Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vijay Prashad: Deaths of children that don’t make news

Reprinted in full below, because Prashad says it better than I tried to do on Facebook a few days ago and it's really worth reading.

NORTHAMPTON — No community easily suffers the death of children. Accidents, violent crimes and illness: the cause is immaterial. 
No death of a child is for a reason. All such deaths are senseless. 
In his emotional address shortly after news came of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., President Obama pointed to the frequency of such mass crimes and nudged the country to widen our field of vision: “Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.” 
The contrary nudge came in his last destination, the “street corner in Chicago.” 
When a singular mass killing occurs in mainly affluent suburbs, it shocks the nation — and rightly so. But it might be a shock to some to know that this year alone 117 children died from handgun violence in Chicago. These deaths do not get discussed, let alone memorialized in the national conversation of tragedy. 
There are at least two reasons for this. First, these deaths do not happen in a spectacular fashion. They take place in ones and twos, often in the lonely hours of the night when bullets depart from their targets and settle in the soft tissue of children asleep in their homes, or in the afternoon as they play on the sidewalk. 
Take the case of April 12. One-year-old Jayliah Allen was shot while she slept in her bed, the bullet entering the window. Seven-year-old Derrick Robeteau was shot in the leg while playing outside his grandfather’s home and a 7-year-old girl was shot as she stood outside her home. Three children hit by handguns in one day, but in an unspectacular form. 
Second, old racist habits linger. These are African-American and Latino kids, whose neighborhoods are considered dangerous. Which is why when Jayliah and Derrick were killed no one called their neighborhoods bucolic or thought that this violence was senseless. There is a hardness that has entered our consciousness, allowing us to avoid the sealed fates of these kids. 
No memorials exist as well for the 178 children killed by U.S. drone strikes in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Noor Aziz, 8, Talha, 8, Najibullah, 13, Adnan, 16, Hizbullah, 10, Wilayat Khan, 11, Asadullah, 9, Sohail, 7: these are some of the names of children killed by the drones. News reports frequently say “three militants killed,” and then a few days later, in the Pakistani press, one hears that amongst the dead were children with no association with the militants. Unlike the street shootings in Chicago, there have been mass killings by drones, which have received only minimal attention. On Oct. 30, 2006, a U.S. drone struck a school in Bajaur, Pakistan, killing 83 people. The New York Times story ran Nov. 10 with the headline, “American Strike in January Missed Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 By a Few Hours.” 
The Times noted in the story that the drone hit “a madrasa, or religious school,” but left it at that. It did not mention that only three of those killed were older than 20. The rest were between the ages of 7 and 17. 
There was no apology for this strike, authorized by the White House, no call to put an end to this kind of tragedy. One of the more unseemly coincidences of the Newtown massacre is that just down the road from the elementary school is Forecast International, a military intelligence firm that has been bullish on drones. 
On Oct. 23, Time’s Joe Klein was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Host Joe Scarborough spoke passionately against the use of drones, saying “it seems so antiseptic and yet you have 4-year-old girls being blown to bits because we have a policy that now says, ‘You know what? Instead of trying to go in and take the risk and get the terrorists out of hiding in a Karachi suburb, we’re just going to blow up everyone around them.’ ” 
Klein, a defender of the Obama record, answered emotionlessly, “The bottom line in the end is — whose 4-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.” 
Such a callous calculation is not Klein’s alone; it is reflected in the general lack of concern for what is being carried out in our name. 
No human beings can tolerate to see their children killed. No human beings, not anywhere.

Vijay Prashad, who lives in Northampton, is the author of “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter” (AK Press).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Berkeley Winter Walking Poem

walking to Trader Joe's
cold legs
smell of Nation's
and Indian food
mingle in the air
man standing too close to me at checkout
people driving too fast down residential streets
wonder if they will hit me
the smell of fires burning in fireplaces
I wish I had one at home
settle for a space heater
to warm up numb fingers
and toes

Friday, December 07, 2012

Review: The People's Apocalypse

The People's Apocalypse
The People's Apocalypse by Ariel Gore and Jenny Forrester

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This book is as highly varied as it sounds from the description, and it's as hard to sum up in a short review as it was difficult for me to put down! I was just eternally curious what the next short story or informational article would be.

