Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ernest Dawkins's UnTill Emmett Till @ Velvet Lounge

Silence: not the best way to maintain a blog, but wordless, what can I do?

Nevertheless, here's a try. On Monday night I headed down to the Velvet Lounge to catch the world premiere of composer Ernest Dawkins's UnTill Emmett Till. I'm not sure how to describe it, except to say that Dawkins melded spoken word poetry (performed by Khari B) with a range of pieces falling within the larger rubric of jazz and blues, including swing, some New Orleans-style Dixieland (as filtered through Chicago), and even some holy-roller gospel. The highlights of the piece for me were Dee Alexander's vocals, which managed to transform everything she sang, or hummed, or vocalized, into poetry, and the various solos, especially by the saxophonists Greg Ward and Kevin Nabors. (The baritone saxiphonist Aaron Getsug's solo initially provoked laughter among the musicians, though it was unclear why.) I was less a fan of the spoken word portion, which Khari B performed with real gusto and soul. At times, however, it sounded like a little too much rehashed rhetoric from way back when. (When referencing Black history, for example, why not talk about the more direct links in the Diaspora, in addition to references to Egypt (I know, I know...I'm not hating on the Afrocentrists and Kemetists, don't get me wrong)? Like, say, oh, I don't know, the Congo-Angola region, where Emmett Till's ancestor's very well may have come from?)

Anyways, Dawkins's piece, which was a continuous collage, invoked Chicago's Black musical traditions as much as it did Till, or maybe it's better to say that Till's being a Chicagoan, his mythic and symbolic status to the narrative of Black Chicago life, and music and culture, came through in Dawkins's formidable and rich musical weave. I'd thought it might be more somber, but it was really shot through, even when acknowledging the singular and collective tragedies of our past, with joy and awe. Joy and awe at Mamie Till Mobley's courage and heroism, joy and awe at the possibility of memorializing Till and celebrating his brief life, joy and awe that we can still find joy and awe amidst the continuous maelstroms of Atlantic and American history. Chatted with poet Ed Roberson afterwards I told him that I felt energized and elated, though the word "enjoyed," perhaps in its original etymological sense, was and is as appropriate. Filled, lifted. And, as Dawkins's chanted, "We won't forget: Emmett Till."

Here are some YouTube clips (despite my attempts to reorient them in QuickTime, some of the videos still posted in their original orientation on YouTube--sorry!):

An excerpt from the piece

Kevin Nabors' solo

Khari B performing the text

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quote: Adrienne Kennedy

Adrienne Kennedy
    We never got to see Frantz.  Alice
and I went to the hospital
in Washington where we thought he was.
We were not admitted.
I still read from his life and
search for the cause of his
illnesses and death.
My romantic sister-in-law, up until
her death we all lived
on 16th Street. I see her writing
scripts, arranging us all
for the camera.
We never had a film club again.
After David's imprisonment
Alice didn't make films much.
Several years ago at Thanksgiving
we looked for Alice's
favorite scene of Now Voyager; it
was missing. She
believed she lost it that winter
in London.

I continue to read long passages
from Fanon, but for now a brief segment:

"But the war goes on:
and we will have to bind
up for years to come the
many sometimes
inneffaceable wounds that
the colonialist onslaught
has inflicted on our

From The Film Club (A Monologue by Suzanne Alexander), in The Adrienne Kennedy Reader, introduction by Werner Sollors, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001, pp. 180-181.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Winters + Obama's SC Blowout + Eugene Sawyer RIP

I wake up screaming. Well, not actually (and I must credit C for that phrase, which applied to a very different situation a very long time ago), but rather I do wake up wondering how I've made it so far through these winter days that vie to outstrip each preceding one in terms of persistent gloom and sunlessness, the cold that seems to issue from one of hell's antechambers, the endlessly ramped up schedule of tasks and responsibilities.... One of my students wrote to say the other day that he was suffering from "the winters," and asked permission to miss class--his winters, unfortunately turned into the sort of flu that has been laying out number of people of late--and I totally understood. The winters indeed.


Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and his wife Michelle Obama take the stage for his victory rally at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center January 26, 2008 in Columbia, S.C.Several longtime correspondents (an old friend, one of my mentors) and some new ones have written me enthusiastically about the Obama campaign (at right, Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, at his victory celebration in South Carolina, Getty Images), championing in particular success in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he finished second, and, on Saturday night, the blowout in South Carolina. (He received 55% of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 27% and John Edwards's 18%.) They've all made great points about his ability to win over young voters, the enthusiasm he inspires (which had frothed up to a mania a few weeks ago), and his appeal, based on the Iowa voting breakdowns, to white voters. One noted, as some news accounts and pundits also have, that he received more votes than the top two Republicans, McCain and Mittens, combined--shades of his Illinois US Senate primary victory, where his vote total alone exceeded that of all the Republicans combined--while another pointed out that for the fourth straight contest, not counting the Michigan balloting, the Democrats have drawn more voters than the Republicans, in part because of interest in Obama. Disgust with George W. Bush would also have something to do with it, but I do agree that Obama is generating a lot of excitement, and his victory in South Carolina was pretty stunning, because of the margin of victory, because of the demographic breakdown of his votes, because of what it might say about possible outcomes there or in more moderate Southern states, like Virginia and Arkansas. None of my correspondents seem in the least worried about Obama's rhetoric--beyond the brilliant speeches, and his victory speech in South Carolina was one of the best I've ever heard him give--or his policies, whatever they may be, they don't seem troubled by his overt use of Republican discourse or ideological and policy vagueness, they don't think that Republican smear machine, coupled with the establishment media (I'm always trying to find the right name for these folks), will wring and wrack him in the same way that it did Gore and Kerry. They all seem more concerned with the strategies and actions of the Clintons, who, no surprise to me, are fighting with lead gloves to ensure Hillary's nomination.

I guess I should be more concerned with the Clintons' actions, especially their racialization of the campaign, exemplified most recently by Bill Clinton's Barack Obama = Jesse Jackson and "black candidate" comments last night, but to me, what Obama, if he's going to be the nominee, needs more than anything is to experience the sort of political fight, complete with racist commentary, smears, distortions of his legislative and personal record, what have you, that he'll be encountering in the general election. Anyone who thinks the Republican Party and its surrogates in the establishment media are going to play fair, especially if the party's choice, Mittens, gets the nod, or the media's beloved McCain, somehow becomes the Republican nominee, has been asleep these past two decades. The Republicans know how to jack up racist and socially-based appeals like there's no tomorrow, and time and again, voters have shown they are gullible enough to fall for it. I know this sounds cynical, and I'm trying not to be, but as I keep saying, I hope Obama's team, and the candidate himself, is gearing up for what's coming. Whining, demanding fairness, and trying to appeal to better angels and angles doesn't work most of the time with these folks. They are ruthless, and if they weren't, we'd never have been plagued with the worst president in US history (and yes, that includes the abysmal roster of James Buchanan, Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, etc.). Whether Obama's really battle-toughened yet isn't clear to me, but I am coming to grasp that his sustained highminded, above-the-fray pose, which he dropped recently to deal with the Clintons' tactics, does appear to have tremendous appeal across partisan lines, and not just to the punditocracy, who have been looking for any reason to go after the former president Clinton, and continue their attacks on Hillary. He has been mentioning a bit more policy in some of the clips I've seen recently, and he did openly state that it's the politics of Washington today and the policies of the current administration that he wants to change, whose rejection he represents, so maybe there is hope.

