Miscellaneous Miscellany: 14 August 2015

14 Aug

The Baffler (magazine) is in the vanguard of the movement to celebrate public intellectuals as the September 10th celebration for George Scialabba attests September 10. By the way,that date has been designated George Scialabba Day by the Cambridge City Council.

George Sciallabba [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

George Sciallabba [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

To be found in Baffler Issue 26, …”Stumble along with George Scialabba through a lifetime of therapy for chronic depression.”

Baffler Issue No 26

Baffler Issue No 26

Our Man in Boston being in the vanguard of efforts to celebrate public intellectuals, chatted with George [Scialabba]on subjects near and dear and far and wide…

RB: In reading this Baffler article, it is not apparent that you ever give yourself credit for doing good and useful work. Your writing has been recognized by smart people everywhere. Didn’t that make you feel better?

GS: Eventually, it did. Saved my life, really. But it took a long while.

RB: Why?

GS: (long pause) Because there were lots of people my age doing what I was doing, a lot more successfully than me.

RB: Well, what was your criterion of success?

GS: I suppose quantity and visibility. I would see Sven Birkerts)5 or Paul Berman or Ellen Willis appearing in the New Yorker

Go Cubbies —winners of last 10 of 11 games.Another rookie makes an impact

Ann Bardach is a reliable narrator of the unfolding Cuba story.Here she spotlights Brother Raul

Raul Castro[borrowed from Politco]

Raul Castro[borrowed from Politco]

A smart team of filmmmakers turns Alice Munro’s short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” into a fine film with Guy Pearce, Kristin Wiig and up-and-comer Hailee Steinfield (True Grit, Begin Again )

Want to see what 96 million black plastic balls look like. Of course you do

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The New York Times has fallen on hard times—how else to explain using a photograph from Facebook

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96 million waterfilled black plastic balls is a story— Bloomberg asks the important question:

Ed Osann, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council,told Bloomberg that the shade balls probably won’t release any toxic materials into the water supply. (NRDC has not yet responded to a request for comment.)

“Probably?”

UGGIE,  star of  Academy Award winning 'The Artist'

UGGIE, star of Academy Award winning ‘The Artist’

RIP Uggie

Young Sport Center anchors Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick

Young Sport Center anchors Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick


I am not ashamed to admit my admiration for the mercurial and occasionally bombastic Keith Olbermann, especially his “Worst Person in the World” awards. In some ways this plaudit was low hanging fruit as there have always been may candidates. In a bow to Olbermann’s intention, albeit with a positive twist,Our Man in Bostn inaugurates the DIOGENES AWARD, paying homage to a dwindling population of truth tellers.

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First up is diogenian police reporter turned film maker David Simon whose The Wire has achieved legendary status and whose newest effort Show Me a Hero*debuts August 16 on HBO. Here Simon and Cory Booker chat about the Future of Cities

I am going to risk overexposing Simon by pointing out his recent interview at the Daily Beast and pointing you to a very smart spot-on take on Simon and Show Me a Hero by Andy Greenwald

Well, we are coming up on the 10th anniversary of the natural disaster known ( like supermodel) as Katrina. There is a striking similarity between this metereological event and the great 1927 Mississippi Flood. both of which proved the federal government unable or uninterested in helping out a drowned delta. Tom Franklin and Beth Fenelly’s novel The Twisted World does an excellent job of making vivid the 1927 debacle.

NYT reporter Gary Rivlin adds to the significant Katrina bibliography** Katrina: After the Flood. Simon and Schuster describe Katrina

This book traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes—politicians and business owners, teachers and bus drivers, poor and wealthy, black and white—as they confront the aftermath of one of the great tragedies of our age and reconstruct, change, and in some cases abandon a city that’s the soul of this nation.

* about which I will have more to say…
** about which I will have more to say…

Miscellany #13: 12 August 2015

12 Aug
Cats stalk the gangway and peer out from a broken window vent at an abandoned house in the Belmont Central neighborhood  of Chicago  [photo Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune]

Cats stalk the gangway and peer out from a broken window vent at an abandoned house in the Belmont Central neighborhood of Chicago
[photo Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune]

Having now watched the second season of True Detective in its entirety I continue to be (to put it mildly)vexed by this really, really dumb item in the New York Times. This sort of thing is of a piece with frequent efforts to prove American dumbness by asking such questions as, “Name the capitols of states in the flyover zone?” or “Identify the cabinet department there are in US President’s administration.”

Did the geniuses who whipped up this suspect (did nobody queried give a cogent response?) attempt at cleverness believe there was something to be inferred from this faux man on the street video turd—because I don’t?

Even if the failure to explain True Detective was universal it would signify nothing (though the Times seems to be implying that complexity is a negative. Perhaps the journalist wannabes who proffered this item should test people on their understanding of Chandler/Hawks/Faulkner classic The Big Sleep

WTF?

