Monthly Archives: March 2009

Rudresh Mahanthappa

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I am reluctant to say anything positive about The New Yorker but I had never heard of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa prior to reading this article by Gary Giddens. Here is an excerpt:

Jazz musicians have two fundamental goals: creating music that keeps listeners wondering what’s next, and finding a novel context within which to explore old truths. (There are no new truths.) Whenever a musician achieves this synthesis, usually after years of apprenticeship and exploration, a rumble echoes through the jazz world.

Such a rumble was heard last fall, when the thirty-seven-year-old alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa released an astonishing album, “Kinsmen,” on a small New York-based label (Pi), quickly followed by another no less astonishing, “Apti,” on a small Minnesota-based label (Innova). The breakthrough had been a long time coming, and, curiously enough, it justifies ethnic assumptions that Mahanthappa had for much of his career been working to escape.

Later in the article Giddens discusses Mahanthappa’s exploration of the South Indian Carnatic musical tradition. This made things even more interesting. So much of the Indian music we hear in the West is from Northern India. Needless to say I found myself wanting to listen to some of his tunes after reading the article. If you are interested, he has a My Space page and a website.

Live at UMASS with the master of Carnatic saxophone Kadri Gopalnath and the rest of the “Kinsmen” crew:

Samuel Kassow: Who Will Write Our History?

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Trinity College History Professor Samuel Kassow discusses his recent work, Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto on C-SPAN 2’s “Book TV” program.

Click here to watch the video.

From the Book TV website:

Samuel Kassow recounts the efforts by Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum and a group of amateur and professional historians, the Oyneg Shabes, who worked secretly from 1940 to 1943 to record Jewish suffering and subsequently hid thousands of records prior to the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. This event was hosted by the Tenement Museum in New York City.

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Cat Shit One: The Animated Series

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Cat Shit One: The Animated Series by Studio Anima. I usually dislike computer-generated imagery but this actually looks good.

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The original Cat Shit One (aka Apocalypse Meow) was a 1990s manga series by Motofumi Kobayashi about the activities of a U.S. Special-Operations team in Vietnam. Kobayashi replaced humans with anthropomorphized animals–Americans as bunnies, Vietnamese as cats, French as pigs, and so forth–but this was no lighthearted treatment of the war. It was brutal. If you are thinking, “wtf, animals?” Think Watership Down meets Maus or something along those lines (more info here).

The Animated Series moves forward in time and takes the bunnies to the Middle East. Can’t wait to check it out. Here is a video teaser:

Is Mexico a Failed State?

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Martin Peretz seems to think so:

I am extremely pessimistic about Mexican-American relations, not because the U.S. had done anything specifically wrong to our southern neighbor but because a (now not quite so) wealthy country has as its abutter a Latin society with all of its characteristic deficiencies:  congenital corruption, authoritarian government, anarchic politics, near-tropical work habits, stifling social mores, Catholic dogma with the usual unacknowledged compromises, an anarchic counter-culture and increasingly violent modes of conflict.  Then, there is the Mexican diaspora in America, hard-working and patriotic but mired in its untold numbers of illegals, about whom no one can talk with candor.

The present political strife between the two countries is actually economic.  But it is not wholly subsumed under the labels of “free trade” or “protectionism.”

The fact is that Mexico is also a failed state…and its failures are magnified by its immediate proximity to the U.S. Its failures will increasingly cross the national boundary, like the drugs and the people, two very different manifestations of our intimacy.

I tend to agree with Peretz but in this case he is way off the mark. Yes, there has been an alarming upsurge in drug-related violence. There is also an understandable concern with border security. But there is a certain amount of hysteria involved as well. Much of this hysteria revolves around violent criminality in Mexico.

Mexico’s murder rate is 11 per 100,000 residents, almost twice the rate in the  United States (5.9 per 100,000 in 2007). Yet when placed in a comparative perspective with other Latin American countries, Mexico’s murder rate is lower. By this measurement, Brazil, El Salvador, Colombia and much of Latin America are all failed states.

Plus his comments regarding the “characteristic deficiencies” of “Latin societies” are offensive. I know Peretz would be upset if one made similar generalizations about Jews and Israelis. So it is disappointing to read him stereotyping other groups.

But Peretz is not alone in his assessment. In addition to the voices of the nativist right, the WSJ’s Joel Kurtzman recently reported:

[A] new Pentagon study concludes that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state. Defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible.

One center of the violence is Tijuana, where last year more than 600 people were killed in drug violence. Many were shot with assault rifles in the streets and left there to die. Some were killed in dance clubs in front of witnesses too scared to talk.

It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the U.S. To meet that threat, Michael Chertoff, the outgoing secretary for Homeland Security, recently announced that the U.S. has a plan to “surge” civilian and possibly military law-enforcement personnel to the border should that be necessary.

The problem is that in Mexico’s latest eruption of violence, it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Mexico’s antidrug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano was recently charged with accepting $450,000 from drug lords he was supposed to be hunting down. This was the second time in recent years that one of Mexico’s antidrug chiefs was arrested for taking possible payoffs from drug kingpins. Suspicions that police chiefs, mayors and members of the military are also on the take are rampant.

