Sunday, September 07, 2008

I think: good movie.

Paul Leduc (dir.) - What Do You Think? (¿Cómo ves?) 1985, 49 min. DVD SPANISH 300 WHA
The library has been getting a lot of good movies lately (and even more terrible terrible movies). I'm sort of conflicted about what I think of the allocation of library resources to so many DVDs, many of which have no merit whatsoever. But they have, so I think we all have to make the most of it.
I picked up What Do You Think? And took it out because it seemed like it might be about punks. Also because the director had made a movie about Frida Kahlo, and one based on John Reed's Insurgent Mexico. Set in Mexico City, What Do You Think? Has punks in it, although there is a lot of music in it and the bands are not punk bands. It also has scenes of industrial desolation and factories (making sheet glass in one, lime in another) juxtapozed with a song about the singer hating his job and quitting. There is a dream like procession of little kids in lucha masks beating on drums. Lots of poverty and shanties, lots of violence (including sexual assault), punks stealing a cop car and hijacking a plane (that's still on the ground) seemingly to have a party with a live band. There is a cool scene in a gay bar featuring Tito Vasconcelos, a famous gay activist in Mexico and legendary cabaret performer (interesting article from google books here from the book Corpus delecti : performance of the Americas by Coco Fusco, which is available from the U of Calgary library NX501 .C67 2000). Paul Leduc has directed a number of other films with Vasconcelos in them which look interesting (notably Dollar Mambo, a film with no dialog about the U.S. Invasion of Panama). So, definitely a worthwhile film. Very stylish and stylized. Not really a plot, more a tragectory. Also note, the DVD case says the film is 75 minutes but its really 49.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nalo Hopkinson is a very good writer

Nalo Hopkinson - Midnight Robber Science Fiction HOP
Hopefully many of you are familiar with Nalo Hopkinson, Jamaican born Canadian Fantasy/Scifi writer. Most of what she writes draws heavily on Caribbean folklore and traditions and Midnight Robber is no exception. In this case the Caribbean roots are often barely remembered ties to earth for colonists on Toussaint, which was originally colonized by peoples from the Caribbean. The main character is a young girl, Tan-Tan, who pretends to be the Robber Queen for festival. Later she is exiled to New Half-Way Tree.
To me this is what scifi can be. It is beautifully written, relevant to the real world, challenging and thoughtful. I really liked this book. The fact that it is about Carnival, Midnight Robbers and the planet is named after Toussaint Louverture didn't hurt either.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Cry of Nature by John Oswald and some other stuff

First when it's still fresh in my mind here is the text of The Cry of Nature by John Oswald hosted by Hurrah! If you need details on John Oswald read the previous post.

There is also a lot of awesome stuff I have out from the Calgary Public Library right now. I'm not going to write a long post about any of it, so here is some short comments about each item.

Toumast - Ishumar (Real World, 2007) CD MAI WOR TOU
I don't really like the Real World label much, but every once in a while they still put out something good. In this case by the wonderful Kel Tamashek band Toumast. Here is their website. Give this cd a listen, please.

Jean Ritchie - Jean Ritchie's Dulcimer People 787.75 RIT
Jean Ritchie is one of the most wonderful musicians ever. She also has done a huge amount of scholarship on folk music in America. This is a book about dulcimer makers and dulcimer players from 1975. Wonderful! Also check out her cds including:
Ballads from here Appalachian Family Tradition (Smithsonian Folkways, 2003) CD PA RIT
Mountain Born (Greenhays, 1995) CD PA RIT and
Carols for All Seasons (Tradition, 1997) CD R CHR RIT

Mike Ritchardson & Rick Geary - Cravan (Dark Horse, 2005) Graphix 848 CRA R
Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse, has written a very interesting graphic novel here. Arthur Cravan was a true international man of mystery. A big influence on Dada, a friend of (and opponent of in exhibition matches) Heavyweight boxing champ and all around badass Jack Johnson, an acquaintance of Trotsky, and rival (at least when it came to women) of Marcel Duchamp. Cravan was an art critic who scandalized the art world and disappeared from Mexico without a trace. Richardson introduces the theory that he may have also been the reclusive and pseudonymous anarchist author B. Traven.

Allan Antliff - Anarchy and Art: From the Paris Commune to the Fall of the Berlin Wall 701.03 ANT
It took forever for the library to get this book in. I think I put it on hold last March and its been on order since then, finally coming in two weeks ago. The irony is that I don't have time to read it right now. Seems interesting and hopefully I'll get around to it. Don't forget about Antliff's excellent Only a beginning : an anarchist anthology 320. 57097 ONL an anthology of Canadian anarchist zines and newspapers.

Carol Steinfeld - Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants 631.86 STE
This might be the only CPL book with someone urinating on the cover! This slim but informative book teaches you how to use urine as plant food, as well as addressing some wider societal issues. A good companion to
Joeseph Jenkins - The humanure handbook : a guide to composting human manure 631. 875 JEN 2005

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Vegetarians + Revolutionaries = ???

