Saturday, December 24, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Days 11 and 12: CivLAvia and Partners in Sex Education

A 2-in-1 recommendation special today!

Belated Day 11: CicLAvia
Remember when everyone in LA gave up their cars for bikes, and the LA freeways became the largest bike path system in the world?


Well, ok, maybe we're not there quite yet (although Carmageddon was a good start), but the good folks at CicLAvia are doing their best to get us there. Three times already they've shut down 10 miles of streets in downtown LA to cars, and opened them to bikes and other human powered modes of transportation. There's nothing quite like it - Angelenos from all over the city, out of their cars, enjoying the beautiful weather and our interesting city together!

Mark your calendars now for the next two CicLAvias: Sunday April 15th 2012 and Sunday October 14th 2012. And be sure and donate before January 1 - they've got some cool swag (it's LA, after all) if you give at least $25.

Day 12: Partners in Sex Education

Remember when you/your kids/your partner(s)/your parents got comprehensive sex education in school that provided age-appropriate, non-judgemental information?


Well Partners in Sex Education is working to change that, at least in Boston.

Led by the indomitable Megara Bell, Partners in Sex Education offers classes for middle school, high school, and at-risk populations in Greater Boston.

Donate to help raise the next generation of young people making healthy decisions for themselves and their partners!

*If you answered yes to this question, you are so lucky! Take a minute to write a thank you letter to your school, your principal, your sex ed teacher. This is a rare and wonderful thing!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 10 Aliza's Brain Trust

Back in July I blogged about my friend Aliza's stroke and need for funds to support her recovery. The good news is that she's on a slow and steady mend, though challenges remain like, oh, missing a third of her skull and needing to wear a helmet to protect her head.

It was really inspiring to see her extended community and beyond rally to raise funds for an artist/activist - almost $43,000 raised so far! Even more is needed for rehab and day-to-day expenses, so donate today. It's a no brainer!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 9 Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship

I love to watch movie credits. I guess it's the same instinct that drives me to read acknowledgements in books - wanting to know all the people it takes to make one book or one movie. I don't usually watch credits on TV, however - the text is too small or moves by too fast to be legible.

For some unknown reason, I was actually watching the credits to the HBO documentary Bobby Fisher Against the World when I spotted the name of my old classmate, Karen Schmeer. We were both anthropology majors at Boston University and had a number of classes together. I always appreciated her intelligence, humor, and ready smile. After graduation, we would often see each other when I worked at a copy center and she worked for Errol Morris, whose production company had offices upstairs. She'd bring pictures of enormous chickens and electric chairs down for me to copy. Later, I'd see her name in the credits to Morris's movies, noting as she moved from Production Assistant to Editor, editing films such as Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; Mr. Death; and Fog of War. 

I was excited to catch Karen's name, and to know that she was continuing her work as a film editor. As the credits continued to roll by, I reminisced about our classes together, and tried to remember the last time we'd met. Minutes later, my memories were coldly interrupted by the last words on the screen: a dedication of the film to Karen's memory. I was horrified to learn that she was killed in January 2010 by a driver fleeing the scene of a robbery in New York City.

Her friends and family founded the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship in her memory. The Fellowship provides "a year-long, in-depth experience designed to foster the development of an emerging, talented film editor." You can support the fellowship, currently in the process of selecting their second fellow, with a donationIt's a pretty cool program that's a wonderful tribute to Karen's generous spirit. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 8 PARTICIPANT INC

If I know anything at all about contemporary visual and time-based art, I have Lia Gangitano, founder of PARTICIPANT INC to thank. She's the type of curator who can make the most abstract or obscure work accessible and exciting, and she never makes me feel dumb or not cool or not in-the-scene enough. And that's a pretty tall order on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

What makes PARTICIPANT INC truly unique is the collaborative relationships it nurtures between artists, curators, and writers. This collaborative approach enables artists to take on projects that they might not be able to in other contexts. As their mission states:
PARTICIPANT INC seeks to provide a venue in which artists, curators, and writers can develop, realize, and present ambitious projects within a context that recognizes the social and cultural value of artistic experimentation. 
Donate to support this risk-taking artist-centered non-profit art space. And stop in the next time you're in the neighborhood. I guarantee you'll be surprised, challenged, and maybe even delighted by whatever they've got going on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 7 In Memory of Troy Davis

If you were like me, you were glued to Democracy Now's live reporting leading up to the shameful execution of Troy Davis on September 21.

That night I wrote on Facebook: 
Going to bed sickened and angry and ashamed of the US tonight. Trying to remember the incredible strength and determination showed by Troy's sister Martina Correia and her son, De'Jaun.

