Monday, December 19, 2005

Yiddish Culture Made Easy

At the one-day Yiddish Experience I went to December 18 as I walked out of the classroom, I spoke with my conversation partner who asked where my people came from. I replied, "Near Minsk in White Russia in a little shtetl (little Jewish village)." She said she recently went to White Russia for a visit and suggested I go. I asked her, "What was it like?" She said, "Like 200 years ago." I said, "No cars." She said, "Right." I had visions of horse and carts like some shtetl stories I've read. When I stood in line for lunch when asked a question, I'd say "yo" or "neny" or "a denk" (yes, no or thank you).

During lunch my mom and I shared a table with one of the Yiddish teachers who looked about 40 and who spoke all through lunch in Yiddish with two of his students who were young women in their early twenties. That's the first Yiddish conversation I've heard in many decades. It was just fascinating to hear people talk and talk and talk and talk in Yiddish! On the other side of my mother was a friendly looking woman so I asked her, "Vi heyst ir?" (What's your name?) Already, a Yiddish conversation!

After lunch we went downstairs to the chapel to hear Janet Hadda, Professor Emerita of Yiddish Language and Literature at UCLA spoke about I.B. Singer and his heroes. He seemd to have a lot of heroes: his brother Israel Joshua who was a successful Yiddish writer long before I.B. Singer was; his mother Basheva; and his rabbi father. Hadda said at first many Yiddishists (lovers of Yiddish) didn't like I.B. Singer because they didn't like his openess about sexuality. Many of his male characters have multiple wives like Herman Broder in the novel Enemies, a Love Story. But the current generation of Yiddishists seems not to be put off by Singer's treatment of sexuality in his novels.

The last event of the day was a workshop by Theodore Bikel, a great singer. He was accompanied by Deborah Strauss and Jeff Warschauer as he gave a workshop about Morechai Gerbirtig, one of the greatest songwriters in Yiddish. Bikel would tell us a little about Gerbirtig's life, sing a song, and then talk a little more.

Gerbirtig was born in Kracow, Poland, in 1877 to a poor family, and became a carpenter. In his spare time he wrote wonderful poems and songs, but never recorded. Luckily, another Jew in Krawcow wrote down Gerbirtig's poems and songs in two manuscripts, and these two manuscripts miracleously survived the Holocaust: one copy wascarried to Israel while the second copy survived in YIVO, the Yiddish archive in New York. Gerbirtig himself was killed by the Nazis in 1942, but Bikel reminded us his music survived the Shoah.

Bikel sang us Gerbirtig's song "Yankele,": a mother sings to her son Yankele to go to sleep, hoping he will grow to become a great scholar but she knows it will cost her much hard work "and many tears to make a man out of you." In "Motele" there is a father-son dialogue with the father berating the son for fighting in kheder (religious school), chasing after doves, and breaking windows. The son defends himself by saying that grandfather told him that the father also liked to chase after doves and the teacher whipped the father, but dad turned out all right and so will he.

Besides these songs, Bikel also sang us two love songs: in one a non-Jewish goatherd tries a woo a Jewish girl who says that any romance in impossible because of their different religions. The final song was a spirited pro-worker march that Gerbirtig wrote. Bikel's singing was mesmerizing while the musicians who accompanied him were wonderful. I could have sat there hours more listening to Bikel who has immense knowledge of Yiddish song as well as being a captivating performer.

All in all I was inspired by my one-day Yiddish extensive to try for a whole week! Next year, a week of Yiddish language and culture.

Learning Yiddish

I've always wanted to learn Yiddish because there is great poetry, particulary by women, in that language--poetry which hasn't been translated into English. I particularly love the Yiddish poet Kadia Molodowsky who, I think, is a major poet in the 20th century but little known outside the Yiddish-speaking world. So when my mother asked me to go to the study Yiddish with her, I said yes, and we both attended the one-day intensive on Yiddish language and culture called the Sixth Annual Winter Yiddish Intensive held at the University of Judaism.

In the morning there were Yiddish conversation in four levels, but I took the Beginners which didn't require any previous knowledge. My mother joined me though I think she should have really taken Yiddish 2 for Advanced Beginners since as a child her father spoke to her in Yiddish while her mother spoke to her in English. I said that's a realy bilingual household.

When we arrived the teacher Sheindl gave us all cards which said "yo" (yes) on one said and "nenh" (no) on the other side, and when she asked us questions we had to hold up our cards. Since I didn't know how to say yes or no in Yiddish, I was already learning. From my childhood I knew how to say "hello" which is "sholem alekhhem." One says hello back by reversing it or "alekhem sholem" which means "peace be with you" forwards or backwards.

Then I learned how to ask what is your name, and answer "Ikh heys Galia," ("My name is Galia"). I chose the name "Galia" because I was named after my great-aunt Galia but in this country they Anglicicized her name to Julia. We had names like Leah, Sara, Galia except one man was named Jerry! The youngest in our class was an eight-year old girl named Leah, so the teacher renamed her Leahla--the "la" is a dimunited attached to children's names.

We learned a little conversation asking about each other's health, and learned that (zeyde) grandfather has a heachache, so one of us suggested he take two aspirin (Er mus nemen tsey aspirin tabletn." Then we learned numbers one through a million and how to say her phone numbers and address in Yiddish which wasn't that easy. After we learned our numbers, we learned how to ask how many people are in our family, and answer with their names. The teacher explained to us that Eastern European Jews were afraid of the Angel of Death taking their children, so when asked how many children they had, they said "nicht eyn, nicht tsvey, nicht dray" (not one, not two, not three).

Also, the teacher gave us a list of proverbs in Yiddish. So here are two Yiddish proverbs:
1. Az men vil nisht alt vern, zol men zikh yungerheyt oyfhengen: (If you don't want to get old, you should hang yourself while you are still young.)

2. A bisl un a bisl vert a fule shishl! (Little by little becomes a full bowl!)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

2005's best movies

1. A Bright, Shining Moment- wonderful documentary about Senator George McGovern's campaign for president in 1972. The absolutely fantastic film, which played briefly in a few Los Angeles theaters, told the story of an authentic American hero George McGovern and his amazing grassroots campaign--or democracy in action. Against huge odds, McGovern won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 on a pledge to end the war in Vietnam. With Gore Vidal, Dick Gregory, Gary Hart, Gloria Steinem, Frank Mankiewicz, Warren Beatty, George McGovern et al.--a great cast all playing themselves. Directory Stephen Vittoria did a magnificent job. In 1972 McGovern was seen as loosing in a landslide to Nixon, but McGovern's campaign director at the end in the film said that all the McGovern people did was lose but Nixon's people went to jail. Yeah.

2. Rent- wonderful musical that reinvigorated the American musical bringing it into the modern era. Fantastic songs. Rent is a rewriting La Boheme, telling about bohemian artists in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan in the 1980s dealing with creating art and living and dieing with AIDs--artists are gay and straight; white, Latino and black. Fantastic cast. Dancing. Tears. Laughter. See it!

3. North County- at long last an American film which opens up how women are seen in U.S. cinema. The film is based on the true story of how pioneering women iron ore miners in the Mesabi Iron Range in Northern Minnesota were brutally sexually harassed on the job and fought back. This is a film about heroism in America. The lead character is played by Charlize Theron but the fine cast also includes Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sissy Spachek. This film changes how women are portrayed in the American film. North Country has beautiful photography of Northern Minnesota in wintertime.

4. Goodbye and Good Luck- Director George Clooney who also starred did a great work on Edward Murrow, newscaster at CBS, taking on Senator McCarthy, at the height of his red baiting power. The black and white film, which is quite beautiful, captures Manhattan in the early 1950s. This film shows courage and hope in our national politics and illustrates how nation news media actually took great risks to tell the truth.

5. Walk the Line- biopicture about Johnny Cash whose music influenced country and western, rock 'n roll, punk and folk. The film has a great score created by musician T-Bone Burnett of Johnny Cash's wonderful music. This intelligent film which integrates Cash's songs into his lifestory illustrates both the music and the life. Anyone interested in American music should see this film.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Rexroth was a great Californian

Last night Saturday December 10 I saw the centenary celebration for poet Kenneth Rexroth, the man most responsible for creating current California culture, at Beyond Baroque. The event was the best reading held in Los Angeles this year. What was wonderful was to see an audience ranging in age from 18 to 88 to celebrate Rexroth: he was a superb poet,, scholar, translator, editor; he was a teacher for generations; he was instigator for the San Francisco poetry renaissance; he was inspirer of California counterculture; and he was a creator of our populist culture in California.

Many read Rexroth’s radical verse, and he was always a rebel, from his youth supporting the Wobblies, the West’s most radical worker’s organization; to being a conscientious objector to World War II; to his life-long belief in anarchism; to his long commitment to Buddhism and fighting prejudice against Asians in California; to his being one of the great poets for the environment in the United States. Michael C. Ford, the Los Angeles beat poet, did a great job as organizer and m.c. of the reading as well as read Rexroth’s poem elegy on the death of Dylan Thomas with the refrain “they kill the young man” which was both a lament for all the 20th century artists who died too young as well as for the young men and women who are dieing in Iraq.

