Monthly Archives: March 2009

Rudresh Mahanthappa


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?



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.


Cat Shit One: The Animated Series



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


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?



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



[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.


Remembering the 98th Anniversary of the Triangle Fire



[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.


Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman


[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]