Friday, April 29, 2016

The Cinema of Angola

The following is part of a series in which I research the cinema of various African countries, and present what I find.

Beginning in the 1500s, Angola was colonized by Portugal, mainly for acquiring slaves for Brazilian plantations.  Beginning in the 1880s, Britain and Portugal began exploiting Angolan resources—particularly minerals and oil—employing various forced-labour and voluntary labour systems.  Independence was achieved in 1975 after a war of liberation. That same year, Angola descended into an intense civil war that lasted until 2002.  Despite Angola’s has vast mineral and oil reserves, the standard of living remains low for the majority of the population, and life expectancy and infant mortality rates in Angola are among the worst in the world.  Angola's economic growth is highly uneven, with the majority of the nation's wealth concentrated in a disproportionately small sector of the population.  Due to financial and political problems, the Angolan film industry at present is almost non-existent.  However, despite these problems, a few brave filmmakers have managed to make powerful films which speak to the ongoing struggles of postcolonial Angola.  Here are eight important Angolan films:

Sambizanga (1972), directed by Sarah Maldoror. Set in 1961 at the onset of the Angolan War of Independence, it follows the struggles of Angolan militants involved with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), an anti-colonial political movement of which Maldoror's husband, Mario Coelho Pinto de Andrade, was a leader. The film is based on the novella A vida verdadeira de Domingos Xavier ("The Real Life of Domingos Xavier") by Angolan writer Jose Luandino Vieira.  Sambizanga is the name of the working-class neighbourhood in Luanda where a Portuguese prison was located to which many Angolan militants were taken to be tortured and killed. On February 4, 1961, this prison was attacked by MPLA forces. The film begins with the arrest of Angolan revolutionary Domingos Xavier by Portuguese colonial officials. Xavier is taken to the prison in Sambizanga where he is at risk of being tortured to death for not giving the Portuguese the names of his fellow dissidents. The film follows Xavier's wife, Maria, who searches from jail to jail trying to discover what has become of her husband. Most of the actors were non-professionals who were in some ways involved with African anti-colonial movements, such as the MPLA and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde.  The Village Voice compared Sambizanga to Soviet Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin in terms of its political significance.

Les Oubliées (The Forgotten Women) (1996) directed by Anne-Laure Folly.  A documentary which takes the form of interviews with the women of Angola, showing the heavy cost of war on women.  Folly lets women tell their own stories, showing the women from mid- or close-range, forcing the viewer to focus on their faces rather than their bodies or surroundings, and takes the time to let them say what they have to say, giving a unique women's perspective of the conflict.  Folly participates in the film through her voice-over, giving a subjective element. She admits that she is not familiar with Angola, and certainly is not an authority. The film thus becomes a record of Folly's own journey of discovery.

The Hero (2005) directed by Zeze Gamboa.  A film about the life of average Angolans after the Angolan Civil War, it follows the lives of four individuals; Vitório, a war veteran crippled by a landmine who returns to Luanda; Manu, a young boy searching for his soldier father; Joana, a teacher who mentors the boy, and Judite (later known as Maria Barbara), a prostitute who begins a romantic relationship with Vitório. The Hero won the 2005 Sundance World Dramatic Cinema Jury Grand Prize.

Hollow City (2004) Directed by Maria Joao Ganga. One of the first films to be produced in Angola since the end of the Civil War, and the first film produced by an Angolan woman. A group of children, fleeing the war, is taken to Luanda accompanied by a nun. 12-year-old N'Dala, however, decides to leave the group and to check out the city. The nun then starts her unceasing quest for the missing boy. N'Dala, only carrying a textile bag and a doll made of wire, walks through the busy streets filled with people and traffic. Then he meets Joka, a fringe figure who persuades him to help with a robbery in exchange for money. With this film, Maria Joao Ganga wanted to provide a realistic sketch of the bitter political situation in Angola. One of her most important motivations for making In the Empty City was to provide a picture of an African city without awakening feelings of a patronizing sympathy or associations with the sensationalism of war.