As 1,000 and more articles have already noted by now, the real test will come on February 5, when he'll be competing in two dozen states, only a few of which--Alabama, Georgia, and Tennesee--have demographics like South Carolina (though all three are considerably larger). There's Illinois, which he should win without breaking a sweat, but also the diverse behemoths of New York and California, and a range of other states like Massachusetts (where the dual Caroline-Teddy Kennedy endorsements might help), Minnesota, Delaware, and Connecticut, where he has a good opportunity to do well, and others, like Missouri, Alaska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, where he may not. I'm especially curious to see how my conservative native state, Missouri, votes, especially since its Democratic junior senator, the very moderate Claire McCaskill, and former moderate Democratic Senator, Jean Carnahan, have endorsed Obama and are now actively campaigning for him. I'm as curious about New Jersey, which I think I once read is the one of the most ethnically diverse and balanced states in the US, and could be swayed by Hillary's proximity as much as by an energized youth vote and higher turnouts among African-American voters and Latinos, if they chose to vote for Obama over Hillary Clinton. (I filled out my absentee ballot and have mailed it off, a process that New Jersey has streamlined considerably in the last few years.)

So we'll see how it turns out. I'm on the edge of my seat. Really.


Eugene SawyerI haven't checked many blogs today, but I didn't see much mention of the passing last night of Eugene Sawyer (at left, CBS file photo) who was Chicago's second Black mayor, serving from 1987-1989. Sawyer, an Alabama native, represented Chicago's 6th Ward on the Chicago City Council from 1971 until 1987, when he was chosen by the council to serve as Mayor after the sudden death of the remarkable Harold Washington. The City Council session that selected him was contentious, and I can recall even now that Sawyer was not the first choice of many of Chicago's Black political class. Many of Washington's supporters wanted councilman Timothy Evans, now Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, named mayor, while many of Washington's fiercest opponents supported Sawyer. Sawyer eventually received 29 votes to Evans's 19, and on December 2, 1987, he was sworn in as mayor. In his brief tenure, he not only managed to ensure a period of political calm, but maintained many of Washington's priorities and saw several enacted, including gay rights legislation and affirmative action opportunities in city contracts. He was defeated in the 1989 by Richard Daley, who has been the mayor ever since, and left government service thereafter. Sawyer was 73 years old.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

BOMB's Brazil Issue

Issue 102 Winter 2008 coverI'm slowly making my way through the new, Winter 2008 of BOMB, which is dedicated to Brazil. Tisa B. first alerted me that this was its focus, and Reggie H. directed me to the site, which makes a few of the articles available for free. Years ago I read BOMB regularly, then stopped, and even heard (and read), wrongly it turned out, that the magazine was going under. Reggie would tell me about its issues, which I sometimes still browsed when I would pop into Nico's while in the City, and finally, last fall, I decided to subscribe to it after Reggie sent the photocopies of the informative conversation that Edwidge Danticat conducted with Junot Díaz, and the piec on Isaac Julien's video installation pieces, including his recent Small Boats.

Whenever I hear that a magazine or journal is focusing on Brazil, my question becomes, is the focus essentially going to be the Rio-São Paulo axis, those being the cultural and economic megalopolises (megalopoleis?) or will it look at another region (say the Northeast, the Amazon, the South), will it be a thematic-sociocultural focus (say on Afrobrazilians), or will it mix things up? (Of course there are numerous other ways of approaching Brazil.) This issue, some of which is online, appears to mainly follow the first, most common approach, with a number of the contributors living in either Rio or São Paulo, or coming from there (and now resident in the US). The issue has much of interest, gathering together some of the most notable contemporary plastic artists (Ernesto Neto [whose work enthralls both Tisa and me], Fernanda Gomes, the Campana brothers, Lucia Koch, Marilá Dardot, Laura Lima, Jarba Lopes, OsGemeos,Thiago Rocha Pitta, etc.), filmmakers (Cao Guimarães and Karim Aïnouz [of Madame Satã fame]), writers (Arnaldo Antunes bridging the two fields of literature and music, but also the very distinguished Lydia Fagundes Telles, as well as Bernardo Carvalho and Francisco Alvim), and a very famous architect (Paulo Mendes da Rocha). The "First Proof" literary section features the work of a handful of writers, some of them very well known, like Rubem Fonseca, whose philosophical crime-drenched novels and stories initiated a new style in Portuguese literature and have led to Nobel Prize stirrings, and the subtle poet Adélia Prado, whom I've suggested might be a potential winner. (Below right, Ernesto Neto, Leviathan Thot, 2006, Lycra tulle, polyamide fabric and styrofoam balls, 174×203 x 184’. Pantheon, Paris. Photo: Marcus Wagner. Courtesy of the artist; Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo; and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, NY.)

Neto, LeviathanAs a general introduction to some of Brazil's contemporary stars, music notwithstanding (because really, that would require a year's worth of issue, each covering the four largest cities, São Paulo, Rio, Salvador da Bahia, and Belo Horizonte), it seems pretty good, and some of the plastic artists are probably not well known in the US at all. Mendes da Rocha might be more familiar to people in the know, as he's received the 2006 Pritzker Prize, and I was glad that the editors didn't simply take the easiest route by going with the country's centenarian (yes, he'll be 101 this year!) genius, Oscar Niemeyer, who admittedly and astonishingly is still designing buildings, and has since the 1930s. The writers on the whole might also not be so well recognized in the US, but Fonseca, Telles, Prado, João Ubaldo Ribeiro (a Bahian of African descent), Manoel de Barros, and Salgado Maranhão are all internationally known figures, though none has the profile, I would imagine, of either of Brazil's best known 20th century writers, Jorge Amado, Clarice Lispector, or João Cabral de Melo Neto, or its current phenomenon, Paulo Coelho.

Madame SatãThe interviews are pretty informative, and there's a good deal of discussion about Brazilian society and the country's various continuing social problems, though there was considerably less talk about national politics, which, from what I can tell, are in an interesting place right now. I was also hoping that the magazine would feature more writers and artists under 50 (Guimarães fits this criterion, as do novelist Patricia Melo and a few others), but also show more regional diversity, venturing further north and south to find out what's happening outside the Rio-São Paulo axis, and certainly more ethnic diversity. This last problem seems to plague most special issues on Brazil, unless they're devoted to writing by Afrobrazilians or Japanese Brazilians, say, from the favelas, and so on. But who knows, perhaps I've read right past something. I'll keep reading, and perhaps another journal will take up the charge and offer new and exciting angles on what's happening in the arts scenes in the "country of the future."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Congrats to Denise Simmons!

SimmonsA very brief post, so much to readddddddd, as always.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, my former (very long ago) stomping grounds, now has the first out Black lesbian mayor of any US city, Denise Simmons! Congratulations, Ms. Simmons. Cambridge had previously seated the first out Black gay mayor, Ken Reeves (whom I've met; an impressive man). Pretty amazing.

On top of which, Massachusetts now has the nation's only Black governor, Deval Patrick, and only the second, I believe, since Reconstruction. (C and I lived in Virginia during the end of L. Douglas Wilder's term. I still can't believe he was elected there, at that time, but then they put George Allen in the governor's mansion, so go figure.) If I were to pick the state that might seat the first out Black LGBT governor, I'd say Rhode Island, or perhaps Massachusetts. Or if he were a liberal Republican, Connecticut. I think it's about time that a few more of these states of ours elected Black--and other people of color--Senators, and women. (More than 50% of the population...just saying.) If Frank Lautenberg were going to step down--please, Senator Lautenberg, take a hint--I'd say New Jersey Democrats should aim to be the next in line after Illinois; there are some progressive Black women in New Jersey's political system.

