Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vs. the Pomegranate has moved to WordPress!


I have moved Vs. the Pomegranate to WordPress. Please update your bookmarks and/or RSS feeds. This link will bring you to the new, improved blog:


If you've followed my blog here at Blogger, thank you. I have truly appreciated your readership. I hope you continue to read Vs. the Pomegranate at WordPress.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Moving to WordPress


Dear Readers,
I am in the process of migrating my long(er) form blogging to WordPress. It's complicated but I'm trying to archive the contents of this blog--including your intelligent comments--at my new spot. As soon as I'm up and running I will let you know and redirect you there. In the mean time please visit my Tumblog at www.vsthepomegranate.tumblr.com.

For what it's worth I like Tumblr a lot... but it's primarily a visual experience for me. I almost never want to read long blocks of text there so it has discouraged me form writing anything too in-depth, which the reason I began blogging in the first place. That, along with the ease of re-posting, encourages me to pass along already existing photos and smaller chunks of text or links at my Tumblog. I'll still be doing that but with everything that is happening in the world I want to do more.

The move to WordPress is meant to blow the dust off (Blogger looks really old-fashioned post-Tumblr, I think) and provide a space to explore the things that interest me in more detail.

More soon.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Only Rapture I Am Caught Up In




It is a beautiful spring day in New York. I'll work out and then bring my dog to the park so he can run around. Later on: dinner... and if I all goes well, dessert.

This, I think, is the difference between me and the end-times Christians: I love the world. It frustrates me and there are things I want to change, but at my core I love the world and I love my life. And I do not need for it to be swept away to feel close to God. I just have to walk around on a day like this and watch my dog gallop around the park, kissing everyone he sees.

Amen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kyriarchy is a Bitch, Part Two: This Time It's Personal


Despite its vast, unbounded openness sometimes the internet is a small town. When I wrote about freelance "race and gender" writer JoNubian's bizarre, anti-Arab racist twitter-rant yesterday I didn't think she'd see it--or if she did, certainly not right away. But I was wrong. Out of nowhere she tweeted me this afternoon.






In case you didn't follow that, here is a brief play-by-play:

* Calling out anti-Arab racism is degrading... to the anti-Arab racist.
* Calling out anti-Arab racism is the same thing as street harassment... if the person doing the calling out is an Arab.
* Pointing out racial intolerance is racist.
* Jo thinks this would have been better handled between us, despite the fact that when I tried to do that she blocked me, making such a discussion impossible.

... At least she admitted that she'd made an "unfair generalization." So that's something, right?

Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

With Friends Like These (or, Kyriarchy is a Bitch)

So this happened:

Um, what?

What the entire fuck? I log on to Twitter to see what's what and I'm confronted with this? From someone on my own timeline?

JoNubian is ready to drop some science on you Sand Monkey, so don't get it twisted! ... Sure, if you own a Bodega in Brooklyn you are probably South Asian but the fact that she can't tell the difference will not slow her down. (Just the opposite, apparently. Keep reading son)

Her "humanity." Hm. Right.

So, to clarify JoNubian is a graduate student at Texas Southern University who writes critically about human rights, race and gender on her own blog and at Race Talk. Seriously.

I can't remember why I started following her. We chatted every so often at first--mostly about a shared interest in Frantz Fanon-- and I promoted a few of her pieces on my blog. In return she put me in touch with the editor of Race Talk, although I was too busy to submit anything there. Up until this point Jo's tweets were pretentious in a faux-academic/ Afrocentric way-- a lot of florid Zora Neale Hurston, Fanon and Baldwin quotes-- and she describes herself in her profile as a "Dreamer. Lover. Provocateur." (I kid you not, see below) In other words, unoriginal but harmless: i.e. a grad student. So I was hoping I'd misunderstood. I questioned her about what she'd written to make sure I hadn't wandered into the middle of an inside joke or something.

Although I was hurt and put off I didn't automatically write her off as a racist. Twitter lends itself to a speak-before-you-think style of posting. I was hoping she'd see that she was acting out and modify her thought. If she'd responded with, "Know what? You are right, I wasn't thinking when I posted that. Peace." we would be good.

I figured her reaction would tell the tale and unfortunately I was right...

So... Jo was offended not because the attention was unasked for and unwanted, but because she thinks an Arab woman in the same circumstance wouldn't also be harassed? Which is why she is "especially" offended by Arab men who act inappropriately on the street? What? Even if she had some way to know what street harassment is or isn't suffered by Arab women (and let's be clear, she doesn't) what does that have to do with anything? I repeat: Jo specializes in writing about race and gender. At this point I thought, wow, that is ten different kinds of fucked up.

I also thought, "the hood"? Where are you tweeting from, 1995?

Jo, who has over two thousand followers on her feed, then turned to them for a bit of twitter-affirmation...

...And it worked! This thought-- not wrong in general but grotesquely inappropriate in this context-- was retweeted. But here's the thing, if the only way you can articulate your oppression is to oppress me, then we have a problem. Arab men are not "savages" we are just men. Some good, some not--just like everybody else.

I wasn't arguing that street harassment never happens, or that there isn't sometimes a racial component to it--or even that Jo herself hadn't been harassed. I was saying that stereotyping all of us for the actions of a few is complete bullshit. Especially slathered with a creamy frosting of orientalist stereotypes about violent, aggressive Arab men and passive, over-protected Arab women. Unlike Jo I keep my Twitter-feed small, mostly to avoid having to deal with crap like this.

Still, I thought--she got harassed on the street and she is upset. What she is saying is not okay but I don't want to downplay that.

To which she responded:

The reality is that Jo doesn't see anything "constantly" in New York, she lives in Houston. She is a tourist in my city and she is trying to school me on how it is in New York. In the, ah, "hood." Right. But even if street harassment by Arab men is a common experience for her making racial generalizations based on a small, unrepresentative group through her unacknowledged bias doesn't lead anywhere good. I am looking at you Dr. Kanazawa. At this point it seemed clear that her pride wouldn't let her admit she was wrong and in her defensiveness she was escalating her racism.

Given that she'd gone from pretending to know what is inside the heads of all "Arab Dudes" to pretending that she knows what's inside of mine I finally got angry and said so:

And to make sure it was clear I wasn't dismissing her justifiable anger at being harassed I wrote:

And then, one last ditch effort to make her understand her actions as racist by asking her to imagine herself n my place:

So she blocked me.

Right. Now let's review the World According To JoNubian, "a freelance writer whose writing focuses on human rights, especially issues of race and gender" :

* JoNubian is human but Arab men are savages.
* Arab women--those pampered creatures-- don't get harassed on the street, but if they did Arab men would behead the perpetrators.
* It isn't racist to say so because Jo has seen this "constantly" in New York (despite the fact that she does not live here).
*If you object to her racist anti-Arab generalizations, then you are lying.