The Great Kilapy (2012) directed by Zézé Gamboa.  Joao Fraga is a young Angolan, descendant of a rich family from the colonial period. This mestizo boy just wants to live his life, having fun with friends and spending his money. Although he is the Senior Executive of National Bank of Angola, he diverts the institution's own funds, distributing money to colleagues and activists for the liberation of Angola. Joao goes to jail, but when he gets out of prison, is upheld by society as a local hero.

Death Metal Angola (2012) directed by Jeremy Xido.  Follows a loving Angolan couple, Sonia and Wilker, whose love for death metal music is bringing hope to the town and children of Huambo, and Angola as a country. The devastating reality of Angola's history of wars, and civil unrest has left the country's people torn, broken, and starving for something to give them peace. Sonia, and Wilker's dream to put on the first national rock festival ignites the emotions of the Angolan people, and helps them heal from the war stricken path Angola has left behind. This engaging reality of Angola touches the heart of the viewer, and sheds new light on a music genre that is not well understood.

I Love Kuduro (2013). Directed by Mario Patrocnio.  Kuduro (literally meaning 'hard ass’) is an urban cultural movement that was born in Angola during the last decade of the Civil War. Created in discos and raves in downtown Luanda through a mixture between House and Techno beats and traditional Angolan rhythms, Kuduro spilled over from the center to the suburbs. It rapidly spread throughout Angola, through Africa and now all over the world. 'I LOVE KUDURO' follows the most idolized stars of this urban phenomena including Cabo Snoop, Os Namayer, Francis Boy, Titica, and Os Lambas, that today influences scores of young Africans, musically, in fashion, and overall lifestyle.

Njinga Rainhha de Angola (2013) Directed by Sergio Graciano.  Based on the true story of a 17th century warrior woman who fights for the independence of Angola. After witnessing the murder of her son and watching her people being humiliated by Portuguese colonizers, Njinga will become a Queen and struggle for their liberation embodying the motto: those who stay fight to win.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

I’ve just finished reading an important, eye-opening, and disturbing book by the famous philosopher Hannah Arendt called Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963).  The book began as a series of articles Arendt wrote for The New Yorker, as a reporter covering the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi who was directly involved in implementing the Holocaust.  Though she herself was a Jew who had escaped Hitler’s Germany, Arendt took a lot of criticism for the book, mainly because of the portrait of Eichmann that emerged from her observations.  Rather than portraying him as a vicious, bloodthirsty monster, Arendt portrayed the man as he was—a rather ordinary, not-very-intelligent bureaucrat.  The fact that a man such as this could be involved in the destruction of millions of human beings shatters our neat categories, and forces us to consider profound moral questions like: what are the conditions under which an “ordinary” person can become complicit in atrocities?  The book is haunting in its implications and relevance for our times.  For this post, I’d like to share some quotations of Arendt’s book that I found particularly horrifying, not because they are “graphic” but because they are frighteningly relevant (I have included chapter titles in bold).

The Accused

“As for his (Eichmann’s) conscience, he remembered perfectly well that he would have had a bad conscience only if he had not done what he had been ordered to do—to ship millions of men, women, and children to their death with great zeal and with the most meticulous care.”

“Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him (Eichmann) as ‘normal’—‘More normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him,’ one of them was said to have exclaimed, while another found that his whole psychological outlook, his attitude toward his wife and his children, mother and father, brothers, sisters, and friends, was ‘not only normal but most desirable’—and finally the minister who had paid regular visits to him in prison after the Supreme Court had finished hearing his appeal reassured everybody by declaring Eichmann to be ‘a man with very positive ideas.’”

“The judges did not believe him (Eichmann) because they were too good, and perhaps also too conscious of the very foundations of their profession, to admit that an average, ‘normal’ person, neither feeble-minded nor indoctrinated nor cynical, could be perfectly incapable from telling right from wrong.”

