Sunday, February 28, 2010

And now a few words of advice for Hamid Karzai, US puppet ruler in Afghanistan

Ngo Dinh Diem

not to mention

Syngman Rhee
Nguyen Van Thieu
Anastasio Somoza
Ferdinand Marcos
Park Chung-Hee

or perhaps

Mohammed Daoud Khan
Nur Mohammed Taraki
Hafizullah Amin
Babrak Karmal
Najibullah

that is all.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Anti-American Art: Tiny Tiny Enemies



Today a special double feature. Look closer at these 1950s Chinese health posters (click to enlarge). In the top poster, a resolute mother is determined to defend her children....from a US bomb full of disease-bearing bugs. In the second, vaccination is urged as protection from the creepy Westerner who fills up a bomb with disease-laden mosquitos, flies and rats. When it comes to paranoia about germ warfare, I'm not one to say never. Given the reputed intentional distribution of smallpox-ridden blankets to Native Americans by United States settlers, germ warfare before the term was even invented, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that cold war scientists cooked up ways to distribute contagion to the "Reds." On the other hand, paranoia is quite a tool for keeping people on your own side. I wonder what the truth was behind these posters.

I found these scans on the amazing CultureGems gallery site.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Echoes of a Past Life - Holes & Poles


The argument by right-wing fundamentalists -- and some not so right-wing ones -- that marriage should be the exclusive provenance of heterosexuals because of the fruitful nature of the one man + one woman pairing reminded me of this polemic I wrote back in my Pagan days. Pagans, I suppose that means Wiccans particularly, celebrate the holiday of Beltane on May Day with a enjoyably pastoral frolic in an open field: a tall pole, fastened with long colored ribbons, is implanted in the ground. Participants are lined up boy-girl-boy-girl in a circle around the pole, and holding the ends of the ribbons dance around it in a circular, weaving pattern, winding the ribbons down the length of the pole in an interlocking lattice and raising a whole lot of energy. It's enjoyable but insufferably metaphoric for the literal minded, and it becomes one of those unbearably Freudian exercises that my queer Pagan friends were always trying to figure out how to reclaim in a less overtly heterosexual manner.

It turns out that even though Paganism may seem like a left-of-center religion, that's not always the case. But as straight Pagans might find divine validation in this celebration of heterosexual union just as straight Christians find divine validation in Adam and Eve, the untidy presence of Adam and Steve seems to crash the party and suddenly the metaphor isn't so perfect. The response of the intolerant is to insist that everybody fall in line and end the discussion, casting out and condemning the parts of the equation that don't fit; hopefully the response of the rest of us is to check our assumptions and expand our understanding of the complexity of the human experience.

In retrospect I'm left asking a fundamental question about my argument: is fertility only the product of difference? I'm not sure I've gone far enough here in questioning that dualistic assumption. Anyway, here's the original article. It's another piece from Our Pagan Times, the newsletter of New York's open Pagan circle New Moon, and that's my sorry pseudonym.

-----

Holes, Poles & The God/dess
by Moonchild
from Our Pagan Times, Vol. 2 No 6 (#16), June 9992 [1992]

Last month in OPT, Beth Goldstein's article "Beltane and You: An Engendered Approach," examined and defended one form of traditional approach to celebrating Beltane with a May pole. In addressing the problem that this ritual might entail for non-heterosexual participants, the article posited that sex is one thing, beautiful in its diverse possibilities, and fertility--reproduction--is another, beautiful in its unique heterosexuality. In essence, that the heterosexual imagery of such a Wiccan maypole shouldn't prevent those who are not heterosexual from fully participating in and appreciating the meaning of such a ritual done in the "traditional" manner.

It is my opinion--and I recognize this is an opinion not held by all homosexuals--that the maypole ritual as practiced by much of the Wiccan community is a limiting view of sexuality and fertility; and that the Freudian excesses of such a maypole ritual are not only potentially heterosexist but deforming to the understanding of a profound cosmic truth.

I am an exclusively homosexual man. Although in part this has to do with what I like to do in bed, it far more has something to do with who I am. What makes me different from straight people is not only--repeat not only--that I like to rub genitals and mucous membranes in different combination than straight people, but a profound interpretation of my place in the cosmic picture. Simply put, the Goddess didn't breath this life into me to enable me to make babies. Sure, my sperm could presumably help make babies as well as any man's, and certainly there are many gay people who do parent children. But if we accept that the Goddess is immanent in all life, and that the key to The Mystery is within us, and my life is not about reproduction of babies, where does that leave me, and my kind, on Beltane? Certainly not celebrating someone else's potentials.

Beth's article defines the realm of sexuality as "Heterosexuality Homosexuality, Bisexuality, Autoeroticism and Psychodrama," and the realm of fertility and reproduction as the Sacred Fucking-for-Pregnancy of Male and Female. Yet for me, homosexuality is not merely a question of what one likes to do (or not do) with penises and vaginas, and certainly not the equivalent of masturbation or psychodrama (phone sex?). Perhaps most important of all, it is certainly not a choice, though the decision to express it may well be one. It is, rather, a life-shaping force.

Beth says that regardless of sexuality men and women can and should be able to take "traditional" roles on Beltane with no internal contradictions. I say that these "traditional" roles are, in fact, potentially insulting to lesbians and gays, and the product of a giant pole-in-hole metaphor run amok.

Fertility exists at the point of balance between the Divine Male and Female, between the light and the dark, the earth and the sky, the cosmic force and form. This fertility exists on all realms and planes from the merest physical reproduction to the sweep of the winds and brilliance of lightning to the magical mental spark that creates symphonies. The ability to create is the miraculous interplay of difference. The physical replication of bodies by the interplay of male and female is only one of billion fruits of this fertile possibility. With us, too, lies the ability to turn the inner differences all of us possess--which sometimes manifest as the inner maleness and femaleness--into a fertile dance of explosive power and creativity. What this means is that to choose, as a symbol, the particular miracle of heterosexual reproduction is to make, in effect, a political choice. And to make this choice is to potentially exclude others whose choices are shaped by different realities.

It may be that for certain desired effect such a choice is made. That is not a problem, if the making of that choices is stated. The problem arises when we begin to make that choice for others. Should we decided that Beltane celebrates strictly physical reproduction then our celebration needs to speak to each participant in a way that fills her or him with the Divine. The Freudian pole/hole thing of many modern Wiccans just doesn't work for me.

When we deal with each other as Pagan brothers and sisters in this grand and gorgeously motley brood, it is incumbent upon us to speak clearly of all possibilities. Those of us who are blessed with heterosexuality will find our gifts and use them, and sometimes to the exclusion of homosexuals. The same is true of those of us blessed with homosexuality, or the shades in between. The Goddess blesses us with a divine ability to mold our Pagan religious practices to be true to our own hearts, and this is indeed the duty of us all. But there are times and places to come together and find the common ground, and hopefully that is the space New Moon aspires to.

A snow day in Brooklyn


A foot of snow. More than the "snowmageddon" last time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

You can't keep a good website down: Jazz Supreme Returns!