This   photo provided by Ronald Boisvert shows his dog Fox, who went missing from his south Florida condominium

This photo provided by Ronald Boisvert shows his dog Fox, who went missing from his south Florida condominium

There are lots of reasons that one NFL football player breaking the jaw of another NFL football player makes and continues to make headlines—though admittedly this kind of locker room incident is rare. Beyond its bizarre nature,I was interested in the poor reportage attached—e.g. Smith was ““cold-cocked, sucker-punched, whatever you want to call it.”* At the same time reports have the combatants (Smith and Ikemefuna Enemkpali) being face to face with Smith sticking a finger in Smith’s face. Am I wrong, you can’t “cold-cock or sucker-punch” someone who is facing you ?

*Jets coach Tod Bowles description, which apparently no one challenged

Miscellany #47: 10 August 2015

10 Aug

One of the few reasons to watch the Red Sox

I am in the small camp of people who think its a waste of verbiage and pixels to attend to short fingered vulgarian. John Oliver sums it up brilliantly:

Now, if you want to hear more on the Trump/Kelly showdown, you can basically tune in to any news network because it is all they’re fucking talking about,” Oliver continued. “But we are going to move on, and I’ll tell you why: This whole debacle was meaningless. The 2016 election will not depend on this because it’s 457 days away. There will be actual babies born on Election Day 2016 whose parents haven’t even met yet. So everyone pace yourselves

Child 44

Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent Six set in the Soviet Union (Stalin era and post Stalin)in addition to being a page turning crime story is a skillful survey of life under in a dreary and fear-fraught so called socialist regime with an addition patina of paranoia provided by genocidal megalomania of our late WWII ally Uncle Joe.

Secret Speech

Agent 6

Now comes a Ridley Scott produced, Richard Price scripted film iteration of Child 44 with a well cast ensemble of actors lead by the increasingly visible Tom Hardy* (my favorite of his roles is Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons, in the oddly inexplicably-underappreciated BBC seriesPeaky Blinders). Had I not been aware of the books it would have been some time before I came to this film as there was virtually no press attached to it—though its good enough that it will find its audience and credence sooner rather than later

Apparently the Ruskies are aware of Child 44 and reverted to a Soviet era response.

A few years ago I conversed with Nigerian novelist Uzodinma Iweala about his debut novel, Beasts of No Nation. It’s a harrowing story set in an unnamed West African nation beset by a civil war and being waged by child soldiers, a tragedy in and of itself. It’s cinematic version is coming soon with the redoubtable Idris Alba as the very scary military leader.

Some NY Times person thought this was clever? Useful? Amusing? Maybe the question should have been, “Name the Supreme Court Justices” Or “Who won the Battle of Mukden?”

Aerial photo of Nagasaki after Atom Bombing [Library of Congress]

Aerial photo of Nagasaki after Atom Bombing [Library of Congress]

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No doubt there is a strong predisposition to forget about US deployment of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki but here’s a piece from Lapham’s Quarterly that talks about efforts to add to the dustbin of history:

Contradicting the new constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression, and its explicit wording that “no censorship shall be maintained,” the occupation’s Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) carried out broad media restrictions…Across the country, movie theaters could only show films approved after stringent review by the CCD; among other criteria, any challenges to the terms of Japanese surrender,…

No specific censorship rules referred directly to the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombings, but the CCD nonetheless eliminated most statements about the nuclear attacks in print and broadcast journalism, literature, films, and textbooks. Public comments that either justified the United States’ use of the bombs or argued for their inevitability were sometimes permitted, but subjects that continued to be censored included the extent of physical destruction in the two cities; technical details about the bombs’ blasts, heat, and radiation; death and casualty counts; personal testimonies from atomic bomb survivors; and any reportage, photographs, or film footage of survivors suffering from atomic bomb injuries or radiation effects. Even phrases such as “Many innocent people were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki” were banned. Nagasaki named its annual commemoration of the bombing “The Memorial Day for the Restoration of Peace,” calling it a “culture festival” to appease U.S. officials

Artist José Luis Vargas, in his Santurce studio [Christopher Gregory for Al Jazeera America0

Artist José Luis Vargas, in his Santurce studio [Christopher Gregory for Al Jazeera America0

I love Puerto Rico especially the strip of coast in the west, from Aguadilla to Mayaguez. It hasn’t escaped me that the poor benighted island (which was added to the US empire after the Spanish American Cuban War)has been under greater strains and burdens of late. It was encouraging to read

Baffler Issue #23

Baffler Issue #23


Frankly I don’t understood what LinkedIn is. In Baffler #23 Ann Friedman does a fine job of explicating what it isn’t.It seems I haven’t missed anything:

LinkedIn merely digitizes the core, and frequently cruel, paradox of networking events and conferences. You show up at such gatherings because you want to know more important people in your line of work—but the only people mingling are those who, like you, don’t seem to know anyone important. You just end up talking to the sad sacks you already know. From this crushing realization, the paradoxes multiply on up through the social food chain: those who are at the top of the field are at this event only to entice paying attendees, soak up the speaking fees, and slip out the back door after politely declining the modest swag bag. They’re not standing around on garish hotel ballroom carpet with a plastic cup of cheap chardonnay in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other.