The People's Apocalypse is divided into 7 section: Revelations, Plans, Signs, Visions, Cataclysms, Demons and Saviors and my favorite entries include the very practical "Preparedness 101," "You'll Need a Solar Oven," and "You Might Need Urban Goats," the heart-rending "Tsunami Warning," the inspirational "To Hell With Chicken Little," "Happy Endings," and "Revolution," the meditative and sad "The End Times Project" and "After the Very First Quiet Morning," and the musings on different possible outcomes of one event of "Biochemical Weapon Zombie Dog Dream: A Political Allegory."

Some of these pieces are quite explicitly political as well, with analyses ranging from environmentalist, radical people of color, class politics, religious politics and politics of place. Some pieces weave these elements in more subtly. But again, the strength is, I believe, in the variety of points of view, content and style.

One glaring critique for me: the indeed erotic "Erotalyptica" was also unfortunately very heteronormative and obliviously racist (relegating Mayan peoples to the past, as if they do not still exist). Were I an editor I would have certainly pointed the latter out and probably the former too, given the story's premise. Frankly, some queer relationships in the stories in general would have made the book even stronger, they just would have made particular sense included in that story.

All said and done I think this is a unique and totally worthwhile read.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

When Was the Last Time I Did a Round Up of Good Shit to Read?

I don't even know.  But as I was linkspamming the shit out of my Facebook friends (sorry y'all) I thought to myself that really I should be doing this here....  And it's going to be quite the clusterfuck of various areas of my interest and their recent discussion in media, so buckle up.  You're welcome!  :D

Cleveland anarchist bomb plot aided and abetted by the FBI
Rather than target real risks of domestic terror, like neo-Nazis, the FBI entrapment machine demonises anarchists and Muslims
A+ priorities and strategies FBI!  /sarcasm  This is one of the reasons why I am so burned out on anything professing to be "law and order" or "security" matters.  We're creating terrorists so we can catch them...instead of looking at ACTUAL TERRORIST GROUPS like neo-Nazis.  Oh, ok.

The homeless man and the NYPD cop's boots: how a warm tale turns cold
A picture that started as a seasonal heartwarmer has now become a reason not to feel sorry for the homeless as Hillman is painted as a wilful eccentric.
I was really struck by this story and what a great example it is of the demonization of the poor, the way that there is only one "proper" way to BE poor, and the way deviance from that narrative is SOUGHT OUT by people and then used to blame the poor for their situation and thus absolve all others of any complicity or guilt in the system that keeps them there.  I also think this overlaps with my final story....

In solidarity for the respect of Holy Places
In appreciation of the many gestures of solidarity from the Muslim world following the recent desecration of Christian Holy Places, the Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop William Shomali, visited Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday, October 4 where he met Grand Mufti Mohammad Hussein and the grand magistrate of the mosque Abdel Adhim Salhab...The Bishop also assured Muslims the support of the Christian community with respect to their holy places.
People not being assholes.  I felt like I should mix it up a little bit.

Homefulness! A Real Solution to Houselessness
Homefulness, a project of POOR Magazine, is a solution of interdependence, love, and equity-sharing for landless youth, adults, and elders across Pachamama. It is a poor people-led, self-determined, truly green model for housing, art, microbusiness, spirituality, interdependence, self-accountability, caregiving, and community that incorporates the teaching of our elders, ancestors, and spiritual leaders in harmony with Mother Earth. We aim to create permanent and lasting solutions to houselessness for families in poverty who have been displaced, evicted, gentrified, and destabilized out of their indigenous lands and communities.
An IndieGoGo campaign that I would really encourage you to participate in, if you can!

Remember Their Names: In Memory of Kasandra, Cherica & Others
This tragic story pushes to the forefront an important issue in terms of domestic violence and murder. When the murderer is famous, attractive, rich, or charming people don’t want to believe that they are guilty. I don’t pretend to know Jovan Belcher’s heart, motives, or mind set when he fired numerous gunshots into the body of his baby’s mother, and then turned the gun on himself. I don’t know why his only option, in that moment, felt like a desperate one. I don’t know what caused him to murder Kasandra, but what I do know is that it was not Kasandra’s fault. I know that staying out until 1 o’clock in the morning at a concert was not an invitation to die. I know that it doesn’t matter what she wore that night, or what she may have said, or whether or not she may have been intoxicated, or rolled her eyes at him, or called him out of his name, or talked to another guy in passing, she didn’t deserve to die.