I'm happy to announce that thanks to the enthusiasm of Kozmigroov ace freeform, Jazzsupreme has a new home. After noticing that Jazz Supreme had gone dark, freeform tracked me down and offered to host the site as part of his collection of Kozmigroov websites. New url: http://www.freeform.org/music/jazzsupreme, but for now same old out-of-date content the web seems to have grown to love. I've given freeform license to update the content as he sees fit; meanwhile it's up for public viewing. I can't thank freeform enough; be sure to check out his other pages for music fans like Kozmigroov Konnection, an index of comic jazz artists and album reviews, and The Guide to Indian Jazz Fusion. I met freeform through the old Kozmigroov mailing list in the 1990s, and he's been great at carrying the torch. Thanks, f! Peace and grooves!

Anti-American Art: Bayonets vs. Nukes


More love from North Korea. Wrapping himself in the flag won't protect this nuke-bearing American soldier from the giant Korean bayonet. As near as I can tell the background pictures show the fate of US trespassers on Korean turf in years past. I'm thinking that's the burning of the ship General Sherman in the 1860s at the top, through the Korean war and various incidents in the 1960s and 70s.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stop U.S. Threats Against Iran, redux

I've said this before, and I am saddened to have to say it again: Nuclear weapons are evil. So are warplanes, machine guns, artillery, missiles, grenade launchers, mines. But as long as Israel and the United States have nuclear weapons pointed against Iran, as long as American naval and air forces encircle that country, as long as American politicians (yesterday it was Bush and Condi Rice, today it is Obama and Hillary Clinton) threaten Iran, Iran has as much a right to these machines of war as the U.S. does.

I don't like the Iranian government; the Islamic Revolution hijacked and derailed the real revolution against the Shah back in 1979. But dealing with the Iranian government is the work of the Iranian people. I don't like nuclear power, either; but until irrational capitalism with its profit motive gives way to more rational systems that can explore safer technologies like solar power, Iran has as much right to nuclear power as anyone else.

The saber ratting against Iran needs to stop. And the media need to be reminded that it's not Iran starting a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, it's Iran responding defensively to the one that the Israelis have long already begun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

War Is Peace? Doubleplusungood!


A fascinating quote from Robert Gates, the Bush Secretary of Defense held over into the Obama administration. Gates was speaking to NATO officials, and his reference is in part to the recent fall of the Dutch government over troops in Afghanistan:
“The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.”

Apparently completely unironically the New York Times headlined this story "Gates Calls European Mood a Danger to Peace." If only more "large swaths" of the public would be averse to military force then perhaps Mr. Gates could begin his obviously long-awaited retirement.

Peace, the absence of war; what a concept!

Anti-American Art: People vs. Jets


Here's another sheet of Libyan stamps marking an anniversary of the 1986 American air raid on Tripoli. In this one, Leader Qaddafi himself seems to be engaged in personal combat with the attacking F-16 jets. The illustrator of these stamps designed many, many Libyan stamps in the 1980s and 1990s in this same action comic-book style depicting scenes from Libya's truly heroic resistance to Italian colonialism in the early twentieth century as well as more propagandistic stamps extolling Qaddafi's leadership.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Do Ask - Don't Kill


My friend David tipped me to this blog article with an awesome photo from San Francisco: "I wish our queer organizations worked to end war instead of for my right to be out while I kill or am killed in one...It may be a civil right to be in the military but it's a human right to be free from illegal wars." Awesome sentiment. Thanks to "Democracy Sometimes" for this photo.

Check out my own opinion on DADT repeal here.

How Sandinistas Remembered Their Martyrs

The struggle against the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua was long and bloody. The FSLN itself -- the Sandinista Front for National Liberation -- was formed in the early 1960s by a number of young Nicaraguans from varying backgrounds. Only one of the original founders survived to see the revolution's success in 1979. Nicaragua is not a huge country, and when I stayed there for the summer of 1986, it was clear that a kind of intimacy remained with all those who had fallen at the hands of the dictatorship's US-backed military. There were lots of wall murals and posters memorializing the FSLN's martyrs, and even small monuments marking the spot where some hero or heroine had fallen. Here's another batch of photos I took, showing some of these memorials. Click the label "photography" below for more of my Nicaragua photos. Click on the photos themselves to see them larger.


Rigoberto Lopez Perez was the assassin of Anastasio Somoza (father of the dictator the FSLN finally overthrew) in the 1950s. He was a poet and composer, and shot the dictator after infiltrating a party; he was killed in the attack. This wall stencil in Managua reads, "Con el heroismo de Rigoberto, Seguimos en Frente con el Frente" or "With the heroism of Rigoberto, We Stay Ahead with the Front"


This Managua mural marks the "Heroes and Martyrs of the William Diaz Neighborhood" especially Carlos Calero: "Companero Carlos Calero Presente Presente": "Comrade Carlos Calero Still Present."


The Nicaraguan revolution captured the imagination of young people in the 1970s: many of those who were gunned down by the forces of Somoza were teens. I don't know the name of this young girl heroine, whose small shrine was tucked into a Managua street corner.


A billboard set up for the anniversary of the revolution celebrations reads "Nicaragua Victoriosa: Ni Se Rinde, Ni Se Vende" "Victorious Nicaragua: Neither For Sale or Surrender." It shows Rigoberto Lopez and FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca sandwiching Sandinista namesake Augusto Cesar Sandino, the revolutionary who tried to drive out US forces in the early 1930s.


This mural in Granada honors fallen FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca Amador. Fonseca was the main theoretician of the FSLN, and was killed in the guerrilla phase of the revolution in 1976. The mural reads, "We're trying not to simply change the men in power, but to change the system; for the defeat the exploiting classes and the victory of the exploited classes."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Malcolm X, 1925-1965


El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz, better known as Malcolm X, was assassinated 45 years ago today. It's never been conclusively proved who was behind his assassination, whether the government, criminals, or the Muslim faction led by Louis Farrakhan. The world lost a great leader that day; a man of uncompromising principles, and devotion to freedom and justice. Malcolm X's message was never what the white liberal allies of the civil rights movement of the 1960s wanted to hear. He stressed self-defense, and the need for African-Americans to do the right thing for themselves. He vigorously opposed the hypocrisy of US foreign policy in the decolonizing third world. Toward the end of his life he set aside some of his negative views of white people in favor of a spiritually unifying vision inspired by his pilgrimage to Mecca without ever compromising his condemnation of the institutionalized racism so fundamental to American society. Here's an excerpt from his speech of Feb 14, 1965, the week before he was murdered.