* Hardy’s role as Bob Saginowski in The Drop is also compelling:

Bob: There are some sins that you commit that you can’t come back from, you know, no matter how hard you try. You just can’t. It’s like the devil is waiting for your body to quit. Because he knows, he knows that he already owns your soul. And then I think maybe there’s no devil. You die… and God, he says, Nah, nah you can’t come in. You have to leave now. You have to leave and go away and you have to be alone. You have to be alone forever.

Miscellany #47: 7 August 2015

7 Aug
Show Me A Hero by Lisa Belkin

Show Me A Hero by Lisa Belkin

David Simon’s forthcoming HBO mini series Show Me A Hero is based on Lisa Belkin’s excellent account of the (Yonkers NY) landmark public housing case.

The book/show’s title is taken from an F.Scott Fitzgerald’s incisive aphorism, “Show me a hero and I’ll write ….”

This story may or may not be interesting but the picture

In case you are interested in the Israeli occupied territory of Gaza—here are pictures

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Mont Blanc, Agatha Christie fountain pen

Mont Blanc, Agatha Christie
fountain pen

I own a few fine writing instruments and I still like to handwrite checks so I might use them and retain some small contact with this disappearing craft

Progress? The Chicago Police Department actually worked out an agreement with the ACLU…

BobCat Goldwaith’s film Call Me Lucky, on anti papist Barry Crimmins

Barry Crimmins ,circa 2001 [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Barry Crimmins ,circa 2001 [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

My 2001 chat with Barry Crimmins

Feets don’t fail

Miscellany # 47: 5 August 2015

5 Aug

HIROSHIMA

Don’t forget NAGASAKI

Winners of the 2015 National Geographic Traveler photo contest

Benjamin Netanyahu on the “Dangerous” Iranian Nuke Deal

Messing with the poor rookie

Dickfest— Punk vulgarian Tucker Carlson, Coulter, Hannity

The New York Times gives you 2:38 on Panama

Who doesn’t love Adrian Beltre?

Che Iconography III

Reportedly Pope Francis will be holding mass in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution with Che Guevera looking on…

Stephen Colbert stays busy —The Before-the-Late-Show Late Show

Disposable Futures: Dystopia the Neo Liberal Reality

5 Aug


DYSTOPIA IS THE DOMINANT IMAGINARY FOR NEOLIBERAL GOVERNANCE AND ITS NARCISSISTIC REASONING—HENRY GIROUX

DISPOSABLE  FUTURES by Brad Evans and Henry Giroux

DISPOSABLE FUTURES by Brad Evans and Henry Giroux

Dystopia is the dominant imaginary for neoliberal governance and its narcissistic reasoning—Henry Giroux

DISPOSABLE FUTURES The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle by Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux (cover illustration by Isaac Cordal)

I am going to risk assigning the valence of “importance’ to this book as its conclusions leap past the news cycle’s reportage on state sponsored war on minorities, jarring statistics on gun deaths, the dissonant revelations on the incarceration industry in the World’s leading jailor and the USA’s exceptional death merchantilism and explores the undercurrent of violence that allows for such dystopia

Etienne Balibar (Violence and Civility) opines

Beginning with Primo Levi and ending with Deleuze, Evans and Giroux map the radical transformation that has affected the representation of cruelty between the 20th and the 21st century: from ‘exceptional’ status, associated with the ultimate figures of state sovereignty, it has passed to ‘routinized’ object of communication, consumption and manipulation. This is not to say that everything is visible, only that the protocols of visibility have been appropriated by a different form of economy, where humans are completely disposable. To counter this violence in the second degree, and preserve our capacity to face the intolerable, a new aesthetics and politics of imagination is required. This powerful, committed, exciting book does more than just evoke its urgency. It already practices it.

From Disposable Futures, “Beyond Orwell “Pp.  209-210

Obama’s recent speech on reforms to the NSA not just serves as a text that demands close reading but also as a model illustrating how history can be manipulated to legitimate the worst violations of privacy and civil rights, if not state and corporate-based forms of violence. For Obama, the image of Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty is referenced to highlight the noble ideals of surveillance in the interest of freedom and mostly provide a historical rationale for the emergence of the massive spying behemoths such as the NSA, which now threaten the fabric of U.S. democracy and collect massive data on everyone, not just terrorists. Of course, what Obama leaves out is that Paul Revere and his accomplices acted “to curtail government power as the main threat to freedom.”Obama provides a sanitized reference to history in order to bleach the surveillance state of its criminal past and convince the American public that, in Michael Ratner’s words, “surveillance is somehow patriotic.” Obama’s surveillance state is just the opposite, and the politicians such as Representative Mike Ford and Senator Dianne Feinstein are more than willing to label legitimate whistle-blowers, including most famously Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Jeremy Hammond, as traitors while keeping silent when high-ranking government officials, particularly James Clapper Jr., the director of national security, lied before a senate intelligence committee.

In case it has escaped your notice the histories of violence project is currently developing a series of visual histories on key thinkers and their important concepts on violence.

