Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Diasporin, the cream of choice for the fractured heritage of the Jewish people

The self-dubbed New Historians, who sought and still seek to rewrite Israeli history along factual lines based on declassified military and government documents as opposed to national mythology, have just been blindsided by an even newer historian. Their work, specifically Avi Shlaim's, have allowed conversations in my household to move beyond battle lines based on platitudes, but there are still contentious issues in which the Israeli background cannot budge from the notion that the Jewish people are entitled to Palestine, with claims that the Palestinians are less of an identifiable entity than Israelis. An ongoing criticism of their self-determination being that it only started once the Zionists arrived and is really a ploy at keeping up with the Goldmans. This is in spite of recorded attempts at articulating political self-determination in light of Ottoman Rule.
I, for one, cannot understand how Israel makes the Palestinian refusal of recognition an issue when the government line in Israeli, as publicly stated by Golda Meir, was that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. Despite government rhetoric having softened in that respect (made up for in bullets), it's still a widely held belief. It's also a widely held belief that Israel is historically Jewish land, which makes Palestinians look like opportunists when compared with the diaspora's attempt at reconstituting itself after 3,000 years of exile. Regardless of whether, even after 3,000 years of exile, a group that defines itself as an ethnicity despite it's binding force being a shared belief system can really section itself off on already inhabited land with a country devoted entirely to its people, the fundamental force is the belief that there is a historical legacy with which to justify that abuse of power.
Well, my parents happened to happen upon a book by a Israeli historian Shlomo Sand that basically seeks rectify that misconception by way of historiographic investigation. In a profile interview with Haaretz that will sum up the book far better than my blog entry ever will -
"According to Sand, the description of the Jews as a wandering and self-isolating nation of exiles, "who wandered across seas and continents, reached the ends of the earth and finally, with the advent of Zionism, made a U-turn and returned en masse to their orphaned homeland," is nothing but "national mythology." Like other national movements in Europe, which sought out a splendid Golden Age, through which they invented a heroic past - for example, classical Greece or the Teutonic tribes - to prove they have existed since the beginnings of history, "so, too, the first buds of Jewish nationalism blossomed in the direction of the strong light that has its source in the mythical Kingdom of David."
Now, here's the kicker -
"No population remains pure over a period of thousands of years. But the chances that the Palestinians are descendants of the ancient Judaic people are much greater than the chances that you or I are its descendents. The first Zionists, up until the Arab Revolt [1936-9], knew that there had been no exiling, and that the Palestinians were descended from the inhabitants of the land. They knew that farmers don't leave until they are expelled. Even Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of the State of Israel, wrote in 1929 that, 'the vast majority of the peasant farmers do not have their origins in the Arab conquerors, but rather, before then, in the Jewish farmers who were numerous and a majority in the building of the land.'"

Whole article here -
Shattering a 'national mythology'
By Ofri Ilani

Anarchists and their love/hate relationship with the Palestinian Resistance

Last night I was confronted with a contrarian viewpoint in a conversation, courtesy of an anarchist (full disclosure, this was frustrating because the general anarchist contention is not something I'm opposed to), in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was reduced to a hypothetical about what grounds the Palestinian resistance should be struggled on if statehood is the option being sought since an anarchist cannot support a nation state, therefore unless the resistance is reconstituted as a libertarian-socialist makeover then it can only be supported on the grounds that it's wrong to occupy and oppress a nation because you don't want to live with them. It was frustrating because the viewpoint wasn't so much suggested as it was thrown out to deflate the conversation by conflating anarchist theoreticals with pragmatic analysis of someone else's plight. The excuse used was Chiapas, that that should be a shining of example of the direction the Palestinian resistance should take as opposed to seeking political organization as a nation-state.
While the idea of focusing on community organization and self-determination by means of using your resources to live as a nation regardless of international recognition while still resisting the occupation is commendable, there are a number of problems with it. Completely giving up political self-determination in favor of pragmatic self-determination Chiapas style requires that the entire Palestinian entity has to splinter off into localized communities that still remain within the territories they've been allotted because Israel, regardless of its enemy's newfound anarchism, still want to retain a Jewish majority. Perhaps it's a misconception on my part but it sounds entirely self-defeating. Sure, land is land and no one owns it, therefore the idea that one group would want to put up borders, erect a government and decide it's going to hierarchically orchestrate its own future along ethnic lines (either side) is absurd, but so is foregoing the notion of a nation-state to merely live as a diasporic nation. And it would be diasporic because Palestinians are split up into various refugee camps, and these would be the areas in which they would make like a Zapatista and call home, which does Israel a HUGE favor! Sure, the Zapatistas are a thorny undercurrent in Mexican society, but their entire existence is piecemeal as Mexican society is still overwhelmingly not liberated.
I've asked the person who made this comment to come forth and explain themselves and possibly rectify my misconception, so hopefully this entry writes itself into something more elaborate.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Awareness Pt. 2