I first connected with Rexroth by reading his wonderful books of translations of Chinese and Japanese women poets: he introduced me as well as many others to 2,000 years of women’s poetry. I think one of Rexroth’s great contributions is sharing his knowledge and translations of Japanese and Chinese poetry and his commitment to Buddhism first with small group of San Francisco poets and then inspiring the West Coast’s counterculture’s interest in Asian literary, religion and culture. Whenever I see young Californians studying yoga I think Rexroth in some way influenced them.

Rexroth was an advocate of reading poetry with jazz, so poet Uri Hertz read one of Rexroth’s fine anarchist poems in support of the Hungarian rebels of 1956 to a jazz duo of piano and bass. Bonnie Tamblyn and a young TV actress performed selections from Rexroth’s bestiary poems about animals with Tamblyn singing and playing her guitar while the young actress performed the poems.

As a young man Rexroth and his first wife Andre camped and hiked throughout California; his poetry is both a celebration of our forests, foothills, mountains, and coastline as well as advocacy for their preservation. He surely inspired Gary Snyder who followed in Rexroth’s footsteps first as a forest ranger and then as a ecological poet: the two men helped awaken a generation to awareness of the environment.

Rexroth was working class, a poor orphan who dropped out of high school; he spent a little time studying at Chicago’s Art St Institute, but was really self-educated, knowing more about poetry than almost any person in the United States. He taught himself French, Spanish, Chinese, Greek, and Japanese, and translated poetry from all these languages. In the reading poet Eloise Klein Healey read from Rexroth’s wonderful translations of the Greek poet Sappho while Chicano musician Ruben Guevera read from Rexroth’s fine translations of Spanish-language poets Neruda and Alberti’s wonderful poets of exile and love. I think Rexroth’s an inspiration for any young high school dropout struggling now in California to make a career and a life of themselves: Rexroth did it and so can they.

Early in Rexroth’s life he worked as a fruit picker, a forest ranger, a factory worker, and an orderly at mental institutions but after his literary reputation grew this high school dropout wound up teaching at UC Santa Barbara. One person read an outstanding poetic eulogy Rexroth wrote to an old political comrade lamenting the many defeats they had suffered in their lifelong rebellion. But despite these many defeats, Rexroth had great generosity and caring for the younger generation. Cari Tomlinson, one of Rexroth’s students at UC Santa Barbara, shared how he was a mesmerizing and generous teacher. Also Lewis McAdams told how as a young poet of about 20 he knocked on Rexroth’s door in San Francisco; the older man generously welcomed him into San Francisco’s poetry scene.

Two of the last reeaders were Rexroth’s daughter Mariana Rexroth who shared to us wonderful poems about the stars he so loved that he wrote for her when he was a little girl and then his widow Carol Tinker. After the reading Mariana caught up the huge cake, so each member of the audience could have a piece and join in this celebration of a wonderful man, a brilliant poet, and a great Californian.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Wilshire: Grand Concourse of Dreams

A few weeks ago I heard Kevin Roderick and his co-author speak about their new book Wilshire: Grand Concourse of Dreams at Dawson’s bookstore. Wilshire: Grand Concourse of Dreams looks like a fascinating book. The two authors were charming. The stories they told were fascinating.

The authors discussed Gaylord Wilshire, the wealthy socialist heir who came to turn-of-the century Los Angeles. Wilshire sounds like a unusual man. He was dating some of the daughters of the well-to-do, started a billboard business, and advocated socialism. He began a new housing development just west of downtown around McArthur Park, and some of the wealthiest people in town moved there to the beginning of Wilshire Boulevard. If you want to know more about L.A., go get this book.

Since I have been researching Upton Sinclair lately, I had already known that Wilshire was a friend of Sinclair’s. Wilshire got Sinclair to come out west. Sinclair tells us that Wilshire was running a gold mine in the Sierras as a “socialist experiment in mining; it was run ‘on a basis of comradeship, with high wages and plenty of socialist propaganda.’” Workingmen and women across the country invested in the mine. A socialist gold mine sounds quite out-of-the-oridnary but times were different in 1904.

When Wilshire asked Sinclair to visit his mine, Sinclair did, becoming entranced with California and settling near Los Angeles. Wilshire’s mine soon failed; he went back to L.A., started Wilshire Boulevard and his housing development, and then left for New York where he published Wilshire’s magazine, one of the country’s most important socialist journals. Sinclair stayed in Los Angeles while Wilshire Boulevard grew and grew until it reached from downtown to the Pacific Ocean—and the rest is history.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Getting a Democrat Elected President

Since Bush has been sinking in the polls these last few months, people have begun to talk about the possibility that the Democrat can win the 2008 presidential election, but the question is which Democrat. Also, Republicans have the presidency, House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, so how can Democrats revive their party?

I've been doing research about Upton Sinclair's run for governor of California in 1934; that time period showed a remarkable revival of the Democratic Party in California, so looking at that period might be helpful in understanding our current situation.

From 1900-1932 Republicans totally dominated California politics, but in 1932 presidential election Hoover had lost both his home state California but also his home county Santa California. In that election the Democratic candidate for Senator William G. McAdoo was elected as millions voted for Roosevelt and other Democrats. So by 1934 it looked like Democrats could for the first time in the 20th century elect a Democrat governor.

The problem was in the 1920s Democrats had been nomiating for governor obscure men who lost, so they had no candidates in 1934. In Northern California Democrats encouraged George Creel, the regional director of Roosevelt's National Recovery Act (NRA), to announced his candidacy for governor. In Southern California Democrats were building up Culbert L. Olson, a pro-New Deal Los Angeles attorney, but he ran for state senate. Upton Sinclair, the famous Socialist author of The Jungle, changed his party from Socialist to Democratic, ran for governor, and won in the primary.

Then Republicans ran a smear campaign, utilizing phony anti-Sinclair newsreels, so the Republican candidate, conservative Governor Merriam, was relected. But the pro-FDR tide was so strong that even Merriam while running said he was pro-New Deal. Merriam won, but that Los Angeles liberal Culbert L. Olsen also won a seat as state senator in the state legislature. Olsen immediately became a leader in the conservative senate, leading them to approve new laws that began a moderate state income tax, increased assistance to improverished seniors, and repealed sales tax on food (many in California were starving). In 1938 Culbert Olsen ran against Governor Merriam and he won. Finally, a state which had a large Democratic majority since 1932 elected a pro-New Deal Democrat as Governor.

So people should quit discussing 2008 presidential elections, which are a long way off. Instead people should concentrate on 2006 elections next year, ensuring that good candidates are elected to both House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Hopefully Democrats can take back either the House or the Senate as well as elect more governors. Among the crop of Demoratic victors in 2006, there should be a good candidate for president.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


My favorite pie is pumpkin pie. Native Americans, of course, first cultivated pumpkins as well as squashes, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate. So Native Americans really created much of the American diet: from clambakes to turkey banquets to salmon feasts to chocolate drinks to winter squashes to cornbread.

Two weeks ago I visited the Southwest Musuem, one of the greatest Native American musuems in the world. We walked up the steps on the hill past the Goldline (rapid train) which we had taken and then took an elevator up the hillside to the musuem that sits high on the hill. The first room we went to was the California Room on California Indians. What fascinated me was the wonderul exhibit that illlustrated how each group of Indians brilliantly adapted to its ecological niche in California getting food. Many of the exhibits on display how to do with making food.

The California coastal Indians like the Tongva of the Los Angeles region and the Chumash of Santa Barbara both fished in the sea and collected sea shells that were used as money. Examples of sea shells were in the display case. The Tongva also collected tar from the tar pits which they traded to other Indians. On display were Chumash's baskets that were particulary brilliant in design. Also both Tongva and Chumash made canoes and rowed out to the nearby Channel Islands 20 miles offshore where Natives also lived. Costal Indians hunted seals, sea lions and sea otters but not whales; if a whale did wash ashore, they would eat it. They collected clams, mussels, and crabs. The Pomo in the north would capture ducks and mud hens by the shore.

Throughout California Natives collected acorns from oak trees, leached out the acids, and made an acorn mush which was a staple. Throughout the exhibit there were great looking baskets used to gather acorns and other seeds, nuts, bulbs, and roots. Baskets were used as boiling pots. Baskets were also used to store food. The Indians often dried out meat or fish before storing it in baskets which were then put in a granery. Also the display cases had stone mortars on which Native women would pound the acorns done into a fine flour. Acorn were made into pudding, mush or soup. Native peoples used wooden spoons too cook and eat.