That also reminds me that DC should be given full voting rights and, for the purposes of fairness, elevated to state status, which would probably ensure at least one, if not two, more Black Senators. BTW, are the Republicans going to have any Black members in their caucus any time soon? As horrendous as their politics and policies are, there's always at least one or two Black people they can find to run on their ticket.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Poem: Uche Nduka

NdukaOne of the serendipities of browsing the university's extensive collection of Africana materials is that I often happen upon books it might take me years to come by otherwise. And so did my eyes light upon Uche Nduka's eel on reef, a sizable collection of poems the Nigerian native published under literary rainmaker Chris Abani's Black Goat imprint at Akashic Books. The collection includes a thoughtful, laudatory introduction by acclaimed poet Kwame Dawes (can we say Black Diaspora, people?), which points out that Nduka, who's also a percussionist, lecturer and essayist, who moves between Germany, the Netherlands, and the US, has chosen a more open-form, indeterminate lyric, while not sacrificing many of the traditional concerns of post-independence and contemporary African poetry. A few of the poems in the ample volume read like play for its own sake, but when Nduka hits the mark, which is more often than not, he achieves a music whose echoes stay with me for a while. This is one of my favorite poems in the book; none have titles, so I'm following the practice of bracketing the first line as its title. Enjoy!

[where's the attic of the sea]

where's the attic of the sea
forget it. forget it.
flap out and jist
and razz and twist in again

who's the date of the sea
where is he
give me his number
open the eyes
of his toes of his waters

waters smoking waters
waters prodding waters
seeking his eyes and catching
them in alliances of waters

and the words say
we are shy but we are mean
let's kill the letters
before they kill us

Copyright © 2007, Uche Nduka, from eel on reef, New York: Akashic Books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dems' Race Flap + Obama & Latinos + MDI Car + Living Longer w/ AIDS

I've received and read a lot of emails and posts about the racial (and to a lesser extent gender) imbroglios that the Clinton and Obama camps have been engaging in, all of which end up harming Obama, in my opinion, to Clinton's and ultimately the Republicans' benefit, in that any talk of "race" (as well as "racism") magnifies his blackness (which "race" chiefly signifies in this society) among non-Black voters and allows him to be cast as the too self-consciously "Black" candidate, or "angry Black" man, or or racial "whiner," while also deflecting attention from his opponents issues and problems and from substantive critiques of his positions, policies and record. (The most cynical reading would be that even if the Clintons piss off Black voters, they would assume Blacks have no place to go, beyond voting by not voting, in the general election, and perhaps that's a risk they want to take.) You can argue that Obama's set himself up for this by his careful straddling of the politics of race, offering differing faces to differing crowds, while gliding over racism as an abiding societal issue via a nearly post-identitarian (and post-"issue") discourse, but I think he and his advisors assume that this may be the best or most effective route, and it appears to have worked so far, so we'll see soon how it turns out as things play out. Either way, the emergence of intra-party rifts over identity politics creates dangers that the Republican Party will not hesitate to exploit, so Obama's call for ramping down the rhetoric is a good sign, though he, the Clintons, their surrogates, and the party in general will nevertheless need to address the tensions.

Alongside this mess, there's the broader gantlet that Obama faces, which I've written about before. Today I read that "liberal" columnist Richard Cohen offers the newest volley in the anti-Obama game of religious, racial and ethnic smears by trying to link him to Rev. Louis Farrakhan, via Obama's South Side Chicago church and minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I think the aim here is to scare White people, but particularly Jewish voters. Personally I think Obama could tamp this down immediately by framing the response in crude terms, such as, "What do these people attacking my church and faith have against Christianity, or the Judeo-Christian tradition?" which is the sort of thing I'd expect out of Mike Huckabee's mouth. At the same time, it would probably be very effective. If Obama won't do it, find an ordained surrogate to go that route; isn't that what's been going on so far, with the various comments from Jesse Jackson Jr., Andrew Cuomo, Charlie Rangel, and, of all people, Robert Johnson?

There's the ongoing issue of the Manchurian Muslim email, originally generated by a right-wing nutcase, then furthered by right-wing commentators and eventually people affiliated with the Clinton campaign; it continues to circulate and will probably transmogrify in ways we cannot even imagine if he wins the nomination. (Chris Matthews managed to take things to a new realm of bizarrie when he stated on TV that Obama's mother and maternal grandmother were Muslims.) No matter how often this thing gets debunked, it'll keep surfacing. In light of the last week, I'll just repeat what I've written to anyone discussing Obama's electoral prospects, which is that I hope he and his advisors--like the Clintons, if Hillary gets the nomination, or Edwards--are ready for much, much worse.


And then there's this: today the New York Times, following some weeks after other news organs (Raw Story, for example), is telling us that Obama's going to have problems with Latino voters, because he's Black. While this wasn't the case in his US Senate race in Illinois (either in the Democratic primary or the general election), and while the Latino populations differ by region, reporters Adam Nagourney and Jennifer Steinhauer report that Obama's being Black may cause problems among Latino voters. To quote them:

Mr. Obama confronts a history of often uneasy and competitive relations between blacks and Hispanics, particularly as they have jockeyed for influence in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

“Many Latinos are not ready for a person of color,” Natasha Carrillo, 20, of East Los Angeles, said. “I don’t think many Latinos will vote for Obama. There’s always been tension in the black and Latino communities. There’s still that strong ethnic division. I helped organize citizenship drives, and those who I’ve talked to support Clinton.”

Javier Perez, 30, a former marine, said older Hispanics like his grandmother tended to resist more the notion of supporting an African-American, a trend that he said was changing with younger Hispanics.

“She just became a citizen five years ago,” Mr. Perez said. “Unfortunately, that will play a role in her vote. I do think race will play a part in her decision.”

Interestingly, Carrillo doesn't say, "a Black person," but "a person of color," which could easily include a Latino, like Bill Richardson, which points to broader issues beyond Black-Latino relations (cf. above). For activists like Rev. Al Sharpton, Obama's problem is that he's run a "'race-neutral campaign'," and yet this appears to matter little to those who would foreground his Blackness, no matter how he plays it. Yet the article isn't all doom: on the other hand,

In California, Mr. Obama has won backing from Latino lawmakers, some of whom had supported Mr. Richardson, but winning rank-and-file voters will be hard, said the State Senate majority leader, Gloria Romero, Democrat of East Los Angeles.

“Do we have a long way to go?” she asked. “Absolutely. I think there are some tensions on questions of immigration and jobs. But I believe that we have moved forward in a way that the community will embrace an African-American president.”

She said the solution to overcoming the tensions was discussing economic problems of middle- and lower-class blacks and Hispanics like the mortgage crisis, an issue that first Mrs. Clinton and now Mr. Obama have been raising more frequency.

“I don’t think eating tacos,” is effective, she said with a flick at Mrs. Clinton. “We need to address what unites us. The key is not to raise the wedge issue.”

I wonder how true this will be. Nevada will provide the first test, but I think it's too soon to write off Latino support for Obama everywhere, even if some places (California and Texas, say) prove tougher than others (like New Jersey and Connecticut).


Commentator Biodun's excellent "The Third Rail of Identity Politics in the US" is here.


MDI carGiven how recalcitrant the Detroit automakers are proving to be in terms of raising fuel standards and producing vehicles that compete with the best that Japan, Korea and other countries now offer, and given the overall bleak economic situation in Michigan and other parts of the upper Midwest region, I was thinking that perhaps the autoworkers' unions, or even a group of ambitious workers and concerned citizens and government officials might undertake a fact-finding mission to ensure that this revolutionary product, Frenchman Guy Negre's MDI compressed-air car (photo at left, which Tata, the Indian carmaker, is set to produce in sizable numbers later this year, is also being produced in the backyard (or front yard) of the Big Three.