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http://www.historiesofviolence.com/#!arendt-banality-of-evil/czcc

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http://www.historiesofviolence.com/#!fanon–wretched-of-the-earth/c1bhw

If you are observing or at least acknowledging the anniversary of that sorrowful day in 1945, consider these remarks by Henry Giroux

The 20th Century is often termed the “Century of Violence.” And rightly so, given the widespread devastation of an entire continent during the two Great Wars; the continued plunder and suppression of former colonial enclaves; the rebirth of extermination camps in the progressive heart of a modern Europe; the appalling experiments in human barbarism that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the torture and symbolic acts of disappearance so endemic in Latin America; the passivity in the face of ongoing acts of genocide; the wars and violence carried out in the name of some deceitful humanitarian principle. This legacy of violence makes it difficult to assess this history without developing profound suspicions about the nature of the human condition and its capacity for evil.

One of the particular novelties of this period was the emergence of dystopia literature and compelling works of art that proved integral to the lasting critique of totalitarian regimes. Indeed, some of the most appealing prose of the times was not put forward by recognized political theorists or radical philosophers, but the likes of Yevgeny Zamyatin, H.G. Wells, George Orwell and Aldus Huxley, among others, who managed to reveal with incisive flair and public appeal the violence so often hidden beneath the utopian promise of technologically driven progress.(1) Dystopia in these discourses embodied a warning and a hope that humankind would address and reverse the dark authoritarian practices that descended on the 20th century like a thick, choking fog.

“Worthless Pieces of Land Surrounded By Scoundrels”*

4 Aug
The Dying Grass by William Vollman

The Dying Grass by William Vollman

I suppose its only fitting that I move from considering the USA’s favored hair shirt (see previous post) , Race, to a  subject held in the benignest ((ignorant erroneous usage intentional)** indifference; the US’s unremiiting persecution of its First Peoples. That a publisher would in fact publish a huge volume on that subject does fly in the face of the notion that publishing has gone done the path of venality and dumbness. Enter Viking and William Vollman’s The Dying Grass

In 1990 William Vollman published the first volume of his ambitiously projected “Seven Dreams” cycle, The Ice-Shirt, which was followed by Volume 2, Fathers and Crows, Volume 3 The Rifles, and Volume 4 Argall. His newest opus the fifth volume, The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War (Seven Dreams: Book of North American Landscapes) tells the story of the ill fated Nez Perce and their doomed war six month war in 1877(though they did extract a measure of revenge at the two-day Battle of the Big Hole in southwestern Montana territory) against the US Army.

Readers familiar with Vollman will have already recognized his apparent inability to write short books (consider for example his 3,300-page tome, Rising Up and Rising Down), his newest opus is no exception. At over 1200 pages, with an additional 135 pages of notes and references, this novel offers a number of challenges besides the obvious — an inner/outer narrative with dialogue and thoughts barely distinguished by indentation.But as David Treuer makes an argument for,  it may well be the reading experience of a lifetime:

What Vollmann has done is nothing short of miraculous: He has taken a story whose ending is well known, yet he has made us wonder how it will end. By the 1870s, it was already known — by Indians and whites alike — that the U.S. government was powerful enough to impose its will on the people within the boundaries of the nation. Yet, the Indian Wars still managed to throw everything into question. The story’s complicated text is set in such a way as to ensure that there is a page for every one of the 1,213 miles traveled by Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perce on their journey.)

Vollmann has written an American tragedy with all of the light and shadow, plains and mountains, vast distances and unforgiving climates (political, philosophical, emotional, physical) of our nation. In a time and a market that seem determined to bleed the risk out of fiction — to give us compact narratives of our better angels in the manner of a photograph safely stowed in a locket — Vollmann has written a masterpiece that delivers us to the far shore of our past, a past that is still at war with the ghosts of its decisions. “The Dying Grass” is brilliant and alive.

Back in 1993 with the publication of Fathers and Crows William Vollman talked with Michael Silveblatt aka Bookworm :

* quote on reservations attributed to General Phillip Sheridan

** suggested by self appointed editor, Howard “Hesh” Dinin.

THINGS I WISH I HAD SAID

2 Aug
 A Solemn Pleasure by Melissa Pritchard

A Solemn Pleasure by Melissa Pritchard

From Melissa Pritchard’s essay entitled “Spirit and Vision” included in A Solemn Pleasure

Why write? Why add to the tumult of the world? Your competition is fierce … from television, film, video, all social media, from the books of other writers living and dead. There currently exists in America an insidious numbness to literature. It is increasingly difficult to publish what is called “literary fiction”; even the best-seller market is not what it was. Stacks of books are returned to warehouses every day, even those blockbuster books publishing houses rely upon to finance more serious, less lucrative books. And how have we, as writers of that literature, become increasingly alienated from the soul of our culture? How have we become so nearly unnecessary? In other parts of the world, to be a writer is to place yourself in physical peril; your words might invite your own death. In other parts of the world, to be a writer is a heroic vocation, for which you may be imprisoned, tortured, “disappeared.” On the other hand, thousands of people may assemble to listen to you; as a poet you may be elected to the highest political office. In parts of this world, the power of language is still deeply connected to the soul of the people. Whitman’s work was initially met with indifference. By the time of his death he was regarded as a genius and a saint or a derelict and degenerate, depending on your stand. He was in no way dismissible.