I think expecting people of color in general and Black people in particular to be more racially enlightened because of their own struggles is a racist idea. It's a close cousin to the "Magical Negro" idea where it is the responsibility of Black people to uplift and educate everybody else, while simultaneously bearing up under the vicissitudes of racism with quiet, noble dignity. Yick.

But it is fair--and necessary-- to hold bloggers, journalists and academics who specialize in race to a higher standard, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. Race "experts", even if they are entirely self-appointed, perhaps especially if they are self-appointed, must be more self-reflective than the average person. Which doesn't mean always saying (or thinking) the most virtuous, racially enlightened thing under all circumstances--that is unrealistic. But rather that if we fuck up we own it and move forward, trying harder. So this post isn't really about poor, shallow JoNubian. I'm not mad at her: She is a tourist, not only in New York City but in a world of ideas she does not fully understand. Academia is busting at the seams with people like her. She'll either grow up and out of this or she won't. Either way , she isn't my problem. But she does provide a perfect case study of kyriarchy, which the way that marginalized people oppress one another.

Our particular subject positions can create blind spots that seem natural to us, but are created--and can therefore be dismantled if we try. And if you are going to promote yourself as race "expert" you have to try. Period. In my experience anti-Arab racism (and its close cousin Islamophobia) are pervasive on the self-described left, even among people who specialize in writing about racism. There really isn't anywhere to go to escape it, even your own Twitter feed.

That is the reality of orientalism and Islamophobia.

Before signing off Twitter I scrolled down Jo's timeline and came across this gem, posted just before the anti-Arab stuff above. I add it by way of a post script:


Hm. Yeah.

Friday, May 13, 2011

From Portraits to Pin-ups: Representations of Women in Art and Popular Culture

Valie Export, Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969)

Academic Symposium: From Portraits to Pin-ups: Representations of Women in Art and Popular Culture

Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, 3rd Floor

In conjunction with the exhibition Lorna Simpson: Gathered, this symposium will explore the implications of female artists using images of women in their work, the relationship between popular culture and fine art, connections between women's history and contemporary art, perceptions of race and gender, and representations of beauty. Dr. Wendy Steiner will speak on concepts of beauty, a panel of graduate students will present current research, and a panel discussion with comedian Erica Watson, drag king Shelly Mars, and illustrator Molly Crabapple will follow.

SCHEDULE:

10:15 a.m. Dr. Steiner and panelists arrive (aside from Molly, Erica, and Shelly) for technical check
10:15-11a.m. technical checks, refreshments served
11:00am Auditorium opens
11:25am Introduction and Welcome
11:30am Keynote speaker Dr. Wendy Steiner "Beauty, Woman, Art"

12-2pm Paper session 1: Women and Image
Paula E. Hopkins, Georgetown University: "Subverting the Image: Representations of Black Women in Lorna Simpson's photography"
Shannon Vittoria, CUNY Graduate Center: "Women Artists at Work: Picturing Professionalization in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France"
Nicole Bebout, Hunter College: "How to Protect Your Virtue: Animal Transformations in the Work of Paula Rego"
Brooke Belisle, UC Berkeley: "Gathered: Portraits of Relational Identity"
Nicole Meyers, Hunter College: "Unpinning the Pinup: Axell’s Vicious Red Circle and the Coca-Cola Company”
Emilia Müller, New York University: "Fashion and Femininity in 1950s Sci-Fi Films"
Li Cornfeld, M.A., New York University: "Shooting Heroines: On Dina Goldstein's Fallen Princesses"

2-2:30pm: Lunch break. Light lunch will be served, cafe is also open.

2:30-4pm Paper session 2: Women and Embodiment
Kristen Lorello, Hunter College: "Kate Gilmore and goldiechiari: Re-envisioning the City in Rome and Beyond"
Joseph Shahadi, Ph.D, New York University: "Mona Hatoum: Foreign Body"
Aliza Shvarts, New York University: "Art, Hair, Beauty"
Thomas Naughton, Harvard University: "Performance Event or Pop Art Product: Lady Gaga's Instafilm Grimace and the new consumerist 'performance art'"
Al Janae Hamilton, New York University, "Radicalizing the Black Female Body: Fashioning Black Power from Olive Morris to Pam Grier"

3:30 p.m. Shelly Mars, Molly Crabapple and Erica Watson arrive

4:30-5:30pm Conversation with illustrator Molly Crabapple, drag king Shelly Mars, and comedian Erica Watson

Friday, May 6, 2011

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld Explains It All For You: Palestinians Aren't Human

This handsome devil is Jeffery Wiesnfeld.

Photo by Michael Appleton for The New York Times

The story so far: Jeffery Wiesnfeld, a City University of New York trustee and semi-professional Zionist, got his knickers twisted over the inclusion of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner among a stack of proposed recipients of honorary degrees to be rubber stamped by its Board. After an impassioned, if factually dubious, recounting of Kushner's criticisms of Israel, (among other things Kushner is the Co-Editor of Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict) the Board caved like a... I'd like to think of a clever metaphor here but currently there is nothing that caves as fast or completely as the CUNY Board of Directors.

What ensued has been a fairly predictable push and pull: Kushner responded. Former honorees Barbara Ehrenreich and Michael Cunningham have returned their honorary degrees to CUNY in solidarity with Kushner. And Wiesenfeld responded to Kushner's response. In the New York Times Jim Dwyer tried to get a defensive Wiesenfeld to clarify his position, which he did by asserting that the Palestinian people aren't human.

Dwyer writes,

I tried to ask a question about the damage done by a short, one-sided discussion of vigorously debated aspects of Middle East politics, like the survival of Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, and which side was more callous toward human life, and who was most protective of it.

But Mr. Wiesenfeld interrupted and said the question was offensive because “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.”

Equivalence between what and what? “Between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “People who worship death for their children are not human.”

Did he mean the Palestinians were not human? “They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history,” he said.

To paraphrase one of my favorite bloggers, Shark-Fu of Angry Black Bitch:

Pause.

Blink.

Right. So how do you engage with someone who believes (and reports that belief to the New York Times) that people like you aren't human? Short answer: you don't.

Like their Evangelical Christian brethren (who also do their level best to bend US civil discourse to suit their political concerns) it is pointless to engage rationally with Zionists. So rather than answer the various–-frankly ridiculously inaccurate and/or sensationally distorted–-racist and Islamophobic claims of various post Kushner-kerfuffle commenters (or of Wiesenfeld himself) I’d like to make three points:

1) The particular context of this debate aside, it should be clear that this incident sets a dangerous precedent at CUNY. Our universities are settings for the rehearsal of such arguments–to the great benefit of their students. The threat implicit in Wiesenfeld’s objection is premised on the potential economic consequences for CUNY based on public opinion, which is not fixed. If I were a Zionist I’d be very wary of opening this particular door. The times they are a-changin'.