If the "air car," as it's also being called, takes off globally, promises to upend the current discussion about automobile fuel emissions andefficiency, energy conservation and global warming. Its lightness helps conserve energy, and Negre says that it produces near-zero pollution on city streets and very low emission levels on the highway. The car does require a period electrical charge, and can be fitted with fuel tanks if needed, but for city driving it need not have the latter. Even its assembly would mark a shift from current practices (and back to an earlier mode of production); Negre envisions local factories using local materials, thereby helping to cut down on energy use in manufacturing process. The suggested price is $7000. According to Buzzfeed, it's already in 12 countries, so why not the US too? Talk about a great gift to the people of Detroit--and the US as a whole....


About a week or so ago I posted on the New York City Health Department's report on the rise of HIV seroconversions among young men of color. Keguro and Kai chimed in, and shortly after they did so, I noted the following report, which I've been meaning to post about for days now. It's intimately linked, I think, to the Health department's findings: reporter Jane Gross's "AIDS Patients Face Downside of Living Longer."

It opens

John Holloway received a diagnosis of AIDS nearly two decades ago, when the disease was a speedy death sentence and treatment a distant dream.

Yet at 59 he is alive, thanks to a cocktail of drugs that changed the course of an epidemic. But with longevity has come a host of unexpected medical conditions, which challenge the prevailing view of AIDS as a manageable, chronic disease.

Mr. Holloway, who lives in a housing complex designed for the frail elderly, suffers from complex health problems usually associated with advanced age: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, kidney failure, a bleeding ulcer, severe depression, rectal cancer and the lingering effects of a broken hip.

Those illnesses, more severe than his 84-year-old father's, are not what Mr. Holloway expected when lifesaving antiretroviral drugs became the standard of care in the mid-1990s.

The drugs gave Mr. Holloway back his future.

But at what cost?

That is the question, heretical to some, that is now being voiced by scientists, doctors and patients encountering a constellation of ailments showing up prematurely or in disproportionate numbers among the first wave of AIDS survivors to reach late middle age.

The article goes on to discuss the challenges the various people profiled experience, and given the number of people living with HIV and AIDS today, and living longer, this got me thinking about the notion of AIDS as a "chronic" disease, and, from my perspective, the lack of discussions and narratives, especially in terms of the conventional media's public discourse or popular culture, about the long-term effects of HIV seroposivity and the lives and experiences of long-term PWAs. I understand why; these topics are ones that few people other those involved in HIV education, prevention and treatment, and people living with HIV/AIDS, probably are interested in. But given that the notions that drug cocktails approximate a cure and AIDS is just another chronic, indefinitely manageable illness have taken hold, perhaps that there should be more discussion on what the various challenges of living with HIV and AIDS over a long time-span are now and will be in the future.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Julio Cesar Montaño @ Metropolis Cafe

One of the frequently packed spots on the north side of Chicago is Metropolis Coffee Company's Cafe, just south of Loyola University of Chicago's northside campus and only blocks from Sheridan Road and the beach. The small, local business is almost always full of people on the weekends; students, faculty and all kinds of other residents from at least three different nearby neighborhoods--Edgewater, Uptown, and East Rogers Park--keep the tables, sofas and stools full from the time it opens until it closes. Among the reasons I love dropping by there, in addition to serendity of running into colleagues, the free wireless and the delicious, affordable coffee, are the revolving art shows they mount, often on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

When I was there yesterday, I quickly began admiring a series of striking ink drawings hanging on the walls in the main room, then spotted a flyer announcing that there was going to be an official opening. Right after that I noticed the staff moving chairs around, putting out hors d'oeuvres, and gently alerting people in the café that the opening was about to happen. I decided to stay, and as a result got to meet the artist, Julio Cesar Montaño (Montenegro), a native of Tumaco, Colombia. Below are a few (of my poor phone) photos of his work, which mostly comprises expertly drafted black-and-white ink drawings, some wood cuts, and a few multi-colored pieces (in ink and wash). They were arranged in various thematic sets and by different media. Many of the ones I looked at bore the collective title "Poemas Graficos de Negro," or "Black Visual Poems."

When we chatted, he told me that he also played the drums, and wrote poetry, so his poetic efforts weren't limited solely to visual art. He added that one of the main themes of the work was "resistancia" (resistance), cultural, political and spiritual, and when I asked him if the imagery drew upon iconography from the maroon communities of palenques in Colombia (which has the third largest population of people of African descent in the Americas, after Brazil and the United States--did you know that?), he said yes, and added that his artwork also was informed by various cultural myths, popular culture, and other sources. I think these sources are visible in some of the images below.

Googling him afterwards, I learned that he was an anthropologist, as well as the creator of the Festival del Currulao, a celebration of the important musics and dances of Pacific Coast Afro-Colombians. I also learned that he, his wife, schoolteacher Martha Arboleda Ortiz, and their son had relocated to the Chicago area, through the grace of local churches, after receiving death threats for their human rights work, which included promoting Afro-Colombian culture, trying to educate and promote street children and foster a countersphere to the civil and political violence that has wracked Colombia for 40 years, and founding an organization called Ecos del Pacífico Afro-Colombiano (EPA!) which includes a a dance academy, marimba school, cultural studies center and radio station. They spoke about it at a Call to Action conference last year.

The show runs until February 16, 2008, so if you're nearby, do check it out.

Update: Kai says in the comments section: "I think your phone photos have reproduced very well! Did you notice if there was a catalogue of his work, or whether he's published a book of his collected prints?" I did check yesterday and today, and there was no catalogue of his work available. On the small CV posted in the store, I didn't see any books listed either. Here's his posted statement on his work:

"Uso mancho de tintas para poner en escena evocaciones de la realidad, desde una mirada critica que permita poner a pensar a quien se sumerge en el contexto de cada obra...poema grafico." (Rough translation: I use the medium of ink and wash (stain) to evoke a critical perspective of reality, which allows anyone who submerges herself in the context of each work to start thinking about it...a visual poetry.)

Art show poster
Afro-Colombian Artist Julio Cesar Montaño Montenegro
The artist, Julio Cesar Montaño Montenegro
Large Montaño ink drawing
Poemas Graficos de Negro: "Rumba Pacifica" (ink and acrylic)
Montaño's ink drawings
Poemas Graficos de Negro: "Renacientes" (ink and acrylic)
Montaño's ink drawing
Poemas Graficos de Negro: Raices Profundos (ink)
El poder del ancestro
Poemas Graficos de Negro: El poder del ancestro (ink)
Personaje mitico "la tunda"
Poemas Graficos de Negro: Personaje Mítico: "La tunda" (ink and cut paper)
Montaño's drawings
A row of some of his pieces

Sunday, January 13, 2008

John Adams's Dr. Atomic @ Lyric Opera

Doctor AtomicI don't think I've ever posted about a live opera on this blog, so here's a first go at it. Last night I trooped down to the Lyric Opera of Chicago to see contemporary American composer John Adams's most recent opera, Doctor Atomic. The opera, whose "found text" libretto, staging and direction are the handiwork of impresario Peter Sellars, was first mounted in San Francisco in 2005, and it explores the experiences over monthlong span of several of the central figures involved in the first testing of the atomic bomb, the "Trinity" test, in the New Mexico desert. The protagonist is physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, but the opera's other important figures include fellow physicist Edward Teller; General Leslie Groves; Oppenheimer's anxious wife Kitty; the weatherman, Jack Hubbard; and the bombastic General Leslie Groves; and Pasqualita, the Oppenheimer's Tewa (Native American) nursemaid.