Now, the press, behind something like that, they call us racist and people who are "violent in reverse." This is how they psycho you. They make you think that if you try to stop the Klan from lynching you, you're practicing "violence in reverse." Pick up on this, I hear a lot of you all parrot what the [white] man says. You say, "I don't want to be a Ku Klux Klan in reverse." Well, you - heh! -- if a criminal comes around your house with his gun, brother, just because he's got a gun and he's robbing your house, brother, and he's a robber, it doesn't make you a robber because you grab your gun and run him out. No, see, the man is using some tricky logic on you. And he has absolutely got a Ku Klux Klan outfit that goes through the country frightening black people. Now, I say it is time for black people to put together the type of action, the unity, that is necessary to pull the sheet off of them so they won't be frightening black people any longer. That's all. And when we say this, the press calls us "racist in reverse."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Me and the Chairman


"I saw you from your balcony window and you were standing there waving at everybody. It was really great because there was about a billion people there, but when I was waving to you, the way your face was, it was so, the way your face was, it made me feel exactly like we're, it's not that you were just waving to me, but that we were we were waving to each other. It was wonderful. It made me feel happy." --Patti Smith, "Wave" 1979

My living room is done up in Chairman Mao. Before you go inside there's a wall-sized black-and-white machine-woven blanket with his face on it. Inside there are two big posters from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, one showing a Busby-Berkeley-esque line of Chinese athletes behind a perfectly muscled young champion, the other showing a worker, peasant and soldier vowing to defend their border. There's a case full of color statuettes of Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing, the Gang of Four, and dancing resistance fighters from a Chinese Red Opera. Across the room is another case full of statuettes of Mao. Mao waving. Mao sitting. Young Mao crossing over the mountains at Anyuan to see the workers. There are busts of Mao made of plastic and plaster and porcelain. There's a Mao telephone (it works!). There's a three-foot tall metal statue of a burly Mao with his hands clasped behind his back. There's a tin wall-hanging of that young Mao with a caption in flowing Tibetan script; there's a beat-up tin picture of Mao in a heavy winter coat standing on the beach. There's a silk wall hanging of Mao in a bathrobe. There's a porcelain plaque of Mao and his one-time heir with the face of the man next to him scratched out. There's a mirror that flips to reveal what looks like Chinese soldiers in drag: garishly made-up performers from another Red Opera. In my closet I have a box full of little red books in Chinese, in English, in Arabic; some of the red-vinyl covers shiny and new some dog-earred and written though, pages clipped or folded down. I have another box full of Mao pins made of plastic and metal and porcelain and bamboo. Mao's face; Mao waving, most shiny red like bicycle reflectors.

Now I know that Mao Zedong was not a nice man. While he lead the revolution in China -- some say brilliantly, some say otherwise -- turning it from a corrupt, disunified and victimized country to a world-class nation, that now, years after his passing rivals the United States for global economic dominance, he did these things wielding not only righteousness but brutality. As he famously said, "a revolution is not a tea party, it is an act of violence." Mao's long march to unquestioned power in China meant not only defeating his enemies on the right but his enemies on the left. In post-revolutionary episodes like the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, millions of innocent people suffered or lost their lives at the hands of poor economic policies, anti-intellectualism, and a mass militarized totalitarian hysteria that would have made George Orwell blanche and pale.

So, you ask, is my living room some kind of shrine to a mass murderer? What the hell is wrong with me? Are these my politics, some kind of bizarre post-modernist Maoism? If my friends are too polite, or perhaps too dumbstruck and intimidated, to ask these questions, they're certainly fair ones.

Here's the thing: most people I know, and actually not just Christians, have a cross on their wall. Or a little shrine full of saints and Jesus pictures. From the time the Roman Empire converted to the state religion of Christianity in the fourth century CE until now, how many people have been killed in the name of this cross? The crusades, the Spanish inquisition, the so-called burning times, the hundred years war, the forty years war, the seven years war, the centuries of European colonialism, the conquest and conversion of the great native empires of the Americas and Africa, the conquest and extermination of the nomadic peoples of the Americas and Australia. The symbol invoked by the brutal forces behind the millions of lives taken in these conflicts was that cross. Does that mean all these devout people with crosses on their wall are celebrating centuries of mass murder? My answer to this question and to the questions asked of me are a firm no.

Let me say right off that Mao is not my religion; not somebody I worship. I don't kiss a Mao portrait by the door as I exit, and I don't read quotations from the Red Book as I kneel in reverence before a red-dressed altar. Mao has nothing literal to do with God. But at the same time, I find these images, as well as the stylized propaganda images from the the Chinese cultural revolution oddly inspiring.

It's clear that there was a massive machine behind the Mao personality cult. It suited the Chinese Communist Party to build a virtual religion around Mao. Like the cult built around Stalin by the Soviets or the cult built around Kim Il Sung in North Korea, this went way beyond admiration of one man's achievements or ideas. Mao was transformed into not just a leader, but a kind of god. Let us divorce, for a moment, the cynical motivations behind this machine: let's set aside the mass manipulation, the brainwashing, the rewriting of history, the whitewashing of brutality and misleadership, the insistence that this one cultural standard should crowd out all the others, by force if need be.

Most of the propaganda images of Mao can be divided up into a few archetypal poses. From a few dozen official photographs, a kind of religious iconography is developed and repeated in endless variation and pattern. There's the young Mao looking like Jesus, crossing the mountains to see the class struggle for the first time. There's the resolute young adult Mao, dressed as a resistance fighter, planning ahead for victory from the caves of Yenan. There's man of the people Mao. There's Mao the writer of poetry. There's swimmer Mao wearing his bathrobe (I kid you not) showing he's still got it together in old age. The image I focus on is waving Mao. With this wave Mao transcends all concepts of religious and secular authority: Mao is not the distant stern authority figure, he is the inspiring hero, reflecting and acknowledging with his wave the source of his authority and inspiration. He's not a sequestered ruler, he's that guy who's as happy to see you as you are to see him.

See, here's the thing: the aspiration for people to be free in a political sense comes from the very same place as the aspiration for people to find fulfillment and meaning through spirituality and religion. My contention after a lifetime of activism and non-activism, of a career filled with alternating creativity and stifled resignation, after spiritual exploration that took me to a God-believing place I never thought I would have ended up, is that the fight for a better world is nothing unless it embraces the spiritual needs and aspirations of people who are hungry for hope and meaning; hungry for that sense of awesome wonder and human connection that can be found, among other places, in shared religious experience.

It's so easy to be bitter and angry at politics: There's a lot to be bitter and angry about. But I think one of the reasons our President Obama won the way he did is because he struck a spiritual nerve for that better world. And now that we're all reminded of how the real world actually works the rude awakening is proving to be fearsome.

Some people look at the idealized, cartoonish pictures of Jesus and all they see is a projection of hateful, intolerant bigots desperate to hang on to fragile privilege and hypocritical morality and an impossibly naive vision of reality. Some people look at the idealized, cartoonish pictures of Mao and all they see is a record of tyranny and repression and an impossibly dishonest vision of reality. In truth I can't say that all those things aren't really there.

While my avowedly eccentric taste runs more to iconic Maoist images than Christian ones, knowing everything I know about the harsh backstory reality of all them, they still make me all warm and fuzzy inside. I look at the pictures of Mao waving back at us, or the pictures of determinedly united women and men in Chinese posters, and I pull a sense of hope out of those pictures; a sense of aspirational possibility.

I'm not a Christian because as much as I believe in God the revelations of the Bible and its adherence to Abrahamic tradition just doesn't quite do it for me. That said I own more than one Bible and there are parts of it I love a lot, and I treasure the meaning this book held for so many of my ancestors. I'm not a Maoist because as much as I believe in the power of human beings to win their own liberation and change human destiny for the better, I don't think militarized Leninism is a winning strategy. That said my collection of Maoist icons is one I deeply treasure.