Black is Black-Racism Fatigue

31 Jul

Police response to demonstrations in Ferguson  MO.

Police response to demonstrations in Ferguson MO.

People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned — James Baldwin

Last year, during the heat of the Ferguson Missouri debacle, I became aware that my teen-aged son was lacking in any historical context for the civil rights movement and racial conflict that was filling the news cycle to overflowing. A lack I sought to begin repairing by watching with him, a PBS documentary on the murder of Emmett Till. Till, a black Chicago teenager, was brutally murdered in 1955, while spending the summer with relatives in Mississippi— a crime that went unpunished (the perpetrators were acquitted and though later confessing their guilt, they could not be tried again because of double jeopardy) and became a cause celebre for a nascent civil rights movement.

Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan

Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan

Among efforts to acknowledge this tragedy was a well wrought novel by Lewis Nordan, Wolf Whistle. And now, reportedly millionaires Jay-Z and Will Smith are proposing a six part mini series for HBO, based on the Till murder. Also as reported, there are two other groups looking to resurrect this story. What these efforts will add to the unglamorized body of work already existing is anyone’s guess…

As witnessed in my lifetime, I believe that there are three intractable problems that regularly make headlines— USA’s race problem (or as one commentator opines it the “U.S. war on its domestic black population”),USA’s drug problem, otherwise known as the War on Drugs and the Israeli-Palestine discord (or, if you wish,the Greek Turkey enmity, the Serb Bosnian vendetta, the India-Pakistan feud etc…)In the recent term, the US race problem has boiled over with a series of horrendous police killings of black folk, sparking both outrage and the usual mumbo jumbo punditry, notably by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Though greeted with choral approval, there is at least one nay-sayer(not including the ever smarmy convolutions of David Brooks):

What everyone says about the literary merit of “Between the World and Me” is correct. But if you refuse to simply stare at the book in wonder, you will realize that it is profoundly silly at times, and morally blinkered throughout. It is a masterly little memoir wrapped in a toxic little philippic.

Forgive my reluctance to take seriously Mr Coates’s sincere effort* to expiate on race but I as a witness to the endless race problem and a serious reader of James Baldwin (whose comments and insights have not been improved upon)I am exhausted by the flood of verbiage that reduces to the Shakespearean trope of ‘sound and fury’. If you are bent upon reading about USA’s ‘race’ problem you need to look beyond the approved commentary of Coates commentators or the internecine hissy fits of Cornel West and Michael Edward Dyson and have a look at:

Writing on the Wall by Mumia Abu Jamal

Writing on the Wall by Mumia Abu Jamal

Former Black Panther and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a veteran of death row has just published Writing on the Wall, a comprehensive anthology of Mumia’s short prison commentaries from 1982 to the present, which among other things tracks the ignominious history of police sponsored terror from Haitian immigrant Amadou Diallo (whose body NYPD riddled with of 40 bullets) to 92 year old elderly Kathryn Johnston, shot to death in her Atlanta home by narcotics officers to 12 year old Tammir Rice to Eric Garner to Freddie Gray and and on and on…

Editor of Writing on the Wall,History professor Johanna Fernández,introduces the collection:

…today, in this moment of renewed upsurge against racist state violence, [Mumia’s] voice is more dangerous than ever.” The danger he poses is not merely local. In exposing the structures of violence that underpin the globe, he covers topics ranging from corporate plunder to the neoliberal assault on workers’ rights to Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians to the enduring lessons of the slave revolt that brought independence to Haiti in 1804: “Masses make and sustain revolutions—often against ‘leaders’ whose every instinct is to betray them…

James Baldwin The Last Interview

James Baldwin The Last Interview

This collection brings together four previously published interviews with Baldwin. An in-depth interview conducted by Studs Terkel, shortly after the publication of Nobody Knows My Name, “Go the Way Your Blood Beats,” in Baldwin’s 1984 interview with then editor-in-chief of the Village Voice, Richard Goldstein and “The Last Interview,” which has been published abridged elsewhere but is now presented in full, is with the writer and poet Quincy Troupe’s who sat with Baldwin just days before he died at his home in St. Paul-de-Vence in the south of France in 1987.

A lengthening skein of films from Malcolm X, The Help, The Butler, 12 Years a Slave,Django Unchained to Selmapresume to elucidate for their presumptive audiences various aspects and nuances and yes horrors attached to the history of Africans dragged to the shores of the New World. Have their collective insights moved the needle from the festering, roiling infection that is race in the USA to toward some semblance of accommodation?

I fear that I have no comfortable answer…

One more item —through out my life one Leroi Jones later known as Amiri Baraka was a burning glowing presence. Thus

And

S O S by Amiri Baraka

S O S by Amiri Baraka

Black Dada Nihilismus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa8T2V8_-kg

* Coates makes have some profoundly incisive and eloquent observations

I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. I left The Mecca knowing that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.