I should begin by noting my affinity for post-Romantic operas, and in particular for operas (and musicals of operatic cast) from the era of early Modernism on. The sorts of operas that drive purists crazy, such as Debussy's aria-less Pelleas et Mélisande; Bartók's brief and spellbinding Duke Bluebeard's Castle; Schoenberg's unfinished, conceptual masterpiece about the unrepresentability of God, Moses und Aron; Berg's formally intricate case study in pre-World War II decadence, Lulu; Joplin's unique African-American essay in the form, Treemonisha; and Britten's homoerotic homage, Billy Budd, are among the works I cherish, but I also like very current operatic fare, especially works that push opera's aesthetic conventions, such as Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach and Akhnaten, Steve Reich's Three Tales, and Anthony Davis's Amistad. One of my works, which perhaps drew me to the genre, is Adams's 1987 opera, Nixon in China. It is one of the few very recent operas to have entered the repertoire. In this work, Adams extends his post-minimalist musical language to match Alice Goodman's exceptional libretto, and together they create a powerful portrayal of the soon-to-be disgraced former president's groundbreaking trip to China. Some of the arias, such as Nixon's "News, news," or the reception's choral exchange "Cheers!" have been derided by critics, but the opera also drew immediate praise and has continued to be one of the most popular works of the last 40 years. Its accessibility, blend of humor and drama, biting set pieces, inventive tunefulness, and moments of masterful orchestration and dramatization, such as when Pat Nixon longs for the music of home (California), or Mrs. Mao's aria demonstrating her personal power, probably account for its enduring popularity.

Oppenheimer beholding the bomb, "Doctor Atomic"In Dr. Atomic, Adams shows that his grasp of composition, and in particular scene-painting and orchestration, has only grown in the intervening years. With the exception of the musique concrète tracks that open and close the opera's two halves, the music exemplifies Adams's mastery, both of 20th century music in general and of how to write operatic music in a contemporary vein. Whether it aims for mimesis, as when he portrays the thunder and electrical storms that are threatening the bomb test, or the spectacular choral set pieces, such as the second half's (Act 2, Scene iii) "O, Master" chorus, excerpted from the Bhagavad Gita, which to me was one of the most breathtaking in the entire work, or the arias, by Oppenheimer, his wife, Pasqualita, or Hubbard, who manages to lyricize a weather report (!), Adams never falters--and, I must add, never did the singers, who were on the whole extraordinary. The essentially tonal composition bears Adams's usual fingerprints, eschewing neo-Romanticism in favor of a more complex, pungent assemblage of styles, with moments of hypnotic repetition, contrapuntality and crossrhythms, passages of jazz-like stylings, and controlled dissonance. In fact, it was often the music, along with the sets and staging, that provided what little drama the opera had to offer, and elevated the libretto's inherent poetry, or rather reminded me that I was listening to the words of Baudelaire, Muriel Rukeyser, Donne, among other texts, set to music. There were moments where I simply closed my eyes and listened to the music to relieve the tedium of the libretto, which seemed to stretch on and on unnecessarily.

Although the story itself is inherently dramatic--the government and military are racing to test an atomic bomb to drop on Japan, to end the Second World War, and many of the key scientists involved with it are torn, ethically, morally, emotionally, about their contributions and the possible aftermath of a successful weapon--the libretto, which derives not only from poetry but from declassified government documents, blunts this by telling too much, and thus becoming explanatory, or striving for profundity, which runs aground the shoals of obviousness. In such instances, the narrative's drama sputters, but as in some other operas with little narrative or drama, such as Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise, there are no compensatory character arcs or dramatization, and so Oppenheimer himself remains enigmatic, while Kitty's anxiety, as it never abates, becomes static and tiresome. Then there is the issue of length--too much is, well, too much. Even a marvelous moment, like Oppenheimer's aria based on Donne's "Holy Sonnet No. XIV," "Batter my heart, three-personed God," provoked by his appreciation of the inhuman power the "gadget" he has helped create, just drags on too long. Or perhaps it wouldn't have felt too long if there weren't so many other such moments, where Sellars seems incapable of condensing the text, thus blunting whatever propulsive force the music and narrative manage to generate. The opera runs 3 and 1/2 hours, though it felt like 6; a half-hour of the Robert Wilson-esque quasi-avant-garde processions to literalize the complicated temporality (on figurative and literal levels) and silent moments could easily be cut, and many of the arias could be truncated or at least condensed, saving as much of Adams's music as possible. By the end of the second half, I think the only thing keeping me from bolting was the music and the recognition that I ought not miss the moment of the test, which I'll say disappointed musically and performatively. (By this point a number of the older opera patrons sitting near me had already fled.)

"Doctor Atomic" setThe singers are, as I say above, outstanding, and often wring the most piercing moments out of their arias. Particular notable were Leslie Rivera (what a voice!) as Kitty Oppenheimer, Gerald Finley as J. Robert Oppenheimer, and James Maddalena, the original Richard Nixon in Adams's earlier opera, as Jack Hubbard, the beleaguered weatherman. Eric Owens, playing General Leslie Groves, manages to infuse his ranting-like near-Sprechstimme with real passion, making me wish he'd been given better material to work with. I was less enchanted by Meredith Arwady as Pasqualita; at times she appears to struggle to sustain a continuous rising or descending line, and sounds off key, or perhaps this is how the part was written, though it sticks out beside Rivera's mellifluous declamations. The directing and staging mostly succeed; Sellars is on firmest ground here, and the subtle and unexpected lighting shifts, the always-evocative modular sets, and the lively corps de ballet, match the music and nearly rescue things. One enjoyable side element to the evening was that the grand-daughter of the woman sitting next to me was one of the dancers. She told me she'd come up from Orlando to see her granddaughter dance, and eagerly pointed her out whenever the corps took the stage.

I left the opera house feeling much the way I did when I first went to see John Harbison's The Great Gatsby during its first run at the Met: that I'd heard some great music, but it was expended on a thematically very interesting, above-average, but not great, project. I'm not sure how much tinkering Adams and Sellars will attempt; I missed Sellars's pre-opera talk, but I've read that he acknowledges the libretto's faults, so perhaps they will figure out how to tighten it up if it continues to travel. Cutting the explanatory material, which might mean snipping some of Groves's part, and distilling Kitty Oppenheimer's scenes should be the first order of business. Mirroring the second-half's "O, Master" chorus in the first would also be a good idea, to punch things up a bit. The ending also could use some work; not representing the bomb blast orchestrally is, I admit, brilliant, but I'm not sure the electronic substitute is enough. It almost felt predictable, and kitschy. As it is, I would still recommend anyone interested in contemporary see Doctor Atomic, just to hear Adams's opera, but I'd add that they shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves glancing at their watch, twiddling their thumbs, and wanting to scream get on with it during some of its many, unnecessary longueurs. It's in Chicago until January 19, and moves to the Met in 2008 (they should start with Nixon in China, but then who am I to suggest anything to the Met...).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Close Guantánamo Day + Fascism's Features

Guantanamo Bay PrisonThe ACLU has designated today Close Guantánamo Day. It's the 6-year anniversary of the arrival of the first "War on Terror" prisoners there.

Although some of the Republican presidential candidates think it should be expanded, or that it's better than the horrible prisons in the US, I don't think it'd be too hard to make a case that it's one of the blights--abominations--on humanity, and one of many such facilities run by the US that ought to be shut down immediately.


You can access the ACLU's site here. People are urged to wear orange in solidarity with the prisoners. You can choose to do so any day, though, and most importantly, let the presidential candidates and your Congresspeople know you want the US to get its act together, repeal the Military Commissions Act, restore Habeas Corpus, and shut this place down.

Digby's Hullabaloo pointed me to the talking dog, which has been interviewing lawyers and others defending some of the people imprisoned there. They're worth checking out.


