to each other, and it was by writing that we were best able to learn those stories, and preserve them.

Mailer said, not too long before his death, "I think the novel is on the way out. I also believe, because it’s natural to take one’s own occupation more seriously than others, that the world may be the less for that.”

So do I.

Rest in peace, Norman Mailer.

Friday, November 9, 2007


This fall, Culture Project will launch an ambitious and unique new series gathering today's most brilliant and visionary minds to explore and debate the case for the impeachment of President George Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney. A Question of Impeachment will engage audiences in investigating crucial issues affecting all Americans, particularly as they prepare to elect a new leader, including expansion of executive powers, war, surveillance, torture and extraordinary rendition and government response to disaster.
The 5 week series will launch on Sunday, November 18, 2007 (in conjunction with the previously announced production of Howard Zinn's Rebel Voices) with a special opening celebration featuring singer and actress Phoebe Snow and Annabella Sciorra, and continue Sundays and Mondays through Sunday, December 16, 2007.
Sundays will be focused on addressing the issues through film, theater and other art forms. Film screenings will take place at 12:00 p.m. and will include a special cut of Jonathan Demme's forthcoming film about rebuilding after Katrina, Right to Return on December 2. Khaliah Ali, Bobby Cannavale, Scott Cohen, Staceyann Chin, Willie Garson, Gina Gershon, Julie Goldman, Josh Hamilton, Kristen Johnston, Lewis Lapham, Adam Rapp, Denis O'Hare, Sam Shepard and many others will be on hand to read sections of the Constitution, Articles of Impeachment and other documents throughout the series.
In addition, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik (authors of Broadway's Spring Awakening) will perform new songs and Jorie Graham and will contribute new poems to be read during the series. Singer and songwriter Jackson Browne will participate in the series' final event on December 16 .
Films: $7
Gen Admission Lecture Slam (Nov. 18): $16
Opening: $25, $50 premium seating
Monday nights: $25, $50 premium
Closing afternoon (Article V): $25, $50 premium
Closing evening (panel w Naomi Wolf): $25-$50
For more details or to purchase tickets contact

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Conservative Authors Sue Publisher

However, most conservative book publishing does sell in big job lots, working the same street as does Scientology, ordering its members to buy large numbers of Hubbard's work to get the title on the best seller lists. So these authors think they've sold more books than they really have. In any case, neocon writers, welcome to Your Capitalism At Work For You!

[ Five authors have sued the parent company of Regnery Publishing, a Washington imprint of conservative books, charging that the company deprives its writers of royalties by selling their books at a steep discount to book clubs and other organizations owned by the same parent company. ]

[ Some of the authors’ books have appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, including “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,” by Mr. Corsi and John E. O’Neill (who is not a plaintiff in the suit), Mr. Patterson’s “Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America’s National Security” and Mr. Miniter’s “Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror.” In the lawsuit the authors say that Eagle sells or gives away copies of their books to book clubs, newsletters and other organizations owned by Eagle “to avoid or substantially reduce royalty payments to authors.” ]

City of Widows

City of Widows: An Iraqi Woman's Account of War and Resistance by Haifa Zangana.

Ms. Zangana is an Iraqi political commentator, novelist, and former political prisoner of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

She is solid in her declaration that she, like everyone else in Iraq, wants the U.S. OUT OF IRAQ NOW. When interviewers respond, "But won't that create chaos?" Her answer is, "We are living, we have been living, in chaos for years already."

Further she lays out a very strong case -- and she is one of the millions of Iraqi women she speaks of here -- that the U.S. occupation has set back the status of women in that region a thousand years. She estimates that in Baghdad alone there are 300,000 widows, and likely a million more in the country outside.

Her interviewer wondered, "The picture you are giving of Iraq and the war is very different than what we are getting here. Why is that, do you suppose?" "Because there is no free press in Iraq," she answers.

He further says {Fox's sarcasm mode is now switched ON} with the greatest of sympathy and sensitivity, "Americans aren't really noticing these things. I suppose they are worn out by the war." Her restraint in response was remarkable.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

There Are Books!

The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square is now available to the World At Large. As a Real Book, with jacket, pages, illustrations and lots of interesting, illuminating words.


Ed Sanders, Mark Bingham - Poems for New Orleans

When Vaquero was in New Orleans in May, he had the honor of putting a guitar track on Mark Bingham's music for this fine album. The album's built around an epic historical poem about New Orleans by Ed Sanders, of whom Vaquero's been a fan of since back in the day. Sanders's poem is really good, and Mark's score is worthy of it. It's on the poetry-oriented label Paris Records.

Full notes, and streaming excerpts, are here.

Here's a review from the New Orleans magazine, Offbeat, by Bill Lavender.