“He (Eichmann) had no time and less desire to be properly informed, he did not even know the Party program, he never read Mein Kampf.  Kaltnbrunner had said to him: Why not join the S.S.? And he had replied, Why not?  That was now it had happened, and that was about all there was to it.”

“Thus bored to distraction, he (Eichmann) heard that the Security Service of the Reichsfurer S.S. (Himmler’s Sicherheitsdienst, or S.D., as I shall call it henceforth) had jobs open, and applied immediately.”

An Expert on the Jewish Question

“There were two things he could do well, better than others: he could organize and he could negotiate.”

“A more specific, and also more decisive, flaw in Eichmann’s character was his almost total inability ever to look at anything from the other fellow’s point of view.”

“The horrible can be not only ludicrous but outright funny.”

“He apologized, saying ‘Officialese is my only language.’  The point here is that officialese became his language because he was genuinely incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a cliche. (Was it these cliches that the psychiatrists thought so ‘normal’ and ‘desirable’?  Are these the ‘positive ideas’ a clergyman hopes for in those to whose souls he ministers?)”

“Eichmann, despite his rather bad memory, repeated word for word the same stock phrases and self-invented cliches (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliche).”

“His inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.”

“Now and then, the comedy breaks into the horror itself, and results in stories, presumably true enough, whose macabre humor easily surpasses that of any Surrealist invention.”

“German society of eighty million people had been shielded against reality and factuality by exactly the same means, the same self-deception, lies, and stupidity that had now become ingrained in Eichmann’s mentality.”

“The practice of self-deception had become so common, almost a moral prerequisite for survival.”

“The accused had at his disposal a different elating cliche for each period of his life and each of its activities.”

“Everybody could see that this man was not a ‘monster,’ but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown.”

The First Solution: Expulsion

“Eichmann’s memory functioned only in respect to things that had had a direct bearing upon his career.”

“Prosecution and judges were in agreement that Eichmann underwent a genuine and lasting personality change when he was promoted to a post with executive powers.”

The Second Solution: Concentration

“This ‘objective’ attitude—talking about concentration camps in terms of ‘administration’ and about extermination camps in terms of ‘economy’—was typical of the S.S. mentality, and something Eichmann, at the trial, was still very proud of.”

“Even if we concentrate our attention only upon the police machinery and disregard all the other offices, the picture is absurdly complicated.”

“It was customary at the time of the war-crime trials to put as much blame as possible on those who were absent or believed to be dead.”

“For the first (and almost the last) time in his life in the S.S., he was compelled by circumstances to take the initiative, to see if he could ‘give birth to an idea.’”

“It was as though this story ran along a different tape in his memory, as it was this taped memory that showed itself to be proof against reason and argument and information and insight of any kind.”

“Such famous German firms as I.G. Farben, the Krupp Werke, and Siemens-Schuckert Werke had established plants in Auschwitz as well as near the Lublin death camps.  Cooperation between the S.S. and the businessmen was excellent; Hoss of Auschwitz testified to very cordial social relations with the I.G. Farben representatives.  As for working conditions, the idea was clearly to kill through labor.”

“To evacuate and deport Jews had become routine business; what stuck in his mind was bowling.”

The Final Solution: Killing

“All correspondence referring to the matter was subject to rigid ‘language rules,’ and except in the reports from the Einsatzgruppen, it is rare to find documents in which such bald words as ‘extermination,’ ‘liquidation,’ or ‘killing’ occur.  The prescribed code names for killing were ‘final solution,’ ‘evacuation,’ and ‘special treatment.’”

“Eichmann’s great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for ‘language rules.’”

“If today I am shown a gaping wound, I can’t possibly look at it.  I am that type of person, so that very often I was told that I couldn’t have become a doctor.”

“Well, it is horrible what is being done around here; I said young people are being made into sadists.  How can one do that?  Simply bang away at women and children?  That is impossible.  Our people will go mad or become insane, our own people.”

