Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Anti-American Art: Spy Cruise

Here's a 2008 stamp from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea marking the anniversary of the 1968 capture of the "U.S. Armed Spy Ship Pueblo." It's also been featured on North Korean stamps here and here.

There's a very pro-USA site on the Pueblo incident with photos of the Pueblo today; it's docked in Pyongyang as a museum. More interesting photos of that here. Of course the U.S. denies that the Pueblo was conducting its surveillance of North Korea from Korean waters and the DPRK claims it was not in international waters. As shown with the recent sinking of the Cheonan, the waters off the Korean peninsula are no place for a pleasure cruise.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Gay Genes

More from my treasure trove of family photos. Flying up in the air here is my great aunt Fran, full name Frances Scott, one of my grandmother's younger sisters. These two photos probably date from the early 1960s, as they appear to be taken in the A-Frame house my grandmother had built in Mill Valley, California, on a chunk of land she bought from Aunt Fran. Fran had moved to the area in the late 1950s; she was a photographer by trade. She built her own house as well as the third house on this chunk of property, a modern cottage called The Kite. I met her on several occasions as a child; she was very private and didn't really join me or my parents on our visits to gramma.

I don't remember when I was "told" about Aunt Fran, but she was a lesbian, and lived for years with a female partner right there next to gramma Dorothy.

I like these photos because the people in them are having so much fun: and I presume one of the two women here is Fran's partner. The top photo is inscribed by my grandmother on the reverse "that kid sister" and the bottom one "Ann, Fran, Kenny, Eral [Eval?]." There's a couple more in this series that involve dancing and one that involves something improper with a lampshade. While my Grandmother was most definitely heterosexual, this party seems evidently something not so strictly so, and its before-Stonewall vintage speaks to me of a sort of prehistoric time.

I wish I had known Aunt Fran better; but I'm glad that one of the family legacies I shared with her were a set of gay genes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Anti-American Art: What Flies Over Must Come Down

"4000 American planes shot down" over Vietnam celebrates these stamps issued by North Vietnam in 1972. The special cancellation has a clever iconic interpretation of flames and a falling plane. The stamps show Vietnamese defence fighters using anti-aircraft guns and missiles. Two months after these stamps were issued came the notorious Christmas bombings, when Nixon ordered B-52s over North Vietnam to wage a campaign of terror bombing of civilian targets in North Vietnamese cities. "In Hanoi and the northern port city of Haiphong, the bombing was staggering. More than 1,600 civilians died, 70 U.S. airmen were killed or captured and many Americans were left to wonder what price Nixon was willing to pay for 'peace with honor'," from an AP article on the 25th anniversary of the bombings.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

If I Had Only Left Two Shots Earlier...

I'm tickled pink to present my favorite drag queen Candy Samples' brand-new video "If I Had Only Left (Two Shots Earlier)," just up on You-tube in preparation for the gay street orgy "Southern Decadence" held in New Orleans over Labor Day weekend. Candy Samples is a regular in Astoria, Queens, performing at local bars, clubs, the Queens Pride rally, and local marriage-equality events. She performs elsewhere in New York City, and makes regular appearances down at Decadence each year. I'm proud to call her my friend, and my boyfriend Jesse has cowritten many of her songs, including this one. Both Jesse and I can be seen in this video, which is a complete hoot. The song is seventies-disco styled fun; and the video shows some qualitative growth in production values and conceptual storytelling.

Earlier Candy Samples videos have been featured here on The Cahokian: "Promise of a New Year," "Boy Crazy," and "Tap Tap." I didn't feature her very first video here, but it can be seen on Youtube, "Candy's Christmas Gift." I've been in all of them; and it's been a great experience to be a part of something so creative and fun. Watching Candy's friends and collaborators put these things together is inspiring. Candy is a real talent; a drag queen who doesn't cast shade but makes you happy.

This song also coincides with the release of her new EP, "Sample That," which can be downloaded from iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody. Amazon also sells the CD. The EP is a lovely blend of uptempo numbers and ballads; I heartily recommend it; it's the follow up to last year's "Sample This."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Anti-American Art: We Finally Really Did It! You Maniacs, You Blew It Up!*

"He Who Provokes Us Shall Be Punished" reads this undated revenge-fantasy poster from the DPRK. It shows a North Korean missile wreaking havoc on the Statue of Liberty, shredding American flags as it goes. It's another poster from the amazing "North Korean Posters: The David Heather Collection" with Koen de Ceuster, and published by Prestel.

Heather and de Ceuster's book is a beautifully-printed compilation with almost 300 pages of full-color reproductions of North Korean propaganda posters, all with English translations of the Korean slogans. The posters are amazingly bright and energetic; and in addition to the extensive selection of anti-American posters there're posters on everything from combatting sexual violence against women to saving tap water. The total effect is like some fantastic totalitarian graphic novel. Taken together the images present a mythic, idealized (and idolized) view of the North Korean population as a cheerfully determined, proudly resolute, and defiantly fierce people. There's no failure here, no doubt, no opposition and no food shortages. Curiously left out are any posters of the vast personality cult around Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, and the omission of such images reinforces a sort of egalitarian mythos. I know that there is a vast iconography of these two, and I suspect the book would have a different, more alien feeling if such obsessively leader-worshipping subjects were included. It's an interesting choice on the part of the editors. Surely the picture it paints of North Korea is not more realistic than the picture painted by American automotive and feminine hygiene advertising, but if you're a fan of all the Anti-Americana here at The Cahokian, or just interested in propaganda art or dynamic graphic design, you'll want to check out this book.

* Extra Credit

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Family Ghosts

My grandmother Dorothy Scott passed on in the early 1990s. While her last few years were spent in a demented Alzheimer's fog, she he had lived a good long life, born in southern Michigan and died after thirty years in Mill Valley, California. I belatedly inherited a box of family photos from her just a couple years ago, passed on to a friend and set aside for those many years before they finally got to me. It's an odd collection of photos; many of them older than any visual evidence of my family I'd ever seen before. They range from 19th-century tintypes through 1970s snapshots. Most of them are not labelled, and I have no idea who many of the people in these photos are; many are my ancestors, many lost distant cousins, many I have no idea whatsoever. I met several of my grandmother's sisters when I was a child so there is some familiarity: but she came from a very large family, even though the genes she passed down to my father seem not to have included that trait. There's a magic quality to these pictures, and yet also, something vaguely sad. Although I hope that other forks of the Scott and Kimble and Decker families have revered and remembered their ancestors better than mine has, it makes me melancholic to consider these faces and figures so full of life in these photos to be now so randomly anonymous.

