When Sharpe James pulled out of Newark’s Mayoral race, a lacerated Amiri Baraka offered up a rhymed response to the news.
Alan Johnson – editor of the online journal, Democratiya, conducted an interview with Kanan Makiya in December of 2005. Following on from two previous postings here at our website (See “What’s Going On” and “Inside the Whale”), this interview amounts to the next chapter in Makiya’s on-the-fly history of the Iraq “project.”
We’re honored to reprint this (slightly adapted) excerpt from Kate Millett’s Going to Iran (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, New York 1982) — her inspiring, heartrending and newly relevant account of her time in Tehran witnessing women’s struggles against Islamist misogyny after the fall of the Shah.
One of the cartoons which my local newspaper has refused to print shows two veiled women, their staring round eyes, all that can be seen of their faces, expressing alarm, while a bearded man, apparently the Prophet, with a bar obscuring his eyes, his features otherwise visible, radiates a chilling and furious certainty. It is a pretty good cartoon: it raises the question of who is blinded, and to what, and who has been silenced, and how. It does this with remarkable economy, and with compassionate if mirthless wit. As economical if mirthless jokes go, it isn’t a patch on the one represented by the editors, academics and politicians who claim that reproducing that cartoon is a mistake more or less equivalent to threatening to murder whoever drew it.
Most times, the words, he’s got a gun, will redirect the conversation pretty effectively. Not this time, it appears.
First of the Month has asked a number of writers to comment on No Direction Home — Martin Scorcese’s recent documentary about Bob Dylan’s early years. Here’s John Leland’s thoughtful response to our call…
“Are we still alive?” That’s the line incarnating the unexpectedly avant-garde challenge in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.
Last week Barack Obama spoke on Rosa Parks’ legacy in his weekly “podcast.” While Obama’s talk was relatively informal, his comments are still worth considering. Here’s a transcript of his remarks…
A 70’s piece on The Uses of James Baldwin by Benjamin DeMott takes on a new resonance after a viewing of No Direction Home. Baldwin figures in the Dylan documentary because he was a presence in Greenwich Village during the 50s and 60s, but these two bohemian culture heroes shared more than a social context as the opening lines of DeMott’s article suggest:
Pity spokesman: their lot is hard. The movement of their ideas is looked at differently, studied for clues and confirmations, seems unindividual – less a result of personal growth than of cultural upsurge.
DeMott defined a range of difficulties faced by any artist who went public in the 60s including one problem having “to do with expense of spirit”:
In the midst of A Matter of Opinion – Victor Navasky’s affable account of his professional life in journalism – The Nation‘s publisher tells a tale about a libel settlement that dishonors a smart set who have trashed efforts to mobilize resistance to the Muslim World’s Ku Klux Klan.
Lifeline, Iris DeMent, Flariella Records
The Way I Should, Iris DeMent, Warner Brothers
What’s the Matter with Kansas? , Thomas Frank, Metropolitan Books
Spirit and Flesh, James M Ault Jr, Knopf
American Jesus, Stephen Prothero, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Now that hiphop culture has become the lingua franca of international media and business, it ironically keeps a class of Black Americans, especially youth, in isolation. That’s how hiphop preserves it source–the engine of its innovation and perpetuation and commerciality.
Start with Katha Pollitt. In the April 18 issue of The Nation, she unsurprisingly holds forth (unsurprisingly) on the controversy surrounding Theresa Schindler Schiavo. She comes down, of course, on the side of pulling the tube (or as she nicely says, “Schiavo’s feeding tube was withdrawn”). There’s no real argument offered, but she makes it clear that she’s not happy with what she sees on the other side:
The Terri Schiavo freak show is so deeply crazy, so unhinged, such a brew of religiosity and hypocrisy and tabloid sensationalism.
It’s all there. Contrary arguments are “crazy” and needn’t be engaged. Religion is “religiosity.” Hypocrisy is this: juxtapose two facts, assume dishonesty, and you’re set. Tabloid sensationalism is the other guy discussing a hot story; what Pollitt does is “debate.”
When we were boys
We called each other “Man”
With a long n
Pronounced as if a promise
We wore felt hats
That took a month to buy
In small installments
Shiny Florsheim or Stacy Adams shoes
Carried our dancing gait
And flashed our challenge
Breathing our aspirations into words
We harmonized our yearnings to the night
And when old folks on porches dared complain
We cussed them out
under our breaths
And walked away
and once a block away
Held learned speculations
About the character of their relations
With their mothers
That every now and then
We killed each other
Borrowed a stranger’s car
Burned down a house
But most boys went to jail
For knocking up a girl
He really truly deeply loved
really truly deeply
But was too young
Too stupid, poor, or scared
Since then I’ve learned
Some things don’t never change:
The breakfast chatter of the newly met
With the world as given
News and amusements
Filled with automatic fire
Sullen posturings and bellowed anthems
Our scholars say
Young people doubt tomorrow
This afternoon I watched
A group of young men
Or tall boys
Handsome and shining with the strength of futures
Africa’s stubborn present
To a declining white man’s land
As boys always did and do
Time be moving on
Some things don’t never change
back in the day
things were somehow better
They laughed and jived
And called each other “Dog”
Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace by Ralph Peters
Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World by Ralph Peters
Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? by Ralph Peters
Flames of Heaven: A Novel of the End of the Soviet Union by Ralph Peters
The Perfect Soldier by Ralph Peters
The Devil’s Garden by Ralph Peters
Traitor by Ralph Peters
Faded Coat of Blue by Owen Parry
…the Cold War deformed American strategic thought and our applied values beyond recognition. From the amoral defender of Europe’s rotten empires, we descended to an immoral propping up of every soulless dictator who preferred our payments to those offered by Moscow. We utterly rejected our professed values, consistently struggling against genuine national liberation movements because we saw the hand of Moscow wherever a poor man reached out for food or asked for dignity. At our worst in the Middle East, we unreservedly supported–or enthroned–medieval despots who suppressed popular liberalization efforts, thus driving moderate dissidents into the arms of fanatics. From our diplomatic personnel held hostage in Iran a generation ago, to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, we have suffered for our support of repressive, “stable” regimes that radicalized their own impoverished citizens. In the interests of stability, we looked the other way while secret police tortured and shabby armies massacred their own people, from Iran to Guatemala. But the shah always falls.
Would that we could tattoo that on the back of every diplomat’s hand: The shah always falls.
Kanan Makiya held a press conference in mid-October in Washington D.C. We’ve adapted and excerpted his opening statement and a few of the more pointed exchanges between Makiya and his interlocutors. Makiya’s comments on the Baathist ‘resistance’, the constitutional process and the issues raised by Ayatolla Sistani’s fatwa provide deep background for understanding current and future developments in Iraq.