The desert Indians of the Great Basin learned how to flourish in that harsh environment, eating inscets grasshopers, crickets and caterpillars. The peoples of the Central Valley and the Sierra foothills such as the Yosemite existed on the plentiful fish and game. They killed game birds like quail and grouse as well as rabbits, rats, mice, and chipmunks. They also killed larger game such as deer, elk, antelope, mountain sheep, and bear. Huge herds of elk, antelope, and deer lived in the grasslands of the Central Valley,

Native Americans of Northern California were river peoples: each Indian group centered its territory on a particular river or stream. The Northern Indians fished the salmon and trout in the rivers and creeks. Since my brother lives in Burney, California, in the northeast corner of the state, I was familiar with the Pit River Indians who fished the Pit River while the Hat Creek people lived by that trout stream coming north out of Mt. Lassen. The Northern Indians also used the abundant woods to make sturdy wooden houses. On display were photos of nets the Indians used to fish with.

California's Indians drank berry juices made out of elderberry and manzanita; ciders made out of wile apples or manzanita berries; wild grape juice; nut drinks from pounded nuts; and herbal teas. The got salt from seaweed on the seashore or from mineral deposits.

The Southwest Musuem had two other splendid rooms: one on the Plains Indians and the other on Southwest Indians--the Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo. The beeding on the dresses and shirts of the Plains Indians was just beautiful. All in all, the Southwest Museum is a great museum.

Friday, November 18, 2005

LA wants more green power

A few days ago on this blog I suggested that Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (L.A.D.W.P.) have a goal of 25% renewable sources for the city's electricity by 2010; currently LA D.W.P has a goal of 20% renewable energy by 2017.

Well, November 17 The LA Times had an article where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposes spending $240 million to build a transmission line for L.A. to tap into a geothermal fields in the Salton Sea area (geothermal projects generate electricity from tapping into the heat deep within the earth). The transmission line will take five years to build.

The Mayor wants the L.A. D.W.P. to meet the goal by 2010 of having 20% of its electricity from renewable sources. Well, 20% by 2010 is better than 20% by 2017, the current goal. The Mayor is certainly moving in the right direction, so we should support his proposal to build the transmission line to geothermal fields in the Salton Sea area. The mayor called his proposal "a major step forward in our efforts to shift away from outdated fossil fuels of the past and toward the renewable energy resources of the future." He's 100% right.

The transmission line would carry enough electricity for 1,500,000 homes, with L.A. getting 20% of the electricity or enough for 300,000 homes. The rest of the electricity would go to home in Imperial, Riverside, and San Diego counties—so the geothermal transmission line would help make much more use of renewable energy for electricity throughout Southern California.

Also November 16 LA Times announced the L.A. D.W.P. said it will buy a $262 million wind farm that generates electricity in Ken County: “The Pine Tree project, initially budgeted at $162 million, is erecting 80 wind turbines to provide 120 megawatts of power, enough to power up to 120,000 homes.” The L.A.D.W.P. board says it also wants to reach the goal by 2010 of 20% renewable energy sources.

So LA can get more of its electricity from alternative non-polluting energy sources. I think the mayor and the L.A.D.W.P. are moving in the right direction using more wind power and geothermal , but the city and its LA D.W.P. could do even more to acquire renewable energy:

Los Angeles would do much better by setting even higher goals for alternative energy to power the city. With putting solar panels on the rooftops the city should aim for 30% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2010!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Green Power

Global warming which is caused by burning coal and oil makes hurricanes worse, so what can we do about it? Get Green Power for our electricity.

I’m a Green Power customer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (L.A.D.W.P.).. About a year ago I signed up for the Green Power program. We Green Power customers get our energy from renewable sources: solar, geothermal; wind, biomass, and hydropower. It costs me an extra $3.26/month.

A few months before I signed up for Green Power, my old refrigerator was falling apart, so I bought a new Energy Star refrigerator. Energy Star is a U.S. government program that has a website ( that lists appliances that save energy. It lists all sorts of appliances: clothes washers; dishwashers, refrigerators; room air conditioning; cordless phones; dvd players; home audio; televisions; VCRs; computers; fax machines; printers; scanners etc. These energy star appliances use less energy and thus save us money.

I found a SANYO refrigerator listed as energy star, and in the product locator I found a nearby store in Los Angeles that sells the SANYO, so I went there and bought the refrigerator. A year after I bought the refrigerator, I checked my energy bill. Refrigerators use more electricity than any other household appliance because they’re on all the time. Also, I replaced the old bulbs with florescent bulbs. My new refrigerator along with the low-energy light bulbs saves me about $20/month. The store hauled off my old refrigerator but the L.A.D.W.P. also a program where they will haul off old refrigerators and give you in return a six-pack of florescent bulbs. In two years I will have paid off the new refrigerator that cost $400 just in terms of savings from my electric bill.

So I wound up for the past year using less energy (I have an all-electric house) as well as having my energy only come from renewable sources. I’m not causing any global warming, so I feel good about that. Everyone could change their refrigerator to Energy Star as well as use florescent bulbs. Last month I also had to get a new computer printer, so I got an Energy Star Canon. Buying only Energy Star appliance will save us all money as well as energy.

A few weeks ago I got a letter for the LA DWP congratulating me for being a Green Power Customer, and saying “The City of Los Angeles is also extending its commitment to a clean environment by developing a Renewable Portfolio Standard to achieve 20% renewable energy by 2017." In contrast, the City of Santa Monica has committed to have 25% renewable energy within Santa Monica by 2010. If Santa Monica can commit to 25% renewable resources by 2010, why can’t Los Angeles? If you ask me, both cities should try to shoot higher than that.

Also, the letter said I could look at the 2004 Green Power program Annual report but when I checked, the report wasn’t up. Could the LA.D.W.P. please put up the report.

By the way, the City of Santa Monica a couple years ago signed up to get electricity for city offices only from green power sources, which has saved the city money. The city of Los Angeles should do the same: run its city offices only on green power electricity.

The more non-polluting energy we all use—both as individuals and as cities—the more we can begin to tackle global warming.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Schwarzenegger’s propositions terminated

I feel like celebrating that all of Governor Schwarzenegger’s propositions—74, 75, 76, and 77—were defeated in yesterday’s special elections. The people of California got smart and told the Governor that they thought his reforms were really bad ideas, which they were. Led by nurses, teachers, firefighters, and policepeople, California’s working people have had a victory!

His Proposition 76—capping the California state budget—would have taken millions away from the schools, which have been already starved for funds for over two decades. His Proposition 74—the proposal to extend tenure for teachers—would have had almost no impact improving California’s teachers and would have made it harder to attract good new teachers. Good that they were voted down!

So far Schwarzenegger has been a terrible governor for California. When the state has serious problems to be solved—millions of its citizens lack health care; the school system is getting worse; the transportation system and the flood control system around Sacramento needs improvements—Schwarzenegger succeeded in wasting over $50 million of the taxpers money on this special election November 8, 2005. The money could have been much better spent elsewhere.

In today’s LA Times Steve Lopez in the “California section” argues in a piece titled “Governor Took Low Road on Education” that Schwarzenegger has ignored his opportunity to improve California’s schools. Lopez says that instead Schwarzenegger “has cavalierly broken a promise on public school funding [to restore the $2 billion he took], embittered teachers, and offered next to nothing in the way of creative or sweeping solutions to the state’s most critical challenge.”

Indeed Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to continue professional development for teachers. I teach at Santa Monica College, and we’ve been told there is zero money for professional development even though we’re required to put in hours for professional development. I’m going to two conferences, but it’s with my own money.

I would hope that Governor Schwarzenegger would make some serious changes in his policies, but I don’t see it. California’s infrastructure—schools, roads, and libraries—were built decades ago and need to be improved but that takes money. The Republican ideology of starving the public sector which Schwarzenegger believes in doesn’t allow for spending money in improvement of infrastructure. Too bad.

Then it’s up to us citizens to elect a governor who will build up the infrastructure—the school, health system, libraries, and transportation system. We’ve just had one victory in California. We need to start planning for our next victory.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Paris Burns

For those puzzled about the French youth burning cars in Paris, I suggest people read Walter Mosely’s wonderful novel “Little Scarlet” about the Watts Rebellion in 1965. Watts in 1965 was very similar to the suburbs of Paris–very high unemployment for black youth, constant police harassment, lack of youth opportunities, poor schools, etc.

Mosely particularly shows how the hero Easy Rawlins, a 40 something employed black famly man with family who owns apartments, is constantly stopped by the police just as he walks down the street. I taught the book recently, and the students at LACC, mostly Asian and Latino immigrants, couldn’t understand two things at first: they couldn’t understand how bad the segregation was in Los Angeles and they couldn’t understand why the black male hero didn’t burn down anything but merely watches from his office. Easy Rawlins sympathizes with the grievances of youth in the street but doesn’t think burning helps really. Actually, Rawlins sympthizes with the pain of two white small storeowners whose shops have been destroyed by the riots. Yet Rawlins is positively affected, as when the cops need him to solve a murder, he demands to be treated with respect. Constantly through the novel he again and again demands to be treated decently by the cops.