From a 1995 interview between Vibe magazine and bell hooks -

Vibe: You say "we" as if you identify strongly with these rappers.

bell hooks: I think all the artists who use the black vernacular in this society understand that, to white minds, the black vernacular has always been associated with the idea of being stupid. I guess I feel like part of my mission as an artist-this is what binds me culturally to an Ice Cube and even a Snoop Doggy Dogg-is understanding the beauty and aesthetic complexity in the vernacular. In the minds not only of whites but of privileged-class blacks, vernacular culture is seen as lacking complexity and depth. Even though black folks like Henry Louis Gates will step up in defense of "vernacular culture," the way they mount their defense has this patronizing aura, like, "We know better than these down-low black people what they really mean, and we can be the mediators between them and the dominant white culture."

(though she makes the extension from white to privileged-class black defense of rap, the same criticism could easily be launched at my previous post in which I talk about Z-Ro's prison interview, or really anything I've written in the blog thus far, and probably will write, ever in relation to "the black vernacular.")

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Z-Ro the crooked know the key to survival is fuck friends"

Currently listening to - Z-Ro - King of Tha Ghetto - Power (released May 2007)

(demagogic ploy aimed right at your heart)
Have you seen this video?

It's nowhere near indicative of Z-Ro's autobiographical abilities nor his keen insight into societal problems. He doesn't make many fully coherent statements, and it comes off like he's a horrible interviewer. The entire set-up is absurd, though. A sycophantic rap blogger is momentarily breaking him out of penitential routine to talk about an album he didn't get to see the release of or celebrate the reaping from. Instead he gets biblical and talks about Christian apologia and reaping what he's sewn. That he constantly follows up his statements with a "you know" only to be met with blind, unknowing enthusiasm can easily be derided as an inability to properly communicate his thoughts, but he's also being asked to discuss on a soon-to-be widely distributed video what led him to where he is. For the record, he's in the Pam LYNCHner State Jail! Listen to the way he alludes to "situations" that he "found" himself in on the streets. That's the sound of someone who's already served life before hitting 30. Of course that's not what he's in there for but his gravel-throated utter sounds like he's channeling the dead that take up grave stones in his songs.
Eventually it seems like the the interviewer catches on to the absurdity of the situation and makes an onslaught of nonsense rhetoricals, as if pulling Z-Ro's teeth would be nothing without some dental work, asking him if he'd ever thought he'd make it on street flavor from the inside of a state correctional and then answering for him by saying it's awesome. Everything he may have wanted to know, though, is in his right hand already. You have to wonder what Z-Ro felt like walking back to his cell, probably convinced his convictions in regards to others were dead on, yet again solidifying his self-imposed exile from those around him, which, as the interview probably knows, was something well worked out in his lyrics. I have nothing against interviewing Z-Ro in jail, it probably gave him a chance to break out from the monotony of prison life, but Z-Ro doesn't come off like someone that wants to be taken out of his solitude. He's seen what the world has to offer and therefore desperately clings to Jesus in an effort to cash in on the broken promise of righteous living. What other explanation for the volatile bloodletting in a hail of gunpowder than the raging hellfire below. Well, you might say there's an existential nothingness that also highlights the arbitrary nature of man's suffering, but that doesn't give a satisfying answer as to what would drive this (neither does the devil, but fire and brimstone's legacy can pave way for this):

Man they tied up my nigga, and sawed off his head
The cold part about it, they ain't even take no bread