“I saw how a column of naked Jews filed into a large hall to be gassed.  They were killed, as I was told, by something called cyanic acid.”

“He never actually attended a mass execution by shooting, he never actually watched the gassing process.”

“Thus, we are in a position to answer Judge Landau’s question—the question uppermost in the minds of nearly everyone who followed the trial—of whether the accused had a conscience: yes, he had a conscience, and his conscience functioned in the expected way for about four weeks, whereupon it began to function the other way around.”

“The member of the Nazi hierarchy most gifted at solving problems of conscience was Himmler.  He coined slogans, like the famous watchword of the S.S., taken from a Hitler speech before the S.S. in 1931, ‘My Honor is my Loyalty’—catch phrases which Eichmann called ‘winged words’ and the judges ‘empty talk’—and issued them, as Eichmann recalled, ‘around the turn of the year,’ presumably along with a Christmas bonus.”

“Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering.  The trick used by Himmler—who apparently was rather strongly afflicted with these instinctive reactions himself—was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self.  So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!”

The Wannsee Conference, or Pontius Pilate

“The legal experts drew up the necessary legislation for making the victims stateless, which was important on two counts: it made it impossible for any county to inquire into their fate, and it enabled the state in which they were resident to confiscate their property.”

“As Eichmann told it, the most potent factor in the soothing of his own conscience was the simple fact that he could see no one, no one at all, who actually was against the Final Solution.”

Duties of a Law-Abiding Citizen

"So Eichmnann's opportunities for feeling like Pontius Pilate were many, and as the months and the years went by, he lost the need to feel anything at all.  This was the way things were, this was the new law of the land, based on the Fuhrer's order; whatever he did he did, as far as he could see, as a law-abiding citizen.  He did his duty, as he told the police and the court over and over again; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law."

"He was quite capable of sending millions of people to their death, but he was not capable of talking about it in the appropriate manner without being given his 'language rule.'"

"Dr. Servatius himself (Eichmann's defense attorney) had declared, even prior to the trial, that his client's personality was that of 'a common mailman.'"

Deportations from the Reich

"What for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world."

"He always thought within the narrow limits of whatever laws and decrees were valid at a given moment."

Deportations from the Balkans

"Eichmann claimed more than once that his organizational gifts, the coordination of evacuations and deportations achieved by his office, had in effect helped his victims; it had made their fate easier."

Judgment, Appeal, and Execution

"Dr. Servatius replied even more briefly than before: the accused had carried out 'acts of state,' what had happened to him might happen in the future to anyone, the whole civilized world faced this problem."

"His guilt came from his obedience, and obedience is praised as a virtue."

"I am not the monster I am made out to be," Eichmann said, "I am the victim of a fallacy."

"It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us--the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil."


"The saturation bombings of open cities and, above all, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki clearly constituted war crimes in the sense of the Hague Convention...To be sure, the most obvious reason that the violations of the Hague Convention committed by the Allies were never even discussed in legal terms was that the International Military Tribunals were international in name only, that they were in fact the courts of the victors."

"For the truth of the matter was that by the end of the Second World War everybody knew that technical developments in the instruments of violence had made the adoption of 'criminal' warfare inevitable."

"The UN General Assembly had 'twice rejected proposals to consider the establishment of a permanent international criminal court.'"

"The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.  From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together."

"Would any one of them have suffered from a guilty conscience if they had won?"


"That such remoteness from reality and such thoughtlessness can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together which, perhaps, are inherent in man--that was, in fact, the lesson one could learn in Jerusalem."

"It is apparent that this sort of killing can be directed against any given group, that is, that the principle of selection is dependent only upon circumstantial factors."

"In its judgment the court naturally concluded that such a crime could be committed only by a giant bureaucracy using the resources of government."

"It is important to the political and social sciences that the essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them."

"When Hitler said that a day would come in Germany when it would be considered a 'disgrace' to be a jurist, he was speaking with utter consistency of his dream of a perfect bureaucracy."