2) The cultural behaviors, religious beliefs and legal policies of the various nations of the Arab world (and/ or Muslims in general) are utterly beside the point: the actions of the State of Israel toward the Palestinians are still wrong. They are not *less* wrong (or even somehow “right”) because some of the Palestinians do things that you (or Wiesenfeld, or even I) don’t like. Period. Ethnic cleansing doesn’t magically become justifiable when you use it against people with whom you disagree. In other words we don’t say “Well, slavery was okay because we don’t like the way the Africans treated women or gays.” We say, “Slavery is wrong.” Period.

3) This action–described by Wiesenfeld as “boycotting the boycotters”–has achieved nothing except to betray Zionist fear over the growing international influence of the cultural boycott of Israel. Bad move. I have never been more convinced that the Boycott is working than I am at this moment.

If they cannot see that this is not a Zionist “moral” victory but rather a sloppy, public misstep then they are kidding themselves.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Letters to Distant Cities; Multi-Media Performance


Letters to Distant Cities

with

Shara Worden and My Brightest Diamond
Clare and the Reasons
Rob Moose (Sufjan Stevens, Antony & the Johnsons)
Poetry by Mustafa Ziyalan
Curated & produced by photo/videographer Murat Eyuboglu

MULTIMEDIA BOX SET WITH AUDIO, HIGH-QUALITY POSTCARDS

Monday, March 21, 7–9 PM

$10 at the door

The powerHouse Arena · 37 Main Street (corner of Water & Main St) · DUMBO, Brooklyn
For more information, please call 718.666.3049
rsvp: rsvp@powerHouseArena.com

Music, poetry, and photography converge in Letters to Distant Cities. The album will be re-created in a multi-media release event featuring live performances by Worden, Moose, and Manchon, as well as readings of the poetry in the original Turkish by Ziyalan with English readings of the translations by Worden, and a video for two of the album's songs (The Sea and Invisible), produced by Eyuboglu and edited by David Sarno (videos available online only). To round out the evening, Worden and Manchon will perform a few extra tunes of their own, not included on the album.

About Letters to Distant Cities:

New Amsterdam Records welcomes singer-songwriters Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond) and Clare Muldaur Manchon (of Clare and the Reasons), along with indie-classical multi-instrumentalist/composer Rob Moose, as collaborators in the enchanted and melancholy Letters to Distant Cities, a multi-media project curated and produced by photographer and videographer Murat Eyuboglu, exploring urban solitude through the poetry of Turkish-American poet, Mustafa Ziyalan.

In addition to the CD, the album package includes a set of 24 pristine keepsake cards, comprising a photographic illustration for each of Zilayan's poems collected on the recording. The images were captured by project visionary Murat Eyuboglu with model Jamie Ansley. Designer Adam Frint brings musical, poetic, and photographic elements together, creating a physical connection to the album's sense of memorabilia.

www.newamsterdamrecords.com

About the Artists:

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shara Worden spearheads the indie-folk band My Brightest Diamond. With a background in classical music, Worden studied opera at the University of North Texas and Manhattan School of Music, and studied composition with composer/performer Padma Newsome (Clogs, The National). My Brightest Diamond involves elements of rock and classical music, with the combined sound of instrumentalists Rob Moose, Earl Harvin, Chris Bruce, and Zac Rae. Their first record, Bring Me the Workhorse, was released on Asthmatic Kitty Records in 2006. Their sophomore album, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, was released in 2008.

Clare and the Reasons, fronted by collaborators Clare Muldaur Manchon and Olivier Manchon, is a Brooklyn-based indie-pop outfit started in 2005. Live, they have a steady list of contributors, with a host of acoustic instruments—cellos, violas, things to hit, kazoos, baby kotos, saws, recorders, and a bass drum that says "Kaboom" on it. Clare and the Reasons deliver an assortment of meticulously constructed and arranged songs. Walking the line between musical maturity and sophistication and primal, childlike musical instincts, Clare and the Reasons floats comfortably between both worlds.

A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music in violin performance, Rob Moose has established an exciting and eclectic presence as a performer, arranger and conductor in the rapidly changing atmosphere of contemporary music. Since joining Antony and the Johnsons in 2005, Moose has also toured with Sufjan Stevens, Beth Orton and Duncan Sheik, and recorded with Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire, The National, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Rufus Wainwright, and Marianne Faithfull.

Mustafa Ziyalan's poetry, short fiction, essays and poetry translations have appeared in many literary periodicals, anthologies (most recently in New European Poets), and also in book form. Istanbul Noir, an anthology of short fiction he co-edited with Amy Spangler, was published by Akashic Books in 2008. His most recent volume of poetry, Land of Smiles/Gülümsemeler Ülkesi, a bilingual collection of poetry with original woodcuts by Vladimir Ginzburg, was published in 2009. Su Kedileri (Water Cats), a collection of short fiction, came out in 2005; Yakilacak Kentlerden (From Cities Slated to Burn), a collection of travel writing with original photography by Murat Eyüboğlu, in 2007; and, Manhattan'da Şiir Konuşmalari (Poetry Talks in Manhattan), a collection of writings on poets and poetry, in 2009.

Murat Eyuboglu started photography as an apprentice to Josephine Powell in Istanbul. After attending the Academy of Fine Arts, School of Photography (Istanbul), he transferred to Bennington College, Vermont, where he studied music, literature, and philosophy. He lived in Paris and returned to New York to pursue studies in music history. His dissertation was on the utopian aspects of Gustav Mahler's works. Since 2000, he has focused mainly on portraiture and has been working on various collaborative projects. In 2007, he also started working in video. He participated in the documentary Claude Lèvi-Strauss: Auprès de l'Amazonie as assistant director. His photographs have been published by the French edition of National Geographic, and his music videos have been released by Asthmatic Kitty Records and New Amsterdam Records. He lives in New York City.

Adam Frint is a Chicago-based graphic designer with a love for music and typography, an appreciation for illustration, and a passion for black and white fine art photography. A senior designer at AGI, a global leader in design, packaging, print and production for the entertainment industry, Adam has had the opportunity to work with many great clients ranging from the Sony Group and Walt Disney Studios to EMI Music, HBO, and Warner Home Video. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication and a Minor in Photography, and a founding member of the online design community, c2ak.com. He has been affiliated with, and draws inspiration from, local designers and artists from Lumpen Magazine, Chicago Country Club, CPG (Chicago Screen Printer's Guild), ADLOVE, OhNo!Doom and Prairie Mod.