The beautiful photo above shows my grandmother's older sisters Ruth and Flo Scott wading in Lake Michigan, probably with their father--my great grandfather--probably about 1900.

This one shows my grandmother's grandfather William Scott with his sister Clara Scott, his wife, nee Decker, and his mother in law "great grandmother Decker" and a cousin whose name I can't read, sitting around their dining room table in Michigan, Marcellus or Vicksburg; it's not dated but it's probably the 1880s or 1890s. He's the hero of the family who served in the Union Army.

This is the Kimble house in Vicksburg, Michigan, undated but probably from the 1870s. These are the Kimble women; the child is my grandmother's mother Eudora Kimble, later Scott. It's Dora's mother, grandmother and great grandmother in the photo with her. This one really needs to be seen larger; click on it to see these people in better detail.

I feel like I owe these people some immortality, especially since I'm not passing on my genepool to anybody. It seems impossible but without all of them I wouldn't be here; and these are only a handful of my ancestors, the ones from my father's mother's line. They're like ghosts now, long gone to their rest, but they're also, well, still here, peering out from these photos.

Welcome, ancestors, to the internet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Anti-American Art: Childhood Lessons

"Paper tiger, paper tiger.
U.S. imperialism is a paper tiger.
We are not afraid of it.
Look! We crush it at one blow!"

Page from a Cultural Revolution-era children's book, I'm not sure if designed as an English-language export or to teach a certain kind of English to Chinese children (snagged from MFinChina's flickr). But man they are doing terrible things to that cat!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hallowed Ground?

I think it was the summer before I graduated high school, which makes it 1975. My mom and I drove southward from where we lived in Connecticut to visit a dizzying chain of historical sites and memorials. I was big into history, and we, like many at the time, had a distracting light case of bicentennial fever as we tried not to look too hard at the utter idiot then occupying the White House. We went to all sorts of Revolutionary War and Civil War sites: battlefields, museums, you name it. I think this snapshot was taken at Gettysburg. I haven't been back there in the 35 years since, but I remember an endless expanse of fields, hot and humid and buzzing with insects, punctuated with stone walls and corn. There was a huge indoor mural and a scale model of the battlefield, and cannons were set up at various spots, as though the soldiers manning them had just that moment wandered away from their posts.

It really brought Gettysburg home to me; to picture the humanity rushing at each other with lethal intent; the bullets and cannonballs and limbs and blood flying, and on such a vast scale. They don't fight wars like that anymore. As much as I hate war, and hate the culture that excuses it as some kind of ugly necessity, I have to say of all the murderous exercises in wasting life that I have studied, the American Civil War comes closest to being the exception to prove the rule. How lucky we are to live in an America where the side that won were the ones who wore blue and not gray.

I'm glad Gettysburg is still there. It's important to remember what was defended there. It's not the unity of this country that resonates emotionally to me, but the destruction of that confederate nation built on the backs of slaves. Now that was a worthy cause, and I hope they keep Gettysburg like it is as testament to the thousands and thousands of men who died fighting for that victory.

I lived in New York City in 2001. I saw what happened on that beautiful September morning. I didn't see planes crash or bodies falling, but I saw smoke and flames, and witnessed the world we live in change forever. I went downtown to peer at the smoking ruins once a week or two later when they started letting people go back down there. For weeks and weeks you could see the plume of smoke from my bathroom window where previously you could see the towers, but this was while actual standing ruins were still there and I wanted to get closer. There were barricades and fences and black-clad soldiers or police or something with machine guns everywhere...I'm not sure who the guns were meant for; I didn't see any terrorists about. My friend had brought along a coworker in from out of state. "I'm so proud of Our Military and Our President," she pronounced. I wanted to vomit. And having just spent a week crying I realized I didn't actually want to look at the ruins too closely. I felt like I was looking at something I shouldn't be seeing.

When I went back to that neighborhood for other reasons in the months and years that followed, I would avert my eyes from the pit and the fence around it. I didn't want to see what wasn't there. To my disgust I would see tourists posing for snapshots in front of the pit. A young couple, smiling, posing. Families. And you could buy bizarre souvenirs, ranging from full color atrocity porn to little snowglobes with tiny firetrucks surrounding little model burning towers, with sprinkles like ash floating around in the water inside the glass domes. And eventually I listened and watched as Bush used the occasion...to attack a country that had nothing to do with that place and the tragedy there, emotionally manipulating an entire nation and profaning that spot forever.

While this is a big city, it's not so big that we can rope it all off leave it like Gettysburg. Life goes on here. There's a really comfy movie theater a half block from the pit and the discount department store right across the street from it still has great cheap shoes. We New Yorkers we just walk by, doing what we have to do to live our lives here, averting our eyes when necessary. The subway line I take to work runs right by the site, and for years now there have always been clusters of tourists heading there on my train. To see nothing, no more smoking ruin, no crumpled bodies or piles of ash, just a big hole in the ground. They would puzzle over the subway maps and ask stupid questions like "Does this train go to 911?" I guess I'm immune to them now but for years I wanted to shout at them. "It's not there any more!" I wanted to shake each one of them and demand to know if they had voted for Bush. Go away! This is not the place for you.

I haven't been by it in some months but I understand that there are now, nine years later, visible structures rising from the pit. While I sure wouldn't ever want to work in the new World Trade Center building, I guess I'm happy that something's being done. There should be a memorial there, there was a terrible tragedy and the friends and relatives of 2,700 or so people deserve a place to mourn. And I'm glad they've dispensed with the abomination of a name "freedom tower" for the new building. The greedy real estate developers are all still trying to figure out how that pit's going to keep them rich: for them it's a money pit, not hallowed ground.

And now so many years later so many other people have died. So much about our way of life has changed and gone. I still see black clad uniformed men with machine guns in the subways. Seven stupid years of war in Iraq, and nine stupid years of war in Afghanistan; millions of innocent Iraqis and Afghans mourning just like millions of New Yorkers and just as psychically damaged; millions of Iraqis and Afghans associating "terrorist bombing" with the United States and its callously murdering contractor hordes and silent inhuman predator drones and its shock and awe and manipulative self-righteousness. And a whole lot more than 2,700 lives cut short. If you listen you can hear them shout: "Go away! This is not the place for you!"