Cuba Si : Anniversary of the Triumphant Cuban Revolution

26 Jul

Since 1959 , I have been interested in Cuba and its manifold attractions— the beginning a 12 year old’s admiration for the nascent ‘Triumph of the Revolution’. So many years later that fascination has held its place, though I do have a more balanced view of the Castro Brother’s regime. Now, with the long overdue restoration of diplomatic and other relations between the USA and CUBA, there is a heightened if not frenzied focus on the largest island in the Greater Antilles. So in honor the 26th of July,the Cuban anniversary of the beginning of its unshacking from Uncle Sam, here’s an idiosyncratic and unscholarly bibliographical primer on many things Cubano.

Cuba by Hugh Thomas

Cuba by Hugh Thomas

Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom by Hugh Thomas

Published in 1971, this authoritative survey is an excellent introduction pre revolutionary Cuban history .Thomas is particularly exhaustive on the nexus of the Atlantic slave trade and Cuba’s biggest cash crop, sugar.

Cuba and Music by Ned Sublette

Cuba and Music by Ned Sublette

Cuban and Its Music From the First Drums to the Mambo by Neal Sublette

Musician/musicologist Sublette has already made a major cultural contribution with his Qbadisc recording label.The first volume of a projected series is described by the publisher

This entertaining history of Cuba and its music begins the collision of Spain and Africa and continues through the era of Miguelito Valdés, Arsenio Rodríguez, Beny Moré, and Pérez Prado. It offers a behind-the-scenes examination of music from a Cuban point of view, unearthing surprising, provocative connections and making the case that Cuba was fundamental to the evolution of music in the New World. The ways in which the music of black slaves transformed 16th-century Europe, how the claves appeared, and how Cuban music influenced ragtime, jazz, and rhythm and blues are revealed. Music lovers will follow this journey from Andalucía, the Congo, the Calabar, Dahomey, and Yorubaland via Cuba to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Saint-Domingue, New Orleans, New York, and Miami. The music is placed in a historical context that considers the complexities of the slave trade; Cuba’s relationship to the United States; its revolutionary political traditions; the music of Santería, Palo, Abakuá, and Vodú; and much more.

Smoke by Peter Balakian

Smoke by Peter Balakian

A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Balakian

A History of Cuban Baseball
by Peter Balakian

A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Balakian

In addition to cigars and revolutionary ardor, baseball remains am important feature of Cuban life and Balakian has made telling that story his life’s calling.

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

There is a plenitude of great literature about Cuba and by Cubans. I found John Sayles’s novel Los Gusanos (the Cuban word for ‘worms’, the official revolutionary designation for exiles) about Cuban exiles particularly engrossing. Here Sayles chats with Bookworm Michael Silverblatt about the book I consider Sayles’s magnum opus.

The Man Who Loved Dogs  by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Paduro

Cuban novelist Padura, best known for his noirish detective series Havana Quartet featuring Lt Mario Conde, creates a compelling and engrossing literary narrative featuring Leon Trotsky and his assassin traveling from the Soviet Union to the Spanish CivilWar to Mexico and finally to Cuba. Read Jon Lee Anderson’s (Che profile of Padura,which is an education in recent Cuban states of affairs:

“The Man Who Loved Dogs,” a fictionalized account of Leon Trotsky and his assassin, Ramón Mercader, who lived out his days in Cuba after twenty years in a Mexican prison. For half a century, official Cuba has seen Trotsky as the Soviets did: a traitor rightly consigned to the dustbin of history. Padura’s treatment of Trotsky is highly sympathetic, and his telling of Mercader’s life exposes the hideous legacy of Stalinism, which for decades amounted to a state religion in Cuba. These views are uncontroversial in much of the world, but in Cuba they are radical. The dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote in a review, “There are books—I’m warning you—that open our eyes, such that we can never again sleep in peace.” Onstage, Padura acknowledged that he had frequently suffered from political anxiety: “Every time I finish a novel, I say, ‘This is the one they’re not going to let be published.’ ”

 Mea Cuba by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Mea Cuba by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Mea Cuba by Gulliermo Cabrera Infante

This is an anthology of some 60 articles written over a quarter-century and published in a variety of different periodicals. Despite some overlap and repetition, these essays and critiques are valuable snap shots of Cuban culture under the Castro reign. Cabrera Infante is an engaging polemicist with a penchant for the pun and an articulate opponent of the Revolution.My favorite piece is his recounting the great Cuban chess champion Capablanca‘s funeral.

Read Cabrera Infante (from a Paris Review interview) excoriating the Cuban Revolution:

There are too many people who go around saying that despite shortcomings the revolution has at least done a great job on education and public health. This is like praising Hitler for pulling Germany out of the economic quagmire of the Weimar Republic and exactly like those damned Italian trains that always arrived on time under Mussolini. Those fellow train travelers were saying this time that culture was now a big thing in Cuba because Fidel Castro had taught everybody to read and write. What’s the use of being literate if you lack the freedom to write, publish, and read what you want? The Sforzas, the Gonzagas, and of course the Medicis were upstarts and boors compared to this Cuban condottiere, this self-made patron of the arts and sciences. These were, of course, the lies of the land…

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Cuba:Literary Companion edited by Anne Louse Bardach

Cuba:Literary Companion edited by Anne Louse Bardach

Cuba:Literary Companion edited by Anne Louise Bardach

Bardach, author of a number of books relating to Cuba — Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington and Cuba Confidential, and the editor of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro assembles a thoughtful and useful compendium of Cuban literature. The seventeen selections include: Reinaldo Arenas, Alejo Carpentier,Calvert Casey, Christina Garcia, Pedro Juan Gutierrez. Jose Lezama Lima, Achy Obejas Vergilio Pinera and Zoe Valdes.

