Friday, March 21, 2008

Nothing Compares 2 Sinead O'Connor--and her Byron Bay, Australia, audience

BluesFest, 21 March 2008

A one-day trip to the Byron Bay BluesFest seems like a teaser, an appetiser to a fabulous many-coursed meal at which it’s not possible to even SAMPLE every dish; and to only sample some is to do them an injustice, so you have to choose. Better a full palate of great musicians than the frustration of racing around, tasting but never satiated.

But Good Friday 08 was a feminine feast of musical love and talent that was enough to satisfy in just one day.

Michelle Shocked got the love-fest started by calling her partner—her sweetheart, her oh-so-obviously-true-love—and for a sharp East Texas stringbean like Michelle—she gets longer and leggier every time I see her—what could’ve been a sentimental washout for any other performer was as honest and forthright an expression as anyone has ever given.

Of course, the comic unreliability of mobile phones lightened the episode considerably when, after hearing his first “Hello?” Michelle launched into an outpouring of, “I swore I wasn’t going to cry, I can’t cry here in front of all these people, but I miss you so much, I wish you were here, these four weeks have been so hard, I miss you …” only to have him reply with another, staticky, puzzled-sounding, “Hello?” And we all laughed in sympathy with the frustrations of contemporary high-tech communication.

Friday’s set was a collage of new songs from an upcoming album, a few old favorites: she opened with “Anchorage”; sang a paen to Mavis Staples, gospel queen, who performed a rousing, raucous, quite un-holy set later in the day; and included quite a few of her own spirit-based works, appropriate to the day and season. Her Southern roots seem to be making themselves more and more evident as she gravitates toward the gospel/spiritual element of music—and yet, again, her honesty protects it from the insipidity or preachiness that style sometimes generates.

As the sun went down, the dusky-voiced Mavis Staples belted out blues raw and rough enough to make even the most hard-edged rapper blush. Rather than the humility we often expect from faith-based musicians, Mavis gave us the passion and power of the spirit, gospel and blues music that celebrates life and glory and human potential—that makes you cry with the fierce joy of living.

But the true power of the day lay with the Keltic diva, the Irish-songstress recognized as much for her rage and outcry against injustice, hypocrisy and patriarchy as much as for her music. If, however, you were one of those who believes that it is her politics rather than her artistic genius that make her the woman she is, it took only a few notes into her opening song, “I am Stretched on Your Grave” (adapted from a 17th Century epic poem) to shatter that illusion. And 1990s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, recorded during such a period of social change yet still so suspicious, is even more relevant today and illustrates O’Conner’s ability to combine the ultimate in artistic beauty with thematic timelessness.

For those who remember the iconic video of “Nothing Compares to You”, the Prince-written song that Sinead sang at 23 years old, with all the dewy innocence of youth and belief in the power of passion and change—those profoundly blue eyes in as vulnerable a face as has ever been projected by film—the first sight of the 41 year old mother of four might come as a shock. Gone are that perfect glowing skin, the serenity of youth, the faith in truth and beauty. A contentious professional life, personal drama, health issues (her own bout with fibromyalgia and pneumonia of her youngest child—born 19 December 2007), and most probably international climate of violence and instability have taken their toll.

Hunch shouldered, looking mostly at the stage, and seemingly fragile as she stretched her mouth and voice for those heart-stopping leaps into vocal impossibility, her performance appeared at first a valiant struggle whose effort might be beyond her. The invigorating Keltic rhythms of “You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart” lifted the set out of melancholy, although a new song—inspired, she said, by months of fascination with TV preachers during her recent residency in Atlanta, Georgia (USA, not Eastern Europe)—she apologized for, saying (and sounding like her fellow Irish activist, Bono) that it had ended up sounding more “preachy” than she intended.

Though she clearly gave it her all, and her voice held the magic and power that has attracted audiences for more than 20 years, still it was painful to watch this once-immensely powerful warrior woman/singer/poet conjure her former selves from what seemed a damaged and broken vessel.