Nigeria: Security Forces Open Fire On Protesting Ogoni Community
Armed security forces protecting the interest of the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell, on Friday, opened fire on a protesting Ogoni community in the Rivers State axis of Southern Nigeria. The community, Eleme, was protesting against the presence of some Shell officials at the Ebubu Oilfield.

U.S. finalizes $3.4 billion settlement with American Indians
The missing funds at the center of the class-action case involve what are called Individual Indian Money accounts, which are supposed to represent the property of individual Indians. The accounts are held by the United States as trustee.
The lawsuit had accused the government of failing to account for the money, failing to make proper payments, and converting tribal money for the government's own use.
In making the announcement Monday, Obama remembered Cobell for "her honorable work." In 2009, she said that many represented in the class-action lawsuit "subsist in the direst poverty," and that the settlement is "significantly less than the full amount to which the Indians are owed."
This one made me happy, sort of, and also really fucking angry and sad.

The Adoption of Johnny Depp

A video from the 1491s recounting and dramatizing the events of Johnny Depp's adoption by LaDonna Harris of the Comanche nation. Not to be missed.  I'm serious.  Watch this shit.


An absolutely wonderful infographic on what "Trans" means!!!!!!!  <3

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Confirmed for BBC Miniseries

If you've read this book, you know why I'm excited!

Who's Afraid of the Qassams?
So stopping Palestinian rockets is not a plausible explanation for Israeli attacks. Indeed, the Israeli leadership – at best – does not care much about such deaths, posturing to the contrary. There’s a reason for that. The Zionist political and intellectual elite makes a lot of cantankerous noises about the rockets falling on southern Israel, usually accompanied by the question, how would you respond if rockets were falling on your head? But less frequently noted is whose heads those rockets are falling upon. Sderot and other southern cities are not merely populated by Jewish Israelis. They are also populated by mostly Mizrahi, usually lower-class, Jewish Israelis, the outcome of a planning regime which puts some populations of Jews in some places and kept other populations of Jews in others. 
Sderot, summoned up so sedulously as the very symbol of Israeli terror and fear due to Hamas’s – mostly ineffectual – rockets was initially a transit camp for Kurdish and Persian Jews. Later, it was populated by Moroccans. And still later, Ethiopians and the darker Jews of the ex-Soviet Caucasus. That was where they were dumped, with the European elites concerned, according to a 1950 Jewish Agency brochure, that the darker Jews might create “quarters of poverty, filth, unemployment, and crime.” Accordingly, there needed to be “a greater effort to settle the immigrants in the countryside.” And so they were. 
[...]And so Tel Aviv, the cosmopolitan, Ashkenazi, cultural core of Israel could remain distant from the front lines of the conflict created by the policies pursued by its economic and political elites, while the cannon fodder on the Israeli periphery would bear their brunt.
So, yeah.  Let's keep this in mind when we're talking about rockets and "retaliation," yeah?

Finally, 'Squatters are not home stealers'
What the squatting dispute boils down to is a split between those who consider private property to be sacred, and those who would prioritise the right to shelter. Few people would happily forfeit a second home to squatters, but nor does it feel morally justifiable for a nation to have an estimated 930,000 empty homes while people sleep on the streets.

This is a really interesting article recounting the situation primarily for squatters in the UK, where a measure (section 144) was recently passed criminalizing them in new if not unprecedented ways, as well as in several other European countries and the United States.

The part I've highlighted here is, for me, one of the common denominators in all of these debates: private property and profit versus the right to shelter and measurements of worth outside of capitalist profit.

Even as I plan to buy a house one day and thus participate more directly than I currently do in the system of private property/profit (through equity), I really think we as communities need to THINK ABOUT what private property means to us, its "sacredness," its use for profit, and our priorities around use of space.  Because it's simply not a question of IF we have an excess of buildings - WE DO - and if people are going to put them to use as homes, gardens, community spaces; isn't that a GOOD THING?

I think it is. And I don't think everything needs to be about PROFIT, or that the use of space is only "good" if PROFIT is made.  But that's the way all this is constructed and POLICED right now.....