David Sarno is a freelance editor and has worked in television production for over ten years. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Photography from Southern Illinois University, he moved to Chicago and began his editing career. The scope of his work covers a broad range, including broadcast television, music videos, and internet programs. Highlights include working at Kurtis Productions where he cut 4 episodes of American Greed, a documentary series airing on CNBC. Also while at Kurtis he cut two episodes of The Entrepreneurs for CNBC, a series profiling small businesses on the fast track to building national brands, and a one hour episode of American Originals, about the history of the Westminster Kennel Club. David has also worked at Thea Flaum Productions where he edited twenty-six episodes of From Junky to Funky, a home remodeling show on the DIY network, and Anderson Productions where he cut six episodes for the Emmy-nominated series, CPS Right Now!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

William Pope L. Limited Edition at Art in General

William Pope.L
a philosophical solution, 2011
Mixed media sculpture
13.5 x 4 x 4 inches
Courtesy the artist. Published by Art in General.
Edition Size: 20
$1,500

Join Art in General and William Pope.L on March 23rd for a special reception where the artist will launch his new edition, a philosophical solution. Pope.L joins a long list of artists who have generously supported Art in General's exhibitions and programs by producing a limited edition, including Allora & Calzadilla, Jim Lambie, Glenn Ligon, Paul Pfeiffer, Spencer Tunick, and Pae White, among many others. Space for this event is extremely limited.

Please RSVP to Anna Starling at 212.219.0473 ext. 25 or anna@artingeneral.org if you are interested in attending.

a philosophical solution is a conceptual readymade, a wine bottle filled with a dark mysterious liquid in a branded wooden crate. Like a riddle, this piece contains hidden messages–a tiny tongue, a closed box, a sealed bottle, an opaque elixir. Together these elements expose our complicated relationship to language and those libations that let our own tongues run. In the artist's words, this edition is: "A beverage of dark mental liquid in the vein of such ideas as: 'the text wrote itself' or 'language has a mind of its own'; a thirst- quencher that silences the sipper while versing the sipped."

William Pope.L (born 1955 in Newark, New Jersey) is a prominent multidisciplinary artist known for his conceptual, often performance-based art practice, which actively confronts issues of race, sex, power, consumerism, and social class. As the self-proclaimed “friendliest black artist in America,” Pope.L invites dialogue through provocative performances, installations, and art objects. His work has been exhibited and performed at The Whitney Museum in New York, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, and the Renaissance Society in Chicago.

For inquiries or to purchase this work, please contact Anna Starling at 212.219.0473, ext. 25 or anna@artingeneral.org.

About Art in General

Founded in 1981 in Lower Manhattan, Art in General is a nonprofit organization that assists artists with the production and presentation of new work. It changes in response to the needs of artists and engages the public with their work. Since it was established, the organization has emerged as one of New York City’s leading nonprofits devoted to supporting and stimulating the creation of contemporary art, providing an environment in which artists may exhibit unconventional work and exchange ideas with their peers.

Location: 79 Walker Street, NYC, at the southeast corner of Cortland Alley. One block south of Canal Street, between Lafayette and Broadway.

Subway directions: take the 6, A-C-E, N-Q-R, or J to Canal Street.

Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12-6 pm.

Admission: Always free.

Art in General's 6th Floor Gallery and restrooms are wheelchair accessible, and we can provide assistance to visitors with disabilities as requested.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Scandals of Susan Sontag: One-Day Conference

On Friday, March 4th, the Center for the Humanities at the The Graduate Center (CUNY) will host the conference The Scandals of Susan Sontag, in collaboration with Stony Brook University’s Humanities Institute. The event will take place in the Skylight Room, The Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York. The event will begin with registration at 10:00 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

Susan Sontag’s provocative career resulted in a body of artistic and intellectual work that is scorned as often as it is admired. This one-day conference brings together a renowned roster of scholars and critics to consider the impact of her work and life. The event is co-organized by Aiobheann Sweeney, Director of the Center for the Humanities, CUNY, and E. Ann Kaplan, Director of the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook. “The conference does not aim to glorify or make a saint out of Sontag,” explains Kaplan. “It rather aims to take a steady look at just some of the many contributions to thought Sontag offered across a range of topics.”

The event will feature the filmmaker Nancy Kates screening excerpts from her upcoming film, Regarding Susan Sontag. Other participants will include:Barbara Ching, Iowa State University ; Lisa Diedrich, Stony Brook University; E. Ann Kaplan, Stony Brook University; Laura Kipnis, Northwestern University; Susie Linfield, New York University; Heather Love, University of Pennsylvania; Nancy K. Miller, CUNY: José Muñoz, New York University; Deborah Nelson, The University of Chicago; Elaine Showalter, Princeton University; Catharine Stimpson, NYU and Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, Pennsylvania State University.

The Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center, CUNY, was founded in 1993 as a forum for people who take ideas seriously inside and outside the academy. The Center puts CUNY students and faculty from various disciplines into dialogue with each other as well as with prominent journalists, artists, and civic leaders to promote the humanities and foster intellectual community across the city. The Humanities Institute at Stony Brook was established in 1987 to promote interdisciplinary research. Its varied programs have built, and continue to build, bridges between the human sciences and the medical, technical and natural sciences, and to reach out to the local community.

For more information please contact Aoibheann Sweeney, The Center for the Humanities, ASweeney@gc.cuny.edu or (212) 817-2006 or Olivia Mattis, Humanities Institute at Stony Brook, olivia.mattis@stonybrook.edu or (631) 632-9957.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Submitted My Dissertation to My Committee. (Or, Bring Out the Gimp).


Former President Reagan's daughter Patti Davis answered "Fun!" when asked what it was like to write her first book. (It was a memoir about how hard it was to grow up the daughter of a rich, white movie star-turned-politician who didn't communicate his feelings.) Pete Dexter, the brilliant writer and columnist responded that writing a book is not "fun" and instead compared it to "getting caught in your zipper and not being able to get unstuck for three years."

I'll ask those of you without dangly bits of your own to forgive the metaphor because it is so perfect.

I submitted my dissertation to my committee yesterday. And I feel... I am not even sure how I feel. Or how to describe it. A peculiar combination of elation, relief, giddiness and... loss. Isn't that crazy? For the first time in--literally--years I don't have part of my brain working on writing this damn thing. It's not simmering away on the back burner while I pretend to be interested in the stuff normal people talk about. My burners are cold. That book--because that's what it really is, don't kid yourself: A Book--is out of my hands. My zipper is unstuck in a big way but a sick, masochistic little part of me (let's call it the Gimp) actually misses it. I have that seat belt- after- a- long- car- ride feeling on my brain.