With determination to maintain a level of professionalism and fulfill her obligation to her audience, Sinead and her band went into the opening chords of “Nothing Compares 2 U”; they were greeted by such a roar of love and approval that she lifted her head in surprise. But it was the power of the audience’s voice—strong and direct in that honest Australian way—as we fed her back the chorus, that at last elicited the dimpled smile from her face, and the angelic wide-eyed nymph returned to us for those few seconds. Aha, I though, smiling through my own tears, there she is.

And for the rest of her concert—including an absolutely breathtaking version of “This Heart”, a cappella, sung with her arms around the two other women (violinist and guitarist) of the band; dance-tempo renditions of “Mandinka” and “Fire On Babylon”; some offerings from her latest album, Theology; and the always-heartbreaking “Thank You for Hearing Me”—that Australian energy carried her through on its strength. Closing with the almost unbearably sad, “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance”, still she left the stage smiling with genuine appreciation and thanks for the audience’s love.

Later, listening to Don McLean, we laughed when he commented that he wanted to play us “one more new song before we get to the big one” with a good-natured resignation in his voice. How sick must he get of having to play that paen—that document of rock and roll history that transcends generations in its familiarity—even if it has meant he never had to work again the rest of his life.

Once again, however, the Australian audience shocked and amazed the veteran musician with their enthusiasm and return of energy—to the point where he even played the first verse one more time, just to allow us to sing along.
Good Friday at the BluesFest reminded me once again how much I love the magic of Byron Bay, but perhaps even more, how much I admire the honest appreciation of Australian audiences for what they love and support. Be it policies, sport or music, Australians are unstinting in their approval. It’s a great quality to see and feel.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

How to reference your argument (and not just spew propaganda)

In order to have a valid argument, you have to prove or at least support your points with either accepted fact, such as: the US Declaration of Independence calls for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; or questionable facts that need independent documentation/verification, such as the Taliban now uses weapons provided by the USA to the Mujahideen during the 1980s:

"Among the weapons the U.S. government sent or had delivered to the Mujahideen were Soviet-origin SA-7 Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), FIM-92 Stinger SAMs, AK-47 assault rifles, and other small arms and light weapons.

"Suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was apparently able to procure a number of SA-7 SAMs and Stingers, which he could use to target civilian aircraft in future acts of terror. [3] [this is their footnote for THEIR source]

"The Taliban ...are now armed with weapons left by the Soviets, weapons left over from the U.S. arms pipeline of the 1980s, and arms recently sent by Pakistan, which has leftover stores from the 1980s and acquires other items on the international black market. Pakistan has allegedly continued to provide the Taliban weapons in violation of the UN arms embargo put in place in December 2000. [4]"

This is the same Pakistan, btw, run by Military Dictator Pervez Musharraf, whom the US has supported for many years. "Since 2001, Pakistan has become one of the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance, including arms transfers; from FY2002 to FY2006, Musharraf's regime has received nearly $1 billion in Foreign Military Financing (grant aid provided to foreign countries specifically for the purchase of US weapons), and has signed government-to-government agreements for nearly $4.34 billion in U.S. weaponry, according to the Defense Department.*

That's what is meant by referencing your argument.Read. Study. Learn. Listen to Bill Moyers, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, etc. Listen to people you don't agree with. Engage.

Listen to the Thomas Jefferson hour on Tuesdays on NPR to get an educated and informed perspective on what the founders of this country really intended. Jefferson's view was MUCH closer to Ron Paul's than to George Bush's or even Ronald Reagan's.

My responsibilities as a US citizen

Well, I've been ignoring my blog a little the past few days b/c I've gotten caught up in message board arguments that I should probably avoid--but then there's the voice that says, "We change the world one opinion at a time" and that it's no more wasting my time to refute one person's regurgitation of US indoctrination than it is to teach a class of 25 about metaphor and simile when probably none of them will ever use that information.

So I wanted to repost some of my arguments here because I believe they're valid--and I spent hours researching them; I'd hate all that work to be lost in the Facebook ether! ;-)

In response to someone's claim that I defended states that use propaganda and indoctrination:

I find the propaganda and indoctrination in the US worse than any I've ever seen. Granted, I've not lived in China or any Sultanate or dictatorship, and I have no doubt those places are worse.