Tristram Stuart – The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism From 1600 to Modern Times (WW Norton, 2006) 613.26209 STU.
This is a monumental book! 446 pages plus nearly 200(!) pages of bibliography, index and notes. Perhaps this is the first serious attempt at this type of history. At least it is the first that I know of.
There is definitely a lot of really interesting material in this book. I've found it very difficult to find information about vegetarianism and the English revolution, and this book is definitely a good start. It has a good chapter on Robert Crab (Chapter 3), the mystical revolutionary, vegetarian propagandist and hermit, and colleague of Thomas Tany. Also a chapter on John Robins the vegetarian prophet and sectarian mystic (Chapter 2). Chapter Five is a discussion of Thomas Tryon, another vegetarian propagandist on the sectarian left, and chapter Six is about John Evelyn, a vegetarian Royalist. Throughout this section Stuart does an excellent job contextualizing the ideas that influenced these figures, and the revolutionary period in general. First class. This is roughly the first one-hundred pages in the book.
I must confess that the next two-hundred or so pages held much less interest for me. The were bits and pieces that were fascinating. Some very interesting material about the influence of Hindu and Jain vegetarianism on Europe, not to mention speculation about Pythagoras (the ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician and vegetarian) and his influence on India (or vice versa). A lot of this part of the book is about the history of various vegetarian medical arguments. Humans are naturally herbivores, vegetarian diets cure disease, vegetarianism is a return to edenic perfection etc. I'm not criticizing Stuart for including this material or saying he did a poor job. Far from it, it was meticulously researched and well written. Clearly this is material that belongs in this book. It is simply not that interesting to me.
Chapter Twenty-One (p.295) is entitled “The Cry of Nature: Killing in the Name of Animal Rights in the French Revolution”. Oh hell yeah! It covers the life of John Oswald, Scottish atheist, vegetarian and revolutionary. In another interesting example of the reverse influence of imperialism, Oswald became a convinced revolutionary and anti-imperialist while serving in the English army in India. Appalled by the brutal treatment of the Indian people, he deserted and went native, becoming vegetarian in the process. He later walked back to Europe and was perhaps the first European to spend time with the Kurds in Turkey. Oswald later traveled to France to help foment revolution and was a conduit of communication between British and French Revolutionaries. Oswald was also a major influence on the French revolution in two ways. First he popularized vegetarianism, which was seen as a revolutionary challenge to the decadence and waste of the aristocracy, and the second was the pike. He trained the revolutionaries in the use of the pike (a long spear), and later died leading a regiment of pike-men (the regiment had included women, Oswald was in favor of women fighting in militias, but his second in command had sent the women home in Oswald's absence) against Royalists.
Chapter Twenty-Two is about the Marquis de Valady. Valady was an fascinating figure, who denounced his birth-right and threw his lot in with the revolutionaries. He was a vegetarian as well. He was executed during the terror.
The next few chapters trace the effects of the French revolution on radicals in Britain, as well as the vegetarian movement (the two movements intersecting in many cases). Vegetarianism was looked on with extreme suspicion and was associated with political radicalism. Prison brought together many disparate radicals who otherwise would never have met one another. Radical printers were brought together with authors they had never met. Fruitful partnerships were formed in some cases. Of course a huge number of these radicals simply died in prison from Typhus or any number of other diseases. There is a lot of really vital stuff in this section about radicals identifying with the revolutionaries from the 1640s, the Diggers, the Fifth-Monarchists and others (p.339). There are also striking similarities between Lord George Gordon, self styled biblical prophet and alleged reincarnation of Moses, and Thomas Tany.
There is a chapter (Twenty Six) that covers Percy Bysshe Shelley, the English poet, who was the son in law of William Godwin (often credited as the father of anarchism). Shelley's wife was of course Mary Shelley, the daughter of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Frankenstein. They and their friends were vegetarians, sometimes nudists, and sex radicals.
In the final two chapters there are discussions of Peter Kropotkin, Elisee Reclus, Tolstoy, Emerson, Thoreau, Gandhi, Wagner, and Hitler. Pretty interesting stuff.
Stuart has done an amazing job here, pouring through mountains of source material, and writing a wonderful cultural history of vegetarianism. It whets the appetite for more work in this area. I'd love to see a book (or six) about the intersections of vegetarianism and the revolutionary movements. I know that the confluence doesn't stop in the French revolution. Reclus was a communard in the Paris Commune, and French anarchism at the turn of the twentieth century has a decidedly vegetarian flavor. The Bonnot Gang and many of the other illegalists were vegetarian tea-totalers. There were vegetarians in the Spanish revolution. And certainly the last few generations of anarchism, at least since the British anti-nuclear movement of the late seventies and then Crass and Peace Punk. This was also happening at the same time as the roots of the Animal Liberation Front. There was also a strong vegetarian influence on the utopian socialist experiments in North America, which continued with the back to the land movement in the seventies and intentional communities today. I have yet to pour through the bibliography of this book, and perhaps it will turn up more material in this area. For now I want to thank Tristram Stuart for this excellent book.