"These crimes took place within a 'legal order.  That, indeed, was their outstanding characteristic."

"The state crimes committed in its name (which are fully criminal in terms of the dominant legal system of the country where they occur) are considered emergency measures, concessions made to the stringencies of Realpolitik, in order to preserve power and thus assure the continuance of the existing legal order as a whole."

"The argument that we cannot judge if we were not present and involved ourselves seems to convince everyone everywhere, although it seems obvious that if it were true, neither the administration of justice nor the writing of history would ever be possible."

"Every generation, by virtue of being born into a historical continuum, is burdened by the sins of the fathers as it is blessed with the deeds of the ancestors."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An American History Ch. 6: Ethical Dilemmas of Time Travel

The following is from a work-in-progress called An American History.  It's a novel.

No one that I know, in the history of history writing, has ever had a time machine.  Having discovered a time machine in the basement of the Cal State Fullerton Library, I felt I had a distinct advantage over most, if not all, historians prior to me.  How would I use this wonderful invention?  I would try to find out the truth of history and share this with the world in the form of a book, this book.  I wanted to tell history as an eyewitness.  I was aware, of course, of the difficulties even in this.  There would be language barriers and cultural contexts that I might not understand. There was the fact that I could not read the minds of those I was observing.  In some ways, I would be like an alien, plopped down in the alien worlds of the past, trying to make sense of what I saw.  I knew what I saw, and wrote, would not be "truth" in the pure sense of the word, but I was confident that it might, at least, be something new, and maybe useful.

Evenings, after class, I pored over the D.E.M.A.N.D. PROGRAM FILES I'd stolen (or borrowed) from the time machine room.  I wanted to understand how this thing worked.  How did this machine, which had magically whisked me into the ice age, perform these miracles?  And why?  Not being a physicist or scientist, I had considerable difficulty with the terminology and technical jargon.  There was much I did not understand.

What I did understand was that this machine was originally intended as a weapon to shrink and dispose of matter.  In the APPENDIX section of the D.E.M.A.N.D. PROGRAM FILES was a section entitled "Alternative Uses" which explained how the machine's time travel qualities had been used.  Mostly it was used as a kind of temporal garbage disposal.  People whom the U.S. government wanted to "disappear" were sometimes put into the machine.  Jimmy Hoffa, the labor leader who mysteriously disappeared, for example, was sent to medieval Japan, where he lived, rather comfortably, as warlord.  Unfortunately, when it became clear that sending anachronistic historical figures into other eras would sometimes disrupt the flow of history, this use was abandoned.  

For a time, the machine was rented out to chemical companies who wanted to dispose of toxic substances.   A large shipment of radioactive barrels was sent to South America of the 1300s, and caused many Aztecs to contract cancer and glaucoma.  This, too, had unforeseen consequences in the present.  For example, one of the scientists, who had Aztec ancestry, simply popped out of existence, as his great-great-great-great etc. grandfather died of liver failure due to exposure to the toxic chemicals.  

Next, the companies started sending their waste to the future.  This seemed to work better, but was abandoned for undisclosed reasons.  Ultimately, the wormhole/anomaly that the atomic scientists had opened could not be unopened, so it was deemed too dangerous.  The PROGRAM FILES read: "Should the communists obtain this technology, it might have disastrous consequences for our way of life.  They might, for example, send assassins to Revolutionary America and attempt to kill American heroes like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.  This must not happen." 

Like many government secrets, the machine was hidden in relatively plain sight, in a library, which was where I found it.

The time machine would propose many moral dilemmas for me.  First, there was the dilemma of whether I should tell people about what I found.  If a time machine existed, shouldn't the world be made aware of its existence?  Wasn't I being selfish in trying to keep it all to myself.  Perhaps I was.  But I, like the scientists who'd abandoned it, felt that it was dangerous for EVERYONE to know about such a miracle.  I felt that, for the time being, I would simply use it, as a historian, as a writer, and see what I could discover.  Always, in the back of my mind, there was the fear of being discovered.  But another part of my mind assured me that, since no one gave a shit about microfilm anymore, no one would bother me in this library basement.  I was free, as I had always been, to explore in solitude.