I think the French youth in the streets (not immigrants as these youth are 2nd and 3rd generation French) also need to be treated with respect–respect is at the core of what they’re asking. The Minister of Interior Skorzy is so hated because he shows no respect–rather the opposite as he is insulting calling them "scum."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Los Angeles Environmentalist Revealed!

Los Angeles environmentalist might at first sound like a contradiction, but not if you look at the life of Lawrence Clark Powell. He was the Librarian at UCLA who had built up the university’s book collection and for whom Powell Library was named. Powell’s California Classics is made up of essays about 31 California writers who brilliantly discuss the land—mountain, deserts, valleys, and coasts—of California.

Of course, Powell writes a good essay on John Muir praising his book Mountains of California, but Powell also includes two even more fascinating essays about two mountain men/writers before Muir: William H. Brewer and Clarence King.

Brewer, a Yale-trained scientist, was field leader of the first California Geological Survey, led by Josiah Dwight Whitney. Brewer and the geological survey tramped from one end to the other of California from 1861 to1864 surveying, mountain climbing, and collecting specimens. Powell describes Brewer as having immense dedication, stamina, and vision.

Brewer also wrote letters to his brother in New York that became the basis of his book Up and Down California 1860-64. Powell tells how during his lifetime Brewer’s letters were never published but during the 1920s Francis Farquhar, a C.P.A. and leading California mountaineer, convinced Brewer’s sons to let him edit their father’s letters into a book which became the wonderful Up and Down California 1860-64. Powell says that the book wonderfully describes the the beauties of the state before cities and earth-moving machinery with Brewer’s “clear and sensuous vision.”

Clarence King, a young Eastern college student, became Brewer’s assistant, and quickly distinguished himself with brilliant climbs up Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. After climbing many mountains in California with the Whitney survey from 1863-1866, King went on to direct the United States Geological Survey and then wrote Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada published in 1872. Powell comments, “King was the first to climb the Sierra Nevada, and the first to write of the range in sunlight and storm …” Powell describes King as poet of the mountains as well as audacious climber.

Powell includes essays in a charming style mixing literary history, biography of the writers, commentary on their books, and autobiography. Of course, he describes such famous writers and books as Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp, Mark Twain’s Roughing It, Richard Henry Dana Jr’s Two Years Before the Mast, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Silverado Squatters, written when he camped with his wife near an abandoned gold mine in Napa County.

But I found even more fascinating Powell’s writing about three early classic books about the deserts of California: William Manly’s Death Valley in ’49, Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain and George Wharton James’ The Wonders of the Colorado Desert. Powell has a fascinating essay on William Manly’s Death Valley in ’49. Manly’s autobiographical tale describes how he was a young ox driver leading a small wagon train through Death Valley when it bogged down, so Manly and another man went on ahead, finding their way to Los Angeles and returning with food, saving all lives. Powell says Manley book “a classic of the gold rush, a chronicle of death and disaster, survival and heroism, distinguished by narrative power, specific event, and precise observation.”

By the turn of the century the desert was no longer a death field so writers changed their views of that landscape. Mary Austin, who was a repressed but college educated Victorian young woman, came with her family to homestead in the high desert right just south of the Sierra Nevada. After she explored the desert, learning its plants and animals; then see listened and learned from the Basque sheepherders, the Native Americans, and old timers like General Edward Beale, owner of Rancho Tejon. At this point she wrote Land of Little Rain. Her book is the first ecofeminist classic. Austin was a woman who finds herself and her freedom at the same time she comes to know and understand the desert. Powell as right when he said, “She was one of the first writers to exalt the desert.” Austin was a mystic who found home and freedom there.

George Wharton James was a sickly Englishman who regained his health in the 1880s tramping through deserts of Nevada, New Mexico, and Southern California. A fervent booster, he published pre-automobile guidebooks to his beloved deserts. Powell says that his book The Wonders of the Colorado Desert is “composed of learning and love, and fashioned into the several levels of history, science, topography, and visionary idealism.” The desert he so loved was from Twentynine Palms to Yuma and from the San Bernardino-San Jacinto-Laguna Mountains to the Colorado River.

Powell also gives us those writers who brilliantly evoke the California coast: Robinson Jeffers, the poet of Big Sur; and John Steinbeck who writes about Monterey and the ranches in the nearby inland valley. But the most fascinating costal writer Powell discusses is J. Smeaton Chase, an Englishman who came to California in 1890 and who settled in northeast San Diego.

Chase’s third book California Costal Trails describes two long horseback rides he took: in 1910 from El Monte in Los Angeles County down the coast to San Diego; and in 1912 from El Monte to the coast at Malibu up to the Oregon border. Chase wonderfully describes the plants and flowers, the missions he visited, the many Mexicans he met and shared food with along the way, the hermit he met, and, of course, his two horses. Chase’s book sounds like a great California western about the last horseback ride along the coast.

Besides being an environmentalist, Powel is a committed bookman, telling in charming stories his autobiography through books: his childhood in Pasadena watching his father play tennis with Upton Sinclair; his search as a student for these California classics through bookstores in London, Paris, and Boston; his research as a graduate student in librarian studies in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley; his working as a young man for famed book dealer Jake Zeitlin; and his researches on the authors at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley and the Huntington Library in San Marino. He makes the book search sound like one of the great works of life.

Powell is utterly charming writer whose work is permeated with love for the California land. Yes, he really was a Los Angeles environmentalist. Now, the Los Angeles Sierra Club is the largest chapter in the nation. Horseback riders still ride through the little patches of trails in Los Angeles County, with a major equestrian center in Burbank. Yes, Burbank! But before the current generation, Powell was there as well as the environmental writers he so brilliantly brings to life: the mountaineers William Brewer and Clarence King; the desert writers William Manly, Mary Austin, and George Wharton James; and the coastal horseback rider J. Smeaton Chase.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

November 8 Election

California’s special election

Get out and vote! For education, for health care, for a decent energy system, for demoratic rights

from California Federation of Teachers AFT AFL-CIO

No Proposition 73 Constitutionally defines life begins at conception.

No Proposition 74 Teachers can be fired without justification for five years, not two years as the law states now.

No. Proposition 75.
Silences nurses, teachers, firefighters—targets public employees by imposing spending restrictions that apply only to unions and not to corporations. This law is a terrible assault on democracy in California.

No. Proposition 76.
The Governor’s power grab over the budget. Overturns the funding guarantees the voters passed and gives the governor unprecedented power to cut the state budget unilaterally. The Governor’s already taken $2 billion from education he hasn’t paid back.

No. Proposition 77.
Gives 3 unelected and unaccountable judges power to redistrict
new legislative districts for 37 million Californians

No Proposition 78.
Stop phony prescription drug program. This law codifies the pharmaceutical industry’s phony program to “voluntarily” reduce prescription rates.

Yes. Proposition 79.
Consumer plan to provided affordable prescription drugs to
eight million Californians with state enforcement.

Yes. Proposition 80. Consumer plan to provide for energy for all Californians and to prevent fraud like Enron did in a deregulated energy system.

Governor Schwarzenegger has pushed this unnecessary special election. He has said when running for office since he’s wealthy he wouldn’t take money from special interests but he’s taken millions—more than any other elected official in California.

In this election Schwarzenegger is pushing the interests of the speical interests who gave him big contributions. Since many of his propositions are unpopular, he’s counting on a low turnout in the vote on Tuesday November 8 to pass them.

Get out and vote!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween Carnaeval/West Hollywood

Last night I attended the Halloween Street celebration in West Hollywood, the largest in California with over 350,000 on the streets. As my friend Erica and I walked down Santa Monica Boulevard, we saw people dressed in costumes walking along with us west--a skeleton bride in white face paint and a bridal dress walking next to two cops. When I lived in West Hollywood, I always walked from my house a mile to the celebration, but I've not been living in West Hollywood for four year. However, at a birthday party last spring of a West Hollywood senior activitst Ric Rickles I was introduced to West Hollywood's mayor Abby Land, so I decided this year I was going.

We got to La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevard, crossed the street and left the sidewalk to walk with thousands of others in the middle of the crowd. A very diverse crowd it was: white, black, Asian, Latino; young and old, some parents with toddlers around their necks; gay, bisexual, and straight; people speaking Russian, Spanish, English and French.

As we walked forward west the crowd got thicker until we got to the first bandstand where people in costumes were strutting across the stage: a ninja Bunny who executed some karate moves; a Jack-of-the Box in half popping out of a box around his waist; four beautiful Venetian dancers in red and blue pointy colored hats and long flowing robes colored in danced on stage. As we stood in the crowd watching the people on stage a line of penguins--fifteen men in black with white pointy masks--marched in front of us. That was fantastic to see a March of the Penguins right before our eyes. Ten minutes later the fifteen penguin-men marched on stages and marched in a circle, circling the m.c. who yelled, "I'm pregnant!" I loved those penguins! Finally, the penguins marched right off stage!

