Archive for January, 2008

Department of WTF, Redux

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Then again, when I read what Mike Huckabee told a Michigan crowd on Monday, it made me feel like there are enough nutcases in every religion to turn you into an atheist:

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

And this guy won Iowa, for God’s sake.


Department of WTF

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I heard that Britney Spears wants to convert to Islam. There comes a point in every lunatic celebrity’s career when this happens (See: Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, etc.) And all I can say is: Our nut house is full, Britney. Please take up another religion, we have enough crazies of our own.

Emory Douglas @ MOCA

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008


I had been meaning to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibit on The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas for quite a while, and I finally, finally got a chance to do so this past weekend. Douglas, for those of you who are curious, was minister of culture in the Black Panther Party and designed all their posters–rally announcements, commemorations, calls to action–as well as their official newspaper. I was fascinated by the pieces on show, by how they ranged in tone from pure propaganda to deeply felt testaments of a cultural revolution. The exhibit included articles showing the connection with Algeria (the influence of Fanon‘s theories, Eldridge Cleaver‘s flight to Algiers, the support for the Panthers in post-colonial North Africa) and with other countries of the non-aligned movement. It was interesting, too, to see how Emory Douglas contributed to the branding of the Black Panther image with the consistent use of black berets, army jackets, and rifles in representing party members. (This reminded me of a show I saw a couple of years ago at the V&A museum in London, about Alberto Korda’s iconic photo of Che Guevara. The revolution will be branded!) The exhibit was curated by Sam Durant, and it’s only open for another week, so if you’re in the L.A. area, hurry up and see it before it closes.

Photo: “Power to the People” poster, by Emory Douglas

Elias Khoury’s Yalo

Monday, January 14th, 2008


My review of Elias Khoury’s new novel, Yalo, appeared on the cover of Sunday’s edition of the L. A. Times Book Review. The piece also makes mention of two of Khoury’s earlier books, Little Mountain and City Gates, which have just recently been re-issued. Here’s an excerpt:

Few cities have withstood the kind of violence and carnage that Beirut has. Though destroyed by a civil war lasting 15 long years, it seemed to be on the verge of an economic and cultural renaissance in 2006 when it was bombed again during the Israeli invasion. Beirut is a city that has learned to start over, to rebuild itself on top of its ruins, but it is also a place where memories are long and myths are persistent. In his new novel, “Yalo,” Elias Khoury grapples with the idea of truth and memory, what we choose to remember and what we prefer to forget. In fact, “Yalo” is composed of confessions — whether forced or voluntary, true or laced with self-aggrandizement, redemptive for the confessor or entirely useless.

The rest of the review is freely available on the L.A. Times website.

Reader Mail / Primaries

Monday, January 14th, 2008

My Friday post about the New Hampshire primary elicited a lot of emails from you, so rather than answer individually, I am posting a handful of them here. Reader Nomi H. wrote to say:

One theory I’ve read about is that people in New Hampshire were truly disgusted with the pollsters, and with the journalists “pronouncing” their decisions prematurely. It was NOT a resounding victory for Clinton, by any means…

I share this frustration. Clinton and Obama won the same number of delegates in New Hampshire, but the Clinton win was framed as “comeback.” A comeback from what? The month of December? If they hadn’t been so quick to pronounce her political demise, there would have been no comeback. Meanwhile, reader Joseph H. wanted me to know that:

There is a new and scarier interpretation of the results surfacing even in the mainstream media.

He is referring, of course, to the theory that the Diebold voting machines, which were used in bigger cities but not in small towns, somehow favored Hillary Clinton. Reader Linda M. concurred, and added:

If there were shenanigans in New Hampshire, I would like that exposed right now. I want the vast right winged conspiracy to steal elections to stop. I want my democracy back, dammit. I am tired of having amoral thugs tyrannizing this country and the world.

Amen, sister. The problem is that the state of New Hampshire won’t pay for a recount, so if Kucinich wants a recount, he’ll have to pay for it. Reader Jessica L. offered yet another explanation:

Liberal NH women were going to vote for Hillary no matter what. Pollsters certainly got it wrong. But there is a large bloc of very active women who were responsible for electing one of first women governors, had women in the state legislature very early on, and electing a woman is top priority for them.

Too bad that they’re choosing a woman who’s so thoroughly without principle. (See for instance the kinds of attacks she’s been waging lately.) Lastly, my friend David wrote:

I think you are buying into the media hype, which represents some of the shoddiest reporting I have ever seen. (…) I read today that even in my (and Clinton’s) home state of NY, Obama has a shot at winning. So buck up. This election is the first political event in a long time about which I am actually optimistic.