Also, I want to call attention to: Dorothea Dieckmann's excellent novel, Guantanamo, published in translation (by Tim Mohr) last year by Soft Skull Press. It is receiving considerable acclaim. The New Yorker's positive blurb is here.


Speaking of Guantánamo and what this country has become, a while ago on this blog I posted Dr. Lawrence Britt's "14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism," which originally appeared in the journal Free Inquiry and was later posted on other sites and blogs. When I'd posted it elsewhere, questions arose less about its validity (what really constitutes "fascism" and whether as a political system it is coherent across different governments and historical periods) than about its author, so I wrote the journal directly, and the editor (at that time) confirmed that Britt (or someone under the pseudonym) had written the article. As a basic checklist for various understandings of what a "fascist" government might look like, I think it works, and today, when people across the web and world are calling attention to national disgrace known as Guantánamo (the prisoner detention facility there, that is), I thought I'd repost the list simply because since it first appeared, our government and society have increasingly approximated Britt's bareboned list (though, let me add, some were present even before the stolen election of 2000 or the 9/11 tragedy).

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism (cf. government, media and public rhetoric since 2001 in the USA)
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights (Legalized torture, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions, Hurricane Katrina aftermath, etc.)
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - (Anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant discourses, racism, anti-liberal and anti-progressive, anti-union rhetoric, etc.)
4. Supremacy of the Military (rising military expenditures, borrowing to pay for illegal wars, "Commander in Chief" as a general title fort he president, St. General Petraeus, etc.)
5. Rampant Sexism (SCOTUS ruling on "partial-birth" abortions, anti-abortion and anti-female bodily autonomy activism, sexism and homophobia in the corporate media and culture, etc.)
6. Controlled Mass Media (self-censoring corporate mass media, hyperpatriotism among media elites and spokespeople, etc.)
7. Obsession with National Security (War on Terror, warrantless wiretapping, datamining of Americans' private information, Department of Homeland Security, etc.)
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined (Faith-based governance and government, destruction of the Church-State wall, proselytization in the military and at military academies, etc.)
9. Corporate Power is Protected (Revolving door for government-business, corporate socialism, telecom amnesty, etc.)
10. Labor Power is Suppressed (Anti-union activism, legislation and litigation, stacking of the National Labor Relations Board, "make work" legislation, etc.)
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts (less of issue, in part because of self-censorship, widespread privatization of the arts, and the longstanding societal lack of interest in the arts and humanities)
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment (self-explanatory, though it doesn't apply when it involves the administration and its cronies)
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption (Abramafia, Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, no-bid contracts to Halliburton, etc.)
14. Fraudulent Elections (2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, bogus voter fraud charges, Diebold and other voting machine companies' shenanigans, etc.)

You could easily identify more elements of "fascism" that are present in the contemporary US, such as the authoritarian "Leader Cultism" of the Right, and so on, that aren't on this list. The present government isn't fascist so much as it incorporates numerous elements of fascist regimes, within the larger, flexible framework of what passes for (remains of) our Constitutional system.

We should ask the presidential candidates directly how they might reverse most of these aspects of our system today. Given #6, it's unlikely anyone in our "conventional" media would ever do so....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Laugh to Keep from Crying

Here's a challenge to all the J's Theater readers that have sound-editing skills. Can you come up with a more plausible soundtrack than this? If you create one that sounds like it really is coming from Iranian speedboats, I'll post it here on the site. (You may have to post it first at YouTube so I can embed.) Let's get so artists-pros in on the act. (The farce below--you have to listen to the very end--would be comical, if its potential consequences weren't so horrific.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hillary & the Ghost Gain NH

Ye goode folke of New Hampshire showed that they were not going to led around by the nose, not by enthusiastic young Iowans or their evangelical counterparts, not by the sexist, Clinton-hating media, not by the legions pollsters to whom they sold at least one good New England yarn (Barack Obama up by 9 points). Actually, the working-class and elderly female voters of the Granite State demonstrated via the ballot that they haven't given up on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (at right, it the debate? the tears? Bill's outburst? the attacks on Obama?--no one else should either. Those Clintons are tenacious folks! The New Hampshirites gave her enough of a margin to eke out a win over Senator Odreamy (who won Cheshire County, home of the city of Keene, naturally), and remind the rest of the country that this primary season isn't over yet. While I doubt I'd have voted for Clinton in this particular contest, I'm glad that she won in part because I do want Obama to recognize it's not going to be a crowd surf to victory, as his comments and the emails from his campaign acolytes suggest, and because her victory upsets the media's all-too-premature prediction of her campaign's end. The gasbags were really feasting on her breakdown, proposed campaign reshuffle, Bill's tirade, all of it. On the other hand, she and Bill had better watch the nasty crap and white ops they were planning on Obama, because not only the GOP, but the media, have shown that she'll be an even more inviting target if she gets the nomination. As it is, the 16-year media assault on her husband, Al Gore, John Kerry, and other major Democrats, has already hit her hard, so just as Obama ought to watch the right-wing frames, she should be careful about rhetoric about his fickleness and effectiveness. She's already being portrayed as a cuff-holding weathervane as it is.

On the GOP side, the media fave, 71-year-old warmonger John McCain (who looks like a ghost to me) finished first ahead of the Man Who Keeps Falling to Earth, Mitt Romney. According to a figure I read on someone else's blog, Romney's spent more than either Clinton or Obama, and has yet to finish above second, but he has money to burn, so he'll probably hang around until it's clear that the Southern preacher and ex-gov, Mike Huckabee, has the lock. (A fast fact: only one GOP president has ever been born in a former Confederate state--they're all from the Northeast, Midwest (mostly Ohio), or West--Dwight Eisenhower, who was born in Texas; with Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky native, they're the only two Southern-born Republicans presidents. The Decider Guy, like his father, was born in New England.) Rudy Giuliani finished just marginally above Ron Paul, and I know the word is he's waiting around till the delegate-rich super-primary day, but he should do us all a favor and drop out now. BE. GONE. He is not positioning himself as the socially moderate--though viciously racist--Republican he was as New York mayor, but has kept only the crazed neocon part, and there are already enough of those in the Republican field, so why stay on? I know Fox News and many GOP business types love him, but surely they see he's not going to beat out a former POW warmonger; a multimillionaire flipflopper; and a guy who's suggested hosting revivals on the White House lawn. Right? Maybe Huckabee can offer us a preview down in South Carolina, say in Columbia or Greenville or somewhere else. I think people should see what they might be getting. Then he can jam with a rock band and give a speech about how he's not a primate. Or something equally colorful!

Yesterday, a claque of bipartisanophiles met in Norman, Oklahoma to chatter about how they want to hold the 2008 election hostage unless the nominees--meaning the Democratic nominee, meaning Hillary Clinton--pledge to be bipartisan, whatever that's supposed to mean, or else they're going to unleash liberal Democrat-passing-as-Republican-but-now-independent Mike Bloomberg on us. Since he's a multibillionaire and his business is thriving so he could easily spend $500-750 million on a vanity campaign and enthrall the punditocracy, draw lots of moderate Democratic voters (or more than the few moderate Republicans out there), and perhaps throw the race to the GOP, who've demonstrated over the last seven years that their right-wing ideology is a complete and abject failure in every way, except for effecting a net transfer of even more wealth to global conglomerates and the mega-rich. Not that the Democrats in Congress haven't enabled them at every step, because they have, but then isn't that bipartisanship? Isn't that the very bipartisanship that got us into Iraq and permitted the lies about 9/11 and warrantless wiretapping and the outing of a covert CIA agent and legalized torture, without any penalties or a real threat of impeachment, and passed the Patriot Act and the bankruptcy bill and Cheney's energy bill, and abandoned New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and...well, I guess the Pro-Bipartisans are convinced we must have more of the same. More, more, more. Except that Obama is promising a bipartisan revel that will CHANGE the mess we find ourselves in and pass progressive legislation. Not the proto-fascist stuff we've seen. Hmm. Cognitive-dissonance meter registering strong wave effect.