Early the very same day, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were freed from prison in Iran. Shane's first words to the press were: 
Two years in prison is too long, and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in American and Iran.

Though Shane can't have known about the status of Troy Davis' case, his words on that day were an incredible call for strength and solidarity in the face of personal injustice and suffering, a trait exhibited by Troy Davis himself only days before his murder by the state of Georgia:
‎The struggle for justice doesn't end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I'm in good spirits and I'm prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I've taken my last breath. (via Amnesty International)

How could I wallow in my own sadness and frustration when people like Troy and Shane refused to? So I got up the next morning and gave a donation to The Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate those wrongly convicted, like Troy Davis. You can donate to them here

Obviously it's urgent to free innocent people, but it's also urgent to abolish the death penalty in the US, which is why I also gave to the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. This grassroots organization takes leadership directly from death row prisoners and their families. Donate to CEDP here.   

While you're at it, why not donate to Democracy Now, too?

In a sad postscript, Martina Correia, who had been battling breast cancer for more than ten years, passed away on December 1. The Nation published a moving tribute to her and her steadfast work to save her brother's life.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 6: Outernational

Simply put, Outernational are the Pied Pipers of the Revolution.

I mean that in a good way. Like: they're not going to lead us to our deaths, but rather to a whole new world.

And you're gonna shake your booty a whole lot on the way there.

The first time I saw Outernational play (which I think was their second show ever) was as a kickoff to the march protesting the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. A few nights later they played an Axis of Justice show at the Knitting Factory, sharing the stage with revolution rock luminaries such as Tom Morello, Steve Earle, Serj Tankian, and Michael Franti. These influences are evident in their music, but above all else the band embodies the spirit of The Clash. It's in Miles Solay's swagger and the way he growls and spits lyrics with such fervor and love. It's in Jesse Williams' Paul Simonon-like wide-legged stance; this man is making a fierce and funky stand! Leo Mintek is coming into his own as a lead guitarist, alternately bringing dance grooves worthy of a BAD-era Mick Jones and wailing classic rock solos, all the while keeping time on stage with a deconstructed John Lennon knee bounce. The sharply dressed Dr. Blum is the band's secret weapon. Tucked between Mintek and a rotating cast of drummers who have included Chad Smith of RHCP, Dr. Blum adds shimmering keyboards, rousing accordion, and the clarion call of the trumpet to the mix, bringing to mind early tour mates Gogol Bordello.

I've known Jesse and Miles since well before there was an Outernational - we'd been in the streets together as activists for years. It made total sense to me when they went from organizing Philly Freedom Summer for Mumia to starting a band. They understood that music has the potential to reach far more people than their organizing efforts did, and that music can be a galvanizing force for a movement.

Political movements need songs that crystallize their hopes and propel their bodies forward. At the end of this, the American Fall (in perhaps more ways than one), Outernational has the chance to be the soundtrack of a renewed grassroots movement in this country. Their vision is unapologetically and uncompromisingly grand, their groove infectious, their lyrics aspirational.

This is Future Rock.

My friend, mentor, and hero Peter Sellars says that the role of the artist is to imagine the world you want to live in, create that world, and then live in it.

Outernational are the artists that we desperately need right now, showing us that there is a "whole other way." Best way to support the band and the world they are creating? Buy their music and merch (new album dropping SOON!) for yourself, your friends, your family.

To the future!!!

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Belated Day 5: Show Box LA

If you have seen, participated in, or produced local dance in Los Angeles then you know Show Box LA.

Maybe you've been to the recently deceased Anatomy Riot ("don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened"), taken or taught a class through DANCEbank, submitted to and/or read itch Dance Journal, or attended Show Box's presenting debut of Miguel Gutierrez (pictured here), which by the way made the LA Times Best of 2011 list!

The fact is, if you care about dance in LA, successful local dance scenes in general, or just think that a supportive, generous approach to building artistic communities should itself be supported generously, then you need to donate to Show Box LA today.

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 4 Kristin Hersh/Strange Angels

You know the saying "tis better to give than to receive"? Well with today's recommendation, you receive even as you give!

Kristin Hersh has been a mainstay of the alternative music scene since the late 1980s with her band Throwing Muses, and later as a solo artist and with 50FootWave. Living in Boston, I got to see Kristin perform all the time. In fact, I've probably seen her live more than any other performer. My favorite memory is when she was hugely pregnant playing a show at the Middle East downstairs, and they'd put up little signs all over asking people not to smoke for Kristin's sake (remember when you could smoke in bars?!).