This is just one of those things I don't think many people know about, much less question. It's something I didn't know about or question until it was put in my face with the response to building "occupations" over the last couple of years.  So here I am...writing about it.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Cloud Atlas: Racebending, Genderbending and a Film for Us

Before going to see Cloud Atlas, I knew I few things about it.  I'd seen the trailers, and could see its scope was epic.  From the trailers I also knew it was a film by the Wachowskis, whose movies I generally FUCKING LOVE.  I knew it had been a book.  I knew it practiced racebending (actors of one race made up to look like people of another race/characters of one race played by actors of another).  And I had read two reviews, one referenced and linked to in the other: Cloud Atlas is a Film For Us - It is Our Film, in which the author argues, in part;
This won’t make much sense to a lot of people, but Cloud Atlas is Our Film. And there isn't a trans person in the film. But truly, this is a movie that is as rich and complex and deeply moving as the lives of Trans people, and it carries forward with so many themes that it resonates soundly with transness in a way that it id challenging to describe (sic).

It is a movie for those who love, and for those who are loved. It is a film for those who struggle, who wonder, who hope.
As I was watching the film myself, I couldn't help but agree with this review.

Her words kept ringing in my ears.

But I don't want to start there.  I want to start with what made me profoundly uncomfortable about the movie: the racebending.  Quite frankly, the white men made up to look Asian looked more like Vulcans or Romulans than actual Asian people of any ethnicity.  Like, the makeup people really tried, but it just DIDN'T work.  It was SO distracting.  It was SO awkward.

Similar feelings were conjured when Doona Bae was made up to be white and then a darker Latina, although this was more successful.

Halle Berry I didn't actually even recognize when she was made up as a white woman.

There is a LOT in here about my own perceptions, the perceptions of the other people in the theater, about "passing," about Otherness, and about mixed race features and "beauty" that are beyond the scope of this review (like I'm wishing I was back in school cuz I just keep coming across more things that are so fucking worth analyzing and talking about that I just want to write a huge research paper or something, but I don't want to do all of that right here and now)...

But whether the makeup "worked" or didn't, isn't really the point and isn't what ultimately bothered me about watching white men play at being Asian.  What bothered me was thinking about all the Asian men who could have played these roles, and who ultimately weren't in the movie because of the choice to racebend white men into the roles instead.

At the same time, I do understand the choice to have the same actors portraying many different characters.  I mean, without going into heavy spoilers, this is a lot of what the movie is about.  And not in some white-washed liberal colorblind way (even if in the end whitewashing did occur) but more in the sense of the idea that our souls have been/will be tied into bodies that are different from the ones we have now, and to represent that, they chose to use the same actors, so we can identify these souls visually as they move from body to body throughout time.  From a visual storytelling perspective, this strategy makes sense, and as I said to one of my friends as we discussed our reactions, this is basically the ONLY scenario I can even entertain the idea of racebending of this nature being remotely appropriate/excusable.  It's also a very theatrical choice, as my husband pointed out, which given the Wachowski's grand style of film-making, is also rather appropriate.

That said, I can think of other ways they could have achieved this.  There is a running visual element throughout the film of a distinctive birthmark.  Put that birthmark on anyone, and we could know it was this character reincarnated.  You could then have multiple actors play that role (which they did) and we know to trace them all together.  Obviously the actors, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving and especially Tom Hanks in particular would have had considerably less fun and demonstrated far fewer of their acting ability in that case, but many more actors, and importantly, many more actors of color, would have had the opportunity to demonstrate THEIR skills instead, and it would not have reinforced Hollywood narratives of the erasure of actors of color and current social narratives of whitewashing.

Note I do not say here "colorblind" narratives, because I absolutely did not take that message away from the film.  The message of the film, in the way it takes us through so many various lives, and shows us their interconnections, is one that does not shy away from difference, nor try to argue we are "all the same;" but that we are connected, that we are not totally separate from each other.  This was one of the messages that I thought was brilliantly done and beautiful to behold.

So yes.  This practice of yellowface made me deeply uncomfortable.  Even as I think it attempted to challenge the idea of the Racial Other, I also think it didn't really succeed.  And that is where I wanted to start my discussion of the film, because it deserves to be put front and center.