So let's see if these jerks, led by former Senator David Boren, a dear frien of the Bushes, decide to act out. In the meantime, congratulations to Hillary.


And then there's this very important case looming at the Supreme Court. You see, W hasn't failed at everything. He has managed to pack the courts, including the Supreme Court, with hardcore right-wingers from now till Kingdom come, as my relatives used to love to say. Another reason not to ever grow complacent.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Neti Pots + The Wire + Errata

Perhaps it's chancing too much to note that today is the first day in over two weeks that I haven't woken up coughing or feeling as though my sinuses were on fire (they're still running, though, and my ears feel strange still); I'm hoping that whatever I caught has run its course, though I have to give some credit to the nasal rinsing effects of the Neti pot, which Ndlela told me about last summer, but which I didn't decide to try until the other day, under the influence of one of major US dailies. I didn't find the Neti pot itself, as it was sold out of all the health food stores and pharmacy chains that I visited in Chicago, so I got something comparable, and while I can't say I swear by it yet it did work, at least more so than I imagined. The sensation reminds me of accidentally inhaling seawater, but without the concomitant feeling of drowning, though that apparent does occur if the water's cold. (I won't be testing this proposition out.) At any rate, I can say I've tried at least one very new thing in the new year.


Clark JohnsonLast night one of my favorite TV shows, HBO's The Wire, premiered its fifth and, unfortunately for fans, its final season. A week ago Reggie H and Bernie emailed about it, and we've since exchanged messages and links about what I'd estimate is one of the best dramatic programs in the history of recent television. In terms of vividness and depth of characterization, novelistic richness of plot, excellence of casting and acting, skillful dramatization of themes and scenarios, and fidelity to a realist vision of the world, it has few peers. (Yes, I know, The Sopranos is up there too.) I'll post the article links below for anyone who hasn't seen them, and keep my comments about the first episode succinct.

It was vintage The Wire, with a number of future plotlines braided in careful, deliberate ashion, and the new focus, the role and state of the newspaper industry, represented here by a fictional version of the Baltimore Sun, offering the major dramatic set piece that drew many of the script's threads loosely together. Previous seasons' focuses were also present each with a twist: the drug dealers (Season 1 and every one thereafter) appear to be facing a looming war, led by the most ruthless among them, Marlo Stanfield (Jaime Hector), and his deputies Chris Partlow (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Snoop (Felicia Pearson); the cops (Season 1 and every one thereafter), now struggling under a severe budget crisis, are again being dispersed, particularly the exceptional special crime unit assembled by Major Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick); Season 3's focus, the mayor (Aidan Gillen), because of the budgetary problems, is breaking promises and straddling political difficulties; the students--Michael (Tristan Wilds) and Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) remaining from last year's heartbreaking season (4) are integrated into the drug trade; and one of the "Russians," Sergei (Chris Ashworth) who played a role in Season 2's union corruption and foreign gangster plotlines, also was invoked and will likely become important as the season proceeds.

Creator David Simon, his writers, directors, and actors succeeded last night in integrating all these threads with subtlety, though perhaps too subtly, I thought, for anyone who'd turned in for the first time. But each season since the first has required that you catch up to get the full flavor and power of the series. I've never worked at a real newspaper, but Simon's portrayal of the fictional Sun, drawn from his past experience as a journalist, appeared to hit the right notes, and new cast member and police procedural show veteran Clark Johnson (above, from, who directed the first The Wire episode in 2002, particularly shone in his role as the city desk editor, Augustus "Gus" Haynes. It'll be interesting to see how the critiques of the newspaper business hold up, because this first episode made the newsroom look exciting enough that it could have been used a recruiting video. The portrayals of the police department, City Hall and the Council, and the Feds on the other hand showed the compelling philosophical pessimism that are The Wire's hallmark. But the brilliance is, ultimately, in the drama, and The Wire is a sourcebook on how to do it. (TV drama writers, please take note for when you return from your strike.)

Some links (courtesy of Reggie and Bernie):
Baltimore Sun: The Wire loses spark in newsroom storyline
Bowden on The Wire in the The Atlantic Monthly
News Hour with Jim Lehrer's The Wire preview
Baltimore's City Paper's take on the news season
Baltimore's City Paper's take on Snoop (Felicia Pearson)
'Wire's' latest target: The media -


On a completely different note, can I just say that I haven't yet tired of clicking through and reading these pages? They read almost like poems (though not, I'm sure, to the author in question, Samuel Delany); am I misremembering, or hasn't some clever written a poem or poems in the form of errata? You couldn't do worse as a writer and editor than study his changes, though, as the genius clearly gleams through.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Poem: D. S. Marriott

DS MarriottLast year I came across this book of poetry and hard time putting it down. On reading the back cover I learned that its author, D. S. Marriott (right, photo from Salt Publishing), is the same person as the David Marriott a 40-something (b. 1963-) Briton of Jamaican parentage, who published the study On Black Men (Columbia) in 2000, and Haunted Life (Rutgers) in 2006. I thought about typing out my favorite poem in the book, "For Invisible Black Vampyres," but it's too long, so here is another one I keep returning to. It closes the volume.


Trying to figure out
what message I should write,
watching the sun sink into the soulful dusk,
and snow falling on the Avenue. The security
of having a mask packed, this one
newly purchased. But the lone protester
keeps on collapsing under the police dogs.
The couple sitting on the park bench (so deep
in thoughts of sadness) nodded yes
as we traipse across the frozen grass
reading poetry aloud with seven kinds of irony,
word by word to avoid boredom and the war
of spirit because the whole sense of speaking
is itself a form of death. "Makes good copy,"
he says, "please write it down." A cab drifts by
and speeds away for maximum nigga-nohow effect.

Copyright © 2006, D. S. Marriott, from Incognegro, Cambridge: Salt Publishing.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Q: "(You don't mind flying when you're feeling like that? No problems with the ears?)"
A: "(Well, when you have no choice....)"

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Obama & Huckabee Win Iowa

Change, change, change. That's the word adorning all the Obama campaign posters, and the charge heading out of the Hawkeye State (though political balance" is the frame). Congratulations to Mr. Change & Balance himself, Senator Barack Obama (at left, from, who won the delegate count in the Iowa Democratic caucuses by an 8 point spread, 38% to second-place winner former Senator John Edwards's 30%. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton finished third, at about 29%. Together they and the other Democrats drew over 220,000 participants, almost double the 2004 turnout of 125,00, and more than double the Republicans' total this year. Many of the Democratic caucus-goers were first-timers, and Obama's supporters comprised younger voters (57%), a huge number of independents and even some cross-over Republicans. He also led among female (35%) and male caucus-goers. Both Joe Biden and Chris Dodd barely registered, and both have dropped out of the race. Dodd, though he barely drew much attention, had shown considerable political courage in recent months. As for Clinton, I imagine she's going to soldier, but tonight's poor showing cannot help her, either with potential primary voters or the generally hostile mainstream media, going into New Hampshire. Obama's victory speech tonight (around 11:15 pm) actually managed to do what people like George Lakoff and Drew Westen have been urging of all the Democrats, which was to eschew the usual Democratic laundry list. Instead, he sketched a narrative of hope and change, in soaring rhetoric that thrilled his vast audience. It was typically vague and yet quite energizing, like him.