This past Sunday, in a rain storm, the site was again profaned. Not by Muslims who want to go ahead with their lives and build a community center at the abandoned storefront a couple blocks away that they've been using for years, but by monstrous bigots protesting that center. I heard a radio report: the woman interviewed was described as waving an Israeli flag. She was, and I am careful to rarely use this word, hysterical. Practically weeping she was ranting about how horrible it was that the Muslims were coming to bring Shariah law and a terrorist recruiting center to lower Manhattan and such a hallowed place. She was so filled with hatred and fear you could hear her body shaking at the terrible lies that filled her head. I saw a video of the event: a dark-skinned Puerto Rican man wearing an apparently un-American looking hat is threatened and bullied out of the rally by a lot of menacing white people. Three women in sunglasses make sure to stay in camera shot with signs saying the Mosque Supports Hamas. These are the people who voted for Bush. These are the ones who are prostituting the memory of a tragedy for a corrupt political cause. These are the hate-filled ignorant bigots, brothers under the skin with a bunch of terrorists who flew planes into buildings.

Again, I'm remembering it all. I want to rush up to these people and say, Go Away. This place is not for you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Anti-American Art: Chinese American Friendship Society (not)

Well this poster has an awful lot to say, and sad to say I can't read enough Chinese to report what it's specifically about. However the second sentence in the top line of text says something "Down with America"-ish. Look for Mei-Guo, "美国". Visually it's not hard to make a few guesses about this Cultural Revolution-era poster. He's dressed like a worker in overalls, he's got a bayonet-fixed rifle slung over his shoulder, a Mao button discreetly pinned to his jacket, and a banner saying something about American something. Judging from his expression it ain't pretty.

The relationship between the U.S. and People's Republic of China is quite a study in evolution. From war in the early 1950s through two decades of unbridled hostility, to Nixon's visit to the aging Mao in the early 1970s, and the repudiation of Maoism in the years after Mao's death in 1976, and the transformation of China into an economic powerhouse with a symbiotic relationship with the U.S. in the past two decades. It will be interesting to see, to say the least, how the tension between China's privatized industry, growing working-class militancy, socialist planned economy and one-party Communist rule will play out. Its economy seems to have weathered the recent international economic crisis better than the U.S. Everybody's getting along famously now. How long will that last?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New York City Chinatown, 1990

I found this plastic baggie on a sidewalk in New York's Chinatown in the early 1990s. It's one of my most prized possessions: so beautifully poignant. It's pretty much what you see, an inscribed photo of a Chinese immigrant couple, dressed for travel, and less than a dollar's worth of small change from Hong Kong and the PRC. The reverse inscription clearly begins with names, but I don't know what the words mean.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Anti-American Art: A Beautiful Day at the Beach

With a design similar to a Cuban stamp of the early 1960s, the cover of this Cuban pamphlet entitled "Playa Giron: Derrota del Imperialismo" (Playa Giron: Defeat of Imperialism) possesses its own Anti-American charm. Playa Giron, of course, is better known here as the Bay of Pigs, and the defeat of imperialism refers to the spiked 1961 attempt by CIA-backed exiles to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. In the illustration Cuban resistance fighters watch as one of the CIA's planes is downed and their ships is sunk. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of this crucial victory.

Here is slide show I found on youtube of the victory at Giron set to the music and lyrics of Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez's powerfully metaphorical and poetic song "Playa Giron."

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Nation of Racist Morons?

Coming soon, a combination all-purpose item of headwear!

According to a recent poll, 18% of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. According to the same poll, 43% of Americans don't know what religion he is. Worse, these numbers are sharply up over previous polls. Other polls suggest that a quarter or the American population believes he was born outside the United States.

In the midst of serial manufactured cable-television and internet outrage where the liars of the right-wing propaganda channels (I love that The Field Negro blog calls Fox News "Radio Rwanda") spout utter nonsense, and even allegedly centrist or liberal media routinely feature complete know-nothings and bigoted fabulists as "opposing voices" to add readers, ratings and pageviews, these statistics seem more than a little troubling. And what does it mean that these numbers change toward the wholely fantastic? Who thinks these things? And worse, who changes their mind to think these things?

Though few are willing to say it, it's really clear that to a large number of people "Muslim" is pretty much a form of the "N" word that doesn't require self-censorship. For an overlapping number of people "Muslim" is identical to "terrorist," holding the same demonizing purpose as "communist" used to.

In the ongoing controversy over Cordoba House in New York City, the remarks of those opposed to the so-called Ground Zero mosque say so much more about what these people actually think. We all know Newt Gingrich probably really does think all Muslims are terrorist nazis (setting aside for the moment his problem with terrorist nazis is the "who" not the "what"). But when even professed liberals like the New York State governor Paterson say that the location of Cordoba House is painful to some or controversial they are fundamentally acceding to the belief that all Muslims share in the guilt of 9/11. Here's more polling data: According to the Economist, 53% of Republicans believe that Muslims have no constitutional right to build a mosque where the Cordoba Center is planned, and 14% of Americans believe mosques should not be permitted in the U.S. at all.

There have always been stupid and gullible people. But stupid and gullible people, especially when they are afraid, are so easily manipulated; this is where the danger lies. Alex Kane wrote an excellent piece on his blog lately
about the genesis of the "ground zero mosque" controversy. He compares it to another manufactured controversy, the one over what was to be New York City's first Arabic-bilingual public school. He neatly reminds us that these are anything but groundswells of stupidity: these are issues being manipulated into a froth by far less stupid political forces, chief among them the political supporters of Israel. Again and again the facts about Cordoba House, about Muslims, about Muslim Americans, are set aside in favor of "gut" feelings and prejudices. For some this is ignorance, but for others it is something else.

In the recent lawsuit in California overturning the anti-gay Prop 8 ban on marriage equality there's an interesting parallel. The pro-gay plaintiffs, and the judge ruling in their favor, structured their arguments brilliantly and factually. They explicitly debunked any factual notion that same-sex marriage threatens heterosexual marriage. They showed that the only hand the anti-marriage equality forces are holding is one of prejudice and emotional belief out of step with secular constitutional law. The judgment makes fascinating reading. Yet in the anti-gay forces' rebuttals to the ruling, and in the reporting on the decision by the allegedly neutral media, both these parties do nothing but repeat the arguments that are clearly already anticipated and rebuked in step-by-step fashion by the judge in siding with the marriage equality proponents. There are knee-jerk bigots acting out of ignorance, but there's also something else going on.