In case you're not familiar, here's an early live performance (good audio, bad video)

and a solo video

She also published a musical memoir of sorts last year, Rat Girl, where she intertwines stories from her early days as a teen musician in Providence, RI with lyrics from songs. She did a number of live performances from the book, reading and singing. She's a compelling storyteller, in song, spoken word, and print. There's quite simply no one like her.

Kristin has set up an innovative system to sustain herself as an independent, working musician called Strange Angels. Think of it like an ongoing Kickstarter campaign. In her words:

You and Kristin are stake holders in common. You both want the art to continue. Kristin wants to continue working. Your support keeps this flow moving, and that flow creates a read-write experience where all parties in the artistic ecosystem enrich the experience as a whole. It’s about supporting the artist and listeners alike.

You pay $30 a quarter to support Kristin as an artist, and in return you get free media downloads (rare early TM concerts, works in progress, previews), free concert tickets, free CDs, etc. For me, having a personal connection with one of my favorite musicians is the best benefit possible.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 3 Political Research Associates

I first got to know the work of Political Research Associates when I worked in the copy center downstairs from their office in the early 1990s. Their staff would bring in the most interesting documents to copy - including fascinating primary and secondary materials on right-wing movements, neo-conservatives, and Christian extremists. I started asking if I could make copies for myself, and struck up friendships with some of their staff. I learned first-hand from their amazing team of researchers that no matter how much we may want to dismiss certain right-wing leaders as "nuts," we only do our own progressive organizing efforts a disservice by not taking our opponents seriously.

In PRA's view, in-depth research and analysis on the right is essential for progressive movements to succeed. They succinctly explain their focus on the right on their website:
While attacks on civil liberties can come from any direction, the political and Christian Right use skillful marketing that exploits the public’s desire for quick solutions and capitalizes on today’s hectic information flow. With clever slogans that oversimplify complex public policy issues, the Right routinely scapegoats others in pursuit of their agenda.
PRA responds with fair and accurate analysis, looking beneath the sound-bites and slogans of the Right, exposing the true goals and agendas of specific leaders, organizations and movements. We then present our analysis in ways that can help the media, advocates and educators understand and challenge the Right.
When the mainstream media catches on to issues such as US ministers contributing to homophobic laws in African countries such as the recent case in Uganda, or the links between violent anti-abortion extremists and militia movements such as we saw with Eric Rudolph, they turn to to PRA for explanations and analysis.

Donation to PRA supports their Activist Resource Kits, Special Reports and other publications, and their ongoing research on a wide variety of issues with both domestic and international implications. They also maintain a vast library of primary and secondary materials at their Somerville, Massachusetts office.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 2 The World Can't Wait

For many people, the Occupy Movement was exactly what they've been waiting for: an activist mobilization not focused on lobbying elected officials, that takes a stand against - and for - myriad issues that impact our daily lives.

I like to think that The World Can't Wait has been part of laying the groundwork for something like Occupy to happen. They've been relentlessly standing up and speaking out on Guantanamo, war crimes, the multiple US wars, attacks on reproductive rights, and more since 2005. 

In her end of the year fundraising letter, my good friend WCW director Debra Sweet writes, "We go after the cutting edge issues, dig through the lies and cover-ups to speak the truth. We find substantive and visible ways to encourage people to act on what their consciences tell them is true, opening up space for people to take principled stands of resistance. And we support them when they do."

World Can't Wait supports us...and we need to support them. Their all-volunteer national office puts every  donation straight to work on campaigns like the We are Not Your Soldiers speaking tour, defending abortion providers, War Criminals Watch, and more. 

Donate today!

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 1 The National Network of Abortion Funds

OK, I'm not much into Christmas, but I am into supporting organizations and artists I believe in. But being newly unemployed, I don't have a lot of money. So my holiday giving this year will come in the form of promoting causes I wish I could be funding with generous contributions. By featuring a different group or individual each day, I'm spreading the word about their fabulous work, and am hoping that YOU, dear reader, will feel compelled to send a check or two of your own.

All of the organizations and artists I'll detail here function on relatively low budgets, which means your small (medium, large...) donation actually makes a big difference.


Regular readers of my blog know that I have a long history as a reproductive rights organizer and activist, and that the abortion issue is close to my heart. In 1999 I co-founded the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund to help make the right to abortion accessible to all women. The EMA Fund is one of 100 funds across the US that are part of the National Network of Abortion Funds. NNAF and its member funds fill the gaps left by the lack of Medicaid funding, dwindling insurance coverage, and the economic recession in general.