A few minutes later two tall figures dressed as elegrant ladies in gowns marched on stage. The M.C. announced, "Lady Katrina and Lady Rita" as the two hurricanes dance around before dancing off. Good that people in West Hollywood help us laugh off disasters. Later as we were weaving in and around through the crowd which was getting thicker and thicker a man in black with two birds perched on his shouder approached me. A foot away he held one of his birds right in front of my face and said, "Bird flu." I ducked out of his way. Right after 9/13 I went to West Hollywood Halloween and a man and a woman were wearing two tall rectangular boxes that looked like skyscrapers: they were the Twin Towers.

We stopped by the fire truck as my friend Erica met an old friend Carol from high school she hadn't seen in twenty years, and they chatted what they had been doing these last twenty years, Then we marched on, seeing a man holding a sign "Jesus Loves Jews" which I liked and then a Jesus Freak holding up a sign condeming the crowd followed by an escort of about five cops. By this time the crowd was really thick and it was slow going. What is great is the peacefullness, the diversity, the creativity, and the imagination. Groups of gigantic men and women were decked out in gowns, towering blonde and red wigs, and high heels were posing for others holding cameras. Big girls! Very big girls! In West Hollwyood everyone can be Star for the Evening. All body sizes welcome! Big guys dressed up as gorillas and Vikings! Fat women looked great as divas and princesses in elegant gowns!

At another stage we saw a group cowboys/cowgirls in blue jeans, cowboy shirts and black hats were dancing to disco rap, doing turns and twirling their black hats. As we marched along we saw a man besides a female figure wearing an U.S flag/burka like the women of Afghanistan--I wished I had my camera! We saw Chinese aristrocrats in beautiful embroidered gowns; lots of drag queens in towering wigs, elegrant gowns, and platform shoes; a young man wearing around his neck a table set with plates and silverwear who was a movable feast. Lots of people dressed up in black-and-white stripped prison outfits as wells adults dressed up as babies.

What's great is this one day a year all of Los Angeles comes together to celebrating everybody's creativity--this city needs more festivities like this.

Day of the Dead/ Hollywood Forever Cemetery

I’ve been going to Day of the Dead/Halloween festivities in Los Angeles. First, October 29th I went to 6th Annual Day of the Dead at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a historical cemetery having a grave of blonde bombshell actress Jayne Mansfield, silent movie star Rudolf Valetino’s grave and a monument for the LA Times printers killed when the newspaper was bombed in 1911.

As I walked in this year, parking was harder to come by even in the afternoon and groups of people were walking in—thousands were coming this year. The event lasted from 3-11. Finally, I got in line, and gave them a $5 donation—new this year.

About 4:00 near the cemetery's entrance they had a group of men and women dressed in indigenous Mexican dress with—attractive long dresses with orange embroidery for the women and white shirts for the men—kneeling in a prayer for the opening ceremony. To one side was the Oaxaca band holding their instruments including a tuba; to the other side a large group of Aztec dancers with headdresses of gray and black plumages, white skull faces, and black costumes. The crowd of a couple hundred gathered around. After the prayer ceremony, the drummer with a 3 foot drum got in the center starting to beat his drum while forty Aztec dancers— swathed in white face paint, gray feather headdresses, black skeleton outfits, and bells around their ankles—danced and danced in the center of the circle.

Day of the Dead was originally a Mexican Indian holiday celebrating the dead that the Spanish Catholics appropriated and Catholicized. Here in Los Angeles Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles, a community-art center for Chicanos, started Day of the Dead celebrations over two decades ago where artists create alters, inspiring many other Dead of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles and changing the culture of this city. Hollywood Forever Cemetary started their celebration six-years ago by asking artists of all ethnicities to make alters; in that first celebration only a few hundred showed up, but today thousands were coming.

Back at the opening ceremony the men in white shirts picked up a coffin, heading off into the ceremony in a processional while the band started playing as they marched behind the coffin; the other Mexican men and women followed, then the Aztec dancers, and then the rest of us who by now numbered hundreds got in line to parade into the cemetery. Lots of cameras went offTo the left was an alter covered in a United States flag for the soldiers dead of Iraq.

After we of few minutes of marching the line turned leftl. Next we passed an alter for Rosa Parks, the great black woman who started the Montgomery bus boycott; an alter for all those who have died from cigarettes; another alter covered in an U.S. flag for a soldier dead in Iraq; an alter for Jayne Mansfield who is buried in this graveyard, and another alter for rebel rocker Johnny Ramone, who is also buried here. Many of the alters had loaves of bread for the dead and photos of the dead. Many alters had tall, white skeleton sculptures bedecking the grades along with yellow flowers. The creators of the alters sat in folding chairs besides their creation. One alter had two young men and two men dressed in black with white face pain--all were dancing.

At the next intersection was a huge white cloth like a white sea covering the grave. The ashen-white faced dancers covered in white rags of the anti-war butoh dance group Corpus Delicti were dancing as if they were corpses dead from the war. Corpus Delicti has often danced at Los Angeles anti-war marches to show Americans the dead of our war. To our left down that row of graves was an alter for the murdered Women of Juarez and another with a mural of a knight on horseback for great Spanish author Miguel Cervantes who died four centuries ago in 1605. All in all a great Day of the Dead.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Who Will Rebuild New Orleans?

Who should rebuild New Orleans is displaced New Orleans people—mostly black but also poor white-- who have lost their jobs and homes. The government should set up a large federal project restoring the wetlands that protect the city and rebuilding the city itself. The jobs should be above minimum wage and with benefits.The government should set up a program like the Works Project Administration (W.P.A.) that the New Deal had during the Depression that put unemployed people to work buiding everything from the San Francisco Gate Bridge to schools, libraries, roads all across the nation. The W.P.A. was incredibly successful helping people reconstruct their lives as well as building bridges, roads and buildings we still use today seventy years later.

Is this going to happen? No.

President Bush has already suspended provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act that requires the government contractors to pay prevailing wages in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. Also the Department of Homeland Security has suspended sanctions against employers who hire workers with no documents.

So who will be hired? Not blacks from New Orleans who were instrumental in creating the rich culture of the city and who have been left with nothing. Not poor white Cajuns whose families have lived in the region for 200 years also instrumental in creating Louisiana's culture. Not them. Oh no.

Government contractors are hiring Latino immigrants from Mexico and Central America and sending them to Louisiana. Gregory Rordiguez in the September 25, 2005 LA Times reports that these male workers “live outside New Orleans in mobile homes without running water and electricity.” Rodriguez quotes President Bill Clinton on NBC’s “Meet the Press” saying that “New Orleans will be resettled with a different population: the evacuees will be forced to relocate and will be replaced by poor Latinos.

One subtitle Rodriguez uses in his article is “Latinos to the Rescue,” point out the many contributions of immigrant labor. Indeed, immigrant labor including Mexican immigrants have made huge contributions, but New Orleans could very well be rescued by the labor of its own citizens, giving them a decent life in the process. Instead the government will exploit desperately poor Latinos in order to rebuild the city. Of course, any workers who help to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf should be given legal status, electricity, running water, and wages above the minimum.

But the jobs should firstly go to people from New Orleans who have been forced out so they can return to their city to rebuild their city, their neighborhoods, and their lives. We should pressure Bush to follow the previsions of the Davis-Bacon Act that requires the government contractors to pay prevailing wages in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. We should pressure Bush to restart a Works Progress Administration . We should have government contractors hire evacuees and house them in trailers with electricity, running water, and a decent wage. We should also demand that any immigrants who work rebuilding New Orelans be given legal status, basic rights and a decent wage. That's the way New Orelans should be rebuilt.

Monday, September 19, 2005

World Festival of Sacred Music is Dynamite!

I attended last Saturday, September 17, at UCLA the opening concert for the World Festival of Sacred Music. This festival has 43 events performed by 1000 dancers, singers, and musicans held at spaces secular and sacred all over Southern California from September 17 through October 2.

The opening event was held in an amphlitheater at UCLA under a harvest full moon where we hear 5 music groups from around the world. First, there was the opening blessing by Cindi Moar Alvitre and the Tia'at Society, members of the Tonga people, the Native Americans of Los Angeles area. What I found fascinating was the Ti'at Society was reviving the "ancient Southern California Indian tradition, the Moomat Ahiko, a sacred canoe, whose name translates to "Breath of the Ocean."

The first musical group was Gonja Dreams, led by Iddi Sakka, which had musicians and danacers from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Brazil, Israel and the U.S. performing music of the Gonga people of Northern Ghana but combining African and Western rhythms and instruments.

Next was Los Folkloristas, a group that plays traditional music and Mexico and Latin America as well as Danza Floricanto/USA, the oldest professional Mexican folk dance troup in Los Angeles. Los Floristas' songs ranged from the Mexican song "Raiz Viga" (Living Roots) to an Bolivian Indians' lament, to "Tierra Mestiza" about Chicano immigrants in the U.S. to "LA Paloma" (the dove" from Chile.