Behind that aggressive and increasing stupidity of so many Americans over Obama's birth and religion are forces actively manipulating ignorance into something else altogether. When delusional liars like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin begin to lead these legions of stupidity into the streets, as they plan to do shortly in a march on Washington, DC, to profane the memory of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech," the joke starts to become not nearly so funny.

And while defending Cordoba House and decrying racist stereotypes does bring up issues of value to those who treasure the fight for civil rights and who fight for a just society, ultimately it's all such a distraction. The issue of Cordoba House is a trifling, unimportant non-issue. There is no legal controversy. New York City governance has done its job and paved the way for the Islamic center to be built, and there are already undisturbed and uncontroversial storefront mosques just a couple more blocks distant from the site of the World Trade Center. The idiots who want to believe Obama is a Muslim--as if there were something wrong with that in the first place--are a minority firmly on the wrong side of peace and progress anyway.

But these issues keep people from focusing on the continuing economic crisis that the Democrats are unable and the Republicans are uninterested in fixing. They keep people from focusing on the need to undercut terrorism by radically changing American foreign policy. They keep people focused on the gotcha game in which liberal and conservative media enable each other while keeping their audiences firmly hypnotized and safely oh-so-outraged while confined to their sofas or mesmerized by their handheld devices.

We will be a nation of morons if we let all this continue.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Anti-American Art: Airport Insecurity

This stamp was issued by the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, the so-called Vietcong) as propaganda and for use in areas under its control in 1965. It marks the anniversary of the November 1964 NLF attack on Bien Hoa airbase. While today Bien Hoa is an airbase of the Vietnamese People's Air Force, during the war the air field was heavily used by the USAF in its war against the people of Vietnam. While the base, located near Saigon, was attacked many times during the war, in 1964 the NLF attacked the base with mortars destroying twenty U.S. aircraft including bombers. The attackers successfully slipped away after their victory. The stamp shows burning and exploding airplanes at the base.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Face of Racism, 2

A year ago I posted an iconic photograph of the relationship between Apartheid Israel and the Palestinians. Here's a replacement.

From the blog Dimi's Notes, here is a now-removed photo from the Facebook page of Eden Abergil, a young Israeli woman then serving in the Israeli army, or IDF. She's posing coquettishly in front of blindfolded Palestinian prisoners. One of her equally heartless friends commented on the photo: "LOL all my loves in one picture!!! My heart is pumping hard!!!"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anti-American Art: Masters of War

This incredibly difficult to look at image is actually another stamp from a series issued by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 2001 to protest the lingering effects of the use of depleted uraniam (DU) weapons during the gulf war. The caption reads "DU Bombing crime against Iraqi people" and shows a horribly deformed child with bombs labelled "UK" and "USA." There's a website that documents the extreme birth deformities caused by DU in Iraq, it's here. Depleted Uranium is used by weapons manufacturers because it is incredibly hard; used in shells it increases their destuctive ability. Like the monsters who develop and use cluster bombs shaped like toys (I'm looking at you, USA and Israel), the masters of war who use DU in their armaments don't seem to worry about the longterm genetic damage caused by exposure to DU dust released by its military use.

As Bob Dylan sang way back in 1963,

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly


Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

Monday, August 16, 2010

Loving thy neighbor as thy self

I keep reading shrill tirades over immigration. Anchor babies! Illegals! Birth tourism! Criminals! Them.

I've lived in Brooklyn since 1984. It's a vibrant place. Each neighborhood I've lived in has a different feel, but the one I live in now is full of immigrants. When I moved to New York there was a very small Mexican community. Sunset Park, where I live now, is one of the hubs of Mexican immigrants. The neighborhood was built for Scandinavian immigrants, and the decades have seen an ebb and flow of peoples. The Puerto Ricans of the 1970s are gradually being replaced by Dominicans, Mexicans, Central Americans and Chinese, as well as by random knots of white gentrifiers, which probably includes me.

I feel so lucky to be able to do as I did today and walk around the corner to the truck selling pupusas and sopes and huaraches and quesadillas with your choice of the most delicious salsa verde or salsa roja I have had in ages. You get to wash them down with agua fresca: I always go for the Jamaica (ironically called Sorrel in Jamaica), a slightly astringent tangy beverage a rich staining purple made from hibiscus flowers. Though the tamarindo and the orchata are delicious too; as are the sliced mangoes or cucumbers served up sprinkled with cayenne powder, salt and a squeeze of lime juice. I didn't think to ask to see the immigration papers of the women who made my food or the man who runs the operation.

The restaurant choice within a few block radius of my home is incredible: Ecuadorian, Cuban-Chinese, many Mexican places, Dominican, Salvadoran, even a stray Trinidadian roti house. The food at each place is terrific. One bodega has a Guatemalan lady making antojitos in the back that are wonderful. I don't usually ask for immigration papers at any of them.

While the cheap clothing shops and 99-cent shops on 5th Avenue up the hill from me aren't to my taste, they are always packed. Heck, 5th Avenue is always packed. The people in my neighborhood love to shop. That financial crisis closing boutiques in Park Slope and businesses of all kinds in Manhattan? Not here. I'm sure the jobs in these shops pay like crap, but they're staying open and the crowds of shoppers going up and down the Avenue all day long--mostly Mexicans with a large sprinkling of hijab-clad women, and many of them all with kids in tow or with baby carriages, seem to have income to spend. I don't see anybody at the doors to the shops and markets asking for papers as people enter.

It does help to speak some Spanish to shop in my neighborhood, and a couple Avenues over if you want to visit Brooklyn's Chinatown to shop or eat, you won't find much more than business transaction English. That Chinatown hosts the Hong Kong Supermarket, an actual mall-style supermarket with a truly amazing array of East- and Southeast-Asian groceries. The Chinese-language vans line up out front to carry shoppers in from other neighborhoods. I consider the language bits that help to live in this neighoborhood consciousness-expanding, not threatening.

With Catholic churches closing in cities across the country, the Hispanic Pentacostal churches in my neighborhoood are full. For that matter the giant Catholic Our Lady of Perpetual Help church has many repeated services all Sunday in several different chapels. And there's a Confucian temple over in Chinatown, and mosques nearby. There's a couple botanicas of course. And occasionally some Evangicals set up a loudspeaker on the corner that I could do without. There's a house full of Mormon missionaries and Jehovah's Witnesses at the subway stations. I don't think you have to show papers to worship with any of these folks.