The Auto biiography  of  Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

The Auto biography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

There are, of course, numerous biographies of Castro.Writer Norberto Fuentes, having spent many years as a close associate of Fidel, uses that experience to goo advantage to present a fictionalized autobiography. Tom Miller (Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba )writes:

Castro’s revolution was sui generis; nothing like it had ever happened before. Despite his dialectical approach to everything from inviting attractive women, the blonder the better, to assignations (“I don’t recall anyone ever turning down the invitation”) to organizing the Communist Party, much of what’s transpired since 1959 has been impromptu. He’s been winging it for more than half a century. Yet his Machiavellian philosophy, as laid out by Fuentes, has its own internal logic — instructive, perhaps, for military and intelligence strategists.

The book can be a slog, and it gets a little sloppy, but you never know if that’s Fuentes, or Fuentes channeling Castro, or a question of translation. I vote for the channeling theory. Since Castro has never written his memoirs, Fuentes’s version will have to do. Fidel couldn’t have written it better.

Movie poster for Before Night Falls

Movie poster for Before Night Falls

Before Night Falls by Renaldo Arenas

Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria (The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball) wrote

BEFORE NIGHT FALLS” is an autobiography that covers the span of Arenas’s life, from early childhood to his suicide letter blaming Castro for all of his calamities, including his death. It is an absorbing book, with the fascination one finds in stories by survivors of death camps or in lives of the saints. Arenas is betrayed by friends, spied on by fellow writers working for state security, beaten by lovers and jailers, coerced into signing vile confessions, forced to labor in stifling cane fields and compelled to “reform” sexually and politically. He is such a pariah that he must seek escape in the most spectacular ways, from an attempt to swim across Guantanamo Bay to reach the United States naval base there to braving the Florida Straits in an inner tube. All his tries are thwarted by vigilant authorities and informers. Once, fleeing the police, he hides for weeks in Lenin Park, a Communist theme park on the outskirts of Havana. There he spends his time writing the first version of these memoirs (his manuscript is later confiscated) and reading Homer, a flight from reality that necessarily ends every day as night falls (hence the title of his book). To lure people into turning him in, the police announce that a C.I.A. agent and rapist is on the loose. Arenas is careful not to be seen by anyone, but is eventually caught and barely saved from a lynch mob. In episodes such as these Arenas appears as a kind of Jean Valjean, and his book reads like a romantic adventure novel.

Arenas died of AIDS in New York City. He was 36 years old

Julian Schnabel’s brilliant film adaptation is a extraordinary complement to Arenas’s opus as well as a fine snapshot of Revolutionary Cuba.

By the way, Schnabel’s film features a fine soundtrack, including the immortal Cuban crooner Beny More (called by some Yanquis, the “Frank Sinatra of Cuba”)Here he sings the classic ‘Como Fue’

Here’s some more of More, also known in Cuba as El Bárbaro del Ritmo and El Sonero Mayor:

A Planet For Rent  by Yoss

A Planet For Rent by Yoss

A Planet for Rent by Yoss

Here’s a novelty, contemporary Cuban science fiction.

A Legend of The Future  by Augustin de Rojas

A Legend of The Future by Augustin de Rojas

A Legend of The Future by Augustin de Rojas

More Cuban science fiction.

The Last Soldiers of The Cold War   by Fernando Morais

The Last Soldiers of The Cold War by Fernando Morais

The Last Soldiers of The Cold War by Fernando Morais

The story of Cuban political prisoners finally freed in December 2014, after being held captive by the United States since the late 1990s.

 Listen Yankee by Tom Hayden

Listen Yankee by Tom Hayden

Listen Yankee: Why Cuba Matters by Tom Hayden and Roberto Alacron

SDS founder, author of the Port Huron Statement, tried in a Chicago federal court in 1969 as member of the “Chicago Eight”, formerly married to (Hanoi)Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden has been paying attention to Cuban affairs as long as he has been revolutionary student leader turned progressive social activist.This tome covers the writings of Che Guevara, Régis Debray, and C. Wright Mills; the Cuban missile crisis; the Weather Underground; the assassination of JFK; the strong historical links between Cuba and Africa; the Carter era; the Clinton era; the Cuban Five; Elián González; and the December 17, 2014 declaration of normalization by presidents Obama and Castro.