One of my favorite pieces of Mao memorabilia is a small laminated card. It's got that ubiquitous forward-looking Mao headshot that Warhol used; and dangling from it are red silk tassels. Oddly enough it's completely post-Mao; it dates from the 1990s long after the cultural revolution was repudiated by modern Chinese leaders. It was explained to me that this was a charm for a taxi-cab: because Mao had so fearsomely vanquished his enemies, he could now be channelled as a protective spirit for your car. Never having had a car I haven't had the opportunity to find out if it works. But this is kind of my point: art is a power for good. The symbolism of Mao--like the symbolism of Jesus, and despite all of the complicated backstory of both--is for me a reminder that people can change their world; that they can band together in determination; that no matter how desperate times seems to become, there is a spiritual underpinning that offers us hope for a better world.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Anti-American Art: February Is Black History Month


"Strongly support the righteous struggle of black Americans! Oppose racial discrimination!" Chairman Mao made a number of direct statements regarding the unfolding civil rights struggle in the early 1960s: "The evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of Negroes and the trade in Negroes, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the black people," said Mao in 1963. That said, it's clear that the Chinese saw the African-American struggle in the context of armed third-world resistance to imperialism: the furious farm-implement wielding revolutionary mob in the background of this mid-1960s Chinese poster is a pretty amusing misinterpretation of reality. Still, as much as the Chinese propagandists relished global anti-Americanism, this was about as close as they ever came to offering a directly subversive message to Americans themselves.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

BB guns into plowshares


I found this picture of my father, center, with his older adoptive siblings at their father's in 1940. I'm pretty sure it's the only time he was ever photographed with a gun. Earlier I speculated that playing with violent toys doesn't predict how people will grow up. In my essay on opposing enlisting in the military, I noted that my father was a conscientious objector to the draft.... Then I found this picture which kind of proves my point. Though I don't actually know if these are BB guns or air rifles or what. That's Phillip on the left, my father Peter in the center, and Gretchen on the right. My father would have been visiting his father, since my grandparents divorced long before this, splitting custody of the kids.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Anti-American Art: Pushed Into the Sea


Snagged from the excellent Chineseposters.net, this panoramic Chinese poster seems to need no slogans to explain its gory message: the heroic armies of the Democratic Republic of Korea and the Chinese People's Volunteers push the US Army into the sea, downing bombers, destroying tanks, and inflicting high casualties on the routed GIs. It's a shockingly detailed piece of comic-book-like propaganda, down to the rosy red glow of the victors' cheeks and the sickly palor of the defeated Americans. From the early 1950s.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anti-American Art: Paper Tigers


"Exterminate the invaders! All reactionaries are paper tigers!" I'm thinking that's Soviet Leader Brezhnev, with reddened nose and heavy eyebrows, joining the equally red-nosed US soldier, as the object of this cartoonishly heroic Chinese soldier's bayonetted attention, in this Chinese poster dating from the early 1970s. Especially after a brief military confrontation with Russia along the remote Usuri River, Chinese propaganda rhetoric began to equate its two superpower enemies.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Of tea parties and things left unsaid


Do you know how racist white people who know better talk about black people? It's almost pathetic to listen to: when they get to the word "black" they pause; their eyes dart blankly left and right. The word itself is uttered in an embarrassed spit of a whisper; the eyes flashing anger and resentment before the sentence is resumed in a normal speaking tone. It's kind of like how straight people who hate gay people, or maybe just don't know any, say the word "homosexual," drawing out those first two syllables with clearer enunciation than they have ever used in their lives to make it a full almost sing-song "HOE MOE sexshuall."

I can't speak for what happens in the South, but in the Northeast and Midwest where I have spent my life, racist white people generally know better than to use the word "ni**er." I've certainly heard it spoken, but usually by the young and angry. Everybody knows the taboo of this word, and if racist white people wish they could use this powerful word they understand, at the very least, that it also has the power to get them into trouble.

Which brings us to the so-called Tea Party movement, which recently held its for-profit convention featuring keynote speaker Sarah Palin. Ariana Huffington keeps saying that the teabaggers represent the canary in a coal mine: that their rebelliousness against Washington's love affair with Wall Street is indicative of a tide of mass American anger. Similarly liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich makes a sad and condemning portrayal of the relationship between politicians and Wall Street in his recent column; Rich talks about the teaparty being populist pawns for demagogues like Palin but seems somehow sympathetic to the concerns of the teaparty ranks. I usually like what these two have to say (reserving judgment, for the moment, on the institutions both of them represent). They've both pointed out that on the one hand the teabaggers criticize government spending and criticize government involvement in healthcare, they have no actual plan because they're deeply caught in contradiction. Let us not forget the infamous "get your government hands off my medicare" protest sign: how many of the baby-boomer teabaggers are now dependent on government hand-outs as they decry government spending?

But I think Rich, Huffington, and the tide of media conventional wisdom are fundamentally missing the mark in their portrayal of the so-called tea party movement. The financial populism of this "movement" is contradictory and without actionable platform because it is actually not really their main agenda. This so-called movement, which somehow materialized out of thin air seconds after the president's inauguration -- having previously had no truck with financial corruption and massive spending under Bush -- is using its financial argument to cover up its real priorities, which everybody knows and which everybody knows are not acceptable in polite society. And that is the deeply offensive and wounding notion to these resentful white people that their president is African-American and that the black, latin, and gay hordes have taken their beloved country away. The tea party's public profile makes no sense because it is a cover for their deeply entrenched racism and bigotry.

While teabaggers may be stupid at times (Who can forget signs like "Get a brain! Morans!" or "Obama! Half breed muslin!"), they're not stupid enough to use the word that they're really all thinking. These resentful white people are not afraid of what they're thinking, they're afraid of getting caught using words that they know are forbidden.

When they call Obama a socialist, a communist, a Hitler, a Muslim, an Indonesian, a Kenyan, they mean he's an outsider, they mean he's not entitled to be President, they mean he's a ni**er. The teabaggers may have a lunatic fringe who believes bizarre conspiracies about who Obama actually is, but they also have a mainstream that tolerates that lunatic fringe. It is the lunatic fringe that is the canary in that coal mine: seeing how far their right-wing argument can be pushed before it is pushed back against.

The teabaggers believe that our economic crisis was brought about by the collusion of Wall Street (Jews) and ACORN (ni**ers) giving mortgages to lazy welfare recipients who then failed, of course, to pay their bills. They don't have a problem with government spending, they have a problem with WHO the government might be spending money on. It's like how the right-wing was interested neither in Africa nor in AIDS until they realized they could get the government to spend millions of dollars on Christian churches spreading Christian-based abstinence advocacy in Africa (and in the US) and call it humanitarian AIDS relief.

The teabaggers think hate crimes legislation and marriage equality are plots to take something away from them. It's actually pretty shocking to read how outraged many fundamentalist religious leaders have been over hate crimes legislation and proposed local anti-bullying rules. They cannot believe their right to demonize gay people, to incite anti-gay hatred, might be taken away from them.