The thing that most infuriates me about the US is the hypocrisy. We ALWAYS support a pro-corporatocracy dictator (like Noriega and Suharto) over a populist Democrat (Allende, Lumumba, Chavez).

We DID support Castro when he overthrew Batista, b/c we thought he'd do what we wanted. He didn't, so he became the bogeyman. We didn't give a shit what he did to his people as long as he did what WE said.

We supported Saddam Hussein in the Iraq Iran war. Again, we didn't give a shit what he did to his people as long as he did what WE said.

We supported Osama bin Laden and the Mujahadeen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Never mind that women in Afganistan had the most rights and opportunities under the USSR that they have ever had (including now, when they are worse off than before Sept 11--for evidence, go to Why do you think the Taliban is fighting us with US weapons? HELLO! And hey, for those of you conderned about the War on Drugs, the US has made deals with drug dealers throughout Afghanistan, which now (again) provides the vast amount of heroin for the world. At least the Taliban kept heroin production relatively low.

I care about these things b/c I was born in the US and because yes, the US military industrial complex is destroying the world. The US-based corporatocracy is flooding developing countries with toxins and poisons; it's encouraging the deforestation of rainforests that are absolutely ESSENTIAL to human survival on the planet; it produces 45% of the CO2 produced in the world, even though the US makes up only 4.5% of the world population. The island nation of Tuvalu is suing the US in the world court for our contributions to global warming, because the Tuvalese, who have lived there for hundreds of years, now have 6 inches of water in their homes and government buildings, because of global warming. Even the Chesapeake Bay where I live has risen 3 centimeters in the past 10 years.

And these environmental issues don't even take into account the increasing militarization, destruction of community and indigenous ways of life, genocides, sweat shops, and other attrocities to which the US contributes hugely.It is not my job to tell other countries how to run themselves, other societies what's best for them. My job is to look at my OWN society and determine what I can do to stop it from destroying itself and other parts of the world with it.

As a US citizen, I have an obligation to the rest of the world to:
Witness, identify and publicise attrocities
Speak out and educate others who aren't aware
Engage in the political system to bring about change
Commit civil disobedience when and where I must to show my commitment
Do whatever I can on a person and social level to alleviate the suffering of the millions who suffer b/c of the US's actions in the world.

The US was founded and built on dissent and the right to free expression--as well as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I cannot in good conscience pursue my own happiness when the conveniences provided by my society destroy the lives and happiness of others.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Are we really ready?

Is the US really ready to elect a black man president? Or is this a "we'd rather have a black MAN than a white WOMAN? or is it rich white liberal guilt?I find it very hard to believe that this country is ready for a black president. Or rather—because I don’t think color (or gender) has much to do with a person’s ability to do the job—that this country is ready to VOTE IN a black president. Especially one as erudite and intellectual as Obama obviously is. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing, nothing at all against the young, idealistic, multicultural, inspiring man who has studied the mannerisms of his predecessors and made them his own; all through Thursday night’s speech I saw shadows of Martin and Malcolm, Tutu and Mandela, even Maya Angelou and Oprah, and yet he was never more his own man than when he gave that speech.

For the first time in many years I am shocked AND surprised—and even more amazing is that it is a PLEASANT shock. Unfortunately, years of cynicism make me question both the rationale and the legitimacy of the whole thing. If it’s true that the corporatocracy runs things, then it matters not one whit whether the candidate is black, green, purple; or for that matter, whether it is a he, she or it. All that matters is that the person is a tool of the corporatocracy; being so, anyone can win. Being not, no one can win. Barack Obama does not seem to be a tool—he has worked extraordinarily hard (and somewhat successfully) to come across as honest, sincere, trustworthy. His idealistic rhetoric truly does restore hope. Yet in this fractured society, can his message really pull a majority out to vote for him.