Overall, a great night for the Democrats, and for populist, (semi-)progressive rhetoric.

HuckabeeThe Republicans handily selected the Baptist preacher from Hope, Arkansas, Mike Huckabee (at right, from but then 60% of the Republican caucus-goers were self-described "evangelicals." Huckabee received 34% of the vote, well head of his main competitor, the plasticene former Massachusetts governor and multimillionaire Mitt Romney who finished second at 25%. Ardent racist Pat Buchanan seems pretty happy about Huckabee's win ("consanguinity," you know), though the Republican hierarchy seems ready to explode. (C and I switched over to the Fox News Channel, which was like watching a cross between the Twilight Zone and the Addams Family, without the humor, and Juan Williams was blathering on about how Obama couldn't win the general election. I was waiting for him to start uncontrollaby barking "Muslim," but we switched the channel before he could get going.) Decrepit actor Fred Thompson edged media favorite John McCain, whom the talking heads are still telling us is
"in great shape"--the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson just blurted this out, almost as if he didn't know what he was saying--because he's already won New Hampshire (?), or is ahead there, or doing well, there, or something. (?) (I was sort of amazed that Thompson did this well; I know he appears on TV and so on, but still, he telescopes his lack of interest in the campaign.) Libertarian Ron Paul finished fifth, well ahead of Rudy Giuliani, whom I hope is out of the race by the end of the month. Huckabee is the Republican id in material form, so it's fitting that the Iowa caucus-goers ended the longstanding charade, and selected one of their own.

(Can someone PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get the old tired rich conventional Washington-wisdom spewing gasbag punditocracy--the Chris Matthewses ("he [Obama] was delivered to us, from Indonesia..." and "he's almost Third World"--???), the Wolf Blitzers (Huckabee's win "helps McCain"), the Andrea Mitchellses (Clinton's gathering was "dirgelike"-?), all of them--off the air and bring in some new commentators? (Okay, Rachel Maddow was decent and actually challenged Matthews.) And it would especially great if the new commentators were unafraid of shouting down the gasbags--with compelling arguments, that is.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Cosas Generales

I was going to type that I almost couldn't believe that the new year was underway, but then I realized I'd been waiting for it for a while. Still, there are times when I can't believe that 7 years have passed since 2001 and the turn of the millennium, which was, you'll remember, preceded by a year of frenzy when 2000 rolled around. Often I can recall the 90s, especially the years from 1995 through 2000, vividly, whereas much of the 2000s are a blur. Nevertheless, here's to what I hope is a lively and enjoyable year, personally and for all, even though some of the major economic signs, at least, appear exciting but not in a good way.


Tomorrow promises ones of the biggest public excitements of the new year, the first (quasi-)primary in the 2008 presidential election calendar, the Iowa caucuses. (I'm glad someone on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer walked me and other viewers through these klatsches-over-kaffee-with-votes-thrown-in yesterday.) Truth be told, what a ridiculous means for selecting anything beyond wall colors for a community center. Not only is Iowa unrepresentative on so many counts in terms of the overall makeup of the US, but this system itself is both hyperdemocratic and at the same time, because so many Iowa voters might not be able to participate in it, undemocratic. It, and the whole Iowa-and-New Hampshire first mindset, should be scrapped.

I think the parties should designate 5 regions of the country, say: Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain, and Midwest, and have a monthly randomly-selected round robin set of primaries, on the same day, in at least one state from each region, with two others selected at random from different regions, for about 7-8 total. 8 would bring the primaries to June, 7 to July. The four largest states, California, Texas, the ever-shrinking New York, and Florida, would be included in the mix. Thus, January's primaries might include: Rhode Island, Georgia, Nevada, Washington, and Missouri, plus Wyoming and Maryland; or Maine, Alabama, Arizona, California, and Wisconsin, plus New Mexico and Michigan. Or something along those lines. These primaries would be one-person one-vote, open, and tallied by paper ballot (in person or via mail). Every state would eventually have an opportunity to gather the early attention, money and swag, the candidates would have to tailor a national platform more quickly, and the execrable national media might have to really do some work for a change. Will it happen? I doubt it, but one can only hope.

I'm not going to make any predictions and the whole "horse race" and money-raising focuses drive me up the wall, but I can say that I have received more emails and calls (thank the Lord they haven't turned to text messaging yet) from the Obama campaign, despite the fact that I've responded harshly both online and in yet another letter, which I sent out today. One of the most annoying email came several months from Michelle Obama, one of which carried the casual and aggressive subject line "Hey." That was it. "Hey" is supposed to make me want to support her husband, whom she recently said has "deign[ed]" to enter the race? Why, thank you. Most of the Obama missives center on campaign strategy, the evils of the other Democratic candidates, and fundraising, which are the last three things I want to hear about. In fact, I would much rather that Obama offer a concrete progressive platform for his proposed administration and address current and long-term political issues, even in a more philosophical, less specific way, while also explaining his frequent invocation of empty post-bipartisanship discourse and use of rightwing frames and rhetoric, which are going to be thrown right back at him or any of the Democrats (along with the anti-Muslim smears that are being steadily churned up). But I gather his campaign advisors don't care about this, since they are already wooing independents and some liberal Republicans, and they just may win Iowa, and New Hampshire. Or not. Oh well, either way, I'm curious to see the outcome tomorrow night. Ultimate, he, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, and the other Democrats, save Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are fairly close in terms of politics and policies, and will have to be ready for the fights of their lives against the Republicans, the mainstream media, and general public ignorance, in the general campaign.


I haven't commented on the ongoing electoral crisis in Kenya, but I had a strong feeling in the days leading up to the presidential election there that incumbent Mwai Kibaki was somehow going to be declared the victor despite articles and polls I'd read suggesting that opposition candidate Raila Odinga had the edge. There have been a number of rather sketchy presidential and governmental elections across the globe over the last few years, from Mexico to Nigeria to Russia to Pakistan to, yes, the USA, all of which underline the fact that in many countries rulers and ruling elites that are intent on holding on to power will readily do so under the pretext of "democracy," or some flimsy version thereof, and dare anyone to challenge them, while also seeking international sanction to legimitize and normalize the chicanery, unless their hands are forced.

I mention the US in particular, because the present administration perhaps feels it cannot simply refrain from commenting on the situation in Kenya, and yet it's really the height of irony for anyone from this gang to be uttering a word about voting irregularities, fraud, or working with the opposition. I guess Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, along with all the shenanigans leading up to and after both elections should be completely forgotten. (Have most people simply blanked on both?) Maybe the most powerful thing would be for Condoleezza Rice simply to state publicly that the W Gang knows a thing not only about misgoverning and pitting groups against each other, but also about engineering and stealing elections, and Kibaki didn't do such a good job at it, but, like Musharraf, they've (still) got his back. It is, really, a mess. Gukira's inimitable take(s) are here.


Amidst the news and ramblings in today's New York Times was this Sarah Kershaw piece, on how HIV seroconversions are falling overall in NYC, but still rising among young gay men. The rise is comparatively highest for young African-American and Latino men. Sewall Chan links to the piece in today's Times City Room Blog, and notes that Kershaw identified several important co-factors, including "higher rates of drug use among younger men, which can fuel dangerous sex practices, optimism among them that AIDS can be readily treated, and a growing stigma about H.I.V. among gays that keeps some men from revealing that they are infected." Yet another that she glosses and which a younger (in his 30s) friend mentioned to me a few years ago was a certain fatalism and belief that he was sure to seroconvert no matter what he did, that he expected to do so. He was, in a word, fated to become HIV positive. I've posted about this before, so I ask: thoughts? Responses?


Crèche scene, on Houston Street, last month