NNAF places the women traditionally ignored by the mainstream choice movement - low-income women, women of color, young women, rural women - front and center in a movement that unapologetically advances a reproductive justice agenda. At a time when a record number of abortion restrictions are being proposed, NNAF's work is not only urgent but essential.

Donate to NNAF and know that you are not only making a concrete difference in one woman's life, but you are also taking a stand with those on the leading edge of this ongoing battle.

So Beautiful or So What? My Favorite Music of 2011

Layered harmonies, rich yet experimental orchestration, and sounds that range from sparkling and jangly to deep gothy vibrations are the qualities that characterize my favorite music this year. Bonus: over half of my selections feature female vocalists.

If I could only pick one album from the whole year, no question it would be Wilco's brilliant The Whole Love. OK, I may be biased because I'm a big Wilco fan.

As I said in a post early this year, I adored The Decemberists The King is Dead. It's a return to everything I love about the band, and the album makes me happy every time I put it on.

The Fleet Foxes' second album Helplessness Blues is full of exquisitely layered harmonies that call to mind Graham Nash's first album, and that's not a bad thing.

Speaking of layers, Paul Simon at his best makes music that manages to be cheesy and deeply profound at the same time. I remember the first time I heard "Call Me Al" - I thought it was the stupidest song I'd ever heard. But of course repeated listenings revealed a master songwriter at work. So Beautiful or So What is Simon's best album in two decades, full of irreverence, beauty, and moments that seem to both crystalize and challenge one's whole life in a simple refrain.

For some bands, the transition from bedroom recordings to a budget and studio time can be a disaster. For tUnE-yArDs, it was a revelation. Whokill, Merrill Garbus's second album, takes everything that was interesting and new and exciting about her first endeavor and turns it up to 11, with fantastic results.

My enthusiasm for Whokill is certainly an influence on my attraction to Thao & Mirah's eponymous album, produced by Garbus. I like Thao Nguyen ok on her own, and wasn't familiar with Mirah, but the two of them together with Garbus's sonic experimentation make for a compelling listen.

I was late to the New Pornographers' party, but now I've got my hat on, noisemakers in hand, and I couldn't be happier. I love Together, plain and simple. Is it their best album? I honestly don't know. But I went back to it over and over during 2011 (and even featured it here earlier this year), and that's enough for now.

I get a number of "song of the day" podcasts and downloads. Many are fine. Some I dislike, mostly because of genre. Only a few make me stop what I'm doing and pay attention. Laura Marling's single "Sophia" was one of the latter, and it made me immediately buy her previous album and, in an unprecedented move, pre-order her 2011 offering, A Creature I Don't Know. There's something about her that calls to mind Joni Mitchell. Not in her sound or lyrics or songwriting style exactly. It's more in the quality of her voice, and her approach to singing.

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins' Diamond Mine sounds like it's come into this moment through a time portal from long ago and far away, and yet somehow the album's production couldn't be more fresh. Lush and a bit haunting, it's the perfect listen for a misty, cool day.

EMA's Past Life Martyred Saints and Zola Jesus's Conatus both feature young women with big, powerful voices. Whereas the latter sets a gothy mood and sticks with it, the former careens from a 7+ minute dark and fantastic epic to a shorter, sunnier, brattier, but no less industrial ode to the Golden State.

These two acts were joined by other booming women's voices this year. Anna Calvi (Anna Calvi), Austra (Feel it Break), and Alison Mosshart (The KillsBlood Pressures) all wowed me with their power, while My Brightest Diamond (All Things Will Unwind) and St. Vincent (Strange Mercy) brought their swirling and swooping oddities to the mix. Supergroup Wild Flag (Wild Flag) rose from the ashes of some of my most beloved bands and succeeded in exceeding nostalgia, while Cults (Cults) provided some continuity to last year's neo-60s sound with a dark center at the heart of their fluffy confection.

My last two favorites of the year both include interesting collaborations. The Tuareg trance-rock band Tinariwen collaborates with some of my favorite challenging rock musicians, including Nels Cline, Kyp Malone, and Tunde Adebimpe on their latest, Tassili. 

Son Lux made We Are Rising as part of the RPM Challenge to make an album, start to finish, in the month of February. NPR Music covered the Son Lux project, and you can read more about it here. Listen to a song from the album here; scroll down to find the Son Lux song.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Everything

They think they've locked the people out, but instead they've locked themselves in. In doing so they've declared their position; government sides with the 1%.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Superheroes are the 99%, too!

Even Spiderman occasionally tires of taking on the system alone while working a low-paying job and taking care of his family.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

First off: fight.

