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!