Saturday, August 25, 2007

No End in Sight

Dear Reader,

I have just returned home from seeing a very important film: No End in Sight. It was important to me because it explained things that I was confused about. It laid out questions (and then provided some answers) that most of us have been asking: Why did things go so wrong in Iraq?

The answers were given by people who were formerly in Bush's own administration. Some of them were very senior people in the administration. I was surprised by that. They must feel very passionate about getting their views out. This is not going to endear them with the Bushies and other Republicans. They are heroes in my opinion. As is the filmmaker, Charles Ferguson, who financed the movie.

If you want to read more about Ferguson, go here.

You know right away that this movie is different from most. The names of the filmmaker's bodyguards in Iraq are in the opening credits. As is the name of the security firm he hired in Iraq.

Ferguson does not take up the issue about whether we should have gone to Iraq or not. He's interested in what happened once we had occupied Iraq. It's a talking heads kinda movie ... but it's very well organized AND interesting. You come away knowing a hell of a lot more. And, if you're like me, angry ... very very angry. You understand why Iraqis are so disgusted with the U.S. government and U.S. forces. And, once again, we turned a potentially positive situation into something that creates hatred towards us. Like we did with 9/11. It seems that many Iraqis were hopeful when Sadaam Hussein was toppled. But, man oh man, did we blow it.

"The greatest mystery of post-war Iraq involves.... why the U.S. didn’t do anything to control the looting because in a way, everything that’s been a problem since then started in that first month,” says James Fallows (The Atlantic Monthly editor and author of Blind into Baghdad). As Richard Armitage (former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State) and Barbara Bodine (formier U.S. coordinator for central Iraq) both state, Washington instructed teams in Iraq not to interfere with the looting that Rumsfeld dismissed as the “untidy” effect of freedom.

Paul "Jerry" Bremer is most to blame for this major fuckup ... after the Bushies in their safe little cubbies or, rather, undisclosed locations, of course.

The film ends with Seth Moulton, a Marine lieutenant once stationed in Najaf, saying "Is this the best America can do? Don't tell me that this is the best we can do after my friends died there. Don't tell the marines who fought in Najaf that that's the best America can do. No don't say that. That makes me angry." And he looks visibly shaken.

An off camera question to General Jay Garner asks: "Why were there so many mistakes made?" He doesn't have a very good answer. Sometimes the film uses the word naive. Here's where I differ with the filmmaker. I don't think mistakes were made. I don't think the Bushies were naive. I think it was planned. Greed is the answer.

Take a look at the trailer for this movie.

Please see this film.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Read Obit

Maury D'Annato has a very good obit about Grace Paley on his blog My Favorite Intermissions. See his obit here.

Rest in Peace: Grace Paley

Tony Talbot/AP

Elaine Woo of the Los Angeles Times reports that writer and activist Grace Paley has died. She was 84.
Grace Paley, the activist and writer whose vibrant, Bronx-accented short stories illuminated the daily trials and boisterous interior lives of working-class men and women in language that radiated humanity, intelligence and streetwise humor, has died. She was 84.

Paley died of breast cancer Wednesday at her home in Thetford Hill, Vt., said her husband, playwright Robert Nichols.

During a writing career that began more than 50 years ago, Paley published only three collections of stories, but those books -- "The Little Disturbances of Man" (1959), "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" (1974) and "Later the Same Day" (1985) -- garnered elaborate praise from critics, fellow writers and a loyal core of readers. One noted admirer, novelist Philip Roth, said her stories offered "an understanding of loneliness, lust, selfishness and fatigue that is splendidly comic and unladylike." In 1993 Paley received the $25,000 Rea Award, which has been described as the Pulitzer Prize of short-story writing. Declaring that Paley's voice was like no other in American fiction, the judges called her "a pure short-story writer, a natural to the form in the way that rarely gifted athletes are said to be naturals."

She worked hard for peace in the world. Peace to you, Grace.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Delivering Flowers of Ideas

My house is full full full of books. Why did I need another? But I did, gentle reader. (Picked that up from Ms. Manners or is it Miss Manners? I love her. She's so sensible. She's not in the least bit snotty ... unless someone has done something very small and unforgiveable.)

Yes, I did. Had to get Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio by Jimmy Santiago Baca. I got it at Black Oaks in Berkeley, CA. (Great bookstore!) It was first published in 1992.

Jimmy Santiago Baca is a wonderful writer. If you don't know him, introduce yourself to him. He has many books of poems out.

His memoir called A Place to Stand is intense and deeply interesting and full of warmth ... of rich red blood flowing through the brain and other vital organs.