An excerpt from my friend Prumsodun Ok's TED Fellows blog

‎"First off: fight. Fight ignorance and darkness, fight injustice and deceit, fight inaction and fear, fight the left, fight the right, fight the center. Fight for love, fight for truth, fight for beauty, fight for health. Knowledge and wisdom is your sword. Use this powerful weapon of yours. Take care of it. Hone it. It is your responsibility to use it. "

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In which I rate movies recently watched on flights across the Pacific

Regular readers of this blog already know that I have different standards for movies seen on planes versus those seen in the movie theater or at home via DVD or streaming. The goal is to find that perfect mindless entertainment mean. I don't want to cry on planes, nor do I want my intelligence to be (totally) insulted. I just want something that will keep me pleasantly occupied.

Following is a relative scale from best to worst of the seven movies I watched flying LAX-Tokyo and back.

Hands down best: Hanna: Once I accepted the Chemical Brothers soundtrack and occasional slick cuts and edits, really liked this one. Great leading character, pretty good script, good actresses. Watch it! Bonus: for people who like stories about teen girls shooting arrows and fighting the system, this is a way to get your fix without (potentially) getting your heart broken. Bad accent alert: Cate Blanchett's American accent is grating, but her character's evil so I guess grating American accent is appropriate.

Thor: Huh. Actually not bad, despite presence of Natalie Portman. Certainly better than Black Swan. Best parts were in Thor's world. Some silliness/overeagerness, sure, but that's to be expected from comic superheroes, isn't it?

Source Code: Better than my half-ass preview gave it credit for. Not the most brilliant sci-fi story ever (I immediately knew who the bad guy was), but not bad. There's slightly more there than a constantly blowing up train and a pretty brunette. Bonus: Nice link between the early on Quantum Leap "that's not my face in the mirror" moment and Scott Bakula as the voice of the father. My message to Duncan Jones: more like Moon, please. You're better than this material and the slick Hollywood style.

Paul (TIE): Pretty much exactly what I expected from the trailer. I love Simon Pegg so much (YOU MUST WATCH SPACED) and he and Nick Frost are usually so dynamite together, but despite all the usual nods to sci-fi nerd-dom, there's little magic here. It is because Edgar Wright didn't direct?

Sucker Punch (TIE): Better than I expected from the billboards. I'm always down for a girls kick ass movie. Love Jena Malone. Does it help that the hypersexualized and, yes, super-sexy outfits are (spoiler alert) from a double-fantasy world created by the main character as escape from the sexual and physical abuse suffered at the hands of her stepfather and the mental institution to which he commits her? Um...still problematic. Also: sexy. But certainly worth 90 minutes of my time on a plane. Bad accent alert: Carla Gugino's Russian accent, offset by sexy outfits. Bonus: you don't miss much if you nod off during a fight scene.

City of Ember: Watched this for Saoirse Ronan after having liked Hanna so much. Might have liked this one if I was 8 years old. Refreshing to see a girl and a boy work together in a movie and not have romantic overtones, although (spoiler alert) the ending does seem to posit them as the Adam and Eve of a new Paradise. No animosity towards the movie, just not interested.

Absolute worst of this trip: Battle Los Angeles: Should have been named Battle Santa Monica. And really, who wants to save Santa Monica from the aliens? Basically a 2-hour promotional video for the Marines. Also: boring. Couldn't help feeling like the aliens the military (spoiler alert) abandoned the city to and then 20 minutes later set off to take it back from were not the ones from the sky but the ones Arizona is building fences against.

For those of you interested in the order in which I watched these:
LAX-NRT: First name theme: Hanna, Paul, Thor
NRT-LAX: sci-fi/action theme: City of Ember, Source Code, Sucker Punch, Battle LA

Meta comment: This post should receive the most colons (:) in one post award.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

BODY-IN-THE-WORLD: Tokyo Edition

In response to a request for a photo from KitsuneButoh, I decided to spend part of my last weekend in Japan engaging with her BODY-IN-THE-WORLD/Project 3-6-5. Lots more to say about bodies in Tokyo, but for now I'll just share the photos.

In Tokyo, everyone is constantly negotiating arrows, signs, and paths that tell you where and how to go with organic, improvisatory moves.

Ueno Park: tree knobs and fists.

Tree in Yoyogi Park - the place in Tokyo where anything goes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Blog from the vault: Carmageddon: Better Than Battle LA

On the weekend of July 15-17, the 405 freeway was closed between the 10 and the 101. Locals dubbed it "Carmageddon." It made national news. It was awesome. People were forced to interrupt their routines, which in the Los Angeles sprawl means driving. A lot. But for one weekend, the streets were empty. People explored their own neighborhoods. Used alternate transportation. Were witty and creative.