Now, if you haven't listened to Z-Ro, then here's a good primer, a Z-Ro Mix courtesy of Cocaine Blunts. It's not chronological, taking time to reach back to his solo debut, Look What You Did To Me while climbing round I'm Still Livin', but unfortunately doesn't include Z-Ro's exegesis "Another Song" from Let The Truth Be Told in which he apologizes to his fans for not having any upbeat club songs or songs that would make 'em smile by way of osmosis since Z-Ro would be rapping about having inner peace, then, over one of the happiest beats ever laid on him, goes on to rap about not being capable of writing such a song because he is never at peace, and lists the life-worn reasons that make up the why not. What it does include is the closing track on The Life of Joseph W. McVey, Happy Feelingz, in which he pulls the same stunt and raps about why he needs Lexapro. Aside from any of the three Geto Boys' wrangling with depression I've rarely heard rappers break down between bouts of depressive violence to talk about anti-depressants. It's only a line, but it's in line with his intensely confessional approach to rapping. Z-Ro may indulge in Don diva status, but more often than not finds himself entirely unconstrained by hierarchical corpse climbing, abandoning the crime syndicate to just be alone. Which is why the lyrical trajectory from I'm Still Living to his new album Power is so depressing in that in between depressive bouts of introspective solitude he jumps back on the gangster tropes and keeps it "real". This, though, is entirely selfish of me, considering my view of quality is how depressive the subject matter gets. When Z-Ro indulges in those tropes he sometimes sounds entirely comfortable not rapping about how much life sucks in reality. He weaves that weariness into his narratives but sometimes gives off that gangster fuck-all that sounds a lot more helpful than endless mining of one's demons for a way out. That too, though, is dismissive of something.
Consider the packaging and production on Power. The CD (Rap-A-Lot hates vinyl lovers), despite being a RAL release, seems to boast of itself as a tangential project under the moniker King of Tha Ghetto (a monarchic staff wielded multiple times in his oeuvre). When I first unwrapped the album (I had ignored the subtitle) I noticed the phrase "The Under Ground So Hard It Should Be A Real Album" and worried I had accidentally stumbled onto a quick fix compilation album in anticipation for something I should have waited for. I researched it and instead found it's rumoured to have been recorded in one week to satisfy fans with a quick fix before Z-Ro had to endure his next prison bid. But instead of that organic southern drawl or powerhouse Rap-A-Lot roster production, all of the tracks are produced by Z-Ro and Z-Ro alone. Considering the time slot the production work is impressive. Z-Ro knows what he sounds good on but also kind of just sticks to a pattern of stable beats. I first listened to it on headphones and the beats seemed less like a cohesive whole than a compartmentalized consistency of efficiently pro-tooled parts. No doubt they get the job done, but Z-Ro's voice has an authorial quality that seems to drift from the aether with the immediacy of a monsoon, so natural it's not even aware of its function as a wreck-inducing force of destruction. Like a construction crew falling prey to an accident while attempting to build a wall of desponden- okay, that's high-falutin' lameness, but if you listen to this man speak, you'll feel like your stepping in on something you didn't need to hear, like a deeply personal and awkwardly troubling conversation just enough within earshot to let you know not even a grief counselor could make something out of it. And sometimes the beats didn't live up to that. (Update, first time I heard this was on headphones. Second time I turned up the stereo speakers and it sounded pretty great).
I mention the aural aesthetic as an alternative to the lyrics because just hearing him is heartbreaking. On Power, no matter what he's singing or rapping about, he sounds like he's just biding his time until his time is out. The piano chords chosen are rarely triumphant and the guitar lines are wistful. The only dramatic force heard is that of dejected frustration. But I'm making it out to be a pity case, mother fucker knows how to get down. Just listen to the funk outs on Let The Truth Be Told. And as much as I'm making the beats out to be the aural equivalent of Emily Dickinson Z-Ro is just at skilled at dropping hooks. Once you get past what makes him tick, you also just want to bide your time along with him via his croons.
My introduction was I'm Still Living, where the only song to indulge in any senseless violence was M-16 (a stripped down, original version of which appears on Power). The rest of the songs found Z-Ro fed up with senseless violence, calling out the streets and people keeping it real for taking up the mantle of responsibility in their self-destruction. Now, I'm not running game on the hood with any anti-welfare tirades, dude's been in the shit and is trying to see up over what's gone down on his block, consider the opening track (also sung by Z-Ro, who has one of the finest voices ever to grace a gravelly-throated rapper's throat):

the hook (the hook!):