Ed Sanders
Poems for New Orleans

[ Each of us who lived through Katrina has a story. There are a million possible narratives of personal loss, anger, and grief. It seems ironic, then, that Ed Sanders, the Beat poet from New York City, author of Tales of Beatnik Glory and co-founder of the Fugs, who was not personally affected by the storm, would be the one to produce the epic spoken word CD, Poems for New Orleans.

These poems, read in Sanders’ mellifluous voice and accompanied by Mark Bingham’s musical score, lack what almost every other narrative of the city’s decimation has had: an “I.” The first person pronoun enters these poems only when Sanders assumes the voice of another, or of the city itself. But perhaps it is because Sanders has no personal Katrina experience to relate that he can tell the story as a tragedy of history, a tragedy of a city, a nation, and a people.

The first poem and longest piece tells the story of the Battle of New Orleans focusing on Lemoine Lebage, a Haitian émigré schooled in the ideals of the French Revolution who joined Andrew Jackson’s motley crew of militias for the battle. He was wounded and, according to the poem, treated on the battlefield by Marie Laveau. The poem fast forwards to Grace Lebage, “his great-great-great-great granddaughter” and her frustrated attempt to save the family home. Her struggle with the now familiar bureaucratic roadblocks and governmental callousness becomes the symbol of all of our struggles to bounce back from the storm.

Sanders’ tragedy has a classic tinge. He refers to the Greek tragedian Aeschylus, and the flood becomes the Waters of Poseidon. The redneck trucker who, on a drunken whim, drives to Hope, Arkansas and liberates a load of FEMA trailers from bureaucratic gridlock, has a Bull of Minos (the Minotaur) on the grill of his truck. Post-storm violence and rape invokes the myth of Ajax and Cassandra. These allusions lend the story a timelessness that reveals the tragedy in its true scope, so much larger than any individual’s place in it.

Still, the crowning achievement of the work may be Mark Bingham’s score. Spoken word often features musical accompaniment, but Bingham’s work on Poems for New Orleans surely sets a new standard for the hybrid genre. The composition seamlessly weaves in Dixieland, jazz, brass and even a Stravinsky-like orchestral theme that depicts the approach of the storm. Sanders’ work, in the tradition of the Beats, eschews regular meter and rhyme, but Bingham finds its irregular music at every turn, creating a fabric of New Orleanian musical motifs that seem, sometimes, filtered through a watery distortion. It is as if the city, on confronting the possibility of its end, sees its history pass by in a surreal pastiche.

It’s too bad that no New Orleans writer has produced a Katrina-related work of the scope of Poems for New Orleans. But, after the political and financial betrayal by the rest of the nation, it is gratifying to receive this homage from a poet of Sanders’ talent and stature. Poems for New Orleans is as heartfelt and ambitious a project as has come out of the storm, and perhaps those of us who have our own stories to tell can learn something from a poet who records, with empathy and sensitivity, the story of city and a culture, rather than an individual. ]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Whedon Returns, With Dushko, and "Dollhouse"

[ Whedon's new Fox series, called Dollhouse, stars Miss Eliza Dushku, best known as Faith to you Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. And this show isn't just a pilot. It's already been given a seven-episode commitment by Fox.
Here's how Fox describes the series:
Echo (Eliza Dushku) [is] a young woman who is literally everybody's fantasy. She is one of a group of men and women who can be imprinted with personality packages, including memories, skills, language—even muscle memory—for different assignments. The assignments can be romantic, adventurous, outlandish, uplifting, sexual and/or very illegal. When not imprinted with a personality package, Echo and the others are basically mind-wiped, living like children in a futuristic dorm/lab dubbed the Dollhouse, with no memory of their assignments—or of much else. The show revolves around the childlike Echo's burgeoning self-awareness, and her desire to know who she was before, a desire that begins to seep into her various imprinted personalities and puts her in danger both in the field and inclosely monitored confines of the Dollhouse.
So, how did Dollhouse come about? When will it start, given the impending strike? And what are the chances a few Buffy alums might make it onto the show? To find out, read on for my exclusive one-on-one Q&As with creator and executive producer Joss Whedon and star and producer Eliza Dushku. (Pinch me.) You honestly won't believe how fast this all happened, or where the idea first began! ]
The discussion about Dollhouse on Feminist SF - The Blog has raised some issues.
For example, this, from Ide Cyan:
[ Even creepier is the fact that these “childlike” characters, mind-wiped and “imprinted” to be anyone’s fantasy, obviously do not have the ability to consent to these jobs, thus turning any sexual assignments into rape. ]
I've always have gotten a bad taste re what has looked like Whedon's predeliction for girly sex-bots and other perfect and perfectly compliant female forms, as they recurred more often than seemed seemly on Buffy, and he included one in Serenity.