Can't wait for the sequel!

Osaka-Tokyo-Yokohama-Tokyo: What a Long, Strange Day it's Been

The day began with an inspiring talk by Rustom Bharucha in which he, citing Artaud ("We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all."), took a stand against the perpetuation of normalcy and called for the embracing of crisis as a productive catalyst.

On the train back to Tokyo, saw bushes trimmed to look like cranes in a community garden, a couple on a jet ski under a bridge kissing, and this cool building in Nagoya:

Once in Tokyo had to rush home to drop off my bag and then rush to Yokohama to see a talk by Eiko Otake on Eiko & Koma's Retrospective Project. On the way, an onigiri (rice ball wrapped in nori) in my bag got perfectly smooshed into the shape of a heart:

After the talk at the Shin Minatomura gallery (same location as the Wodiczko projections), we drank beer at the gallery bar. Eventually someone hauled out the human-powered kakigori (flaked ice dessert with flavored syrup) machine.

Yoshito Ohno was on hand for story telling (here with Eiko and her mother).

The night could only end at an izakaya (traditional bar) in Yokohama.

Then came the mad dash to make it back to Tokyo before the last train. I made it all the way to Shinjuku, but missed the last subway that takes me the final two stops home. So I joined the taxi queue with all the other late night revelers - those that didn't decide to sleep in the station, or at an internet cafe (they have couches and showers), or at a 24-hour spa, that is. Got home a little poorer but no worse for the wear.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


If Kyoto is a wonderland of temples, Osaka exemplifies the urban. Why bother with Osaka Castle when you can troll through the boulevards and alleys around the ultra-modern Osaka and Umeda train stations, and shoot up 140 meters straight up in the Sky Umeda building?

QUIZ: Who Said That? Osaka Edition

A. Trainees at an Osaka okonomiyake restaurant
B. Porpoises at the Osaka Aquarium
C. Staff at my Osaka hostel
D. The Android in a play at Osaka University

First person to post the right answer gets a souvenir from Osaka!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Saturday, August 06, 2011


The Japanese love their fireworks (the kanji for hanabi - 花火 - are  flower and fire). There was a big fireworks show tonight on the Yodogawa River in Osaka. They were pretty spectacular and people oohed and aahed their appreciation, even clapping and exclaiming "sugoi, ne!" ("so cool!") at the most amazing ones.

In addition to multicolor, sparkling, and cascading shapes, there were planets, watermelon, smiley faces, infinity name it. Ok, there weren't any dragons, but I think Gandalf would have approved nonetheless.

Please enjoy these bunnies and kitties!

Miscellanous Japan

Hamarikyu Garden, a Tokugawa era park on Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Tower as seen from Roppongi Hills

Obon Festival at Tsujiki Temple: Let's all do the Bon Odori!You can dress up in your best traditional clothing...
or you can dress up as your favorite character

Playing with my new Lomo app at the Yokohama Triennial is fun!

Krzyszof Wodiczko: Survival Projection 2011

Last night I attended the world premiere of Krzyszof Wodiczko's Survival Projection 2011 in Yokohama. The project combines his earlier War Veteran Vehicles with testimony from survivors of the Tohoku tsunami on March 11. 

The words and voices of American, US, and Polish veterans and their loved ones are projected from a military jeep onto the side of a building on the Shinko Pier. When paired with the voices of the tsunami survivors, the projections ask the viewers to question what it means to survive, and what it means to take responsibility.

The voices and stories loop from English to Polish to English again, and finally to Japanese.  (translations were provided) The last Japanese voice we hear questions the role of artists (I've transcribed the English translation directly):

..."What will you do?", I want ask to all the so-called artists in Japan. I think that we cannot rely upon them with much hope. What have they been doing? Them who have been called "artists"...artists who have been said "cuttin-edge" for these 10 years or 20 years? I think the gap between this reality and their activities is now extremely deep. Then I strongly want to ask them "what will you do?" now...

Indeed, what we will as artists do now?

Here are excerpts from the other projections (sorry for the poor video quality)

American vets

War goes on. You don't have to go to war, war goes on every day and every day I lose it.

UK vets

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Musings on Muse

When I saw Muse's "Uprising" on the Grammys earlier this year, I saw a slick portrayal of revolution in the streets performed by professional dancers and a British band in sequins, backed by an expensive and flashy video/light show. In that context, I found the waving of black flags to be quite cynical. (And ok, news of Matt Bellamy fathering Kate Hudson's baby might have also biased my opinion.)