So what I want to know, who is it who hates all these immigrants? The artwork above is from Prince Valiant ca. 1937, and shows, well, illegal Saxon immigrants attacking the poor Britons in the Dark Ages, who are defending themselves with pitch and fire. Well you know what? It's just not like that anymore.

I don't care who lives next to me, long as they're good neighbors. My life in New York is so much richer with all the exposure to people different than I am. It's so obvious we all have so much more in common than not.

I want immigrants to have legal papers so that they are protected from injustice, but I really don't care how anybody got here or how many sets of papers the government gives out. "Oh but they're breaking the law," people shout. And you? Have you never broken a law that was wrong, injust, or just unnecessary?

Anyone who has driven a speeding car, double-parked, smoked a joint, jaywalked, had certain kinds of sex in certain states before the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws, fiddled with their income tax, smuggled fireworks across a state line...all of the opinions of any of these people against so-called illegal immigration should be just completely discounted as nothing but bigotry.

The white America of Norman Rockwell has always been a lie, a myth. America is so much richer than that, and it's time to call out the foes of immigration for what they are. And it's also time to say that immigration reform that does not blast wide open the doors to legal opportunity for all good intentioned people is not reform at all, but something pretending to be.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Anti-American Art: Spies Keep Out!

"No American agent will pass through our village" reads this cold-war vintage poster from the former Czechoslovakia. The watchful Communist border guard and vigilant citizen link arms to keep American spies out.

Art & translation snagged from James Branam's blog.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Battlelines Are Drawn Over Cordoba House

The photo above shows a rightist protester holding up a sign at New York City hearing over Cordoba House's real estate: "No 9/11 Victory Mosque." Cordoba House is the downtown NYC Islamic community center and mosque being villified as the "Ground Zero Mosque" by the right wing.

It pains me to recognize that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is eloquently on the correct side of this issue:
"We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life. And it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001....
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that...
"For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right...
"Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city...
"Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest."

Now President Obama has forcefully also come out on the correct side of the issue: "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country...That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."(full text)

Contrast this with the remarks of insane racist blogger Pamela Geller whose "Atlas Shrugs" blog is leading the charge to paint Cordoba House as a den of terrorism: "Obama came out for the Islamic supremacist mosque at the hallowed ground of 911 attack. He has, in effect, sided with the Islamic jihadists and told the ummah (at an Iftar dinner on the third night of Ramadan, of course) that he believes in and supports a triumphal mosque on the cherished site of Islamic conquest. If you had any doubt who Obama stood with on 911, there can be no doubt in our minds now. I believe he planned it all along. He waited until Ramadan. Symbolic." Geller has previously ranted on issues of Obama's citizenship. She is the force behind the outrageously hateful and inciteful signs shortly to appear on NYC buses attacking Cordoba House. Lining up behind Geller's disgusting campaign are a host of right-wing Republicans ranging from local political candidates like Rick Lazio to unemployed quitter and political parasite Sarah Palin.

Even George Bush resisted the urge to tar all muslims with the taint of 9/11 terrorism. These unleashed forces of Islamophobia are indicative of the qualitative rightward shift that has been transforming the Republican base into something quite new and dangerous.

For more discussion of the issues around Cordoba House see my previous posts on the Massacre Monument, Islamophobia, and on "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Anti-American Art: Tell-tale Footprints

This North Korean poster, date unknown, is captioned simply, "Wicked Man." It shows the proverbial jackboot leaving behind a print of skulls, chains, nuclear bombs and "USA." This poster, like several others floating around the net including a couple I've posted here, turns out to come from a display of these posters at the California Literary Review, reviewing a book of North Korean posters compiled by David Heather. The CLS site provides revealing English translations of the sampled posters.

The art style is sort of sinister and chilling: while graphically simple it's a cold-war style that leaves out all the heroic and emotional appeals and goes straight to the allegorical representation of evil.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Echoes of a Past Life - The Tower of Dreams

So far everything I have posted in my "Echoes of a Past Life" series has been something I wrote. Here's something different, a piece of art I created back in 1979. I have several copies of it; it strikes me as oddly prescient.

The year 1979 started out badly for me. I was a young man living in Chicago, and quite lost. I had just dropped out of college; I had been attending a very serious university when I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I was going through some stuff personally, among other things coming out. By the end of the year I had completely refound my footing. One of the things that helped was taking an art class. I should have gone to art school all along, one of my life's regrets, but this one class helped heal quite a bit of what ailed me.

This is a completely hand-done lithograph. As I recall you made a drawing in reverse with a kind of waxy crayon on a stone, and then apply an acid wash which etches the design into the stone. Then you roll ink onto the stone, press a piece of paper on the stone, and when you pull off the paper you have printed your image. You hand print what you want, and then sand the image off the stone and use it for a new design. It's an ancient technique, and even more anciently, of course, back in 1979 there was no Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. There was something therapeutic in its hand craft. I've never been much of a drawer, and I remember the teacher helping me make the lines of this art more definitive, more intentional. The art deco images were inspired by some Russian 1920s fantasy labels I had seen, but the composition is completely original, rearranging those motifs into something quite new. I don't remember where the idea for the words came from.

So many years later I'm struck by how spiritual this piece is: I was not a religious child or young adult. While reverent when necessary, I probably would have described myself as an atheist back then, and yet here I was making an image of someone apparently praying to some kind of altar, conjouring a mysterious being out of the flame. It would take me well over another decade before I started to get interested in the kind of spirituality that involved altars and smoke and mysterious beings, but there you have it. I like to think that my invisible spiritual guides were giving me a little push long before I had an interest in things spiritual. I guess I feel like I wound up building this tower of those dreams.

Click on the image to see it larger.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Anti-American Art: Now THAT'S Multiculturalism!

Chinese cultural-revolution-era poster from 1970. I'm not sure of the exact translation of the top header but you can bet it's about the peoples of the world and America; for America it's not looking so good. The three little American caricatures in the corner seem to have pissed off pretty much everybody in the world; at least everybody who has donned traditional ethnic attire and grabbed a bayonet for the occasion to stick it to 'em. The Chinese and Albanian delegation has chosen to stay a little further back and wave around Chairman Mao's Little Red Book. On ocean of red flags bring up the rear. Call me what you want but back in the day I went to a couple leftist demonstrations with an ocean of red flags and it was indeed fucking awesome. There were no bayonets that I saw, though. Click on this gem to see it a little larger.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This Is What the Right Wing Wants to Erase

No, the picture above is not a preview of the next teabagger rally in Washington D.C. But it's not as far fetched as you might think.