Here's an excerpt from Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio:
We must think majestically, be cured of our theoretical anemia. We are a people who think in metaphor. It is our way of seeing, our way of giving gifts to each other. We must not be sucked into bloodless, dialectical, theorizing skirmishes. Without metaphor, our thoughts leak away through the holes in the roof of our hypothesis.

We must create passageways among the islands as the Aztecs did, delivering flowers of ideas to each other.

By the way ... in case you were wondering ... I do NOT know any of these authors that I write about. If I know someone personally, I will add a disclosure.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Led into a life of poetry (Gasp!)

This is a disclaimer on the first page of a web site for Gwyn McVay ... a young poet:
Disclaimer: Most of the content on this site is probably perfectly fine for Younger-Americans under the age of 13, but seriously, if your kid is on the computer a lot, don't you want to... supervise them just a bit? I cannot guarantee that they won't be led into a life of poetry and other text-related depravity. If little Johnny or Susie turns around and majors in English, don't say I didn't warn you.

Yes, poets corrupting young children ... turning them away from becoming corporate executives, politicians, TV pundits, deputy chief of staff to the president ... and, instead, writers of poetry. Some parents might send them to rehabilitation camps ... or just kick them out of the house and disown them.

Others would rejoice.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The U.S. of Amnesia

This is an excerpt from an interview of Natasha Trethewey by Deborah Soloman. It was published on May 13, 2007 in the NY Times magazine. Natasha Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry this year for her third collection called Native Guard.

Q: In one of your newer poems, you lament, "I wander now among names of the dead: My mother's name, stone pillow for my head." How did she die?

NT: She was murdered in 1985 by her second husband, whom she divorced about a year earlier. He had a history of violence. He killed her so no one else could have her.

Q: I'm so sorry. Where is he now?

NT: In state prison in Georgia. He's serving two consecutive life sentences.

Q: So the title of your collection, "Native Guard," might refer, in the end, to your own desire to guard your mother.

NT: I'm too late. It's too late. I can't go back and save her. I can only save her memory. Figuratively, the title represents the idea that I am a native guardian to the memory of my mother's life.

Q: On the other hand, you can overdo remembering. What do you make of Nietzsche's statement that without forgetting, it is impossible to live at all?

NT: I think that's true. For the sake of sanity, there is a lot of necessary forgetting. But the trick is to balance forgetting with necessary remembering, to avoid historical amnesia.

Mozart's Requiem

This is a passage from On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

Mozart’s Requiem begins with you walking towards a huge pit. The pit is on the other side of a precipice, which you cannot see over until you are right at its edge. Your death is awaiting you in that pit. You don’t know what it looks like or sounds like or smells like.You don’t know whether it will be good or bad. You just walk towards it. Your will is a clarinet and your footsteps are attended by all the violins. The closer you get to the pit, the more you begin to have the sense that what awaits you there will be terrifying. Yet you experience this terror as a kind of blessing, a gift. Your long walk would have had no meaning were it not for this pit at the end of it. You peer over the precipice: a burst of ethereal noise crashed over you. In the pit is a great choir, like the one you joined for two months in Wellington in which you were the only black woman. This choir is the heavenly host and simultaneously the devil’s army. It is also every person who has changed you during your time on this earth: your many lovers; your family; your enemies, the nameless, faceless woman who slept with your husband; the man you thought you were going to marry; the man you did. The job of this choir is judgement. The men sing first, and their judgement is very severe. And when the women join in there is no respite, the debate only grows louder and sterner. For it is a debate -- you realize that now. The judgement is not yet decided. It is surprising how dramatic the fight for your measly soul turns out to be. Also surprising are the mermaids and the apes that persist on dancing around each other and sliding down an ornate staircase during the Kyrie, which, according to the programme notes, features no such action, even in the metaphorical sense.

Kyrie eleison.

Christe eleison.

Kyrie eleison.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

I loved the book by the way. So did PolCat.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Book Review July 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

Borrowed? Smoke.

Recommended? Hey, it was a fun read! Only if you have plenty of time to spare, and an interest in light reading material.

Reread? No.

Imaginary Homelands - Salman Rushdie


Recommended? Highly. It always amazes me how erudite and fluent a writer Rushdie is. This book has sat on my shelf for years, and now that I've read it, I'm really annoyed that I put it off so long. Witty, acerbic, well-read, and unbelievably good. Please read this book. You'll enjoy it unless you're a witless schlumpf, and maybe even then.

Reread? Definitely.

In My Dreams - Kassandra Kane

Borrowed? No.