I got a "C" in physics in high school.  While I had trouble with the theory and construction of the machine, I slowly began to understand how the machine worked, in a practical sense, which is how most 21st century people understand technology.  Most people, myself included, cannot not explain how even a calculator works, much less a computer or cell phone.  We do know, however, how to use these technologies.  I learned that the "watch" I'd discovered in the empty locker in the time machine room, was a sort of controller, allowing me to roughly choose when and where, in the past, I would visit.  The watch was also my key back to the present.  The watch was very important.  If, for example, the watch broke while I was in the past somewhen, I would most likely be stuck there.  Forever.  This whole endeavor was not without considerable risk.

Thankfully, I was bored and desperate enough to take these risks, and many more which I would later become aware of.  


Monday, April 25, 2016

Moby Dick Ch. 92: Ambergris

The following is from a work-in-progress called "Moby Dick: a Book Report" in which I read each chapter of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, and write about what I read.

In this chapter, Ishmael pontificates upon the strange substance extracted from the bodies of dead whales called ambergris, which was used in making perfumes, scented candles, and hair powders in the 19th century.  It’s strange that such pleasant-smelling stuff should be extracted from “the inglorious bowels of a sick whale.”  This chapter shows that many of the products of “polite society” and “civilization” are taken in rather brutal and unpleasant ways, a fact which remains true today.

An American History Ch. 5: A Time for Leaders

The following is from a work-in-progress called An American History.  It's a novel.

Roland Banks, whose real name was Seeds in the Wind, stood at the crest of a hill overlooking Coyote Hills in Fullerton.  He was an old man, with a face etched deep with lines.  He wore blue jeans and a t-shirt from a 1986 Pow Wow on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  His eyes were intense and sad.  Beside him was a young man, his grandson, Charlie Banks, a student of Native American studies at Chapman University.  This was Roland’s birthday wish, to visit this last stretch of virgin land that was once the tribal land of his people.

The sun was setting and neither man spoke for a long time.  They stood, listening to the gnatcatchers and other native birds, staring at the distant skyline, the miles and miles of development, houses and shopping centers and parking lots that had taken the place of so much native land.  It was almost all gone.  Even this land, Coyote Hills, was not theirs.  It was owned by the Chevron Corporation, who had exploited it for oil for over a hundred years, and was in the process of trying to turn it into a large housing/retail tract.

But for the time being, there was no oil being pumped, no houses being built, only the land—cactus, mustard plants, birds, sage.  Roland plucked a sprig of sage and pressed it to his nose and inhaled deeply. 

“This is a time for leaders,” Roland finally said, “Our people need a leader.”

“You are a leader.  You have kept the stories alive,” Charlie said.

“Sometimes, as a leader, you can get tired.  You can give up, because everything seems hopeless.  You feel like you are standing in front of a bulldozer that never stops rolling.”

“There are no bulldozers here, grandpa.”

“They will come, Charlie, they always come.”

“Do you remember, grandpa, what it was like before all the houses and buildings?”

“I only remember as far back as the orange groves.  My father remembered the sheep on the Bastanchury Ranch.  His father remembered what it was like before.”

“Professor Apodaca told us stories of the Sherman Institute in Riverside, where they tried to teach our people the ways of the white man.”

“They tried to take everything from us.  Our language, our dances, our whole culture.  They tried to scrub us clean of Indian and make us Anglos.”  There was anger and sadness in his tone.  “I was punished for speaking our language.”

“How many people are left who speak the old words?”

“Very few.”

In the distance, a lone coyote howled.

“This is a time for leaders, Charlie.”

“I don’t know how to be a leader,” Charlie said, “I don’t know enough.  I’m not even courageous.  I’m shy.  I’m not someone people follow.”