And there you have it.

Health Days

Friday, January 11th, 2008

I had to take a day off from blogging yesterday because I was too upset about Hillary Clinton’s win in New Hampshire to be of much use around here. I think her win says something about this country that is deeply unsettling. The most common theory that has been put forward to explain the difference between the pre-election polls and the voting results is that Hillary Clinton did better with women voters, particularly older women voters, and that this was directly attributable to her emotional moment last Tuesday. But what does this say about these women voters in New Hampshire? That they saw themselves in a woman who seemed cornered and on the verge of defeat and whose ambitions were, in her view, thwarted by a posse of men who ‘ganged’ up on her?

The other theory is that Hillary Clinton didn’t win, it was Barack Obama who lost, because of the famed Bradley effect. (In 1982, Tom Bradley had a double-digit lead in the polls and looked poised to become California’s first black governor when he lost to George Deukmejian.) Again, what does this say about white people in New Hampshire? That, in the privacy of the voting booths, they didn’t dare pick someone who didn’t look like them? Either theory seemed too depressing, hence the day off. More soon.


Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

I finished reading J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello last night, an interesting, ambiguous, even perplexing novel. It’s set up as a series of lectures that the character of Elizabeth Costello, a distinguished writer, gives at various locations (universities, conferences, even a cruise ship.) I was drawn to the character, and I also liked how her lectures dealt with so many different, important topics. And I think what I most liked about the book is that it defies classification or labels. Speaking of which, here’s a little excerpt I underlined:

‘Your handicap is that you’re not a problem. What you write hasn’t yet been demonstrated to be a problem. Once you offer yourself as a problem, you might be shifted over into their court. But for the present you’re not a problem, just an example.’
‘An example of what?’
‘An example of writing. An example of how someone of your station and your generation and your origins writes. An instance.’
‘An instance? Am I allowed a word of protest? After all the effort I put into not writing like anyone else?’

On a side note, I went to a chain bookstore the other day to get a copy of Diary of a Bad Year, but couldn’t find it on the display shelves. I asked a clerk at the information desk, “Do you have the latest Coetzee?”
“Is that the title?”
“No, no, that’s the author.”
“Coetzee? The South African writer? Well, now he’s Australian, but you know, from South Africa?”
“Oh” [Blank face.]
“You know, the guy who won the Nobel Prize a couple of years ago.”
“What’s the title again?”

Howard Dean Moment

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

I normally don’t register a party affiliation, but when we moved to California, I registered as a Democrat because I wanted to be sure to vote in the Democratic primaries here. So I’ve been watching the campaigns very closely. As regular readers probably know, I dislike Hillary Clinton very much, and for many reasons. (She voted for the Patriot Act; she voted for the war in Iraq; she voted for the torture bill; she doesn’t appear to have met a lobbyist she didn’t like; she calls herself a feminist, but said her husband cheated because he had been abused as a child, etc.) But even though I dislike her, I felt sorry for her when I saw how this little video has been at the top of the news all day, played at least five times in one hour on CNN, and written about on the front page of the New York Times. What is going on here? Obviously, I was not planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, and I haven’t changed my mind but the way the media have been playing this, you’d think it was worse for America that this woman got a little emotional than that she voted for that immoral war in the Middle East.

A Space of One’s Own

Monday, January 7th, 2008


Today I am waiting to have a desk delivered to the house. I know what you’re thinking: “What? You don’t already have one?” I do indeed have a desk, but this what it looked like earlier today, and I need the extra space for my novel. I am expecting to get my manuscript back from Antonia Fusco, my editor at Algonquin, this week, and I want to have the space for it, without the piles of books waiting to be read, the files, the papers, the laptop, etc. I want to lay out my chapters, my time line, my character bios, my maps, and everything else. I felt a little silly ordering a whole desk just so I can have some extra space for my novel until I remembered an old, old interview with Joan Didion I’d read in the Paris Review. Here’s the excerpt I’m thinking of:


Do you have any writing rituals?


The most important is that I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. . . . Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That’s one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

One ought to do whatever works-sleep with the manuscript if one needs to, even. This is the last stretch for me, so I might as well give my novel all the space it needs.

New Short Story

Friday, January 4th, 2008


I have a new short story in the fiction issue of the Italian weekly magazine Internazionale. It is titled “Il destino nelle onde,” and it is illustrated by Guido Scarabottolo which is very, very cool. (Thanks to Italian reader Patrizia for the info about the illustration!) Other writers in the fiction issue include Elif Shafak, Zadie Smith, Miranda July, and a few others. The English-language version of this story should be coming out in the spring, but more on that once details have been firmed up.

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