Next they had two groups performing at the same time. On the main stage the KNUA Korean Traditional Performing Arts Troupe, just having flown in from Korean, played haunting melodies on traditional instruments of flute, gong, and a stringed violin-like instrument. Some of the songs and dances were in honor of Buddhism while the last was of shamanistic origin whose purpose was "to wash away evil spirits or misfortune." At the same time The Hung Lakorn Lek Puppet Theater Troup from Thailand was performing scenes from the great Hindi epic the Ramayana. George Abe next performed on the Japanese flute in praise of the moon which loomed full, ripe and rich overhead.

The next group was Chirgilchin which is translated as "miracle" from the Tuvan language of Siberia. Chirgilchin are three young Tuvan throat-singers. The movie "Ghengis Blues" was
a international hit about the Tuvan throat singers who are quite amazing. The three played unusual Tuvan instruments of a lute, two-stringed violin, and rattle used by Tuvan shamans. I thought the music sounded like Siberian cowboy music with a beat and based on a scale like American blues. Indeed, Tuvans were a nomadic horse culture, so many of the songs are about, of course, horses, nomadic way of life, and nature. They were awfully wonderful.

Lastly was Jri Pavlica & Hradistan Dulcimer Band from Czech Republic who preserve the folk music of Southern Moravia who were also terrific. The opened with traditional Moravian and Bohemian folk songs; then they had a song cycle covering pagan singing from before 1000 a.d., early Christain choral music, medieval drinking songs, Baroque dance songs, and village songs. They closed with Jiri Pavlica's wonderful, contemporary songs. These like the Tuvan throat singers were virtuoso musicians.

At the end all the musicians and dancers came on stage--from Native America, Africa, Latin America, Korean, Siberia, and the U.S.--while Brenda Jackson, an African-American opera singer sang "Amazing Grace" acompanied by everybody. Quite a sight. The World Festival of Sacred Music shows Los Angeles at its dazzling best.

To find out more, check out the festival's website www/

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Notes from Inside New Orleans

I'm reprinting Jordan Flaherty's article "From Inside New
Orleans" because I thinkthe mass media's scapegoating
of the people of New Orleans this last week must
be addressed.

Scientists had warned for years of dangers that
a hurricane would flood New Orleans but all levels of
government from the city to the federal government
ignored the warnings.

Doctors without medicines in
New Orleans were even"looting," or breaking into stores to
get medicines for their patients who werein danger of
dieing without them. Also, the people who were starving,
without water,or medicine in New Orleans said people broke
into stores to get food and water--which people needed to
live. Yet all week certain news commentators called this

Notes From Inside New Orleans
>by Jordan Flaherty
>Friday, September 2, 2005
>I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled
from theapartment I was staying in by boat to a
>helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to
examine the attitudeof federal and state officials
>towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise
you to visit one ofthe refugee camps.
>In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway
near Causeway,thousands of people (at least 90%
>black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash
behind metalbarricades, under an unforgiving
sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard ove
them. When a bus would come through, it would stop
at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of
the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no
information given about where the bus was going. Once inside
(wewere told) evacuees would be told where the bus was
taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas,
or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a
bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family
and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get
out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no
choice but to go to the shelter in
Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans
to pick youup, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.
>I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers,
>Salvation Army workers, National
>Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could
>give me any details on when
>buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other
>information. I spoke to the
>several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been
>able to get any information
>from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all
>of them, from Australian tv to local
>Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess.
>One cameraman told me "as
>someone who's been here in this camp for two days, the only information
>I can give you is this: get
>out by nightfall. You don't want to be here at night."
>There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to
>set up any sort of transparent
>and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to
>register contact information or find
>family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone
>services, treatment for
>possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.
>To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, its important to look at
>New Orleans itself.
>For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a
>incredible, glorious, vital, city. A
>place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else in the world. A
>70% African-American city
>where resistance to white supremacy has supported a generous,
>subversive and unique culture of
>vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to secondlines, Mardi Gras
>Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz
>Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a
>place of art and music and
>dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.
>It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block
>can take two hours because you
>stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where a community pulls
>together when someone is in
>need. It is a city of extended families and social networks filling
>the gaps left by city, state and federal
>governments that have abdicated their responsibility for the public
>welfare. It is a city where someone
>you walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an
>It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city
>of New Orleans has a population of
>just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them
>centered on just a few,
>overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying
>that they don't need to
>search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a
>shooting, the attacker is shot in
>There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much
>of Black New Orleans and the
>N.O. Police Department. In recent months, officers have been accused
>of everything from drug
>running to corruption to theft. In separate incidents, two New Orleans
>police officers were recently
>charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several high
>profile police killings of
>unarmed youth, including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has
>inspired ongoing weekly protests
>for several months.
>The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders
>will not graduate in four years.
>Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child's education and ranks 48th
>in the country for lowest
>teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young
>people drop out of Louisiana
>schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from school on
>any given day. Far too
>many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison,
>a former slave
>plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of
>inmates eventually die in the
>prison. It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining jobs
>are are low-paying, transient,
>insecure jobs in the service economy.
>Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This
>disaster is one that was
>constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina
>was the inevitable spark
>igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the
>neighborhoods left most at risk, to the
>treatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims,
>this disaster is shaped by race.
>Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this
>week our political leaders have
>defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached,
>our Governor urged us to
>"Pray the hurricane down" to a level two. Trapped in a building two
>days after the hurricane, we
>tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations,
>hoping for vital news, and were told
>that our governor had called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic
>began to rule, they was no
>source of solid dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and
>reporters said the water level
>would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like
>wildfire, and the politicians and
>media only made it worse.
>While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way
>to get there were left
>behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have
>spent the last week demonizing
>those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in
>it, this is the part of this
>tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.
>No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely
>closed stores in a
>desperate, starving city as a "looter," but that's just what the media
>did over and over again. Sheriffs
>and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of
>perform rescue operations.
>Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were transformed
>into black, out-of-control,
>criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be
>insured against loss is a greater crime
>than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of
>dollars of damage and
>destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties
>focus on "welfare queens" and
>"super-predators" obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes
>the Savings and Loan
>scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are
>being used as a scapegoat
>to cover up much larger crimes.
>City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here.
>Since at least the mid-1800s, its been
>widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of
>1927, which, like this
>week's events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of
>natural disaster, illustrated
>exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently
>refused to spend the money to
>protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others
>warned of the urgent impending
>danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to
>reinforce and protect the city, the
>Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to
>fund New Orleans flood control,
>and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of
>global warming. And, as the
>dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response
>dramatized vividly the callous
>disregard of our elected leaders.
>The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a
>US President and a
>Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long.
>In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New
>Orleans. This money can either be
>spent to usher in a "New Deal" for the city, with public investment,
>creation of stable union jobs, new
>schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be
>"rebuilt and revitalized" to a
>shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with
>chain stores and theme parks
>replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz
>Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty,
>racism, disinvestment,
>deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this
>pre-Katrina hurricane will take
>billions to repair.
>Now that the money is flowing in, and the world's eyes are focused on
>Katrina, its vital that
>progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a
>rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is
>a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.
>Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn
>Magazine ( He is not
>planning on moving out of New Orleans.
>Below are some small, grassroots and New Orleans-based resources,
>organizations and institutions
>that will need your support in the coming months.
>Social Justice:
>Cultural Resources:
>Current Info and Resources:

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Republicans and New Orleans Castastophe

Because of the horrible events all week in New Orleans and the Gulf, I'm reprinting Michael Parenti's article.

An article Friday, Sept. 2, 2005, in the LA Times said that lots of news media had run stories predicting a disaster for New Orleans: in 2002 the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, the largest newspaper in Louisiana, ran a 5-party story about disaster could could happen to the city which won numerous awards; National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" in 2002 laid out how New Orleans was at risk; the New York Times ran an article saying thousands of lives were at risk. After the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran its 2002 story, it ran 9 more stories "reporting that the combination of tax cuts, the war in Iraq, and the demands of homeland security had led President Bush's administration to repeatedly reject urgent requests from the Army Corpos of Engineers and Louisianas's congressional delegation that it allocate the money to save New Orelas." Also, all of New Orleans' people could have been evacuated just like Cuba evacuated 1,300,00 people in 2004 and housed in tents before Hurricane Karina hit--saving thousands of lives.

How the Free Market Killed New Orleans*

By Michael Parenti

The free market played a crucial role in the destruction of New Orleans
and the death of thousands of its residents. Armed with advanced
warningthat a momentous (force 5) hurricane was going to hit that city and
surrounding areas, what did officials do? They played the free market.

They announced that everyone should evacuate. Everyone was expected to
devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means, just as
the free market dictates, just like people do when disaster hits
free-market Third World countries.

It is a beautiful thing this free market in which every individual
pursues his or her own personal interests and thereby effects an
optimal outcome for the entire society. This is the way the invisible hand
works its wonders.