Sadly, also, we already see harbingers of attitudes to come if Obama gets the nomination—check this out, gleaned 3rd hand from Salon but important as a reminder

By sending forth Hussein Osama out of Iowa, Democrats have unwittingly weakened their general election prospects.
Hussein's exotic mixture of radical liberalism, Kwanzaa Socialism, antipathy towards the unborn, and weakness against his jihadi brethren will all come back to destroy him against almost any Republican opponent, even the snake-grope from Hope. . . .
As defenders of this great Republic, and of the pinnacle of Western civilization that it represents, we should all come together tonight and agree on a common strategy that will keep the White House from becoming a madrassa.

Most important for me, however, is that I have come around to the belief that only Hillary Clinton is our only hope. No offense to Obama, but I don't think he can do it. Even though I ADORE John and Elizabeth Edwards, I don't even think Edwards can do it. I think Hillary is the only one with the experience combined with the MEANNESS to do what has to be done—everything is going to fall apart either just before or just after Bush leaves and we need someone who doesn't give a SHIT what people think, who knows what has to be done and will do it.

It's not going to be a time for a new vision, it's going to be a time for pulling this country back from the edge of the chasm. I don’t want someone—especially someone I like and sympathise with—stuck in the middle of a vortex of absolute chaos with no idea where to go next. Gimme the woman with 8 years on the job and her husband—best two-for-one bargain this country’s ever going to get in national politics—and set them to it, because we’re going to need all that they can give us plus as many contributions from the rest of the field as we can get!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Iowa Caucuses

Just read Salon’s round-up of talking heads’ and celebrities’ (?!? yes I know, not happy Jan) endorsements for president. My hero Gloria Steinem unsurprisingly supports Hilary Clinton. The support for John Edwards is powerful, sincere and well-grounded. Obama’s support seems too dreamy and idealistic. Arguments made for Joe Biden (and against—I didn’t know or had forgotten that he was anti-choice) and Chris Dodd are convincing as well.

In the letters section, people have come up with idealistic combinations that echo my own feelings that I’d like the whole Democratic field—and several Republicans as well—running the country. I’ll take Rodham-Clinton’s pragmatism with Obama’s optimism, Edwards’ populism, Dodd’s stick-to-it-ness, Biden’s experience, Kucinich’s idealism, Richardson’s multiculturalism, along with John McCain’s military wisdom, Ron Paul’s refusal to buy into the dominant paradigm, Mike Huckerby’s ability to reach out without condescending to religious populists, Fred Thompson’s Reaganesque good-naturedness and actor presence, and Rudy Guiliani’s ability to reconcile pro-choice and pro-gun control positions with true conservatism.

Unlike many people, I don’t want Al Gore in this presidential race. Al Gore has found his calling and I want him doing exactly what he’s doing—someone suggested making him the Climate Change Czar: That suits me fine.

As a feminist, I’d really love to see a Ms POTUS. Up until just a month or so ago, I swore I couldn’t support Hillary Rodham Clinton (not least b/c of her acquiescence from Ms Rodham to Mrs. Clinton :-P). I felt a specific betrayal of my feminist consciousness —in an era when hard-fought changes in language, treatment and payment and recognition of women, reproductive rights, and general status of women is sliding backwards, Ms Rodham Clinton’s willingness to cast off the most obvious trappings of feminism was a huge disappointment.

But looking at the bigger picture—surprising as it may be, even to me, a shock in and of itself—I now believe that she is the BEST qualified candidate. I’ve long loved John Edwards and his message of populism, and I’d be thrilled if he won. But the best possible choice has got to be Hillary. Not only is a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency a two-for-one deal, she has (to echo Gloria Steinem, though I did think of these things before I read her endorsement) 8 years of on-the-job experience, she knows exactly what she’s getting into, she won’t take 2 years to learn the job.

This latter is, to me, probably the crux of the matter. Bush has so messed up the country and the world that we don’t have time to wait for someone to learn the job. No matter who is elected, things are going to get much worse before they get better—if they ever do get better. Which of course brings into question what it would mean for things to get better … but that is another story. I do believe that Ms Rodham Clinton has the background to effectively reverse some of the Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties at home—an issue on which her position has never been at question—and that she will end the war in Iraq as it exists, although her hawkishness is the one thing I question.

