Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If you need a non-PC laugh...

Listen to this interview with Larry Wilmore in an interview on KUOW. For more non-PC, I heard Junot Diaz at Seattle Arts & Lectures this evening reading from a new story on infidelity and from his Pulitzer Prize winner The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Mercy

A Mercy A Mercy by Toni Morrison

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The images and descriptions were vintage Morrison: evocative, poetic. The characters, while of various types, were nonetheless sympathetic and interesting. I wish the book had been longer: more story, longer time period. The ending was sad: but the lives of the types of people inhabiting this book are sad and the endings rarely satisfactory. Still, I would have liked an ending with more of a future.

Black Life in Oklahoma in the 1920's on Film

Be sure to read this article from the NYT about an incredible collection of silent film reels made in the 1920's by a black minister traveling around Oklahoma to organise churches and build congregations: early community organizing! DVD copies of these films are being offered for sale for......$40K-60K.....maybe some philanthropist here in Seattle will buy an edition and have a viewing for the rest of us.
This photo is by Gordon Parks, one of the most amazingly creative people in the last century.

Desmond Tutu, Obama, & Iraq

NYT printed a feed from Agence France-Presse reporting that Desmond Tutu called on President Obama to apologise to the world for the war in Iraq and to the people of Iraq for the misery the US has inflicted on them. That is something Shrub could never have been able to accomplish. And the bile Obama would have to swallow to do this, as much as I would want it done, would take such inner strength. Only Obama could do it and we would all have to eat the bitter herbs with him inorder to taste the sweetness of a conscience somewhat assuaged.

Gus is posing....again

He must wait until Barbara appears with her camera.....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aaah, Wally!

Yesterday was Wallace Stegner's centennial, 18 February 2009. There have been events and celebrations all over the West, where Stegner's footprints are to be found. Timothy Egan wrote a touching opinion piece in the online version of the NYT. The comments on Egan's column are mostly a loving, reverent homage to a great writer and good human. There were a few of the usual acrimonious remarks referencing the plagiarism issue surrounding Angle of Repose and “Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays: A Tribal Voice,” by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Both of these views bear paying attention to and then moving on. Of interest is the sheer number of people lauding both his fiction and non-fiction and his influence in environmental legislation. Be sure to read One Way to Spell Man and One Nation; Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, Wolf Willow, and Mormon Country.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Delicious breakfast

Doesn't this look just scrumptious? Check out the recipe in today's NYT Dining & Wine article on savory morning meals.


Jonathan Crush of the South African Migration Project (SAMP) wrote an excellent article in July 2008 on "South Africa is struggling to define a post-apartheid migration policy that is responsive to its changing role in Africa, the relationship between migration and development, and the country's rampant xenophobia, seen most graphically in May 2008". I suggest that anyone interested in migration issues around the world should subscribe to the newsletter produced by Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Better yet, support their work with a donation. Understanding how different countries manage to deal/not deal with migration problems can only help people develop informed opinions about migration/immigration issues facing us.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Someone was thinking creatively.....

The Travel section in Sunday's New York Times had an article on the cruise business in times of trouble. And clearly, some cruise planner did some deep, and interesting, thinking! One of the new ideas is to cruise up the Columbia River, through the beautiful Gorge (see photo) and head to Hood River and Walla Walla...what a destination! The wineries are going to just love this.

Lark and Termite

Lark and Termite Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I could not put this book down! Phillips' prose is poetic. The various narrative points of view work well...overlapping, interweaving. The book takes place over three days in two time periods. The characters are remarkable in their ordinariness. That Phillips is able to tell part of the story from the point of view of a child with Downs' Syndrome is telling.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

National Museum of the American Indian

There is an exhibit of Fritz Scholder's work at the The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)in Washington D.C. The title of Scholder's show is "indian/not indian". His work is provocative and startling. He caused a major ruckus in the Indian world and the Indian/notIndian art world when he first surfaced and began expressing himself...beginning at age 14. In many ways, this exhibit and his life's work describes the tension surrounding the beginnings of this museum and continues to be felt while wandering through the permanent exhibits. Beginning with the design of the building (looks very much like a building Gaudi might have designed in Barcelona!) through to the choice of what/how Indian life (not death or the past) is portrayed, is the question of what is this museum, what does it/should it say, who is the targeted audience, what is it's place in the larger world. The purported goal of NMAI: "works in collaboration with the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere and Hawai‘i to protect and foster indigenous cultures, reaffirm traditions and beliefs, encourage contemporary artistic expression, and provide a forum for Native voice". While housing some of the world's most extensive collections of objects, artifacts, photographic record of Indian life and history in the Western Hemisphere, little of this is on display. The permanent exhibits offer the visitor views of contemporary lives of Indians, mostly those in North America; only one group each of people in Brazil, the Caribbean, and central America are featured. I don't doubt that for researchers, professional or amateur, there is a wealth of information to be found. And I am sure that one of the goals is that NMAI not be another forum for old school geography of "funny people, funny places". But the sense I left with was very beautiful presentation, not much depth. There is a cafeteria with foods from five geographic regions in North/Central America: while there were tasty offerings and interesting dishes to be sampled, all of them had buffalo meat on offer....a surprising offering for the Pacific Northwest, the Southeast......
Thinking about this museum and the questions it raised for me, is the larger issue of how the past (and the present with all its problems and delights) belongs to all humanity and that we all need to take ownership of cultural preservation and appreciation and that defining who we are and choose to be, cannot be imposed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Islam and South Africa