It has been a long process. There were times over the past few years that I thought I would crack from the stress. I wrote about... difficult things. At times they made me soul-sick even though I knew they were important to write about: Guantanamo, self-immolation, suicide terror, torture, hunger strikes. There were times I thought, "What the hell am I doing?" "Why am I not writing about something simpler?" I had nightmares for years.

I read a lot for pleasure and I have knocked back 200 page books in a day many times, no problem. But I never thought about the labor involved in writing until I started this... the task of it. I wrote, and ate takeout Chinese food, and wrote, and watched weird daytime TV, and wrote.

I saw every single episode of Judging Amy twice because the reruns came on during my break time every afternoon and they cycled through them back to back for a solid year. (For the record Bruce and Amy never would have worked as a couple, they were too different. But Jared's death took me by surprise. Maxine was never right after that, even though they hooked her up with Cheech near the end.) I am pretty sure my neighbors thought I was a junkie because I didn't leave the house for days at a time. (I have heard folktales about people who exercise regularly during their writing phase. And they climb on their Unicorns and ride them to the gym. Me, not so much.)


And then I finished it!... Three years ago. My defense has been delayed for one reason or another but the upshot is: I have been in Limbo. Which is where all the unbaptized babies go instead of Heaven (You kind of have to be Catholic to get that but if you aren't: trust me, it's funny). So even though I was finished I wasn't finished-finished. It was the worst of both worlds, I did all of the work and got none of the credit. I wanted to be official already.

But now. Now it is re-formatted according to arcane rules designed to drive you insane, expensively reproduced and bound (thanks for nothing, Kinkos) and distributed to people whose job it is to judge the hell out of it.

And I feel.

Yeah, no. Still not sure.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Feminist Autobiographical Fictions: Performing the Self on Stage & On the Page


A book talk with Barbara Browning, Linda Schlossberg, & Alina Troyano (aka Carmelita Tropicana).

February 22, Tuesday
7 to 8:30 pm

Department of Performance Studies
721 Broadway, Room 612
between Waverly and Washington Places

This panel opens a feminist space — call it genre trouble — between self and “self” to explore the tension and productive possibilities between memory and imagination, autobiography and audience, printed text and embodied performance. Reading from and discussing their own creative fictions, our three speakers reflect on the political and artistic stakes of performing identities and re-staging histories, both intimate and public.

Featuring:

* Barbara Browning, Performance Studies, NYU
author of The Correspondence Artist

* Linda Schlossberg, Women, Gender and Sexuality, Harvard University
author of Life in Miniature

* Alina Troyano (aka Carmelita Tropicana), writer and performance artist
author of I, Carmelita Tropicana: Performing Between Cultures

Co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and the NYU Department of Performance Studies.

This event is FREE and open to the public. Venue is wheelchair accessible. If you need sign language interpretation services or other accommodations, please let us know as soon as possible.

For more information, please call 212-992-9540 or email csgs@nyu.edu.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak is out, Egypt is Free


Like many of you I have been riveted by the coverage of the revolution is Egypt. The last eighteen days have been exciting, sometimes frightening and ultimately joyful.

There is a lot to say and in the coming days it will be said (and hopefully some of it by me, here) but the most important thing to say right now is:

Today Egypt is free.

Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for the last three decades with the support of the United States, at the expense of the Egyptian people, has been forced out of office by his own people. For the last eighteen days Egyptians from all walks of life--men and women, Copts and Muslims, professionals and working people, flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square and demanded Mubarak's ouster. And when he-- predictably-- resisted they would not take no for an answer.

The Obama Administration-- predictably-- hedged it's bets until the last second with Biden delivering the veiled threats and Obama weighing in after the fact with an Inspiring Message of Support™.

The US media has-- predictably-- trotted out a seemingly endless supply of old white guy "experts" (former ambassadors, Middle East commentators, pundits etc.) on the Left and Right who have publicly speculated over the impact of the Egyptian Revolution on US and Israeli interests.

The US Christianists and Zionists (and Christian Zionists) are-- predictably-- shitting their pants at the prospect of millions of Arabs united for a common purpose.

But the facts cannot be denied: a leaderless revolution (the best example of --gasp-- anarchism at work in modern memory) that employed social media creatively has ended the reign of one of the worst autocrats of the last century. And today Egypt is free.

Free.

That is enough for now.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Handy Guide To Understanding the US State Department's Position on Egypt



Like everyone else I am still reeling from the unfolding events of the January 25th Revolution in Egypt. Some people have begun writing about it beautifully but I am not quite there yet. Soon I'll publish a link round up to the great reporting being done by bloggers and alternative media journalists on the ground in Cairo, but in the mean time here is handy guide to translating US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's recent statement about the US position on Egypt. It is pure genius.

More soon.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fair for Knowledge: Hair (January 30 at the Brooklyn Flea)


Fair for Knowledge: Hair

Featuring Laurel Braitman (historian of science), Barbara Cassin (philosopher and philologist), Cécile Guilbert (essayist), Justin E. H. Smith (philosopher), John Strausbaugh (author), and Sophie Wahnich (historian), seated at special tables designed by artist Gareth Long

An event organized by Cabinet and co-presented as part of Villa Gillet's "Walls and Bridges" series

Date: Sunday, 30 January 2011, 2–6 pm
Location: Brooklyn Flea, 1 Hanson Place (at Flatbush Avenue; map and directions here)
FREE. No RSVP necessary.

"Designed to encourage an informal, social, and open mode of learning, Cabinet's series of "fairs for knowledge" aims to create bridges between specialists and the general public by providing unusual venues for short one-on-one discussions between an expert and a member of the general public. In this first installment, six writers will be seated at special tables placed between the regular stalls of the Brooklyn Flea and be ready to engage the public in conversation on a topic that occupies our minds a great deal but is considered too lowly to be worthy of serious reflection—hair.

Come and brush up on “hair plucking” among anxious captive animals; Mary Magdalene’s hair as described in the Bible; fashion, hairdos, and underwear; hairlessness as a signifier of rationality in the history of philosophy; the exceptional hairstyles of rock stars; shaved women and the symbolic loss of power in the French revolution; and more!"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Right-Wing Terrorism: Murders Grow on the Far Right Four Decades After Martin Luther King Jr.


Right-Wing Terrorism: Murders Grow on the Far Right Four Decades After Martin Luther King Jr.

The American landscape is pockmarked by the wreckage left behind by angry, white male extremists.

The landscape of America is littered with bodies.

They’ve been gunned down in Tucson, shot to death at the Pentagon, and blown away at the Holocaust Museum, as well as in Wichita, Knoxville, Pittsburgh, Brockton, and Okaloosa County, Florida.