Now many horrible things have been done in the name of the U.S. Constitution. Its history is bound up with slavery, with genocide against native Americans, with the deprivation of the rights of women, with imperialism and neocolonialism, and not least of all, the class rule of the moneyed aristocracy and its corporations and its elite political parties. That said, as an evolving statement of rights, better the Constitution than arbitrary dictatorial rule. There are some progressive things in the Constitution, especially in its elaboration of the rights of citizens, and one of the most progressive is the amendment passed after the civil war to make sure former slaves were not disenfranchised. Which, it must be said, it failed to actually do.

That amendment, the 14th, is the one that the Republican Party is now suggesting be jettisoned. Here's some of what it says:

"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Read that, it's powerful stuff. This is what the Republicans and teabaggers now want to eliminate in their racist campaign against immigrant workers.

Section 2 of the amendment spells out how only men--and not including Indian men--are to be counted for determining proportional representation. But then we get to something else interesting:

"Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void."

Interesting, and one has to believe not at all coincidental, that the amendment the right wing is targeting also has this clause in it, since they profess to be outraged about budget deficits (except those caused by wars or giving tax breaks to rich people).

It needs to be emphasized that that first section is not just about the birthright of citizenship. It's also about that last "equal protection clause" that has been used repeatedly to fight discrimination and advance civil rights. It's been used for racial minorities, for women, and for gay people. It's actually pretty fundamental to a progressive view of the Constitution and its outline of democratic rights. That the right wing is explicitly renouncing this amendment, even if they're only talking loudly about that first sentence, I think is a radical and qualitative marker in the evolution of right-wing American politics.

I think it's outrageous even symbolically that they want to repeal an amendment that is so bound up with the civil war and the end of racist slavery. And it's telling that they feel no shame in doing so. Are they also heating up their irons and getting ready to make sure those white sheets are nice and wrinkle-free?

(Art of 1925 KKK rally in Washington DC snagged from TimLennox.com.)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Anti-American Art: They Weren't Invincible and Neither Are You

"The American Invaders Will Be Defeated" reads this 1951 poster mustering support for the professed Chinese People's Volunteers then fighting off the U.S. Army in North Korea. The two books held by the soldiers show what it took for the Chinese allied with Soviet Russia to defeat Japan and Nazi Germany and what it took for the Chinese Red Army to defeat the Kuomintang in the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s. The message is clear: the motley crew of Americans with their money and their nuclear bombs will be defeated too. And in truth, the Korean War ended in stalemate.

While North Korea and China are today nominally allies, North Korea's continued militant posture is probably an inconvenience to the Chinese, engaged in a new strategy of conquering the world with money. When the next U.S.-China war comes, it's gonna be a doozy.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

29, el tambor

Yesterday I went upstate for the celebration of my Santeria godfather's 21st birthday as a priest of Yemaya. Two of my godsisters were giving him the ultimate honor, a tambor fundamento, or fundamental drumming. Many people honor their orisha birthday, the anniversary of their initiation as priest/ess in the religion, by throwing a tambor: Hiring a group to play conga and shekere and sing to the orisha, this is called a guiro. But fundamento is different: the sacred and powerful triple bata drums, the anya, are played. These drums are so sacred that initiates in the religion must undergo a separate ceremony where they are presented to the drums before they are allowed to dance in front of them. A priest is specially selected at a fundamento to dance for the orisha being honored: this priest will always be mounted by the orisha who comes to earth to grace the celebration with their presence.

My godfather, called Asinyabi in the religion, is a priest of Yemaya Okute, the warrior aspect of Yemaya. He is completely and utterly devoted to Yemaya: his home shrine to his Orishas among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Though he no longer lives in New York City, he belongs to a Brooklyn-based Egbe Yemonja, a society of other Yemaya priest/esses who carry on important traditions of Yemaya outside the normal ile, or house, structure of the Santeria/new world Yoruba religion. Anyway the birthday celebration, even being held so far outside the city at an elder's house upstate, had a terrific turnout.

I'm not a great santero. Although I was fully initiated over thirteen years ago as a priest of Obatala, I'm not very active in the community, I don't have godchildren, and I don't usually throw celebrations for my own orishas, and I attend tambores rarely, either guiros or fundamentos. But I love the religion, I love the orishas, and I love my padrino; it was important for me to be a part of this event.

A huge altar, called a throne or trono, literally a sacred seat for the orisha, to Yemaya was set up in the back. While some Santeria lines are not strict about this, in my padrino's ile there is no photographing the orishas or the celebrations, so there are no pictures of the beauty that was this event; only the pictures in the memories of the participants. The throne was like an art installation to Yemaya, a kind of beach scene with rich cloths and even sand, seashells and a pool with fishes. The throne was surrounded by fresh fruit offered up to Yemaya and then handed out as blessings to the participants afterwards. The room is filled with priests and priestesses dancing, or greeting each other by prostrating themselves at the feet of those older than themselves in orisha years. It's a sacred occasion but a joyous one.

The bata drumming was extraordinary. It's an oddly syncopated sound, instantly recognizable, and unlike what a person would think of as the typical "Afro-Cuban drumming" that came out of Yoruba religious tradition to become a foundation of Latin music and jazz. Each of the three drums is covered in a special cloth decorated with symbols of the orishas, and the center drum, the iya, is draped in bells. Their rhythm coaxes the orishas to earth: as initiates present themselves to the drums and later dance to the songs played to each orisha, the air becomes charged with sacred energy and priests and priestesses shake and twitch with the touch of the divine beings. At this tambor two Yemayas and one Oshun came down. The Yemayas were that of the priestess hired to dance for Yemaya, and my own godfather's. A number of Changos, Oyas and Obatalas lingered briefly, mounting their horses just enough to remind us of their presence. The singer would engage in a dialogue with the descending orishas, trying to persuade them to fully come down and bless the crowd with their mysterious presence.