A very interesting story appeared in today's Seattle P-I on a new visa requirement by the British government for visitors from South Africa. The concern is about controlling the movement of Islamic militants. What is of interest to me, is that since 1996, I have noticed an increased presence of Islamic militancy in the urban areas and a subsequent movement of Islam into remote rural areas, such as those in the Transkei in the photo above. I was part of an interview at a Durban mosque in 1996, where the imam delivered a rant as good as any Taliban message after 2001. In 2005, we noticed that madrases have been opened way out in the middle-of-nowhere where one used to find Christian missionaries. In towns on the Wild Coast, Muslim business owners will only hire people who convert. In a country of massive unemployment, this is a powerful incentive. South Africa has a large, interesting Muslim population with a rich heritage from diverse nations. The changes in the last two decades mirror the changes that have taken place in other parts of the world with regard to political Islam.
This photo is of a mosque in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
See the article in the Mail & Guardian on Britain's new visa requirements.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Humour, courtesy of Rimas

The premise is that after Ben & Jerry's concocted an ice cream flavor in honor of Barack Obama — it was called Yes, Pecan — they (or someone) wanted to come up with a flavor to honor George W. Bush. Here are some of the suggestions...

Grape Depression*
Abu Grape*
Cluster Fudge*
Nut'n Accomplished*
Iraqi Road*
Chock 'n Awe*
Impeach Cobbler*
Melon Head*
Good Riddance, You Lousy bleep bleep*
Heck of a Job, Brownie*
Neocon Politan*
Rocky Road to Fascism*
The Reese's-cession*
Cookie D'oh*
The Housing Crunch*
Nougalar Proliferation*
Death by Chocolate*
Death by Torture*
Credit Crunch*
Country Pumpkin*
Chunky Monkey in Chief*
George Bush Doesn't Care about Dark Chocolate*
Chocolate Chimp*
Bloody Sundae*
Caramel Preemptive Stripe*
Pretzel Choker*
I Broke the Law and Am Responsible For the Deaths of Thousands...With Nuts*

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Tale of Communists, Nazis, Farmers, Villagers, and the Absent Ones: Poland in 1990's

In the Memory of the Forest In the Memory of the Forest by Charles Powers

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
While I only gave this book 3 stars, I ended up thinking the second half was far superior to the first half. The characters were, to some extent, archetypal of various time periods in recent Polish history. But the author had some very interesting observations of the physical landscape that were, in turn, poetic and lyrical or just plain informative. The story is sad on many levels, just as life often is.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Birds, Humans, Music, Philosophy

Jonathan Rosen's new book "The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature", is a reassuring reflection on the role birds play in the lives of each of us, regardless of whether or not we view ourselves as birdwatchers. Listen to an interview with him on KUOW. Rosen's book was also discussed in an audio essay on NPR by Jacki Lyden in February 2008 and on the Freakonomics blog in April 2007. Several musicians have worked extensively with birds, both to analyse their songs and compare them to human music. One is David Hindley of Great Britain. Another is a flutist whose name I cannot think of who has composed pieces, played them around birds, and listened to and recorded how birds responded to his music and made changes and contributions of their own. Rosen believes that birds allow us all (especially urbanites) to tap into the rhythms of unfettered wilderness.
Photo by Jennifer Griffiths. Goliath Heron, Lucia Lake, South Africa

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Great Author, Great Books

Morality Play Morality Play by Barry Unsworth

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of the best books I have read! It is a great AIDS parable. All of Unsworth's books that I have read have been excellent; read this brief bio. My absolute favourite is Sacred Hunger...an excellent look at slavery in all its manifestations: economic, social, psychological. His new book is about Iraq: Land of Marvels:A Novel. Read the LA Times review. The book was also given great reviews in the Financial Times of London. He was recently in Seattle.

View all my reviews.

Monday, February 2, 2009

One Person Can Make A Difference

If ever one is tempted to shirk and shrink from action, thinking that a mere mortal individual cannot make change, here is an example of one person taking action and making a tremendous difference. The Migration Policy Institute tracks the movements of people around the world and much of their information comes from the work of Kirin Kalia. There was a great story about her in the New York Times 4 February 2008. The MPI holds very interesting meetings, workshops, and seminars in Washington D.C. Get on their mailing list for refugee and migration information and to get invitations to their events.