The old man looked the young man in the eyes and said, “THAT is why you are a leader.  A leader, a true chief, does not see himself as a leader.  He sees himself as a servant.  He sees only the need of his people.  He does not revel in praises.  He sees the deep problems, and devotes himself to fixing them.”

“I don’t see myself that way.  I’m weak, selfish.”

“You are not weak, nor are you selfish.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“Lead.  Learn the old language, tell the old stories, gather together our broken community.”

The old man and the young man stood quiet for a long time, staring at the skyline, and then up into the stars, many of which were obscured by light pollution.

“That is where the old chiefs looked when things were hopeless, when the Spanish began forcing them into the missions, when the Americans began slaughtering them and putting them into places like the Sherman Institute.  When the people were broken, as they are today, a chief looks to the stars and remembers his ancestors, the mighty heroes who are his legacy.  A chief looks to the stars and remembers.”

“Many of the stars are hidden here.”

“But they are still there.  Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there.  See there,” the old man pointed, “There’s your great-great-great grandfather, who was a chief, a great leader.  They are all up there, looking down on us, whispering their stories to us.  When there are too many cars and buildings it becomes hard to hear them, hard even to see their light, but they are there always, whispering to us.  Let us listen for a while.”

The old man and the young man sat down on the dirt, beside a cactus, and both were quiet and still, listening to the whispering darkness.

This is a time for leaders, Charlie thought, and began for the first time to feel the weight of what that might mean.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Anti-Club Playlist: A Tribute to Prince

On Friday nights, I DJ at Mulberry St. Ristorante in Fullerton, aka The Anti-Club.  Last night's theme was a tribute to Prince, the genre-transcending musician who recently passed away.  Here are the Prince songs I played...

“Soft and Wet” from the album For You (1978)

“I Wanna Be Your Lover” from the album Prince (1979).

“Head” from the album Dirty Mind (1980)

“Controversy” from the album Controversy (1981)

“Little Red Corvette” from the album 1999 (1982)

“Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” from the album Diamonds and Pearls (1991)

“Baltimore” from the album HITnRUN Phase Two (2016)

“1000 X’s & O’s” from the album HITnRUN Phase One (2015)

“Housequake” from the album Sign O the Times (1987)

“Compassion” from the album 20Ten (2010)

“Musicology” from the album Musicology (2004)

“Breakfast Can Wait” from the album Art Official Age (2014)

“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” from the album The Gold Experience (1995)

“Letitgo” from the album Come (1994)

“Partyman” from the Batman soundtrack (1989)

“Round and Round” from the album Graffiti Bridge (1990)

“7” from the album Love Symbol (1992)

“Alphabet St.” from the album Lovesexy (1988)

“Raspberry Beret” from the album Around the World in a Day (1985)

“Purple Rain” from the album Purple Rain (1984)

“Kiss” from the album Parade (1986)

Rest in Peace, Prince.  And see you next week at The Anti-Club!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

An American History Ch. 4: 9/11

The following is from a work-in-progress called An American History.  It's a novel.

If you could go back in a time machine, what would you change? This is a question humans have pondered for a long time.  If you asked me that when I was a younger man, I would probably talk about a girl who I liked in college who I never had the guts to ask out.  I would have wanted to go back and ask her out.

I conducted an informal poll of random Americans, and the most common answer to the question, "If you could go back in a time machine, what would you change?" is "9/11."   By this, they are referring of course to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11th, 2001.  When I ask them how they would change things, their answers vary.  Some would call the White House, or major airlines, and warn them. Others would call the victims and tell them not to board the planes.  Still others would board the planes and physically beat the shit out of the terrorists.  Would any of these things have worked?  It's an interesting metaphysical question.

I too would like to go back to 9/11, but I would like to go back to September 11th, 2008, because that was the day before my favorite writer, David Foster Wallace, hanged himself.  I would like to go back and tell him how much he changed my life, saved it even. And even if I couldn't stop him from offing himself, I could at least tell him what he meant to me.