Damn these city streets, are hard to live in
Eighty percent of my partnas are dead, the rest in prison
All I see is the struggle, my tears drown my vision
I never forget to mention, god damn these city streets

And, in order to demonstrate his keen societal insight i'll bop this here, an almost hopeful lament about trying to keep things rolling, turning Spandau Ballet's True into a kind of reluctant hood anthem:

Lil' kids, witness father and uncles pass on
Then they grow up, to get they blast on
Everybody saying, that the black community is out control
Even in the suburbs, brains get blown
They blame rap, for the murder rate
But people go to the movies, and see murder for seven dollars then they imitate
What they done seen, on Terminator 1 through 3
Swarchengger's the Governor, we get L-I-F-E
Innocent victims, get a free ride to the grave
People that work hard get robbed, for every penny they save
It's like it ain't gon ever change, this world we live in cold
I hit my Hypnotic, then I continue to roll

It's what people completely missed in Jeremiah Wright's growling thunder, you don't locate a problem by making non-divisive statements, you don't take baby steps by patronizing it, you cry your heart out because you've had it. You don't care who's ignorance is going to be offended, you know what's real because you live it and you want it to stop. As God is the pastor's backbone, so it is Z-Ro's and the only thing he claims to find solace in is the lord. And I say claim because someone who's found solace in the lord isn't constantly talking about praying to find solace in the lord. It's someone desperate for anything but "this":

I'm 27, but I'm feeling 71
I pray so much, I feel like I'm kin to the heavenly son
I dodge bullets on the daily, if I don't duck I'm stuck
Then I'll be another murder case, in back of that black truck

Now, David Banner can talk all day about straddling the line between societal remedy and fuck-all commercialism, proudly boasting about his post-modern ploy to hit the radio and prove it's soullessness by first making sensationally violent and sexed up pop songs and then juxtaposing them with real talk, thereby proving the pull that the former has and the latter doesn't. Z-Ro isn't really at a place where he'd even bother pulling something like that, because one, who on the radio would play his songs? and two, who gives a fuck about the radio? Yeah, he's only 27 there, but it won't be any different any time before he's 71 and he knows it. Instead, he made an entire album of real talk dedicated to his most dedicated listeners or really to anyone who'll bother to listen. As far as I'm concerned it eludes rap canonization by the nature of its constricting locality. Niche marketing will keep it from broadsweep recognition and its distended belly is hungry less for fame than a solution to its ever inflating problem. It's one of the most effectively depressing albums I've ever heard, and the only recognition it needs is help.
The only help constantly fallen back on is GOD. Z-Ro, kind of goofily, attempts to make over the image of a thug by calling himself a True Hero Under God. But don't get him wrong, he has much more in common with liberation theology than he does with Eric A. Rudolph, consider this:

Everyday I see my people in poverty,
and when I say my people I mean everybody I see,
ain't no discrimination on Caucasians,
or Asian or Mexicans, lesbians or the gay men,
everybody gotta day to die and they wont miss it
better be ready for company when death come visit.
man I wish adam and eve wouldn't have been in the garden,
got the devil swinging at me got me weavin and bobbin,
homies are bein murdered by lieutenants and seargants,
life's weeds were rooted just as soon as we harvest
searchin' for sunshine, suffocated by darkness,
lookin for protection in court tippin there fortress,
they tell me when I make it there'll be no more pain,
aint gotta be nervous about someone knowin ya name,
everybody is your family theres love around you,
even on earth god is your upper, people down you

When Dostoyevsky writes about Alyosha's Christian compassion, this is likely what he's talking about.
Of the handful of reviews there are for Power (there are about two), noted is Rap-A-Lot's standard of lackluster (meaning no apparent) promotion. Z-Ro seems to be entirely aware of that and not particularly worried as this is just another album in his steadily growing catalogue and he knows that those who'll buy it are those that want it and they'll appreciate it. And on Lovely Day he even gives in to those fans looking for an upbeat song. Lovely Day, while still touching on fucking other people up, does that more out of obligation to habit instead encapsulating escapism by getting caught up in a good mood.