And this is really the problem: the media and political establishment ignore the foundational reality of the teabaggers at their own risk. It's interesting to talk about where the teabaggers come from in terms of our current economic crisis. Fox News and some very well-financed right-wing organizations have created astroturf that is apparently convincing even liberal commentators that it's actually grassroots. But what is grassroots here is the very American nerve of racism and resentment that the teabaggers share, beneath the skin of their somehow acceptably populist fervor.

But it's time to call a spade a spade. The Tea Party movement is a lynch mob in waiting. This is the core of nativist American fascism. Just because they're not running around in white sheets and using the word "ni**er" doesn't mean they're not thinking it. Watch teabaggers interviewed about what they believe. Their faces goes through those same darting contortions as they reach for words they know they can get away with.

This is not a populist movement; it's a racist one. This mad hatter's tea party is prelude to real trouble. Prettify it at your own risk.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Now that's what I call music

FULL SCREEN
The Sounds of VTech / Angel Feat. Dwele





Orchestral hip-hop from Miguel Atwood-Ferguson channelling David Axelrod (the musician not the politician). That, as they say, is the shit.

27, El Corazon


I love this completely unsentimental card from the Mexican Loteria deck: The Heart. It seems fitting for Valentine's Day. It's sort of the gritty truth about love: it's not always that fanciful, symmetrical and ever so hygienic valentine shape. Sometimes it's a messy hunk of meat and it bleeds when pierced.

I've been single for more of my life than not; but having spent the last five years in a relationship I'm reminded how different my life is now. One's priorities and needs and values change completely, at least for me (well, middle-age probably has plenty to do with that also). I didn't feel incomplete when single, it's not like that. But I tell you, love really doesn't suck. Thanks Jesse.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Echoes of a Past Life - Pro Choice Is Pro-Life


Abortion is the cultural wedge issue that does not die. Somehow it has even managed to become one of the issues so far derailing meaningful healthcare reform as conservative lawmakers seek to prevent women from having abortions on the government's tab. I feel very strongly that abortion is, indeed, a woman's right to choose. One of the most worthy charitable organizations is the heroic Planned Parenthood, and I recommend you join me in donating to their work.

Below is a piece I wrote in for Our Pagan Times, the newsletter of New Moon New York, an open Pagan circle, back in 1992. At the time I was editor of this group's newsletter, and as editor I was eager to make the newsletter more than just a networking tool but a forum for discussion. I don't remember exactly what provoked this particular article, but I believe I was surprised to find out that not all the Pagans I met were pro-choice. The piece concludes with citations from a number of sources respected by NeoPagans; all still quite interesting to me. Yes, that's my Pagan pseudonym. Sigh.

-----

Pro-Choice Is Pro-Life
by Moonchild
from Our Pagan Times, Vol. 2 No. 4, April 9992 (1992)


This year may be a crucial one for women's right to abortion. Abortion was legalized in the United States by the Supreme Court's 1973 decision Roe v Wade. Now, due largely to the mobilization of Christian fundamentalists, that decision is closer than ever to possible repeal.

How do we as Pagans approach this question? Is there a contradiction between supporting abortion and our recognition that all life is sacred to the Goddess? Is this a subject to be discussed as though we have something to apologize for?

It is my belief that Pagans must support abortion rights, and do what we can to defend and extend Roe v Wade. I believe this not only because the separation of Church and State that Roe v Wade promotes helps our own freedom of religious expression, and not only because it allows women -- and not the state -- to determine the affairs of their own bodies, but because we, as proponents of the sacredness of life, and recognizing the interconnectedness of all life, should accept the termination of pregnancy as a completely natural, moral and acceptable choice for a woman to make.

Certainly abortion is less than perfect. It can be a dangerous, often dehumanizing medical procedure. It is too often a substitute for education and a symptom of blatant irresponsibility. That abortion has become a major method of birth control says volumes about the sorry state of human consciousness about our own relationship to the future of our planet and species. But all that said, it is a method for maintaining life's balance.

Abortion and infanticide (which, despite having witnessed some truly terrible "terrible twos," I do not endorse!) are natural phenomena among other species. We must confront our own "animalness" to accept that, just like animals eating their own young when their food supply becomes incapable of sustaining their survival, we can turn to abortion when the prospects of nurturing a meaningful life for a child are poor.

Indeed we need not feel a contradiction in our "life-affirming" path and a defense of abortion rights.

To contribute to an understanding of this question I conclude with quotes from several important Pagan statements on abortion:

"In a world already bursting with too many bodies, forcing a woman to bear a child under adverse circumstances shows a violent disregard for the sanctity of life and disrespect for the Goddess, women and the environment. True 'right to life' concerns the quality of existence, before and after birth, as well as the health of the overall web of life, already stressed by human over population." (from the Church of All Worlds Encyclical on Reproductive Rights, reproduced in Green Egg 1991)

"But where does it say that every little soul that manages to land in a fertilized egg is entitled to occupancy? Abortion is the prerogative of the Dark Mother; she aborts us monthly; it is called menses. The shadow of motherhood is abortion, which is also our responsibility, making the choice of life and death as much a part of the Goddess as her life-giving good nature. The Fates take into consideration woman's choice when they decide how and when we come into this life. What good is it to be born if you never have an opportunity to thrive, only to suffer?" (from "The Grandmother of Time," by Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, 1989)

"[All religions have a sacrificial nature.] The priests of Christianity..have unvaryingly sacrificed the mother rather than the child.... Artemis, while inspiring respect for animal and vegetative life, permits the hunt, provided we respect the rules and rituals that justify the human in nourishing himself by the sacrifice of animal life. The same reasoning applies to a fetus in most religions pertaining to the Mother Goddess, because it seems self-evident that she who has the power of giving life should also have the power of giving death.... [Regarding an unwanted pregnancy] if one values the integrity of life, one must sacrifice the fetus already marked by the rejection and hostility of those who should receive it with love." (from "Pagan Meditations" by Ginette Paris, 1986)

"The opposite of life is not death, but to become a mechanism. Women forced against their wills or instincts to give birth like breeding machines in the name of 'the sacred fetus,' is a travesty of life... 'Sacred beings' do not pass through breeding machines.... If the mother is not a sacred, autonomous being, then the fetus is neither sacred nor autonomous. If the mother is a sacred, autonomous being, then she makes her own choices about what she brings, or does not bring, to birth. Sacred, holy life is not born from machinery.... We must extricate ourselves from the machinery, which is not truly either life or death, but the absence and the travesty of both." (from "The Great Mother" by Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor, 1987)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Anti-American Art: No Nukes


In tribute to yesterday's Apocalyptic post, here's a Chinese poster from the 1950s, exhorting an end to nuclear weapons. The steely-jawed Chinese and Soviet women resolutely brandish a banner urging "Peace!" in Russian and Chinese (those are flags in Polish and German in the background). Though not mentioning the US by name, it's pretty clear who is being portrayed as the nuclear menace to peace. I guess the Chinese didn't get nukes til the 1960s and maybe the Soviets hadn't fessed up to having them yet? Anyway by the 1970s the Chinese and Soviets were pointing those missiles at each other.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Apocalypse Then


I just read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." I started it on a subway ride home, and didn't put it down until I finished it. It's pretty bleak post-apocalyptic fiction: though what has happened to make the world so empty and awful is never explained in the short novel, its portrayal of ecological disaster and roving bands of starving cannibals was compelling and horrifying. I haven't seen the movie yet.