More than that, however, she will appoint supreme court judges who have the best interests of the US people at heart; she will work to pass legislation that reverses or reduces some of the excesses of the current government; she will not be an impediment to national health care or fairer immigration practices or environmental protection and climate change preparation. I think she is a very, very practical woman/person, and that is what this country needs right now.
As far as the US’s role in the world, there could be no better presidential spouse than Bill Clinton. I, and millions of other people, love Elizabeth Edwards and I do believe that she, like her husband, is sincere and would be graceful, charming, informed and influential. But the whole world knows and loves Bill Clinton, and it’s going to take exactly that kind of respect and admiration to patch up the hash the Bush administration has done to the US’s standing in the world. I can’t think of another person to do it. Whether officially, as Secretary of State, or unofficially as the First Gentleman, Bill Clinton is the only person I know of who could go out into the world and restore something of our reputation.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto: Face of the Goddess

I’m shocked and deeply saddened by Joan Walsh of Salon and other commentors’ focus on Bhutto’s death as purely a political and economic catalyst and how it will affect the US and world politics.

How about the loss of a WOMAN LEADER in a world increasingly polarized between the masculine and feminine? In the Reagan/Thatcher 80s, Bhutto was to me a shining example of how a woman could be both feminine and powerful, both compassionate and effective—and perhaps more importantly, how the people of a culture widely seen as much more sexist and restrictive to women could actually vote a woman into power. It was the beginning of my recognition of women and feminism throughout the world, not just in the US; of my understanding that feminism wasn’t just about middle-class US women being able to have abortions or go to professional universities or play sports or feel safe to walk home at night, but that it also encompassed the other 95% of the world, of which more than half was women. Women in societies where they could be forced to leap upon the funeral pyre of their husbands from forced marriages. Women who could be killed for simply loving—or looking at—the wrong man. Women whose very lives—not to mention their sexual fulfillment and ability to give birth safely—were threatened by female genital mutilation. And all the hundreds of thousands of women who would never be because of female infanticide in the two most populous countries.

Being from the US and having very little exposure to politics in the rest of the world, I was ignorant of the progressive Scandinavian societies where women achieved near equity during Second Wave feminism. I only remember seeing Corazon Aquino and Benazir Bhutto and other “Third World” women coming to power—being VOTED into power—and thinking, what’s WRONG with us? Even Thatcher, although I admired her abilities (but not her politics) was the Iron Lady, the Man with Tits, the Wombless Woman. There was nothing feminine about her.

But Bhutto, ah, Bhutto made leadership seem naturally graceful and feminine and full of compassion. I did not follow her career closely, know little of the circumstances surrounding her falls from power either time—I have no doubt that there were elements of corruption and power-mongering around her governments, as there are around every modern government. I also have no doubt that the same sorts of people who love to hate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and Helen Clark and Arundhati Roy and Wangari Maathi and all the other strong, powerful women in the world today, also hated Benazir Bhutto and did all they could to bring her down in the eyes of the world and her people. The current epidemic of misogyny didn’t spring, fully formed, from the Bush administration or fanatical Islam—it has been quietly (and not so quietly, see Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell) fomenting ever since the beginning of the Second Wave. It certainly existed where Bhutto was popular.

Speaking of fanatical Islam, however, that was another thing that Bhutto did … for me. Here was a worldly, educated, powerful woman, an excellent speaker, obviously capable of drawing crowds of support (of men as well as women) who was a Muslim. Benazir Bhutto was the face of feminist Islam; she gave credence to the stories of Fatima and other powerful Muslim women—mother and wives and daughters of Mohammed who, like the women surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, were instrumental and absolutely essential in spreading the teachings of Islam. I also suspect that, like almost all women, no matter how important or powerful, they also performed many “feminine” tasks such as care-giving and nurturing and cooking and teaching and building community—in short, the tasks that hold the society together. Tasks that our political leaders should focus on more, rather than trying to force change by economic or political (or violent) means. Of course, I don’t mean to say that Benazir Bhutto spent her time baking bread or wiping the fevered brow of her children—although she very well may have; or that those things are more important than leading the pro-democracy movement and calling for the eradication of poverty in Pakistan. But are they really less important? And even though I never saw her do them and don’t know that she ever did them, there was something about her that gave the impression that great leadership could encompass all of those elements of femininity and compassion without losing any of its power.