Recommended? No. This is a book of lesbian erotica, but I've read much better lesbian erotica. It's really more like the journal of a particularly unliterary and unerotic lesbian. I don't want to trash the author. I think she tried to write her experience. Unfortunately, her experience is not terribly interesting. Pity. There's a real need for good lesbian erotica.

Reread? No.

Japanese Gods and Myths -

Borrowed? No.

Recommended? Only for people who have absolutely no knowledge of Japan, or Japanese culture. Most of the material was familiar to me, and from better sources. Lately, I've developed a deep need to read about myths, legends, and folktales, and this book was an unsatisfying excursion into that arena. You'll notice no author's name was attached to this book. That's because there wasn't one. Perhaps the person who put it together was embarrassed by the elementary level of the information?

Reread? Certainly not.

On Beauty - Zadie Smith

Borrowed? Smoke, of course, again.

Recommended? Oh, yes. Zadie Smith never fails to amaze as a writer. I didn't expect to like this book - it's about rather mundane people, a college professor of BeyondWhiteness and his African-American wife, and his three boring children, one of whom is an aspiring Christian of the worst sort (you know, the type that wants to cram it down everyone else's throats). It turned out to be an excellent book, a really interesting look at the lives of people who might not be like us at all, and who may, or may not, seem boring, commonplace, of little interest, but who have their own particular qualities that are very interesting. Kudos to Smith for producing a fine work of art, full of dialogue that sounds very real, and characters who, despite their flaws and sometimes outright unlikeability are, nonetheless, real in feel if not in fact.

Reread? Maybe.

Red Sorghum - Mo Yan

Borrowed? No.

Recommended? Oh, deity, yes. Read this book if you only have time to read one more book in your life. My god, what a terrific writer Mo Yan is. I saw the film that was based on this book, produced by Zhang Yi Mou, who is an amazing director/producer, and I thought, I must read the book. Now, usually when I read a book after seeing the film, I am disappointed in either the film or the book. This time, I was simply ravaged by both. The subject is China before and during World War II and, as you can well imagine, those were the worst of times and the worst of times. The book (and the film) are unflinching in showing the devastation and suffering that was inflicted upon the populace by the Japanese invasion, yet the writing and direction were both so great that despite the horrors, you end up enjoying both book and film. The story of that hideous war is told through the portrait of the narrator's mother, an amazing woman, strong, self-aware, and utterly admirable. And of his father, a sometimes drunken lout, but madly in love with his wonderful wife, and capable of heroic deeds (as well as pissing in the wine she made). God, it's a great book. It will leave you shaken to your roots.

Reread? Oh, hell, yes.

Sometimes A Great Notion - Ken Kesey

Borrowed? No. Lent.

Recommended? Er. I really did not care for this book. I've liked most of Kesey's work, and it was surprising to me that I found this book so difficult to get through, so uninteresting, so ... tedious. At any rate, I did not finish it, though I tried several times. I've handed it off to someone else, with the hope that they'll return it saying it was absolutely wonderful, and I'll try it again then.

Reread? Maybe. I'll try, anyway.

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

Borrowed? No.

Recommended? Yes. Well, I liked it. I know lots of people didn't, but really, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a description of the life of a lesbian in (I think) Victorian England. Well-written, for sure.

Reread? Maybe, if there's time.

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

Borrowed? Smoke.

Recommended? This is an excellent book about an elderly man reminiscing about his life in the circus. It's a page-turner, too, with a great sense of pace, a stunning power of description, unbelievable detail, yet never boring, a look at carny/circus life about a century ago, the card sharps and freaks, the oh-so-human pain and suffering and rough and tumble of people who make their living as nomads of the entertainment world. Well worth reading, too.

Reread? Probably not, but not for lack of interest.

You Shall Know Our Velocity - Dave Eggers

Borrowed? Smoke.

Recommended? This is the second work of the author's that I've read. I really didn't like the first, and I was afraid I wouldn't like this, either, but it turned out to be an OK experience. Interesting, though not brilliant. Enjoyable, if nothing to write home about. There's a certain lack of maturity in the writing that reveals itself as artificially constructed episodes of life happening to people it's hard to care about, if that makes any sense. In any event. Read it if you want to.

Reread? No.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

This is our new Culture blog

Ms. Manitoba, FoTPC, and I have decided to create a new space to host some of our interests. ThePoliticalCat ( will remain devoted to our political interests, and will include regular posts on environmental news, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, human rights, workers' rights, women's rights, labor issues, and the like. This blog will be the home to posts on books, film, music, and art. Watch this space!