Friday, January 29, 2010

New Music: Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM

Here's my review of Charlotte Gainsbourg's latest album, IRM. The daughter of the late (and legendary) French singer Serge Gainsbourg and British actress Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg is known primarily for her roles in films like The Science of Sleep and 21 Grams. But she's also a singer, who has released three albums.

On her latest, she collaborated with Beck, who co-wrote and produced all the songs. The album is populated by intimate balladry, ramshackle blues and indie rock.

Read the review and feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notes from a Tennis Obsessed Corner of the Midwest

January for me means one thing and one thing only: tennis season officially begins with the first Major (Grand Slam) tournament of the season: the Australian Open. Living in Chicago, I watch the tournament coverage with longing, drooling over the 80-90-degree temps and rooting for my favorite players. Last night, I watched one of the women’s quarterfinal matches, this one featuring Venus Williams (USA) and Li Na (China). I’ve pretty much enjoyed Venus since she and her sister Serena came on the scene in the late 90s. But I’ve had a soft spot for Li since I saw her play Lindsay Davenport on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open 8 years ago.

Anyway, as I sat there watching Li and Venus go through what was truly a crazy match (6 consecutive breaks of serve!), it occurred to me that, for the first time in a long time, I was watching two POC women compete in the latter stages of a Grand Slam tournament. When watching Li or Venus in a match, the opponent across the net is usually white. So, I paused my live feed to savor this moment. I’ve followed tennis very closely for the past 12 years and in that time, very few POCs (on the men’s or the women’s side) have emerged as contenders for titles. After being down and almost beaten, Li won the match and will now play Serena in the semi-finals. In the other semi-final, Li’s countrywoman, Zheng Jie will play recently unretired Justine Henin. My prediction: Serena and Henin will prevail to book their first ever Grand Slam final match (the two have 18 Majors between them, but to date have only competed at the quarterfinal and semi-final stages of a Grand Slam).

The fact that two Chinese women are now in the semi-finals of a Major is on my mind: 1) because the tennis media are wetting themselves talking about the milestone and 2) because the coverage is illuminating some interesting biases.

Take this Yahoo!Sports article about Li and Zheng’s achievement. The reporter goes out of his way to note that both players have benefited from leaving the Chinese tennis federation and hiring foreign coaches (both of whom are white). The implication, of course, is that things are so backward and awful in China that thank goodness these white coaches were there to rescue benighed players like Li and Zheng.

This kind of self-congratulatory tone (oooh, look two Chinese players made it into the semis, isn't our sport so magnanimous and open-minded) is rampant in almost all the press coverage of Li and Zheng. Not only is it nauseating, it fails to look at why it took till 2010 for two Chinese players to make it this far in a Major tournament.

But this is quite typical of discussions surrounding minorities breaking down racial barriers in any field. There's allusion to the fact that the barriers exist, but no discussion of how said barriers were erected in the first place (the coverage of the Williams sisters' emergence is probably the most notable example of this).

In any event, I will celebrate the fact that this year's Australian Open quarterfinal featured FOUR women of color as competitors. It's a small, but significant step in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another Album Review

I just reviewed Kanye West's VH1 Storytellers concert album for Consequence of Sound. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti Picture Post

More photos from my 2007 trip to Haiti. I've been looking through my journal entries from the week in Haiti. It's bittersweet and melancholy to read them. Here is an excerpt.
19 February 07
Today was amazing. It was our first actual work day. We helped lay the foundation for a chapel/community center at a birthing clinic called Maison de Naissance. We heaved buckets of concrete and water alongside people from the neighborhood. The sun baked us, but it felt great being there and participating. In the afternoon, we walked around Les Cayes - some of my traveling companions were on the hunt for good Haitian rum. I took about 1,000 pictures (at least that's what it felt like). I loved taking in the town and its people...Tomorrow is more work at Maison de Naissance, and hopefully, the opportunity to visit some of the mothers have had babies there. I keep thinking about how I'm going to tell everyone at home about what I've seen and experienced here, and I have yet to find the right words. Maybe I'll be able to once I'm back home.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti's Poverty is Not Accidental [UPDATE]

[UPDATE]: EPIC rebuttal to all the context-free media coverage determined to cast Haitians as an undifferentiated mass.

Also, while I appreciate President Obama's swift response to the earthquake crisis, I take serious issue with tapping George W. Bush - the man who helped to remove Haiti's democratically-elected president in 2004 - to help with relief efforts. To quote you, Mr. President, this is a boneheaded move.

Let's start with the basics. Haiti has been repeatedly referred to as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This is true, but I need people to understand that those circumstances are not accidental, or bad luck, or the result of a pact with the devil (sorry Pat Robertson). As Alternet columnist Carl Lindskoog writes, Haiti didn't become a poor nation on its own. It had help from many areas, in particular France and the United States.

It may startle news-hungry Americans to learn that these conditions the American media correctly attributes to magnifying the impact of this tremendous disaster were largely the product of American policies and an American-led development model.

From 1957-1971 Haitians lived under the dark shadow of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a brutal dictator who enjoyed U.S. backing because he was seen by Americans as a reliable anti-Communist. After his death, Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" became President-for-life at the age of 19 and he ruled Haiti until he was finally overthrown in 1986. It was in the 1970s and 1980s that Baby Doc and the United States government and business community worked together to put Haiti and Haiti's capitol city on track to become what it was on January 12, 2010.