There would be none of the collectivistic regimented evacuation as
occurred in Cuba. When an especially powerful hurricane hit that island
last year, the Castro government, abetted by neighborhood citizen
committees and local Communist party cadres, evacuated 1.3 million
people, more than 10 percent of the country's population, with not a
single life lost, a heartening feat that went largely unmentioned in
the U.S. press.

On Day One of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, it was already
clear that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American lives had been lost
in New Orleans. Many people had "refused" to evacuate, media reporters
explained, because they were just plain "stubborn."

It was not until Day Three that the relatively affluent telecasters
began to realize that tens of thousands of people had failed to flee
because they had nowhere to go and no means of getting there. With
hardly any cash at hand or no motor vehicle to call their own, they had
to sit tight and hope for the best. In the end, the free market did not
work so well for them.

Many of these people were low-income African Americans, along with
fewern numbers of poor whites. It should be remembered that most of them had
jobs before Katrina's lethal visit. That's what most poor people do in
this country: they work, usually quite hard at dismally paying jobs,
sometimes more than one job at a time. They are poor not because
they'relazy but because they have a hard time surviving on poverty wages while
burdened by high prices, high rents, and regressive taxes.

The free market played a role in other ways. Bush's agenda is to cut
government services to the bone and make people rely on the private
sector for the things they might need. So he sliced $71.2 million from
the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent
reduction. Plans to fortify New Orleans levees and upgrade the system
of pumping out water had to be shelved.

Bush took to the airways and said that no one could have foreseen this
disaster. Just another lie tumbling from his lips. All sorts of people
had been predicting disaster for New Orleans, pointing to the need to
strengthen the levees and the pumps, and fortify the coastlands.

In their campaign to starve out the public sector, the Bushite
reactionaries also allowed developers to drain vast areas of wetlands.
Again, that old invisible hand of the free market would take care of
things. The developers, pursuing their own private profit, would devise
outcomes that would benefit us all.

But wetlands served as a natural absorbent and barrier between New
Orleans and the storms riding in from across the sea. And for some
yearsnow, the wetlands have been disappearing at a frightening pace on the
Gulf' coast. All this was of no concern to the reactionaries in the
White House.

As for the rescue operation, the free-marketeers like to say that
reliefn to the more unfortunate among us should be left to private charity. It
was a favorite preachment of President Ronald Reagan that "private
charity can do the job." And for the first few days that indeed seemed
to be the policy with the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The federal government was nowhere in sight but the Red Cross went into
action. Its message: "Don't send food or blankets; send money."
Meanwhile Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network---taking
a moment off from God's work of pushing John Roberts nomination to the
Supreme Court---called for donations and announced "Operation Blessing"
which consisted of a highly-publicized but totally inadequate shipment
of canned goods and bibles.

By Day Three even the myopic media began to realize the immense failure
of the rescue operation. People were dying because relief had not
arrived. The authorities seemed more concerned with the looting than
with rescuing people. It was property before people, just like the free
marketeers always want.

But questions arose that the free market did not seem capable of
answering: Who was in charge of the rescue operation? Why so few
helicopters and just a scattering of Coast Guard rescuers? Why did it
take helicopters five hours to get six people out of one hospital? When
would the rescue operation gather some steam? Where were the feds? The
state troopers? The National Guard? Where were the buses and trucks?
theshelters and portable toilets? The medical supplies and water?

Where was Homeland Security? What has Homeland Security done with the
$33.8 billions allocated to it in fiscal 2005? Even ABC-TV evening news
(September 1, 2005) quoted local officials as saying that "the federal
government's response has been a national disgrace."

In a moment of delicious (and perhaps mischievous) irony, offers of
foreign aid were tendered by France, Germany and several other nations.
Russia offered to send two plane loads of food and other materials for
the victims. Predictably, all these proposals were quickly refused by
the White House. America the Beautiful and Powerful, America the
SupremeRescuer and World Leader, America the Purveyor of Global Prosperity
could not accept foreign aid from others. That would be a most
deflating and insulting role reversal. Were the French looking for another punch
in the nose?

Besides, to have accepted foreign aid would have been to admit the
truth---that the Bushite reactionaries had neither the desire nor the
decency to provide for ordinary citizens, not even those in the most
extreme straits. Next thing you know, people would start thinking that
George W. Bush was really nothing more than a fulltime agent of
Corporate America.
> -------
> Michael Parenti's recent books include Superpatriotism (City Lights)
> and
> The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), both available in
> paperback. His forthcoming The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press)
> will be published in the fall. For more information visit:

Monday, August 15, 2005

Anti-Abortionists Use Pornography of Violence

Last October on a trip to UC Berkeley I walked by the political tables near Sather Gate and saw about three young women at the anti-abortionist table along with the usual grisly photos of dead fetuses. I didn't engage them in any argument at all but just looked them and their photos over carefully. My generation fought for their right to have those tables, to have free speech, and to have their photos. Good that everybody has free speech.

But here's my free speech. I think those photos at the anti-abortionist table were deeply offensive. I thought those photos were pornography for political ends. These photos showed violence agan and again--an unrelentless vision of violence in order to upset people. I've once seen a violent Hollywood film with humans getting killed in awful ways every ten minutes that I thought the film uses pornography of violence which degrades human life.The anti-abortionist with their terrible photos use a similar pornography of violence that degrades human life.

But the anti-abortionists show photos which are the visual equivelent of a kick-in-the-stomach. Arguing that way is deeply dehumanizing --dehumanzing to the audience in particular. I think that the anti-abortionists by showing pornographic photos of dead fetuses or verbal equivalents--there is a verbal pornography of violence that lists one grisly death after another-- are undermining their own arguments.

The anti-abortions don't engage in argument appealing to the audience's logic or reason. When we got free speech on the Berkeley campus, we engaged in arguments appealing to logic and reason month after month. I would hope that the anti-abortionists quit such ways of arguing and instead argue from facts showing where the sources for their facts. It's not enough to throw out a random statistics--people lie with statistics every day of the week--but one needs to show where these statistics come from.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Novel About a Plague: The Rag Doll Plagues

Alejandro Morales has written an amazing novel called The Rag Doll Plagues. The novel is divided into three parts, and in each part a physician named Gregory Revultas battles a deadly plague called La Mona: Book One takes place 1788-1792; Book Two occurs in contemporary southern California; and Book Three in 2050 Southern California and Mexico. The book has a driving plot which recalls Camus' The Plague.

Morales, a professor of Spanish at Univeristy of California Irvine, combines magic realism, historical chronicle, and science fiction in this novel first published in 1992. The novel bends history, with spirit guides from the past and future popping in to help each doctor. What does magical realism have to do with the the doctors fighting the plague? Everthing!

In Book One Dr. Gregorio Revultas, a surgeon to the king of Spain, is sent to Mexico City in 1788 to battle the first plague. At first he is horrified by the dirt, excrement and garbage he finds among the poor and diseased in Mexico City in this society with rigid classes. But Dr. Gregorio has two spirit guides from the future: Gregory and Papa Damian. Dr. Gregorio also as guides Father Jude, a mestizo priest, and Father Juan Antonio Llorente, a doctor and historian; they show him that the plague is exacerbated by the Inquisition's persecution of native cuanderos who help prolong the lives of those with the plague, but no one can find a cure.

Only when Gregorio Revultas, during the first years the French Revolution, begins to connect with Indians as equals and to improve sanitation, increase garbage removal, and install public baths in the poor neighborhoods of Mexico City that the plague moves away to the north. Dr. Gregorio has learned that plagues are deeply connected to enviornment destruction and social repression. At the same time Dr. Gregorio rids himself of his Spanish prejudices, finding a new home in Mexico where he writes down his life. Book One reads like an 18th century historical chronicle.

The second Dr. Gregory Revultas in Book Two finds his beloved Sandra falls ill with the plague. Sandra is not Mexican but is a wonderful Jewish-American actress whose performance in Lorca draws young Chicanos from the barrio who become her protectors when her illness worsens. Again, society is divided in rich and poor classes, but Dr. Gregory becomes part of growing community in the barrio who act to help Sandra with her disease. Again Gregory's grandfather Damian is his spirit guide.

Gregory and Sandra go to Mexico to the village of Tepotzotlan where the first Dr. Gregorio lived and was buried. The 2nd Dr. Gregory even starts reading the historical chronicle of the first. Dr. Gregory is learning that healing only comes from creation of a beloved community around Sandra as well as connecting with the cuanderos and doctors of the past. This community can prolong Sandra's life but not stop the plague from killing her; all the while the second Gregory constantly writes about his life with Sandra. Book Two reads like a contempoary magic realist novel with spirit guides and a elderly neighbor with a jaguar as a pet. It's all connected!