Secretary of State Clinton was correct to point out that the U.S. is the primary market for Mexican heroin, cocaine and marijuana and that American consumers are keeping the Mexican drug lords in business. So how do we reduce the demand for these products?

Conservatives tend to support stiffer penalties for users and dealers while liberals generally promote an expansion of drug treatment programs. Neither enforcement or treatment have been especially successful as both policies fail to decrese demand for drugs. A third policy option is drug education but here too, the results have been less than inspiring.

Common libertarian proposals vary from decriminalization of marijuana and a relaxation of enforcement against hard drug users to the legalization of all illicit drugs. They may be on to something. Evidence from Switzerland, the Netherlands and other countries that have experimented with liberalizing drug laws suggest that demand for drugs among teens has decreased immediately following decriminalization or legalization with some moderate increase thereafter. Whether this would work in the U.S., I am not sure.

JLC Labor Seder

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[H/t to A.L.]

My wife and I went to a labor Seder earlier in the week that was organized by the organized by the United Hebrew Trades – New York Division of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC). It was the first labor Seder for either of us and we had a nice time. The labor Seders were organized to provide an opportunity for “members of the Jewish community and members of the trade union movement to sit down together for a Seder meal and explore the relationships between the traditional story of Pesach and more recent struggles for freedom and dignity”. Labor Seders were held across the country from San Francisco to NYC.

Participants read from a Haggadah published by the JLC which made connections between the Jewish experience of slavery and Diaspora and contemporary immigration reform, the working conditions of Jewish sweatshop workers and those toiling in sweatshops today and anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and prejudice. In addition to spilling wine to remember the plagues meted out against the ancient Egyptians, we also spilled to acknowledge hunger, slave labor and ethnic cleansing.

We had to leave before the end of the Seder as my wife is getting tired rather early in the evening. The baby is due in about two months and staying out past 8:30 is a stretch. Hope to see all of you (old friends and new) again next year.

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Remembering the 98th Anniversary of the Triangle Fire

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[H/t A.L.]

On March 25, 1911, 146 young immigrant workers died in a tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within minutes the fire spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firefighters who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those workers trapped inside because the doors were locked and their ladders could not reach the factory floor.

This tragedy galvanized a city to fight for labor reform and safety in the workplace. In 2006, 99 NYC workers were killed on the job, one-third of them from a fall. Today, unions are desperately fighting to prevent the senseless deaths of workers.

Join us as we honor those who were killed on the job and fight to prevent the killing of more workers in New York City.

WHEN Friday, March 27, 2009 • 12 – 1:00 pm

WHERE Corner of Washington Place & Greene Street—just east of Washington Square Park

More here.

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Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman

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[H/t to ZWord. Michelle Sieff's interview with Paul Berman is well worth reading. An excerpt is below.]

How have you judged Israel’s actions against Hamas? Do you think Israel used disproportionate force against Hamas?

There is an obligation to live, which means that Israel has not just the right but the obligation to defend herself. Judging the proportionality of the Israeli actions runs into a complication, though – something of a logical bind.

It is now and then noted in the press that Hamas, in its charter, calls for the elimination of Israel – though, actually, the charter goes further yet, which is almost never noted. Article Seven of the charter, citing one of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, makes clear that Hamas acknowledges a religious duty to kill the Jews. It’s all pretty explicit. Which Jews in particular must be killed, in order to bring about, as the charter puts it, the “Last Hour?” Article Seven merely stipulates “the Jews” – which leaves open the possibility, I would think, of killing all of the Jews, or at least (judging from other sections of the charter) the Jews who inhabit any place that is now or used to be Islamic. In any case, the Jews of Israel.

What is Israel trying to fend off, then? Two possibilities. First: it’s not so hard to imagine that, if Hamas were allowed to prosper unimpeded, and if its allies and fellow-thinkers in Hezbollah and the Iranian government and its nuclear program likewise prospered, the goal announced in Article Seven could be largely achieved. History has some experience with political movements that proclaim in their founding documents the intention of killing the Jews. And so, a first possibility is that Israel is up against military enemies who have every intention of committing a genocide, and who might conceivably succeed. The possibility that Israel is defending itself against a genocide ought to lead any reasonable person to grant the Israelis a degree of latitude in judging what is a proportionate action – even if, as Michael Walzer points out, an invocation of genocidal dangers could also end up as a justification for doing too much.

However, a second possibility. The Hamas charter is full of wild language – not just the part about killing the Jews, but also the invocation of the Protocols of Zion and of an antisemitic theory of history. But maybe all of this stuff should be regarded merely as an overwrought cry of pain – an expression of powerlessness. Maybe there is a kind of pathos of victimhood and suffering in Hamas’ ideas, and not much more.

[Read it all here]

ISM Activist Tristan Anderson Critically Injured

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I have been reading on the IMCs and in the mainstream media about Tristan Anderson, an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist from the SF Bay Area who was hit in the head by a high-velocity tear gas canister while attending a protest in Ni’lin.