After September 11 and the Bali bombing, I was living in Australia. Benazir Bhutto seemed to visit frequently, appearing on many forums and political discussion shows, trying to bridge the cultural gap between frightened, suspicious “white” Australians and angry, suspicious Muslim Australians. Despite incidences of violence and racial unrest that broke out in some of the inner cities (more a result of ghettoization and economic disparity, I believe, than actual religious radicalization) Australians seemed by and large to want to believe that the two cultures could live side by side, could intermingle and create a multi-cultural society. It’s a belief that has practical as well as ideological implications for Australia; after all, the island nation’s closest neighbour is the world’s largest Muslim nation: Indonesia. Although right-of-centre (and Bush “arse-licker” as dubbed by the former leader of the opposition) Prime Minister John Howard was able to wrangle two electoral victories out of fear and xenophobia, his adamant support for the “war on terror” and particularly its implications of a “war on Islam” made many Australian uncomfortable and, I hope, had more than a little to do with Howard’s recent humiliating loss.

I digress. I mention Bhutto’s visits to Australia as she seemed at the time one of the few people able to pour oil on those troubled waters of racial and religious tension. She seemed always, to me, the ultimate in feminine grace and power, with a beauty not simply of face and form, but of compassion and wisdom as well. In short, she embodied a contemporary image of the Goddess; in doing so, she gave me hope. Now, my only hope is that her decision to return to Pakistan for the movement, despite the risks she well knew she took, will achieve what she set out to achieve—a step along her home’s road to democracy, another stone in the path to peace.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mourning the Loss of Another Great Sister

Today Benazir Bhutto finally succumbed to the assassination that has been stalking her since her return to her native Pakistan. As the first woman leader of an Islamic state, Bhutto greatly impacted both the Muslim world and the world at large. She showed that it was possible to be graceful, feminine, beautiful and yet still be an effective (and clearly threatening to dictatorship and patriarchy) leader.

Her loss is a horrendous blow to the pro-democracy movement in Pakistan; and despite US mouthings of proper outrage and shock, her election and/or the ascendancy of her party to any level of power (whether leadership or opposition) would’ve impeded US control and influence in Pakistan. So, although I would seriously doubt the Bush administration had any sort of direct hand in her murder, I’m sure there are things they could’ve done to make sure she was better protected.

As she was not. In an interview Bhutto reflected on the first assassination attempt in October, when she had just returned to Pakistan. She questioned the refusal to allow her to have tinted windows in her car, to protect her anonymity; possibly more disturbing, however, were her observations that the street lights were turned off, the length of time it took for the police to file her “complaint”, and the fervid rejection of CIA and/or Scotland Yard forensic assistance in investigating the attack.

Despite the authorities’ obvious indifference to her safety, President Bhutto did not leave her country. By remaining in Pakistan to shore up the pro-democracy movement and as inspiration to her supporters, she showed a fortitude and courage no longer often seen in Western politicians. Like Aung San Suu Kyi, she remained a present, visible figure to give hope to those whose hope may have waned in the recent crackdown.

And like Aung San Suu Kyi, Wangari Maathi, Arundhati Roy, Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez, President: Michelle Bachelet, New Zealand’s Helen Clark, and the (small but growing) handful of women leaders around the world, Benazir Bhutto gave hope to women working for equality and justice.

As a radical leftist feminist, I find the concept of the headscarf (or burka or hajib) to reflect submission to a patriarchal religious tradition onerous. One of the great leaders of the 20th century, however—and great hero to me—Benazir Bhutto wore the scarf out of respect for the ancient tradition of her people.

She did so with an honor and grace—and a humility not often seen in any major world religious or other tradition today.

In honor of her, her belief in true, grassroots democracy, her commitment to peace, her people and the people of the world, I am honored and humbled to wear a headscarf today.

May Prime Minister Bhutto’s ideals live on.