Total body count for these incidents: 19 dead, 26 wounded.

Not much, you might say, when taken in the context of about 30,000 gun-related deaths annually nationwide. As it happens, though, these murders over the past couple of years have some common threads. All involved white gunmen with ties to racist or right-wing groups or who harbored deep suspicions of “the government.” Many involved the killing of police officers.

In Pittsburgh, three police officers were shot and killed, while two were wounded in an April 2009 gun battle with Richard Poplawski, a white supremacist fearful that President Obama planned to curtail his gun rights. In Okaloosa County, Florida, two officers were slain in April 2009 in an altercation with Joshua Cartwright, whose abused wife told the police that her husband “believed that the U.S. Government was conspiring against him” and that he was “severely disturbed that Barack Obama had been elected President.”

At the Pentagon, an anti-government conspiracy theorist, John Patrick Bedell, wounded two police officers in March of last year before being shot to death. At the Holocaust Museum in 2009, James W. Von Brunn, a white supremacist, gunned down a security guard before being wounded and subdued by two other security guards.

Government officials, of course, have also been targets of the gunmen, as demonstrated so vividly by the recent shootings in Tucson, where Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others were wounded, and one of Giffords’s staff members and a federal judge were among the six dead.

Churches Are No Sanctuary from Christian Extremists

Two of these shootings took place within the sanctuary of churches. In Wichita in 2009, Dr. George Tiller was gunned down by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder. Tiller was serving as an usher during a Sunday morning service at Reformation Lutheran Church when he was shot. The attack in Knoxville, which left two dead and six injured in July 2008, occurred at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church while 25 children were performing Annie Jr. Killer Jim David Adkisson said he hated Democrats and deemed the church part of the “liberal movement.” Adkisson opened fire with a shotgun on an audience of about 200. In Brockton, Massachusetts, in January 2009, neo-Nazi Keith Luke sought to storm a synagogue, but never made it, authorities claim. According to a prosecutor, Luke wanted to “kill as many Jews, blacks, and Hispanics as humanly possible.” In his rampage, he reportedly murdered two Hispanics and raped and wounded a third before, near the synagogue, he was wrestled to the ground by ordinary citizens.

Since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing -- initially attributed by numerous media experts to Arab terrorists but actually the work of right-wing militia-movement supporter Timothy McVeigh -- more than 25 law-enforcement officers have been killed by white supremacists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Extremist Wreckage Pockmarks the American Landscape

Beyond the shootings -- and those enumerated above are only a sample of such incidents since 2008 -- there is a landscape of rubble and carnage. In February 2010, Joseph Stack, infuriated by the IRS and U.S. tax policy, crashed his small plane into an Austin office building housing 200 IRS workers, killing himself and two others and injuring 13. Violence, he wrote in a “manifesto,” is “the only answer” to oppressive government policies.

Sometimes the wreckage left behind from such incidents is easily overlooked, a roadside crash on a springtime day. In Nashville last March, a motorist was so enraged by an Obama bumper sticker that he rammed his SUV into the offending car, pushing it off the road and onto the sidewalk, leaving a man and his 10-year-old daughter terrified inside.

Sometimes the incidents reveal deep emotional wounds. Just before Christmas in 2008, in Belfast, Maine, an abused wife shot and killed her husband, James Cummings, a wealthy California native and Nazi devotee. Loathing Barack Obama, he was planning to join the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement at the time he was shot. Police and federal agents subsequently found radioactive materials and instructions for the making of a “dirty bomb” in his house, according to an FBI document released by WikiLeaks.

An FBI official said the materials could all be purchased legally in the United States. The police offered assurances that the public was not at risk. Amber Cummings, the abused wife who believed her husband had sexual designs on their nine-year-old daughter, was sentenced to eight years in prison for the shooting, but the judge suspended the sentence.

Sometimes the carnage is vast and events are still playing out. A bomb lab discovered in an Escondido, California, house in November proved so immense that authorities feared removing the explosives. Instead, they closed nearby Interstate 15 and set the property ablaze, sending a towering black cone of smoke skyward and filling the air with the hiss of burning chemicals and the crack-crack of exploding ammunition.

Police are still investigating the supposed architect of this explosive realm, an unemployed Serbian immigrant. As with the apparent plans to build a dirty bomb in Maine, the authorities have not yet declared these efforts in California to be associated with terrorism or possible construction of weapons of mass destruction. WikiLeaks, on the other hand, which released the FBI field report on the Maine incident, has since been termed a terrorist organization by a number of federal lawmakers and officials for bringing classified documents to public attention.

White Men Are Never Labeled Terrorists

That leads to a common thread among these murderous incidents. None has been labeled the work of terrorists by authorities or the media. All involved white men, most of whom -- like Jared Loughner in Tucson -- have been deemed troubled or disturbed by authorities and various media outlets. Even Jim David Adkisson, the unemployed truck driver who attacked the Knoxville church because he believed it was “a cult” and a haven for Democrats and secular liberals, has not been characterized as a political terrorist. Adkisson was a fan of the writings and shows of right-wing media personalities Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, and Sean Hannity, according to authorities who searched his residence after the 2008 shootings. However, his primary motivation, according to those same authorities, was the imminent loss of food stamps and inability to find a job.

Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into the Austin IRS building in an eerie echo of the 9/11 attacks, is also not a terrorist -- just a plain old suicide. The Maine dirty-bomb maker, who amassed quantities of hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide, and magnesium ribbon, a terrorist? No, just a “disturbed individual.”

Arizona, of course, has seen a lot of extremist political activity in recent years. In fact, even as Jared Loughner was gunning down 20 people inside the Safeway on North Oracle Road on January 8th, the murder trial of Shawna Forde, head of the anti-immigrant Minutemen American Defense group, was getting underway in nearby Pima County Superior Court. Forde and two associates have been charged with the shooting death of a man, the wounding of his wife, and the killing of the couple’s nine-year-old daughter during a June 2009 robbery aimed at funding her extremist political activities.

These are America’s killing fields, coast to coast, yet the commentary and debate in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting revolves around political rhetoric in Washington. Both sides need to tone it down, we’re told. There have been endless discussions on television and radio, newspaper commentary and Internet postings all focused on the issue of overheated political talk -- as if Jared Loughner somehow leaped full-grown from the forehead of Glenn Beck.

Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck did not send Jared Loughner out to kill, even if their extreme lock-and-load rhetoric -- Beck, brandishing a baseball bat, has warned his viewers to watch out during the next “killing spree” -- has helped legitimate such talk. What they have certainly done is help create an inspirational environment where it is perfectly normal for Tea Party extremists to attend political rallies while packing pistols. Indeed, packing pistols is the point, isn’t it?