The details of how exactly all this comes to be are secrets of the initiated. There are details that those of us who have sat in the room and been crowned with orisha are sworn not to reveal to those who have not experienced them. But those secret details are of little importance next to what one experiences at an event like this. We who are believers don't really talk about how what we have just witnessed and experienced works, we just bask in its blessing, doing what is necessary to maintain the tradition that keeps the orishas alive. The orishas, the divine beings of Yoruba legend, come to the new world in slave ships, come to the north on the backs of immigrants, they actually materialize in flesh and blood at tambores like these to remind us of the miraculous world of nature and the spirits, to remind us of our destinies, to bless us with their touch. It's not an intellectual experience of religion but an emotional one. What must look a little crazy to people outside the wall of believing and accepting is to those who know a revelatory thing of beauty. I can't tell you what it feels like, exactly, to feel that energy, that aché, in your head, that open connection to God's messengers, but it's like nothing the secular world has to offer.

One of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed in the religion I saw last night as Yemaya closed the ceremony. A bucket is filled with water, and normally a dance is done with the bucket by priests, carrying the bucket about the room to cleanse it before being carried outside where the water is flung into the street. But last night in the golden hours before dusk, even inside you could feel this, Yemaya herself seized the bucket. She swirled in her brilliant blue skirts with multicultured panels flying, the bucket outstretched from her hands yet not giving up a drop. It was a vortex of divine spirit, the crowd calling out to her as Yemaya spun around and around. I was in awe. And reminded of why I believe things that other people cannot see. And why I see things that other people will not believe. And I was so so grateful that I heard that drum, el tambor, calling what turned out to be my own name so long ago, and whether or not I am a model santero or a slacker, how profoundly blessed and lucky I feel that Yemaya, that Obatala, that all the Orishas, that God him or her self, has chosen my eyes, my heart, and my head for the mysterious revelation of the presence of such transformative magic in the world. Maferefun Yemaya; all praises due. Aché.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Anti-American Art: Witness to Atrocity

This is a huge mosaic on the outside wall of the Sinchon Museum of American War Crimes in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It shows a wounded elderly Korean woman in resolute defiance above a tableau of American solders shooting down North Korean civilians in a ditch. Inside the museum are a number of the posters that have been featured on this blog, along with displays of photographs, torture equipment, and other relics of the war crimes alleged to have been committed by the U.S. during its march northward in the first year of the Korean war.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Biggest Terrorist Attack of All Time

One nation has actually used the ultimate weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons. That nation is the United States of America.

Sixty-five years ago today, the United States bombed the city of Hiroshima in southern Japan. Nearly a hundred thousand lives--mostly civilians--were instantly snuffed out as the city itself was flattened. Tens and tens of thousands of others had their lives cut short, condemned to dealing with painful burns and other injuries and to the slow but equally fatal poisonous effects of lethal radiation exposure.

The big lie of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki, bombed three days later) is that the United States had no choice: it traded the lives of two cities worth of Japanese civilians for the shortening of the war. But for the four years of the war the American government and its loyal cultural institutions had churned out massive amounts of dehumanizing racist anti-Japanese propaganda like the poster at left. Loyal American citizens of Japanese ancestry had been sent to internment camps. It is not surprising that the American military and scientific establishment would use the last days of a war obviously almost over to experiment on a civilian population it had already deemed subhuman. The United States made its deadly mathematical calculation because it believed that dropping the bomb on Japanese civilians would be like crushing so many cockroaches. Many -- though certainly not all -- scholars believe that the Japanese government was ready to surrender, especially anticipating the obviously imminent entry of the Soviet Union into the war. The Japanese imperialists had a record of military cruelty to civilians dating back to the attack on Shanghai in 1937; that's undeniable. But with the nuclear attacks on Japan, the United States became fully committed to that same club.

From the story of survivor Setsuko Thurlow:

"I turned around and saw the outside world. Although it was morning, it looked like twilight because of the dust and smoke in the air. People at a distance saw the mushroom cloud and heard a thunderous roar. But I did not see the cloud because I was in it. I did not hear the roar, just the deadly silence broken only by the groans of the injured. Streams of stunned people were slowly shuffling from the city centre toward nearby hills. They were naked or tattered, burned, blackened and swollen. Eyes were swollen shut and some had eyeballs hanging out of their sockets. They were bleeding, ghostly figures like a slow-motion image from an old silent movie. Many held their hands above the level of their hearts to lessen the throbbing pain of their burns. Strips of skin and flesh hung like ribbons from their bones. Often these ghostly figures would collapse in heaps never to rise again. With a few surviving classmates I joined the procession carefully stepping over the dead and dying.

At the foot of the hill was an army training ground about the size of two football fields. Literally every bit of it was covered with injured and dying who were desperately begging, often in fain whispers, “Water, water, please give me water”. But we had no containers to carry water. We went to a nearby stream to wash the blood and dirt from our bodies. Then we tore off parts of our clothes, soaked them with water and hurried back to hold them to the mouths of the dying who desperately sucked the moisture. We kept busy at this task of giving some comfort to the dying all day. There were no medical supplies of any kind and we did not see any doctor or nurse. When darkness fell, we sat on the hillside, numbed by the massive scale of death and suffering we had witnessed, watching the entire city burn. In the background were the low rhythmic whispers from the swollen lips of the ghostly figures, still begging for water."

More survivor testimony can be read at Voices of Hibakusha.

Remember this: when the U.S. campaigns against weapons of mass destruction, when it marches into Iraq, threatens Iran and North Korea, raises the spectre of rogue nukes, this is not because it believes WMD are wrong, it's because it wants exclusive use of these monstrosities for itself and its allies.

WW2 poster snagged from Maximum Advantage in Pictures blog.

UPDATE: Some devastating new photos from a few weeks after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are up at Life.com

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Anti-American Art: Murder On His Mind

Another poster from Cuba's OCLAE, the Latin American Student Organization, ca. early 1970s for the "Continental Day of Support for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos." The poster shows a harsh caricature of the eminently caricaturable President Nixon, with a cut-away on his heading showing that he has the dead bodies of a lot of Indochinese civilians on his mind.

If the American war of aggression on Vietnam was seeded by Kennedy and started by Johnson, it blossomed into new horrors courtesy of Nixon. Nixon expanded military operations on the ground into Cambodia. The U.S. engineered a military coup in Cambodia, establishing a puppet regime to replace the nominally non-aligned ruler Prince Sihanouk. In 1970 U.S. and South Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in pursuit of National Liberation Front sanctuaries. The invasion ultimately strengthened the Khmer Rouge insurgency which gained the support of Sihanouk, then exiled to China. The Khmer Rouge liberated Cambodia from that dictatorship shortly before the fall of Saigon to the People's Army of Vietnam and NLF. That, of course, would lead to several other stories. Here's a thought-provoking essay on how different the world might be had Nixon been tried for his war crimes at War Is a Crime blog.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Tragedy. . . of Pro-War Propaganda

It is a horrible image: a woman with her nose cut off by the fundamentalist Taliban as punishment for violating their particularly backward interpretation of law and morality. But is it worse than the image on the right? A girl with her face burned and scarred simply for being in the wrong place in the wrong time during an American raid in May of 2009?