Here’s a piece of a longer conversation with Hayden:

The Domino Diaries  by Brin Jonathan Butler

The Domino Diaries by Brin Jonathan Butler

The Domino Diaries by Brin Jonathan Butler

Here’s the publisher’s description of Butler’s riveting tome:

This book is the culmination of Butler’s decade spent in the trenches of Havana, trying to understand a culture perplexing to Westerners: one whose elite athletes regularly forgo multimillion-dollar opportunities to stay in Cuba and box for their country, while living in penury. Butler’s fascination with this distinctly Cuban idealism sets him off on a remarkable journey, training with, befriending, and interviewing the champion boxers that Cuba seems to produce more than any other country.

In the process, though, Butler gets to know the landscape of the exhilaratingly warm Cuban culture-and starts to question where he feels most at home. In the tradition of Michael Lewis and John Jeremiah Sullivan, Butler is a keen and humane storyteller, and the perfect guide for this riotous tour through the streets of Havana.

Butler traveled to Cuba in2000 to interview several of Cuba’s Olympic champion boxers — Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Savon, Hector Vinent — for his documentary Split Decision, contrasting the boxers who stayed in Cuba with those like Guillermo Rigondeaux, who defected for the promise of riches.

Here, from an interview with Brin Butler:

You wrote that Cuban boxers’ struggles in the ring are intertwined with all Cubans’ struggles. Is that one of the reasons you wrote this book?

I think the beauty and mystery of boxing is just the immediacy of how it reveals people unlike anything else. In the United States in the 20th century, every major event that America was going through, there was a boxer who seemed to symbolically represent it, from slavery to the Vietnam War to the Depression — all the way along, you just seemed to have boxers that carried the narrative. I think in Cuba, it was the same, but midway through my journey in Cuba, you had these boxers who were meant to be entered into Fidel Castro’s symbolic chessboard against the United States, to fight his war against the American system.

What I found important while I was there was that so many of them were leaving, finally, and I thought if Castro’s gonna hold them up when they’re winning Olympic gold and turning down millions of dollars as being symbols of all the successes of the Revolution, you have to then balance the other side of the scale and say if they left, and then people supported their reasons for leaving, then it had to represent failures in the Revolution. That story wasn’t permitted to be told in Cuba.

Revolutionary Cuba A History  by Luis Martinez Fernandez

Revolutionary Cuba A History by Luis Martinez Fernandez

Revolutionary Cuba A History by Luis Martinez Fernandez

Surprisingly (quoting the book’s website):

This is the first book in more than three decades to offer a complete and chronological history of revolutionary Cuba, including the years of rebellion that led to the revolution. Beginning with Batista’s coup in 1952, which catalyzed the rebels it brings the reader to the present-day transformations initiated by Raúl Castro…

…[he examines the circumstances that allowed the revolution to consolidate in the early 1960s, the Soviet influence throughout the latter part of the Cold War, and the struggle to survive the catastrophic Special Period of the 1990s after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. He tackles the island’s chronic dependence on sugar production that, starting with the plantations centuries ago, continues to shape Cuba’s culture and society today. He analyzes the revolutionary pendulum that continues to swing between idealism and pragmatism, focusing on its effects on the everyday lives of the Cuban people, and–bucking established trends in Cuban scholarship–Martínez-Fernández systematically integrates the Cuban diaspora into the larger discourse of the revolution.

José Martí: A Revolutionary Life

José Martí: A Revolutionary Life

José Martí: A Revolutionary Life by Alfred J. Lopez

There are some glaring gaps in English language Cuban scholarship This is first major biography of Martí (1853–1895) in over half a century and the first ever in English (there is another biography coming by the well regarded Esther Allen) which given Marti’s signifigance as the great pan American revolutionary and political thinker and a titan of Latin American letters, whose poetry, essays, and journalism still rank among the most important works of the region. Lopezs uses original Cuban and U.S. sources, including materials never before used in a Martí biography, López strips away generations of mythmaking and portrays While Martí was Cuba’s greatest founding father and one of Latin America’s literary and political giants, Lopez presents a clear eyed view including Marti’s rarely acknowledged missteps and personal flaws.

The Double Life of Fidel Castro   by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez

The Double Life of Fidel Castro by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez

The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Lider Maximo by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez

Here’s a made for the movies story or to quote the Daily Beast review “A new trash-talking biography by a disaffected bodyguard who says the Cuban leader owns houses galore, can’t dance, and always has to win when he shoots hoops.” Juan Reinaldo Sanchez,worked for Fidel for 17 years and now presents his memoir of those years. When he tried to retire 1994, displeasing the Lider maximo Castro, he was imprisoned and tortured. He managed to defect in 2008.

When Henry Kissinger was in The People’s Republic of China negotiating the Sino-American detente, he inquired of Chou En Lai Chinese Foreign Minister and revolutionary stalwart, his view of the French Revolution. Chou reportedly replied, “Its too soon to tell.”

And finally non- pareil hot zone journalist Jon Lee Anderson recently opined

We are in an age when, in the Middle East and elsewhere, the United States has had to grapple with the appalling consequences of some of its more egregious geostrategic mistakes. In return, it has also had to accept a diminished role in certain aspects of the world’s affairs. In that context, Obama’s decision to find a way forward with Cuba was not a sign of weakness, but of strength.

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