That said, conservative columnist David Brooks, in an astonishingly superficial argument, wrote in the New York Times that those who drag politics into public debate over the killing of political figures and government officials are leveling “vicious charges” and lack empathy for the mentally ill. Brooks gravely wagged his finger at those -- he singled out MSNBC commentator Keith Olberman, former Senator Gary Hart, and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas -- who have argued that violent rhetoric from the Tea Party and Sarah Palin set the table for the Tucson shootings. (Of course Congresswoman Giffords herself chastised Palin for putting her district in the now-infamous gun-sight crosshairs. Does Brooks include her, too, in excoriating “vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness”?)

How sugary is Brooks’ argument? Compare it to what he wrote following the shooting rampage that took place at Fort Hood in November 2009. In that murderous incident, Major Nidal Malik Hasan was ultimately charged with killing 13 and wounding over 30. Hasan, a Muslim psychiatrist, was clearly disturbed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (he was about to be deployed to the latter) and his deteriorating mental state had been a concern to officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

That was before Hasan snapped. Despite documented psychiatric worries, the issue of terrorism quickly dominated public discussion of Hasan’s act.

At the time, Brooks derided talk of Hasan’s mental state and characterized those who brought it up as casting “a shroud of political correctness” over the Hasan “narrative.”

“The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality,” Brooks intoned. “It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.”

So much for “vicious charges” and empathy. They are apparently reserved for young white males in Tucson; Muslims need not apply.

Meanwhile, the bodies are piling up in Arizona and Tennessee, Kansas and Pennsylvania. The Homeland Security Department issued a lonely cautionary report in 2009 on the rising tide of right-wing extremism; it was loudly hooted down by right-wing radio celebrities like Rush Limbaugh and Internet pundits like Michelle Malkin. The killings and the attacks went on.

Now, we have arrived at another Martin Luther King Day, the birthday of a man gunned down by a right-wing extremist more than 40 years ago and, while we talk endlessly about rhetoric, we have done a remarkable job of ignoring the growing pile of bodies. The murderous right wing is still with us. The racists and the skinheads and the neo-Nazis are still here. Sales of Glock semi-automatic guns are skyrocketing in the wake of Tucson. The growing piles of bodies is real evidence of growing extremist activity. What could be plainer or starker?

Congressman Peter King, the New York Republican who now heads the House Homeland Security Committee, is planning to hold hearings on Muslim radicalization in America when the new Congress convenes. Muslims, he said in the wake of the Tucson killings, are recruited by "foreign" terrorists, while Loughner is just a "deranged" American, the latest in a long line of deranged Americans.

What place is this? Where are we now?

Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book is Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland.

[Note on sources: The FBI field report on dirty bomber James Cummings can be found in .pdf file format by clicking here. The Homeland Security Department report on rising right-wing extremism can be found in .pdf format by clicking here.]

Copyright 2011 Stephan Salisbury

Friday, January 14, 2011

Woven with Her Brush: Paintings by Zohra Ben Hamida

Woven with Her Brush:
Paintings by Zohra Ben Hamida
At the Jerusalem Fund Gallery
21 January - 4 March 2011

Opening reception
Friday, 21 January 2011, 6:00 -8:00 p.m.


In her paintings at The Jerusalem Fund Gallery, color is the theme. “ The blazing sun straddling the cool shades over the desert in Saudi Arabia, memories of the bright garments adorned with gold and silver fibulae my Berber grandmother always wore with such pride; colors encountered every day, the colors of the bougainvillea and jasmine, indiscriminately lending their beauty and fragrance to modest and luxurious houses alike; a bigger than life icon inhabiting a Roman church for hundreds of years, still calling attention to itself with its dazzling gold-leaf garment, bright colors, sprinkled everywhere you look, reminding us that beauty exists around and within us, reminding us that beauty will always prevail.”

Where
The Gallery
2425 Virginia Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20037
202.338.1958

Map
click here

When
Jan 21 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I started a Tumblr Blog.

Quote of the day.

(Word.)

I'll still be blogging here. My Tumblog (also called Vs. the Pomegranate) will be for shorter stuff--pictures, quotes, reblogging other Tumblog stuff I like, etc. I'll also be experimenting with cross-posting and linking to my older posts here. Broad strokes: This space will be more about words and my Tumblr will be more about pictures. This is all part of my multi-platform cross-promotional empire. Lock up your daughters America, those people are everywhere.

http://vsthepomegranate.tumblr.com/

Stop by and lemme know what you think.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Quote of the Day, "I Can't Wait To Blow Up..."



Can't. Stop. Laughing.

... Blame Sabina for this, I stole it from her Facebook wall. Damn you Sabina! *shakes fist*

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Radiohole presents: Whatever, Heaven Allows (WHA?!)


Radiohole returns to Brooklyn to present:

Whatever, Heaven Allows (WHA?!)

at The Collapsable Hole
146 Metropolitan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
718-388-2251

January 8-10 (Sat-Mon) @ 8pm
January 12-15 (Wed-Sat) @ 8pm
January 17 (Mon) Benefit Show @ 7:30pm

Tickets: $20, $15 students/seniors
Reservations: radiohole@gmail.com or 718-388-2251

Whatever, Heaven Allows is by Radiohole with Eric Dyer, Erin Douglass, Maggie Hoffman, Joseph Silovsky and Mark Jaynes
film & video by: Aaron Harrow & Radiohole

"Whatever, Heaven Allows is Radiohole's monster mash-up of Douglas Sirk's 1955 box office smash "All that Heaven Allows" (staring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman), and John Milton's hit 1667 poem "Paradise Lost" featuring history's most famous fallen hero, Satan.

GET AN AD IN THE SHOW
Purchase an AD or SHOUT-OUT that runs during Whatever, Heaven Allows

COME TO THE BENEFIT SHOW and/or PARTY MONDAY, JANUARY 17th
Hosted by: The Amazing RUSSELLO and special guests Richard Maxwell and the NYC Players Band with Scott Shepherd on Ukulele!

------------------------------------------------

Whatever, Heaven Allows (WHA!?) was commissioned by and performed at The Walker Art Center, The Andy Warhol Museum and PS122. It was also made possible with a matching grant from the National Performance Network's Creation Fund, the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affiars

Whatever, Heaven Allows is presented in association with Performance Space 122 as part of COIL - an annual winter festival of contemporary performance featuring hits from the past, present and future seasons of Performance Space 122. www.ps122.org.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tarek Halaby performance, "An attempt to understand my socio-political disposition..."

2010 New York Dance and Performance
“Bessie” Award Winning Artist
Tarek Halaby

WHAT: An attempt to understand my socio-political disposition through artistic research on personal identity in relationship to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Part One.