I must'a, woke up this morning on the right side of bed
Cause I can't find nothing to bitch about, even though I'm low on bread...
So chill homie, for real homie
Cause you don't wanna die, and I don't wanna kill homie
But I will homie...Except for right now, cause all I wanna do is lay back

Like that fleeting feeling it doesn't last long, and the next song comes on, back to the uppers. Two songs later is Pimp C, Spice 1 collaboration called Murder'ra where he laments "I used to think I'd have a future in basketball, but now all I do is put people in caskets y'all". There's a song on I'm Still Livin' where he talks about being riled growing up for being an egghead but now he's got gucci bedspreads, but you watch the prison interview and it honestly does not look like he's that excited to have made it on street flavor from inside the penitentiary. Like he really wants to have to be drowning in solitude looking to god again. Making his money releasing songs where "the key to survival is fuck friends."

Since Z-Ro's prison bids are on fairly trivial charges like possession of a controlled substance (something which he repeatedly illustrates helps him stay calm, war on drugs be damned), or parole violation, he'll be back soon to make another one (unless he already is and I just don't know, which is where I stand on a lot of things). Still not selling gold or platinum, instead doling out parts of his life so he can Continue 2 Roll.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Raise your sons, train your husband."

Mother of the Bride (Egypt, 1963) starring Tahiya Karioka and Emad Hamdi.
The above is advice is given to the eldest daughter of a nine deep family by the matriarch (Karioka), her daughter having encountered a bump in confidence with her fiance, telling her to hold out in resentment until he apologizes in order to ensure she has the upper hand in the relationship. This of course is swiftly discarded once the mother leaves the room as Ahlam, the daughter, is not her mother, and Galal, her fiance, is not his father. They both though will be inheriting a long standing tradition of marital union that, judging from the familial chaos surrounding the moment, portends their wide-eyed infatuation with marrying at first sight will have to be scrupulously managed in order to maintain at least some kind of semblance.
The film, about a lower class Egyptian family thrown into a tumult when the eldest daughter is eyed upon by a level-six engineer soon to be promoted to fifth, seems to guise itself in the madcap tradition of screwball comedy but only to heighten the ridiculousness of adhering to societal codes at all costs. The father, played by Hamdi, is a humble government bureaucrat who, even with the dowry put down by the groom's family, simply cannot afford the interior decoration that makes up the daughter's family's half of the engagement.
The first scene, an extended sequence in which multiple explosions of barely contained vitriol erupt around the morning's infant feeding routine (as the mother is still popping out kids making it seven and counting), while the father awaits news of a raise, would be epic comedy (which it is played for) if not for the utter desperation in which the mother and father attempt to rein in the siblings. That they entirely avoid parental nuance, opting instead to launch siblings onto another's resonsibility where, in a round robin of frustrated dismissal, everyone is at least once encountered with some kind of hyperbolic threat of violence, with the underworld invoked to ensure the ill will is felt. The chaos with which the routine is played out, instead of just evoking laughs (which it does, wonderfully) goes further and puts on display the factors required for two people to raise their pension.
The first scene on youtube!
One of the central points of the film is the father's inability to cash his government pension in order to afford the extravagances the wedding entails due to a bureaucratic rule that requires one wait a month before approval goes through the right offices. Upon realization that desperate times call for desperate measures, his expression grows sullen. His wife inquires as to why his character is so grave, he tells her he meant to give the pension to her. She damns the pension, saying she doesn't need. Why? She birthed seven children!
The eldest daughter opted to stay home instead of going to college, in order to help raise the family. The second eldest daughter plans to go to college and can't understand why her sister won't do the same. The eldest male, noticing the possibility of their abandoning the household, takes on a paternal responsibility and consistently attempts to thwart any of his sisters' romances. The second eldest of the sons is a violin player, wheeling and dealing in order to afford strings for his violin. The youngest son, probably five, is just a hustler with no end goal in mind. The youngest daughter is just defiantly holding herself up amid the ruckus. The baby, well, the baby is the handbasket they all send each other to hell in. We learn all of this within the first ten minutes merely by paying attention to what's being shouted.
There are some startling moments, such as the mother's nonchalant revelation to the groom's family that she had Ahlam at age 11 (perhaps I misunderstood, but she repeated it multiple times after being asked "oh, really" so I assume I didn't), yet there is no contempt towards her husband or her situation per se (the unbearably frustrated yelling indicates otherwise), as they reflect nostalgically on their beginnings while she frets over her daughter's departure, comforting herself with the notion, based on experience, that one falls in love after marriage. Or the second eldest daughter's choices in regards to her future plans, that, whether or not the intent of the filmmakers, still reflects the awkward transition into a modern society. Or the way the kids are cruelly dismissed by exhausted parentals without the audience ever once doubting their devotion to upholding a happy family. It's a shame the production of family films are taken for granted now, with films like Cheaper by the Dozen displaying affluent white families merely having children because they can, allowing them to run wild while the parent's main concern is their self-image. A film like Mother of the Bride would have fallen apart due to marketing pressures in which each of the film's elements would have to have been compromised in one way or another to appease a certain demographic. The chaotic familial maneuvering would have been debased to mere hijinks and schmaltz, whereas the matrimony would have been played for soft rom com a la Father of the Bride (which somehow managed to conflate whimsy voice overs with introspection), the classist tension cosmetically reconstructed as eccentric quirks (MBFGW), the eventual solutions played like morality plays and so on. The way this film balances all of those without submitting to one allows for one of the most dizzying wedding sequences put on film, as the climactic barrage of brass bands and belly dancing amid seemingly insoluble grief is great.
Apparently the mother and the father in the film are Egyptian film legends from the country's golden age of cinema. This was the only movie available with either of them on netflix. My mother insisted on renting it out of nostalgia for when she would sit around with her family and watch Egyptian films every night on Israeli television. I'm glad she did but saddened at the prospect of being bereft of most what that age had to offer.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sorry, couldn't come in today, I was having a dream