But I was reminded how much I used to be obsessed with post-apocalyptic fiction. As a kid in the 1960s and 1970s and into my young adulthood I used to read every piece of it I could find.

The cold war was certainly the background to the first half of my life: I remember Reagan's chilling "we begin bombing in five minutes" joke. It just wasn't hard to imagine the missiles and the bombers being sent on their way, and it just wasn't hard to imagine what would happen when they were.

I don't remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1961, but my parents assured me that they had bags packed at the door waiting for the sirens to go off. We no longer had "duck and cover" exercises in my youth, but the air raid siren used to go off every week in Chicago as a test...I think it was Tuesday or Thursday at 10 am? Maybe 4pm. Anyway it was like clockwork.

The Rest Must Die, Red Alert, and Alas, Babylon are prime examples of one sub-genre of apocalyptic fiction: the you are there at the minute it all ends subgenre. Fail Safe and War Day are others. The Rest Must Die is a hoot: it's about New Yorkers trapped in the subways when the nuclear war happens. I remember hilariously dated scene where, in the face of imminent doom, one woman rips open her dress and cries, "aren't there any REAL men left?"

Then there's the "what do we do now" subgenre. Books like Earth Abides, Malevil or Stephen King's more supernatural The Stand are good examples. It seems like the more optimistic of these books tend to man-made disease apocalypses more than the nuclear kind, assuming it's only most of the people who go away. Books like On The Beach don't allow much in the way of silver lining.

The third subgenre is the back-to-the-stone-age epics. I love this cover to Andre Norton's Daybreak 2250 AD. But there's also A Canticle for Liebowitz, Clifford Simak's City, and the Davy series by Edgar Pangborn, which I have lately dusted off to re-read. These are the books where we are literally bombed back to the stone age and society rebuilds: usually slowly and badly.

I wonder if younger people are still haunted by these dark man-made end-times fantasies. It's not impossible to imagine a nuclear exchange between the US or Russia or China, but it sure seems more distant. And even nuclear armed terrorists, well that's a scary thought but it's not quite apocalypse. Disease or ecological catastrophe on the other hand: maybe the whole global warming thing is just the newest twist in mankind's fantasy of its own oblivion?

Anyway, only two years til 2012. Good times ahead!

Why I love the Angry Arab

"I have never chewed qat. But I was thinking: if I had a choice of chewing qat with Thomas Friedman, or chewing my shoes by myself, I would go with the shoe, any day."
--Angry Arab News Service, Feb 10, 2010 referencing the wealthy narcissist and NYT columnist Friedman's recent visit to Yemen

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anti-American Art: Arms NOT Too Short to Box with the USAF


A 1960s Chinese poster expresses solidarity with the Vietnamese people focusing on anti-aircraft defenses. There's something both visceral and cartoonish about the furiously righteous gunner and the flaming, falling planes against the smoky red sky.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Revolution in the Revolution: Nicaragua 1986


When I went to Nicaragua in 1986 Ronald Reagan and his ilk were trying to portray the ruling Sandinistas as the Soviet Union's latest new world dupes. I knew that the FSLN was a natural ally of Cuba's Communist leadership, and I came to find out that Nicaragua was developing economic ties to the socialist bloc to replace the ones severed by the US after the FLSN overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. But the FSLN was not a traditional Communist Party. Not only did it have a long history of factionalism between Marxist and non-Marxist factions, there was actually a whole spectrum of traditional Communist groups completely outside the Sandinista Front. This political spectrum was clearly evident in all the graffiti about town, but the activists behind this graffiti could also be found.

The photo above shows a militant of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) preparing for the left's rival May Day rally that year in Managua. The event was much smaller than the official FSLN celebration of this universal socialist holiday, but it brought together hundreds of activists from many of Nicaragua's left-wing parties. I wound up meeting and later interviewing several of them. I found the role of left-wing parties in a left-wing state fascinating, and wanted to find out how they related to Nicaragua's new role as a member of the socialist world while dealing with some of the repressive and undemocratic tendencies of the FSLN itself.

The following is my transcript of the comments of Roberto Guzman Vazquez of the PSN, who I interviewed on 22 July 1986. These were never published anywhere; and while this largely falls in the category of water under the bridge, I found his comments and the story of the Nicaraguan left in general fascinating. I don't remember if I interviewed him in Spanish or English; in any case any error of transcription here is mine.

----

"In Nicaragua today ten political parties exist. These ten parties are so many each of the left, right and center. Our party maintains a position of critical support to the revolutionary process. We're neither a part of the FSLN nor the confrontational opposition...We are, however, against those policies that are against the human liberties of citizens. We protest the lack of trade union freedom...

"But we are a party that supports the FSLN in three important policies: the mixed economy, non-alignment, and political pluralism.

"In 1981 at the time of the last congress of the PSN, we defined a politic of alliance in several aspects. In this epic, the necessity of creating a democratic patriotic front; raising the banner of patriotism. On the other hand, as a question of principle, the unity of the Nicaraguan left....Thus through 1983 and '84, the FSLN, PPSC, PSN and PCdeN
[Communist Party--ish] were allied in this FPR. With the elections the FPR disappeared. Now we're planning a Democratic and Anti-Imperialist Front...The problems of our country are so big, complex and difficult that our major preoccupation is the creation of unity. It's a problem of all Nicaraguans, not left or right. Forming a Front is a way out for all of us -- against the aggression, for economic growth and peace; national unity. A family living together.

"The MAP
[Popular Action Movement, the Maoists--ish] has its own peculiar place in Nicaragua. To us it apears that they don't support the democratic conquests of the Revolution. We must, however, unite all Nicaraguans in the process of solving our problems. In the first place we must deal with the problems of the nation, not the problems of one class. Socialism is not the immediate solution to these problems.

"Certainly our activities have been curbed. Some elements in the FSLN want to attack our work. In the first place we get difficulties in our trade union work. The other principal form is that we have no access to materials for issuing a newspaper. We've gone six months without issuing one. To get materials for printing we need dollars, and we have no access to them. We're petitioning, but printing is very expensive. And there is censorship. There is censorship of our point of view, and the free development of thought. But we don't have anyone in prison. In march two trade union leaders were arested, but only for 15 days.

"We maintain an independent position. After the Front, we're the second force on the left. We have ten to fifteen thousand supporters in the trade unions. We've maintained a flexible position. We try to initiate cooperation on the left. See the unity statement that was in El Nuevo Diario recently.

We don't have relations with the socialist world. With the Triumph of the Revolution, the Front monopolized formal relations. We're an independent Marxist-Leninist party. But it is a struggle to maintain this independence. Nobody gives us money. And we're an open party: we don't believe that socialists are the only spokespeople of truth."