My impression of that performance was first challenged by this video from the self-titled Spanish Revolution this spring. It was fascinating to see a people's movement embrace the song wholeheartedly (along with V for Vendetta masks and Monty Python!):

Then I had to further challenge my impression of the band when they were added to the LA Rising bill and I heard Tom Morello and Tim C both raving about Muse. The festival was explicitly political, and if members of the only other band that ever mattered think I should listen to Muse, I gotta give them another try.

One problem is that I associate the band with the Twilight movie franchise - they've had a song on all the soundtracks so far.

At the festival - in the historic LA Memorial Coliseum - the band certainly did not disappoint. Their stadium show was full of bombast, lasers, and lights; covering the whole stage; even nods to their influences (AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and more). It was everything a stadium show should be, and they make a lot of righteous noise for a trio, to boot.

And then when you get into the words behind their 21st century anthemic prog sounds, there actually is some call to action there:

From "Uprising":
Rise up and take the power back
It's time the fat cats had a heart attack
You know that their time is coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

Amid the black flags flying for LA Rising, this song had a whole different impact than on the Grammys.

They closed their set with "Knights of Cyndonia" (yes, that's really the name of the song. now you see why I called them prog):
No one's going to take me alive
Time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

Are Muse the next Rage? No. Did they put on a kick-ass show of rock anthems that left me impressed? Yes. Do they have the power to make audiences move their bodies to the sounds of revolution? Yes.

Now if they could only put some subliminal messages in their next Twilight soundtrack offering to make all those Twihards stop fighting over Edward and Jacob and turn their attention instead to the real fights at hand. Or at the very least make them question the saga's heterosexism and ultimate championing of the nuclear family. Sigh. If any band could do it, it just might be Muse.

All is Not Lost

Evidently turquoise unitards can solve anything. That, and love.

At least that's what the new OK Go video with the dance company Pilobolus suggests.

Seems like there's something to be written here about bodies dissolving into text. In the meantime, it's fun to watch.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

On Arriving in Japan and the US Debt Crisis

As I cruised over the Pacific enjoying movie after mind-numbing movie, Congress passed a measure to raise the debt ceiling that by all accounts (or at least by Democracy Now and Paul Krugman) sucks. Not only will the deal likely prolong the current recession - primarily hurting the working class and middle class, and positively screwing the already unemployed - it essentially allows the wealthy to stay that way, requiring nothing new of them in the way of taxes, and likely profiting them. Those politicians and pundits on the right who called for cuts with no new revenues engaged in selfish and mean-spirited bullying, asking others to sacrifice while not being willing to give slightly more from their already overflowing, deep pockets.

When I landed in Japan, less than five months after the 3/11/11 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant crisis, I couldn't have been greeted by a more different picture. Signs everywhere in the airport and train stations call for measures to save energy, which in the sweltering summer months in Japan means sacrificing on air conditioning. (This may not seem like a big deal unless you've been in Japan in the summer.) An article in the English-language Japan Times today talked about how the government's request of both manufacturing and private home to reduce energy use by 15% this summer is seeing 50% success rates, achieved in part by auto factories temporarily changing their work schedules to try and balance energy use out over the week. And this from an industry that today posted 99% (Toyota) and 90% (Honda) drops in revenues last quarter due to shutdowns after 3/11.

This is not to say that everything is rosy in Japan (see this recent NY Times article on how Japanese citizens are taking their own readings of radioactivity because local and national governments are saying everything's fine, despite new findings of radiation in the food supply). But it is striking to see industry and individuals all taking part in reducing energy consumption here, while at the same time in the US those who could actually make a difference - the rich - threaten to take down the entire economy before they'd agree to pay their fair share.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Can you help an artist with no health insurance?

I've never used my blog for a personal appeal before, but this one is important. 

My friend and comrade, Aliza Shapiro (aka Heywood Wakefield), just had a stroke. She's 41. She an artist, activist, and producer in Boston. Many people know her as the tireless promoter behind Truth Serum Productions. Let's just say there'd be no Drag King or queer cabaret scene in the northeast without her. 