In Book 3 Canada, the United States, and Mexico have joined into one country but the same rigid class structure still exists in a science fiction story. The 3rd Dr. Gregory heads a medical team that fights plagues caused by horrible pollution. He lives in the ranch house built by his grandfather Gregory and constantly reads novels written by his grandfather Gregory in grandfather's library though most people just read computer books. Again he has spirit guides of Papa Damien and grandfather Gregory. His girlfriend Gabi is turned off by the old books and in order to accelerate her career has her arm replaced by a computer arm. As Dr. Gregory reads his grandfather's novels, he begins thinking that the novels are really history, a history that helps him to understand his society and eventually to find a cure for the third plague.

So how does the 3rd Gregory find a cure? We have threatening new diseases like ebola virus, AIDS and SARS? Indeed Morales has been telling us throughout his novel that diseases are connected to environment pollution and to extreme poverty; these diseases have a history. We like Dr. Gregory need to stop seeing diseases in isolation and learn the history of these diseases. Thus the spirit guides from the past are teaching the 3rd Dr. Gregory important lessons.

Morales believes that stopping the plague can only happen by healers who at the same time improve life for the poor and clean up environmental pollution. So the 3rd doctor Gregory must learn all the historical doctors' writing and the native traditions of healing before he can finally discover a cure. Alejandro Morales has written a brilliant and insightful novel The Rag Doll Plagues.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nice Jewish Girl Gone Really Bad

Leslie Schwartz's novel Jumping the Green could be subtitled "Nice Jewish Girl Gone Really Bad" as the 29-year old heroine Louise Goldblum, a San Francisco artist, takes a walk on the wild side after her older sister Esther gets murdered. The heroine gets involved with a s-m relationship with a photographer Zeke who beats her up, humiliates her etc. The novel alternates chapters of Louise's anti-romance with Zeke with flashbacks to her childhood as the youngest sibling of 5 with two alcoholic parents in the South Bay suburbs in the 1970s. Actually, the best parts of the novel as these flashback chapters. Schwartz portrays the lost 5 siblings running abandoned by their present-but-absent parents in this portrait of the bourgeois-life-gone-wrong.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Paula Woods' novels about justice

Paula Woods writes a mystery series about an African-American woman L.A.P.D. detective named Charlotte Justice whose main concern is getting justice in Los Angeles. I've just read the 2nd and 3rd novel in the series: Stormy Weather and Dirty Laundry. Woods’ first novel, the excellent Inner City Blues, takes place during the devastating 1992 riots, but Stormy Weather takes places during the so called rebuilding after the riots.

Both of Woods' novels are good, fast paced detective stories. In Stormy Weather the heroine Justice investigates the suspicious death of a pioneering black film director Maynard Duncan, who is her father’s generation. Woods says as a child she was fascinated by black actors in early Hollywood films, so in this novel she gave these pioneering actors a history of their own, showing how these Hollywood black pioneers fought prejudice.

Also Justice’s supervisor Lt. Firestone has been sexually harassing Justice and Detective Gena Cortez, so Justice’s search is for personal justice as well as to solve the mysterious death of Duncan. The two women don’t trust one another but still suffer racial and gender discrimination in the LA.P.D. so they must unite to fight this harassment.

Stormy Weather establishes Charlotte's life as part of a upper middle class black family in Baldwin Park. The family scenes and conflicts are well drawn. The novel includes fascinating tales of how the heroine's parents, her uncle, and also the film director pushed their way into the upper middle class by sheer force, brains, hard work, and determination. Charlotte is always in conflict with her upwardly striving mom who doesn't like her daughter working at the L.A.P.D. because the mother thinks police work is too low class and too dangerous. Stormy Weather as an excellent detective story capturing the the history of African-Americans long struggle for decent treatment and opportunities in Los Angeles.

In Dirty Laundry, in contrast, Woods paints a good portrait of mid-1990s Los Angeles when detective Justice investigates the murder of a Korean-American journalist Vicki Park, who is working for a Latino candidate wanting to be Los Angeles’s 1st Latino mayor. What's great is the description of Los Angeles east of La Brea starting when a multi-cultural crew of cops--white, Korean, black--converge on the Koreatown location where the dead woman is found. During the investigation Justice works with Asian Task Force Det. Young "King" Kang, to help solve the crime.

Also, Woods highlights the dirty politics of the mayor race where twenty-four candidates –black, white, Latino, Jewish--are running to replace the retiring black mayor. Many of the candidates and their consultants--Latino, black, Jewish, Anglo-- collect dirt on each other and then proceed to spread it around. Dirty Laundry is the first book I've read to describe this new post-Rodney King riots Los Angeles multi-cultural world where opportunities abound for graft, corruption, honesty, and integrity. It's a fascinating read. What Woods also does well is have her heroine Charlotte Justice concerned with justice just like Chandler's once were. Woods is a novelist we need. Read her!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

A.S. Byatt Misses the 1960s

I just finished reading A.S. Byatt's novel about the late 1960s called A Whistling Woman. Like many other people I loved her novel Possession, but A Whistling Woman doesn't quite measure up. The problem with this novel is it's supposed to be about the late 1960s in England but really has little to say about that era. The author so is resolutely anti-1960s one wonders why she wrote about that decade.

The story deals with a group of characters connected with the new University of North Yorkshire in the north of England: the Vice-Chancellor Gerard Wijnobel and his fellow scientisits at the university who want to put on a conference on mind-and-body connections; the rebel youth who set up an Anti-University next door who plan to disrupt the conference; Frederica, a TV personality living in London who has family near the university and whose TV crew will film the conference; and Joshua Ramsden, a very mad spiritual leader of a religious cult holed up in a farmhouse near the university. A. S. Byatt does know how to hook a reader into her plot. I excitedly read on waiting for the long-planned for confrontation between rebel youth and university scientists as well as for the religious commune to blow up. Byatt has some very amusing touches as the owner of the farmhouse where the religious cult lives has a sheep named Tobias who thinks he's a dog.

Another pleasure of this novel as well as Byatt's other work is her love of ideas and literature. She has characters refer to metaphor, 17th century English poetry, Alice in Wonderland--it's great fun to see characters know and love their English literature. So many American novelist seem afraid to write novels of ideas but Byatt seems to revel in ideas. Byatt also includes scientists discussing their work and it's also good to have their ideas, too.

One problem with the novel is none of the characters is very engaging. Joseph Ramsden, the leader of the religious communie, is the most fascinating character. Ramsden when a child discovered his mother and sister just murdered by his father. Byatt describes him as a fascinating mixture of deep religiousness and madness. After Ramsden becomes a spiritual leader, Byatt unfortunately drops him as an important character. Byatt is more interested in her dull bourgeois characters--her scientists and London arty bourgeois like Francesca, a TV personality, and her author roommate Agatha--and avoids going deeply into the really amazing characters whose actions drive the story: the rebel youth of the anti-University and the spiritual seekers in the farmhouse.

Another problem is many of these late 1960s literary and scientific ideas in which the older characters believe--in poetry, in psychobiology, experimental psychology, and English philosophy influenced by Wittgenstein-- were very limited to their time. At one point Byatt talks about professors in the 1960s liking 17th century English metaphysical poets--true enough--but neglects that the younger generation found these poets distant and remote and fled this
literature. The younger generation had little or no interest in the older generations' ideas.

Byatt only takes the ideas of scientists, professors, and media intellectual seriously while the author lampoons the ideas of the rebel youth and the religious commune. The novelist makes the youth sound like idiotic poor-mannered know-nothings. Yet these rebel young provide the novel's most exciting moments when they march on the scientific conference.

Most of the creative ideas by the late 1960s were coming from the youth at the Anti-University and the spiritual seekers like those in the religious commune. 1960s rebels made a real critique of scientists--for example, biologists for mistreating animals--but Byatt also describes the members of the religious commune as following a madman--so the religious people must be fools. Yet the religious ideas of Byatt's "fools" have also influenced Western religious life for the next three decades.

What about the idea of feminism? Byatt is first and foremost a feminist writer, incredibly influenced by the ideas of these late 1960s ideas particularly feminisme. The irony is thatByatt fed off the radicalism of the late 1960s which she is subtly denouncing in this book.

One good example is Byatt's treatment of the three main women characters. Byatt opens the novel with a chapter on Frederica and her young son; they are living with Agatha, another single mom with a career, and Agatha's young daughter. The household seems to work but Byatt always calls it an odd family. Jacqueline, a scientist at the univeristy, is the third working woman; she rejects marriage to a fellow scientist and instead concentrates on her research.

Throughout the novel there is some some blather about "Free Woman" who have careers and and also have romance when and if they want it. By novel's end both Frederica and her roommate Agatha have found mates. Frederica and Agatha are each pictured with new mate and child making a new family. Jacqueline is pictured as lonely nun devoting herself to her science. For a novel about the late 1960s the ending sounds like the 1950s: two good women each find a man while the woman who doesn't is sad, lonley creature. Blah blah blah. Byatt is taking a tiny part of feminism--the man cooks; the woman has a career--and incorporating it into the bourgeois marriage.

Skip this book. Go and read A.S. Byatt's Possession which is a wonderful literary who-done-it about literary scholars unearthing a romance between 19th century poets.