After the coronation of Baby Doc, American planners inside and outside the U.S. government initiated their plan to transform Haiti into the "Taiwan of the Caribbean." This small, poor country situated conveniently close to the United States was instructed to abandon its agricultural past and develop a robust, export-oriented manufacturing sector. This, Duvalier and his allies were told, was the way toward modernization and economic development.

That's the history. How was Haiti doing before the devastating 7.0 earthquake? Well, most of the country was still trying to pick up the pieces from the four hurricanes that blasted the island in 2008. And there was supposedly massive investment flowing into the country. So why was it still in such a precarious position economically and with regard to infrastructure? Author and Haiti activist Tracy Kidder explains it well in this NY Times op-ed:

Hence the current state of affairs: at least 10,000 private organizations perform supposedly humanitarian missions in Haiti, yet it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Some of the money that private aid organizations rely on comes from the United States government, which has insisted that a great deal of the aid return to American pockets — a larger percentage than that of any other industrialized country.

But that is only part of the problem. In the arena of international aid, a great many efforts, past and present, appear to have been doomed from the start. There are the many projects that seem designed to serve not impoverished Haitians but the interests of the people administering the projects. Most important, a lot of organizations seem to be unable — and some appear to be unwilling — to create partnerships with each other or, and this is crucial, with the public sector of the society they’re supposed to serve.

I think the outpouring of donations from people all over the world is amazing and heartening. But I also think it's crucial to understand how Haiti came to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It didn't just happen. Things like that do not just happen. They are caused. If we really want to make sure countries like Haiti and communities in our own country are not left similarly vulnerable, we need to start working toward true economic and social justice for all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Back to Writing

I'm back writing for Consequence of Sound; but I've scaled back to a more manageable one article per week. Here's the latest one I've written, a review of Norah Jones' Chasing Pirates EP.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Weeping for Haiti

I spent a good portion of today reading news reports about the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti yesterday. Unlike most of the disasters that flit by on our TV screens, this one hits home for me. Three years ago, I traveled to Haiti with a church group. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I suppose thinking in these terms is a bit myopic - e.g., this disaster has special meaning for me, because I've actually been to the place where it's happening. But there you have it.

One thing I realized on my trip to Haiti is that before I'd been there, I'd always imagined it as a place with very little joy. I assumed because of the crushing poverty there that the people would be perpetually unhappy. I couldn't have been more wrong. The people there are beautiful and kind. But most importantly they are people - with joys and sorrows and flaws. It was so important for me to realize that. They are people like me. That made it harder for me to think of them as someone else's responsibility.

A ton of thoughts have been running through my head all day. Like, I didn't know Haiti was on a major quake fault. And I'd forgotten how many aid organizations are working in Port-au-Prince. And how can Holy Trinity Episcopal cathedral and school be gone? Not being in Haiti as this happens, I know I can't fully wrap my mind around the full scope of this disaster. Like others, I will pray and send money, even though I know that's not nearly enough.

I've included some photos from my trip to Haiti in this post, even though looking at them today was bittersweet. I'm posting them because I want people to know that Haiti is not just a morass of poverty and despair. It's a place with people who love and laugh and hope and cry. Today, they are mostly crying and I share in their grief.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Me at the Movies

I went to see "Avatar" on New Year's Day and, aside from the special effects (which were spectacular), I was mostly unimpressed with it. The story was trite and the movie was way too long. (For someone with my short attention span, making a commitment to see a 2-hour movie is a big deal. It's not wise to push me beyond that.) By the time the SECOND big battle rolled around, I was saying OUT LOUD "why is this movie still on?"

That said, "Avatar" does have some AMAZING visuals. Director James Cameron does an excellent job of creating the world of the moon Pandora. And he renders the natives of Pandora, the Na'vi, in realistic fashion. The enchanting world Cameron creates is almost enough to make up for blatant colonizer's redemption fantasy that makes up the "story."


"Sherlock Holmes" wasn't much better, although it had the charm of Robert Downey, Jr. to carry it along. And for once, Jude Law didn't irritate me. As Holmes' love interest, Rachel McAdams was just there. She was the clearest indication (well, along with the constant bare-knuckled brawling) of the Baker Street hero's dumbing down for 21st century audiences. I read and loved several of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I don't need them dumbed down. I kind of like that Holmes mostly solved crimes with his mind and not his fists.

And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Don't usually make 'em, but this year, I've got 3.

Read more.

Write more.

Wear more ribbons in hair.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Next Stop: The Purl Stitch

Still in the rudimentary stages. And the orange piece looks jacked because of all the dropped stitches. Here are 2 pieces of knitting I've been working on.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year!

Still getting used to writing "2010."

As usual, the Holiday Season blew by me in a blur (and not because I was intoxicated for most of it. Due to my affliction (lol), I still can't drink).

I almost missed the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights exhibit, but my friend and I braved the cold to see them last night. And when I say cold, I mean 8 degrees, but feels like -9 cold. The serious stuff. We searched in vain for the hot chocolate/hot cider stand.

Here are some pics from the Zoo Lights adventure. They really are pretty, but DAMN! Every year I go to see them, it's RIDICULOUSLY cold.