Existing alongside this really fucking important discomfort is the fact that I loved this film.  So I cannot over-emphasize my ambivalence here.  What they tried to portray with it was just epic.  There are quotes from the film I want to put in here, and I regret not taking notes as I watched, but I return now to the idea that "this film is for us."  I'm not trans, but I kept thinking about that review at different points in the movie, because, YES.  As someone who has long felt that the status quo/normative culture is one I am forcefully alienated from, YES.  The complexities, and beauties, and tragedies of life, hope and betrayal and greed and love are all in this story instead of some easily digested fantasy, and what ultimately comes out of it all is the need for us to stand up for each other.  To risk that.  To risk telling our truths.  To risk suffering and dying for each other.  That "boundaries are conventions," and conventions must be challenged, pushed at, broken through.

In other words:


Revolution so that we all can survive and REALLY FUCKING LIVE.  In all our difference and splendour and variation and BEAUTY.  And even in our imperfection, making some of the imperfect choices made in its creation perhaps even sort of appropriate.

This movie is so QUEER that it doesn't surprise me that not everyone is "getting" it,* as attested to by the fact that it hasn't been a box office "success," apparently, and that I've heard/read so many saying they were confused by it.  But I don't know.  With all its flaws, it spoke very clearly to me.

And this was why the genderbending didn't make me uncomfortable like the racebending did.  Yes, Hugo Weaving still basically looked like Hugo Weaving, but he didn't play that character as a caricature.  More than that, I was fascinated by this choice of genderbending, given that this is the first movie (IIRC) after Lana Wachowski's transition, the first film she released as Lana publicly.  And in it she chooses a man who has been in like, all but one of the Wachowski's movies, to play a woman.  To play a butch, masculine woman.  Maybe, to play a trans woman.

In fact this is perhaps one of the most stereotypical ways that Hollywood presents trans women, one of the ways it displays it's transmisogyny** and undermines trans feminine identification.  That REALLY, they are not women at all, but "men in dresses."

It would be easy to read this character in that light, and it can't be ignored that this character exists within a movie-making context that is openly hostile to trans people, one that does undermine the perceived validity of trans identification in this manner.  And yet, in her first movie created openly as Lana, she chooses this man, clearly like their favorite actor ever and I'm guessing close friend, to portray this character.  And he does so really, really well.  Nurse Noakes is not played for laughs (although I did hear some VERY uncomfortable and surprised laughter when she first came on screen), and her femininity is not played to a hyper/false-feminine "drag queen" stereotype.  Weaving does affect his voice to make it higher, and this isn't done flawlessly, but it also isn't done hyperbolically.  So to me, this read as a great moment of trust on Lana Wachowski's part.  Of wanting to put characters on screen that don't conform to cisnormativity even as she had to know the hostile environment she would be adding that character to.  And so she chose to person close to her to portray that character, and tried to navigate a razor thin line between challenging the normative and falling into its traps.

It worked for me.

Let me also not ignore here that Weaving was not the only actor to genderbend in this film.  At least one of the woman actors (Xun Zhou, I believe) portrayed a man.  However, this character didn't have as big of a role as Weaving's nurse, and was not as apparently genderbent.  In fact, it wasn't until the end of the movie that I realized she had played that character at all.  And part of my brain screams about what this says about the way in which Asian men are portrayed/perceived as feminine, that this perception arising out of white supremacy's influence on normative gender means it is the Asian actors who have more gender mobility when swapping parts.  It is playing along that edge again, of challenging normativity, and sort of playing with normative perceptions too?  Perhaps in that legacy of Disidentification.  I'm not sure.  I probably won't be sure until I've seen this several more times, but I don't want to ignore any of the inklings of critique bubbling their way to the surface of my mind.

If you have gotten this far, I'm going to guess you've figured out this is a complicated and multi-layered film.  It is.  It is also at times a beautiful film.  Maybe even a transcendent film (a word I don't use lightly as I find it horribly cheesy and pretentious usually).  I do hope you will see it.

It is a film for us.

*and by that I do not mean "have a problem with any of the totally critique-able parts" but the frequently heard "I have no idea what this movie is about"
**versus "merely" its cissexism in pursuit of "validation" of trans feminine identity through their portrayal by cis woman actors

As for Time relegating this to "the worst movie of the year" all I can say is LOLZ.