Monday, February 08, 2010

Anti-American Art: Pass the Apples


A singer entertains lonely soldiers far from home; they're crammed into a log cabin dressed for full winter; it's clearly cold as hell outside. A poster of the kids back home hangs on the wall, bringing fond memories. Comraderie and bonhomerie are the words of the hour. Let's pass around a bowl of apples for the troops....wait, that's not a bowl. Yes, these are the "Chinese People's Volunteers" and they're wintering in Korea. Click on the image to see that "bowl" a little closer. A Chinese poster from the early 1950s, in a softer-edged, more Soviet-style of socialist realism than later Cultural Revolution works.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Don't Ask - Don't Tell? No. Don't Enlist!


This week, following President Obama's lead, the US Senate held hearings about repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that congress enacted under President Clinton. DADT, as it's called, was originally meant to reform anti-gay policies in the military, but in the end became license for a witch-hunt in the armed services resulting in the discharge of thousands of lesbian and gay servicemembers.

It was pretty amazing to hear figures like Admiral Mullen call for the extending of this civil right to lesbians and gays. Even General Colin Powell has now come out for its repeal, and he was instrumental in the passage of the law in the first place. Typically, Republican dinosaurs like John McCain and a host of social conservatives have defended the law, some like war criminal Oliver North with outlandish claims.

It should go without saying that discriminatory laws like DADT should be repealed. That's basic equal rights. But for me, the real question is why would any self-respecting lesbian or gay man want to join the armed forces? Why would anybody want to join the armed forces?

I'm not stupid. I understand that the military is a job with benefits in an era when jobs with benefits are scarce. I wish I had a job with benefits myself. I understand that many people join the military out of a desire to contribute to society, to defend the nation against attack, to defend their families against future danger. I get these things. But I think that the good will that leads some people to join the military is misplaced; the military, by its very nature, bends that good will to its own ends.

I question those who want military careers; and I question those in the gay community who make this civil right greater priority than others our communities also lacks. I question making DADT-repeal higher priority than solving other issues facing us -- as Americans with our trainwreck economy and nightmarish healthcare system. It's one thing to say that DADT repeal might be possible given the turn of the top brass' opinions, or to suggest that government should be able to reform more than one societal crisis at a time, but as for my values, DADT reform ranks very very low.

My father, Peter Horst, was drafted in the 1950s. The Korean war was over; he was not threatened with shipment to some futile overseas war. He refused his draft notice saying that military service was incompatible with his religious beliefs, religious beliefs based on "love" being the highest human calling. When asked what religion he belonged to, he replied that these were his own personal beliefs. A long law suit ensued, which, I believe, went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. District Court fot Michigan, in acquitting Peter Horst
of the charge of refusal to accept induction into the armed forces, interpreted the statutory definition of religious training and belief to mean "any belief, orthodox, or unorthodox." The court also held that Congress did not intend "that a registrant's claim of exemption—must carry with it any concept of fear of religious sanctions, such as punishment after death or excommunication from the church ..." The court ruled that the appeal board had misinterpreted the meaning of religious training and belief in denying the defendant a CO. classification because his description of the Supreme Being as "God's Love" raised doubts in the minds of the appeal board members that the defendant's claim was based upon belief in a Supreme Being as envisaged by the draft law."


His conscientious objection back in 1957, and his commitment to choosing alternative service (which he did with the American Friends Service Committee in Mexico; my birthplace) makes refusal of military service something I consider a family legacy. I, myself, was luckily born a small handful of years shy of being subjected to the draft for Vietnam.

Vietnam was, however, the backdrop of my childhood. I remember the nightly casualty reports. I remember the footage on nightly TV. I remember the peace marches. And if you think Iraq or Afghanistan is a war, with relatively few American casualties and the civilian victims of American weapons largely kept off camera, Vietnam was a WAR writ large in the media. Blood and death were everywhere in print and TV; and the casualty figures from that war make today's conflicts pale by comparison. As I've written elsewhere in this blog, the best thing about the Vietnam War is the way it ended, with the route of the US forces who didn't belong there in the first place.


Times have changed and the draft is gone. Ironically, being gay -- or claiming to being gay -- was one of the time-honored ways for getting out of being used as involuntary cannon-fodder. Now people join the military more or less voluntarily; economic crises and coercive video-game military recruiting efforts notwithstanding.

But what does it really mean to join the armed forces? The military is the brute force of American foreign policy overseas.
It is the instrument through which the United States forces its will upon the other nations of the world. Its defensive capabilities are secondary to its offensive capabilities: witness the US response to 9/11. All those brave men and women who signed up to defend the US from attack by terrorists were then cynically used as instruments in the utterly unprovoked aggression that was the US attack on Iraq.

Much has been made over the dozens of gay Arabic-trained linguists discharged from Pentagon service. One could look at this as stupidity on the part of the government that could use more Arabic speakers. But I look at this from a different perspective: the utter corruption of wanting to sell one's knowledge of Arabic to the subversion of Arab nations and the subjugation of Arab peoples to the will of US foreign policy; policy which despite some of President Obama's more pacific and diplomatic statements remains fundamentally aggressive.

I recognize there is a cultural gulf here. I know people who are veterans; I know others who are in the reserve. I'm not saying these are bad people. But what I'm trying to say here is that just as we gay people have fought for a transformation in our relationship to society as a whole, so all Americans need to fight for a transformation of American consciousness as a whole.

The big lie here is that military service is a job. That killing people on the orders of a giant machine is a job. That having a "job" like that absolves one of the personal responsibility of holding life-affirming values. American soldiers are brainwashed to crush their own sense of self in subordination to the needs of that armed machine; to enable them to do horrible things to (foreign) people on demand without staining their consciences. This might be sound military thinking, I don't know. But what I do know is that such sound military thinking is antithetical to my values. The lives of Americans in the military are sacrificed daily on an obscene imperialist altar. The troops -- regular people like you and me -- are trained to take the right and duty to decide who among the regular people in front of them -- only a little less like you and me -- might be killed. It doesn't have to be this way.

National service shouldn't be channelled into the military-industrial complex. People who want to defend the ones they love shouldn't be taught to abandon their own moral compasses; shouldn't be made to behave like trained attack dogs.

Why is the military leading relief efforts in earthquake-struck Haiti? Why are people who signed up to guard the US against attack being shipped off to invade other nations? When the US sends its drone aircrafts to spy on and assassinate people across the globe, what right does the US have to execute people -- suspected terrorists or no -- without benefit of judge or jury? If you're the one being attacked, how is sitting in an office building and being attacked by murderous hijackers wielding a jet plane any different than sitting in a shack in Pakistan and being attacked out of the blue by a lethally armed model airplane? Our shared humanity should be our moral compass, and we shouldn't have to set that aside when we want to give something back to our country.

No matter how many gay people are allowed to eventually join the military, it will never be an army of lovers. It's just not its nature. So Ask! Tell! But don't enlist!

(A note on the art: the top picture of soldiers wearing makeup is from the Revolutionary Beijing Opera "Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy" of Chinese Cultural Revolution fame; the picture of the soldier in a dress is of course Corporal Klinger of the M*A*S*H TV show).