Time's argument is the familiar one that the Taliban are so awful, so barbaric, that the United States is obligated to protect Afghan women from their return to power, no matter what. (See the recent Unrepentant Marxist for a useful post noting Time's grim history as ruling class mouthpiece.) But the Time article omits the truly backward interpretation of law and morality, the one that grants the American military (including its spy agencies) the unfettered right to assassinate whom it pleases whenever it pleases, "collateral" damage of innocent bystanders or surrounding communities be damned.

As I have argued before, the problem is that American violence against Afghan civilians is just as bad as Taliban violence. Americans seem to be oblivious to the horror being committed in their name first by Bush and now by the Obama administration. And as I have also argued before, the problem is that war will not solve the problems of the Afghan, or for that matter American, people. The Time article itself notes that the horrible disfigurement shown on its cover was done since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, in an area outside the control of the Afghan central government: U.S. military might did not protect the woman on the left...as surely as it consigned the one on the right to agony.

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has done massive amounts of work documenting and arguing against the Taliban's anti-women policies, and they've been recognized in the media for doing so. But their understanding is deeper than that of the media: RAWA argues for the defeat of the Taliban along with the defeat of the Karzai government and for the end of the American occupation. RAWA calls for the Afghan people to rise up against U.S. war criminals. (And for the record RAFA also condemns the ruling Afghan Communists of the 1980s).

Time magazine is trying to claim there is humanitarian good in the war in Afghanistan. But this is just not true. The question "What happens when we leave Afghanistan" is asked here by Time on its cover as pure propaganda: juxtaposed with this photo we are meant to make an immediate emotional answer. This is a false question, because the answer to the question "What happens when the U.S. stays in Afghanistan" is just as bad.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Freedom Fighter Marilyn Buck Dies Shortly After Parole

I was trying to decide whether to write about the parole recently granted to Marilyn Buck, an American revolutionary imprisoned since the 1980s. I am saddened to report that according to The Rag Blog, Buck passed away this morning in New York from cancer.

Marilyn Buck was arrested in the mid-1980s for her role in the notorious Nyack Brinks robbery that spelled the end of the road for a particular wing of the American left. Buck was alleged to have been a member of the May 19th Communist Organization, a group with roots in the Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society. May 19th was the East Coast faction of a tendency that on the West Coast formed the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee. It straddled the lines of legality, supporting an network of leftists and revolutionaries driven underground by the government repression of the 1960s and 1970s counter intelligence program COINTELPRO. Buck is said to have taken part in the liberation of Assata Shakur from prison: a truly heroic and selfless act. I disagreed with many of the politics and actions of May 19th, but this was a woman who walked every moment of her talk. I remember those 1980s days of defeat and demoralization in the face of the Reagan juggernaut. I remember the witchhunt the media and the government undertook to paint these people as common criminals or terrorists. But Buck's life is enduring testament to the struggle for freedom not the mistakes of a particular group.

Buck was granted parole just a few weeks ago knowing that the cancer for which she had received inadequate care while in prison was likely incurable.

Here's "Rescue the Word," a poem she wrote in 1992, from the Friends of Marilyn Buck website:

sacred words are in danger
fugitives, they seek cover
bury themselves alive
shamed by the profane
purposes they are forced to serve
dressed in lily-white lies
words are in danger
english only vows
to tear out tongues
exiled witnesses
to collective memory and homeland ties
sacred words are in danger
trapped, they hang on billboards
judas-goats to conjure deception
sing them shout them
teach them
wear them
around your neck
amulets against amnesia

Ibaye. Presente!

There are a shocking number of political prisoners in American jails. They range from leftists like Buck to African-American and Native American revolutionaries, and Cuban fighters against terrorism. Here is a somewhat dated list.

Anti-American Art: Bridge of Cries

This spectacular panoramic painting is another from North Korea's Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities. The museum documents violence committed against North Korean civilians in Sinchon County between the time that American forces pushed back the North Korean advance before the entry of China into the Korean war. This one shows the Massacre at Soktang Bridge. From the description at the Museum: "Over 2,000 people were killed on the short Soktang Bridge between mid-October and late November [1950]. The aggressors were on strict guard at the approach to the bridge. They captured all who tried to cross it and cut off their heads with swords, bayoneted them or shot them to death, drowning them in the river. They dragged people from other villages to the bridge and drowned them with bayonets. The river was dyed with blood and filled with dead bodies....The Korean people never forget the brutal atrocities committed by the US imperialists and are full of a firm determination to revenge upon them a hundred and thousand fold if they invade Korea again." The DPRK claims "the yankees massacred 35,383 innocent Koreans, or a quarter of the population of Sinchon in 52 days of their occupation of the place."

(Photo snagged from Ray Cunningham's flickr, promoted on the Communist Nation blog. Check out his flickr page for many more 2009 photos from the Sinchon Museum. Click on the image above to see this incredible picture larger.)

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Forgotten Truth About Racism

"Those who know, define racism as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation or maintaining subjugation. In other words one cannot be a racist unless he has the power to subjugate.” -- Steve Biko, I Write What I Like.

Steve Biko, 1946-1977, was a black South African revolutionary killed by the forces of apartheid in prison. And by "forgotten," I mean erased.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Anti-American Art: Holy Crap It's Coming This Way

"We will sweep away the US from the globe" reads this modern poster from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea showing a nuclear missile making a beeline for the star-spangled-banned coated US of A. Gone from this poster are the righteous Koreans workers and soldiers: this one is a pure military revenge fantasy. I'm pretty sure -- and pretty happy -- that North Korea's advancements in nuclear weapons technology don't include the successful development of the kind of offensive intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that would make this kind of attack a reality. That said, the DPRK is a tiny impoverished country being totally bullied by the U.S.; ringed by Japan, China, Russia and South Korea that's a pretty tough neighborhood and North Korea oughtta be allowed to invest in self-defense. It oughtta provide food, electricity, and information to its citizens also but that's another story.