WHERE: at Henry St. Settlement (lower east side)
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street) New York, NY 10002

WHEN: this Friday night Jan 7 at 7:30 and Saturday 1/8 at 1:30 pm. $15 Buy tickets here.

"'An Attempt...' is the result of a research process in which [Palestinian/American artist] Halaby looks into the varying and matching points between collective and personal stories, inside the choreographic creative processes. By presenting this piece as a "product" in process, to finish or resolve, Tarek relates the work to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 
In this solo, Halaby questions and explores the ironies and paradoxes of art works with a deliberate political content.

This solo is presented as part of American Realness, a festival of new dance and contemporary performance made for the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) Conference; a platform for the experimental and subversive American artists who are pursuing new research and artistic production. The agenda of American Realness is to reshape the identity of contemporary American dance and performance, and an eye towards global diffusion."

"This failure full of personal vulnerability has seldom been this clever and funny" — De Morgen

Saturday, January 1, 2011

State of the Blog: Happy New Year? A Toe Story.

Yes We* Can!
(*we does not include Arabs, Muslims or Latin@s)

So thanks to about a million tweets and status updates I am now aware that it is 1/1/11, which is vaguely ominous and futuristic. Is this the year the intelligent machines take over? Will anyone notice when they do? Am I the only person in America who didn't get a Kindle for Christmas?

But despite the sci-fi subtext the year began gently-- at least for me. Dog slept late (the only trick I ever taught him he managed to learn) and peed right away in the snow. I ate a delicious breakfast to the sounds of the Honeymooners marathon and then, lost in thought about the upcoming year I smashed--and possibly broke, it isn't yet clear--my little toe. I jumped up and down like a Looney-Tunes character with a giant pulsing toe. A Looney-Tunes character that was yelling "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" (The dog, now sound asleep on my bed did not stir. Not exactly Lassie, him.) Then I sat down hard on a vintage chair, snapped one of the legs and wound up on the floor. As I sit here staring at my broken chair with a bag of organic frozen blueberries I bought five months ago as part of an antioxidant experiment slowly defrosting around my swollen toe I am struck by how quickly things can change.

I have a picture of myself from the exact moment Barack Obama won the 2008 election to become the 44th President of the United States. In it I am dumbstruck with happiness and relief. The long national nightmare of the Bush Administration was over because the American people have decided we have had enough, I thought. Obama's race was the lead story for most people, for obvious reasons. Although for me it was always secondary--since the few Arab-American politicians are extremely conservative (Darrel Issa, Jeanine Pirro) it never occurs to me to vote along ethnic lines. If an old money white guy had the right politics I wouldn't hesitate to support him over an Arab guy with the wrong ones, full stop. But the symbolic significance of Obama's ascension to the Presidency cannot be denied and I thought it represented not only a shift in the racial landscape of the US but a rejection of Bush-era conservatism.

Turns out, not so much. At least not for people like me.

It's hard to remember now given the rancorous obstruction and race-baiting of the past year and a half but there was a golden moment at the start of the Obama Presidency when his detractors weren't sure yet how to criticize him (and even many of his future enemies were still congratulating themselves for the social progress associated with his win). After dipping so low in the eyes of the world Obama's entry into our highest office seemed to signal a necessary sea- change and even conservatives seemed relieved to finally have something to celebrate.

Every American President enjoys a honeymoon period--Bush did--and how they choose to spend this political capital is instructive. Clinton, who also rode a wave of dissatisfaction with conservatism into office nearly derailed his young Presidency by trying to reform health care in 1993. (And in the process earned his wife, who'd lead the aborted effort, a reputation as an over reaching political opportunist that clings to her still). But unlike so many others I was unable to enjoy the Obama honeymoon because despite the fact that he cuts an inspiring figure I wanted to see what he was actually going to do. On the second or third day of his Presidency Obama affirmed his commitment to closing Guantanamo and I was relieved. I shouldn't have been. Not only did he not close the prison and interrogation camp at Guantanamo by his own deadline he has now--via US Press Secretary Robert Gibbs--announced that it won't close at all. At least, not anytime soon. Near the one year anniversary of the Administration's failed closure timetable--nestled conveniently in the midst of the holiday news-cycle--Gibbs said, "It's certainly not going to close in the next month [...] I think part of this depends on the Republicans' willingness to work with the administration on this.''

So this he is willing to blame the Republicans for?

Like the Obama Administration, Guantanamo is both a symbol and a functional system. It represents the corruption of US American justice and our willingness to torture and degrade our foreign "Others." (It bears remembering that the site was used to "detain" Haitians fleeing Aristide to prevent them from entering the United States as refugees under Clinton.) Functionally Guantanamo is a lawless space where the US does its dirty work and its closure would symbolize a turn of the page away from the worst excesses of the previous administration. But that did not happen so instead it signals that despite Obama's campaign promises to the contrary, the radical expansion of Executive powers engineered by Bush Administration are the new Normal for the United States. Despite a much-publicized troop withdrawal the US military presence in Iraq persists and the war in Afghanistan continues apace. So despite his campaign rhetoric Obama actually expanded US Military presence in the so-called "Muslim World." Of course he also never misses an opportunity to be made a fool of by Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, a country that would not exist without the billions of dollars we pump into it. And the so-called "peace-process" has never seemed more like a puppet show than it does under the rubric of his Presidency. It would not be much of a stretch to see Obama's repeated public humiliations at Netanyahu's hands as a rehearsal for his many embarrassing concessions to Republicans at home. And the overall message derived from these events is clear: President Obama does not care about Arabs and Muslims at home or abroad. Of course a similar list could be made by Latin@s with similarly disappointing results. The discourse linking "homeland security" with "illegal immigration" puts Arabs, Muslims and Latin@s in the same boat (pun intended) with this Administration. Even though Conservatives are the ones who have described us (All of us) as bacteria infecting the host body of the West the lack of challenge to that view put forth by the Obama Administration allows it to stand--and worse, to become an increasingly mainstream position. In sum, under President Obama Arabs, Muslims (and Latin@s) are no better off than we were under George W. Bush.

Under Bush I was angry. But under Obama I feel hopeless, the exact opposite of his promise. And as he gears up for re-election the apologists of the mainstream Left are already beginning to poo-poo the concerns of people like me and marginalize us as too radical. But is it too radical to ask that you be included among the list of concerns for your own President? To not have him sell you out to conservatives and foreign governments to earn points with the public by playing to their racism, ethnocentrism and Islamophobia?

Like my poor toe, I have been numb. But sooner or later you have to peel off the wet bag of soggy blueberries and assess the damage. Like my toe, I hope America is only bruised and not broken.

But it is too early to tell.