When I first read about his injuries in the NYT, the paper noted his previous stint as a tree-sitter at the University of California, Berkeley. The SF Chronicle published a similar story. As I dug deeper I discovered Mr. Anderson had much wider activist experience, including protests in Mexico and South America as well as the “Battle of Seattle.” Given my own history I wondered if I had met Tristan in the past, maybe at a demonstration or meeting the two of us had attended. I am fairly certain friends in the Bay Area know him and are concerned about his condition and hope he makes a speedy recovery.

YNet reports:

An American national was seriously injured Friday during a rally against the separation fence being built in the West Bank village of Naalin, apparently after being hit by a tear gas canister.

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) identified the man injured as Tristan Anderson, 37, of California. He was rushed to the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer for medical treatment.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Office confirmed the report, adding that the incident was being looked into. The army also said that some 400 left wing Israeli, Palestinian and foreign activists had arrived at the area while violating a closed military area order, and that some of them, who were veiled, had hurled stones at the security forces, who responded with crowd dispersal means.

Anarchists Against the Wall notes:

The impact of the projectile caused numerous condensed fractures to Anderson’s forehead and right eye socket. During the operation, part of his right frontal lobe had to be removed, as it was penetrated by bone fragments. A brain fluid leakage was sealed using a tendon from his thigh, and both his right eye and skin suffered extensive damage. The long term scope of all of Tristan’s injuries is yet unknown.

I could not help but notice numerous mainstream media reports of the ISM as a “pro-Palestinian” organization but mention nothing of the group’s anti-Zionism or the recklessness of its confrontations with the IDF. If you did not know any better you would think they represent the second coming of the Civil Rights Movement. However, the ISM is a known supporter of Palestinian terrorism and the vast majority of ISM activists are aware of this support when they volunteer.

Alex Stein (False Dichotmies) who has been to similar demonstrations in the past had this to say:

I can testify to the heavy-handed tactics employed by the IDF, tactics that are not employed when it comes to dealing with settler demonstrations…Most of the forty protesters were drawn from the anarchist movement, a fact reflected in their incendiary slogans, in which the IDF was frequently referred to as a “terrorist organisation”. While I do not share the politics of Anarchists against the Wall,  it’s a shame that other groups (Peace Now, Meretz etc) weren’t represented.

Regarding the settlers, how many times have their demonstrations resulted in the deaths of Israeli soldiers or civilians? If the answer is none, that might explain why the IDF is not as heavy-handed as when they are dealing with demos organized by Fatah, Hamas, or the ISM. As to why less radical groups avoid these gatherings, perhaps they are all too aware of the ISM’s tactics.

Here is comment from the Anderson family posted on Indybay:

We are deeply grateful for the love and support pouring in from Tristan’s friends and fellow activists around the world. It is moving to see how many people care for Tristan and are moved by his work championing social justice issues. We are proud of Tristan’s fierce courage, adventurous spirit, and his many travels to all corners of the globe.

Fierce courage? How about reckless stupidity? I can empathize with the family’s pain but not their failure to look honestly at what led to their son’s injury. Mr. Anderson willingly placed himself in the middle of a combat zone.

As I commented at Roland’s and Noga’s blogs (with some editing):

When Tristan and other ISM volunteers placed themselves in the mix with people throwing stones at the IDF, they knew they were asking for trouble. They knew these disturbances can escalate rapidly. But they volunteered to put themselves in harms way.

Some see this as valorous. I see it as lacking judgment.

I am sad Anderson was injured but activists need to be aware what happens when they play with folks security. They think they have the right to go to countries that are experiencing intense conflicts and expect special treatment. But the situation in Israel is not the same as that of UC Berkeley or UC Santa Cruz or the streets of Seattle.

Israel is very serious about security. Facing daily terrorist threats will do that. When American and European activists go overseas and align themselves with Israel’s enemies they need to think very carefully about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Is it really in the name of peace or in order to reinforce their own delusional radical politics?

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[ISM volunteers]

Petition in Support of Chinese Writer Liu Xiaobo

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Liu Xiaobo, a dissident writer and intellectual based in Beijing, and a former president of Chinese PEN was arrested in December. His charges, suspicion of inciting subversion of state power after co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration that calls for greater human rights and democracy in China. If convicted he faces up to three years in prison.

Please sign this petition in defense of Liu. Time is very much of the essence, so please add your name as soon as possible.

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[From Michael Craig, China Rights Network, Toronto]

For details about Liu & Charter 08 situation, including text in English of the charter, check out Liu Xiaobo, RELEASE HIM NOW Facebook site.

Hope Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance

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[H/t Congregation Beth Elohim]

This is happening at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn tomorrow night (7:30PM). I have not read the book but it sounds interesting and it is always a joy to hang with Rabbi Bachman. Maybe I will see you there?

From the website:

In Hope, Not Fear, internationally renowned philanthropist and community leader Edgar M. Bronfman proposes a new direction in Jewish life for the open societies of North America–a direction in which Judaism will not merely survive but will in fact flourish. Arguing that the Jewish future cannot be grounded in fear of anti-Semitism and intermarriage, Bronfman reexamines important texts and interviews Jewish leaders to identify a new course for revitalizing the faith and community.

Rabbi Bachman will moderate the discussion.

For more information about the book, please click here.