She's in the hospital now with motor, vision, and language impairment. She faces a long recovery, and of course like so many artists and activists (and so many average Americans) she has no health insurance. 
Can you kick in $5, $10, $25 or more? You can donate here: 

I feel like this could be any of us. Of course what we really need is universal health care, but in the meantime, we gotta take care of one another. xo

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jimmy Cliff: Afghanistan

The World Can't Wait alerted me to this fantastic video of Jimmy Cliff at the Glastonbury festival this summer updating his classic anti-war song, Vietnam. With the faux pull out just recently announced, this song is a good reminder that our part in the war in Afghanistan (Iraq, Libya...) is far from over.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No revolution is executed like a ballet

"No revolution is executed like a ballet.  Its steps and gestures are not neatly designed and precisely performed...A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt.  A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution."  - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Artists in Times of War

UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture Commencement Speech
June 11, 2011

I’d like to begin by congratulating all my fellow graduates on your impressive accomplishments. I especially want to recognize my WACtivist[i] comrades, without whom I could not be standing here today. On a personal note, both of my parents were the first in their families to graduate college and my mom was actually the first in her family to finish high school. Perhaps some of you sitting here can relate. My parents both went on to become educators who instilled in me the importance of higher learning. So I take very seriously the degree I have just earned. I’m sure I am not alone in that feeling. My mind reels at the number of artists who have not been able to access higher education. How many young people have not been able to make it this far? How many smart, talented people with something to say have we passed on our journey to this moment?

It is therefore not just as graduates of this fine institution that I speak to you today, but as artists. Whether we are dancers, designers, architects, writers, musicians, live or visual artists, publically engaged artists, or scholars—our respective practices mandate that we develop and hone our artistic voices. The central question before us today is this: how will we use our voices now that it is time to fulfill our responsibilities as artist-citizens who are graduates of this university?

Howard Zinn wrote in September 2001 that “the role of the artist is to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend the orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media”[ii] and, I would add, what is taught by the academy.

Ten years later, his directives for us as citizens remain urgent as we seek to thrive as artists in an economy and culture crippled by war: A multi-tiered war on terror; a resurgent war on the arts; the prolonged war on drug addiction; the war on people whose right to citizenship is denied; and, close to home for many of us today, the war on public education.

In this climate, it will be tempting to make distinctions between making art and making a living. However, these need not be contradictory pursuits. We, as artist-citizens, must be critical of what the economy is doing to both our individual and collective priorities. We must ask: How can we be conscious participants in the larger world? Graham Nash once sang, “Make sure that the things you do keep us alive.”[iii] His words are a call to us all to engage in work that goes beyond our own base survival to challenge and sustain our communities and our world. We as artists have great potential to bring this discussion to light. But using our voice at this time in history will require that we listen even more intently and invest even more resolutely in the inherently cooperative nature of our work as artists. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

In November 2009 I was head TA for Peter Sellars' Art as Social Action class. We were spending the quarter studying the connections between the war on drugs, the prison system, and the California budget crisis. This was also the quarter when the Regents of the University of California announced a 32% fee hike, and many of the students from across the School of Arts and Architecture in the class worried that they might have to drop out of school. When we found out that the Regents would be holding their vote to raise fees on the UCLA campus, the Art as Social Action students sprang into action, even though many of them had never before attended a protest. They designed logos and posters making the connections between the state’s disinvestment in education and rising incarceration rates. They wrote songs and painted banners to convey their personal and collective frustrations and hopes. They organized teach-ins and even a follow up course to educate themselves. In short, our students marshaled their creative voices to “launch a visible and remarkable resistance.”[iv] It was precisely because we approached the issues as artists working in community that the students were able to make all these connections, to take a stand for their own rights and in solidarity with those who never have a chance at higher education. This is just one example of what we as artists can catalyze, and it is a vital reminder, as many of us leave academia today, that the issue of public education must remain of utmost importance – inherently connected to our work as artist-citizens in times of war.

If, as Zinn says, the job of the artist is to “transcend the word of the establishment” what will we say when it is our moment to speak? If we believe, as Zinn did, that the artist notices, “What questions are the voices of authority not asking,” and in response persists in “think[ing] outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dar[ing] to say things that no one else will say,” then we must ask ourselves: when it is our time to speak—with our buildings and compositions and designs and canvases and performances and essays—what will our work be? What will our art do in the world? Will we, as a new generation of artists who made it this far, who will make it farther in the world because of our time here, use that privilege to ensure that all people’s voices are heard?

While Howard Zinn cannot answer the questions that lie before us, he can give us some guidance on how to proceed. He says: “What most of us must be involved in—whether we teach or write,” make dances, play music, create sculptures and paintings, or design buildings and cities—“has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.”

[i] WAC is the acronym for my department: World Arts and Cultures. A group of us dubbed ourselves “WACtivists.”
[ii] All Zinn quotes from Artists in Times of War. New York: Seven Stories Press (2003).
[iii] From “Man in the Mirror” on Songs for Beginners, 1971.
[iv] This is a quote from the mission statement of the first WAC in my life, the Women’s Action Coalition. 


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