A (possibly) illuminating (as in blindingly white) anecdote in light of the anniversary of the Reverend's assassination:
This dates back to something my pops relayed to me on Martin Luther King day. My parents are in the dessert catering business and my father rode out on deliveries. I'm not sure if it was in light of a mix up of some kind or it was just to make sure the details were secure on a particular invoice, but he calls the head chef at one of the kitchens he's delivering to and one of his underlings picks up. The person who picks up is Carlos, whom my father points out is black as ash (which is kind of grey isn't it?), and he informs my dad that the head chef isn't in. My father inquires as to whether he's sick. As it turns out, he is not, he just took the day off saying it was Martin Luther King Day. Now, the head chef is the only one who didn't show up to work that day. More importantly, he's the only one on his staff who is white.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Children Underground

Not to forever instill a dwindling distillation of hope, but I just finished watching a documentary called Children Underground which apparently is on youtube and it further solidifies my view of Romanian cinema as the black hole on which humanity rests on. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, guising itself as a black comedy that painstakingly details the flaws of the Romanian healthcare system through its negligence of a dying old widow, inadvertently blacks out sun blots faster than any Bergman monologue on existentialism could aim for. All without any discussion of it, just a naturalistic following through of peripheral snippets from the lives that continue around the central subject, itself becoming a peripheral snippet as the time wears on. 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days takes on totalitarianism and classism without ever mentioning any of them, and it's stark portrayal of abortion without hypnotic moral compass dangling again just lays it out.
Children Underground perfectly rounds out 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days in that it shows the lives of five out of countless children who abandoned their homes and orphanages out of desperation, something the filmmaker links directly to Ceascescu's ban of contraceptives in order to build up the workforce. They band up but squander in increasing desolation out out in the streets. In eschewing documentary narrative techniques and following the kids around their daily wares through their makeshift bucharest subway home or various institutions that for a glimmering blip offer them a way out before, in what feels like logical inevitability, fading out like a dead star, they become more fleshed out than sound bites in an evening news clip, the filmmaker's intent. Any ways, the film itself does more talking via silent immersion than anything in my dumbfounded post viewing analysis.