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Anti-American Art: Babykillers


This exceptionally gruesome example of the genre dates from the Korean War. General Douglas MacArthur is shown stabbing a Korean mother and her baby with a bloody knife, while an American plane bombs the city behind them. In this era of relative friendship between the US and the China, it's worth remembering that the Korean war of 1950-53 was pretty much a war between our two countries, Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee notwithstanding. Having grown up with the caricatures of evil Chinese communists in old war movies, it's pretty interesting to see that the "other" side was spinning its own tale as well. This is a 1950s Chinese poster I found on the net.

Hope Springs Eternal


Need a good cry? Watch these kids sing Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide."

Friday, February 05, 2010

The dream of the 132 Roman Soldiers


A post on another blog reminded me of this, my favorite part of many many comic books back in the Sixties. The comparatively sad reality of this vivid illustration can be found here.

I loved violent war toys as a child, though mostly of the historical variety more than GI Joe. (I loved those GI-Joe sized Indians and Vikings though....even if they were disappointingly anatomically incomplete.) Yet I grew up to be a pacifist. Letting urban kids play with realistic toy guns seems a little foolish, given cops with itchy trigger fingers, but maybe there's something good to be learned from playing at war. Maybe it gets it out of your system so that when you're a grownup you know it's not a game.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Anti-American Art: Outnumbered


This 1960s Chinese poster about the Vietnamese resistance to the US reminds me of those old cartoons where one character goes chasing another off screen to the right, and then suddenly runs back to the left with the original chasee now joined by a huge multitude chasing the original pursuer. Note the little American soldier hotly pursued by some pissed off heavily armed Vietnamese. Props to these propagandists of old for the gender balance.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Echoes of a Past Life - Maferefun Obatala


I wrote this short poem for my godfather about the Yoruba deity Obatala in 1996, shortly before I was initiated into the religion of Santeria. I was crowned "Olo Obatala Yeku-Yeku" and given the Yoruba name "Baba Adeleke" (My Father's Crown Triumphs). It sat on my jazz site jazzsupreme.com for years; since that site has sadly disappeared into the ether, I wanted to return it to internet life.

I'm not a very good santero, in that I don't participate in very much of the community's life; but I feel profoundly grateful for the sense of peace and balance that the religion has blessed me with; and I'm awed by the presence of Obatala's timeless wisdom and creative energy in my life.

Obatala

With cathode rays of red, green, blue,
miraculously, technologically,
my computer creates being out of electricity
pulling rays of different nothings into something
steered by fingers, tapping, and minds, whirling
and blood, rushing,
driven by irresistible sparks of hidden origin,

Red, green, blue lights; tiny beams of tamed fire
become one light, white light, brilliant,
all one thing suddenly,
shape and pattern revealed in form and shadow

One thing not another,
someplace else no longer,
now made distinct, crystalline:
One thing, one piece, white cloth.
No seam visible, no beginning, nor end,
like magic.

Like everything. Alive.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Sound of the Spike

The Spike was a gay bar on Eleventh Avenue by the West Side Highway in New York City. Long closed now to make way for the gentrification of far west Chelsea, in the 1980s and early 1990s it was one of my favorite weekend places. Well, "favorite" is perhaps being kind, but I went there a lot. A lot.

The Spike was a classic "S&M" bar, meaning, in this case "Standing and Modelling." It had an ultra-butch veneer, and for varying periods on Saturday nights one of the bar's two rooms was sometimes cordoned off exclusively for guys wearing black leather he-man drag. Its reputation as a leather bar was a little exaggerated, but every surface was painted black and it was certainly full of maculine guys cultivating a harder look than, say, the guys who went to Uncle Charlie's. It was a block south of the old Eagle, a somewhat seedier bar that usually had at least one porn film showing and, depending on the mood of the owners and the legal climate, often had some on-site sexual naughtiness going on.

Starting well after 11pm, as other bars gradually emptied out (and this was after the heydey of the more southerly Village bar scene), the Spike and the Eagle would fill up. Guys would wander back and forth between the two bars, and in warm weather the sidewalks out front were filled with people taking a break from the crowded, charged atmosphere inside. Neither place was particularly large, and at the height of the party about 2 or 3 AM, both places were usually filled to capacity. While these were places you could go with your buddies, these were above all places to go to get laid. There was usually a block-long line of yellow taxis out front waiting to take successful hookups off to "your place or mine."

Both bars usually had live DJs: The DJs at the Eagle spun disco, though there was certainly no dancing going on. The owner of the Spike, Chuck "CT" Thompson was also its main DJ, and his taste was not at all disco. He played mostly rock and rockish pop. He was a African-American guy with a shaved head, built like the proverbial brick shithouse, usually wearing a black leather vest. I don't know if he's still around, but he was a great guy, very friendly. He always recognized me even when the place was super crowded. The Spike had a Sunday afternoon stand-up burger brunch, and with the smaller crowd he was pretty social.

The music he played tended towards songs inviting some kind of cocky fuck-me or suck-my-dick swagger. If I never have the urge to hear a Huey Lewis and the News Song again, the Spike is the responsible party. That being said, the place was pretty reliable as a place to meet guys. When I started going there my um, "social" life definitely improved. Many fond weekends were spent there hanging out with my friend Marc and hunting for fresh meat, er, I mean for available gentlemen. The crowd was bear-friendly and if the kinky leather-bar edge was mostly posturing it meant that everybody knew what you were there for.


Anyway CT started to regularly play this really long super electric guitar jam. It's mostly a long guitar solo, pretty heavy at times, against an unrelenting drumbeat and some noodling synths and a synth bass. Oh it sounds completely dated now; I mean this is gay progressive metal from the late 1980s fer crissakes. But at the time when it came on the soundsystem at the Spike it really seemed to raise the energy of the place. The shrieking guitar seemed to add to an otherworldly air, and all the standing and modelling going on just seemed a little butcher and more focused. Eventually I asked CT what the tune was and it turned out he had recorded it himself. Next time I saw him he gave me an autographed copy of his plainly labelled "Debut EP." The three songs on the "Top Side" including a vocal number that well, let's not say too much about that. But there on "The Bottom Side" was this 14-minute relentless guitar epic called "The Get Away."

Listening to this track now it brings back a lot of memories. In my settled middle-age, five years into a relationship I don't go out to gay bars too often; and never with that "ohmygodIgottagetlaid" hunger and determination of twenty (ouch!) years ago. As dated -- and frankly, outside my general taste -- as it is, it brings back some of that sexually-charged excitement, despite, yes, all the shallowness of that years-ago relentless pursuit of cock.

This post is a special crossposting with my music blog Ile Oxumare. If you want to hear CT's "The Getaway," head over there to find a downloadable link.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Anti-American Art: Swept Away


Here's the cover of a North Vietnamese booklet from the 1960s. I don't have a translation for it; though it's not too hard to guess at its content. It's really a jarringly beautiful photo of a female Vietnamese fighter pulling wreckage from a downed American airplane out of the surf. Such a powerful image with so much implied.