You could also check out:
Colin Spencer - The heretic's feast : a history of vegetarianism 179. 3 SPE

Friday, December 28, 2007

Speaking of Wong Fei Hung

Not that martial arts movies have much to do with history but I mentioned Wong Fei Hung in the last post, and realized that the library does have at least three movies with him as a character:
Once upon a time in China & America DVD CHINESE FICTION ONC. This is part six in the series. The first three are pretty good, but I haven't seen 4-6.

Last Hero in China DVD CHINESE FICTION LAS aka Wong Fei Hong's Iron Rooster vs. Centipide. Also starring Jet Li (1993).

Drunken Master III DVD CHINESE FICTION DRU. Staring Willie Chi as Fei Hong. Apparently Liu Chia-Liang (director of the first Drunken Master) made this film to get back at Jackie Chan for not letting him direct Legend of Drunken Master (aka Drunken Master 2). I haven't seen this, but apparently it's mediocre.

An extensive list of movies about Wong Fei Hung is here. To my personal taste Drunken Master, Legend of Drunken Master, Iron Monkey and Once upon a Time in China are better choices than the three that the library has (although I recall Last Hero in China was good). Also Fong Sai Yuk 1 &2 (aka The Legend and The Legend 2), which is about Fong Sai Yuk, not Wong Fei Hung, but star Jet Li and are both excellent.

Oh, and unrelated to Chinese Folk Heroes is:
The Legend of Zu DVD CHINESE FICTION LEG which is pretty excellent (although not as good as Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain). and

Korean Robin Hood

Anne Sibley O’Brien - The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea (Charlesbridge, 2006) YA GRAPHIX 398.209519 OBR
Hong Kil Dong is a fictional character based on a novel by Ho Kyun written in the early 1600s. The Tale of Hong Kil Dong was the first book written in the Korean alphabet, which had been invented in 1403 by Se Jong, the historical Korean King who is the “good king” in the story of Hong Kil Dong.
Hong Kil Dong was the illegitimate son of a court official. The shame of not being able to address his father as “father”, but rather having to address him as “minister”, drove him out of the household up into the mountains to learn martial arts from monks. Later Kil Dong meets a sage who teaches him secret martial arts techniques and magic. Kil Dong becomes the leader of a group of bandits. He is wary of them but it turns out that they are all honest people who were wronged by corrupt bureaucrats or monks. They change the name of the bandits to the Save-the-Poor-Army, and proceed to teach the corrupt monks and officials a lesson, stealing back all that they stole and redistributing it to the poor. Eventually word of this reaches the King, but despite the fact that his advisors say that Kil Dong is a murderer and an enemy of the poor the King Realizes the truth. Kil Dong becomes a minister for the King and they clean up all the corruption. Later Kil Dong leaves with his followers and sets up a utopian community on an island somewhere.
Of course, in real life the bandits don’t get to become ministers (except in rare cases, and in those cases only after they have betrayed their followers and turned their backs on the poor) and the King is never good. It is not corruption that victimizes common folk, but rather the system starting with the King. Not surprisingly writing about Hong Kil Dong didn’t win Ho Kyun friends among the powerful and he was executed as part of a conspiracy of illegitimate sons attempting to overthrow the government. It’s unclear if Ho Kyun was actually a conspirator, or was just singled out for his book. I don’t know about the kids who read this book, but I know what moral I drew from the story.
Oh yeah, the art is nice and the story is well told. Definitely a book I hope kids are reading. Definitely an emphasis on rebelling and liberty, and less emphasis on the good King part of it. Worth reading for old folks too.
Oh, there is also a North Korean martial art movie about Hong Kil Dong. I don’t think its available on DVD though. If anyone ever sees it let me know. Actually, looking again there are a whole bunch of South Korean movies featuring Hong Kil Dong, as well as a tv series from the 60s. Sort of like Wong Fei Hung and Fong Sai Yuk in Hong Kong cinema.
Here is the website for The Legend of Hong Kil Dong. Link.
Oh, the Library also has Kim Youg-Kol - Brave Hong Kil-dong ; The man who bought the shade of a tree KOREAN J YOU. If you read Korean.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Top 11 and Top 8

It's nearing the end of the year and many people are making top ten lists. I don't read or listen to much that is current, and the library often takes 6 months to get anything, so chances are you won't be reading something from 2007 in 2007 if its a library book (unless its Harry Potter).
But here is my eleven favorite non-fiction books that I read this year and eight favorite fiction (I've included Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel here because memoirs are somewhere in between, and the other list was already too long). Some of these books are available from the public library, some from the University of Calgary, and some from neither, but if you really want to read any of these book I'm sure you can hunt them down. I did. Some of them were reviewed in the second issue of my zine No Quarter, but that's not much help either, unless you have a copy. Anyhow, here's the lists:

Non-Fiction (in no particular order):
Paul Garon and Gene Tomko – What’s the Use of Walking When There’s a Freight Train Going Your Way? Black Hoboes & Their Songs (Charles H. Kerr, 2006)
Marcus Rediker – Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age(Beacon Press, 2004).
Frances Yates – The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972).
Michael Muhammad Knight - Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey through Islamic America (Autonomedia, 2007).
Raoul Vaneigem - The Movement of the Free Spirit (Zone Books, 1998).
J. C. Davis - Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians (Cambridge University Press, 1986).
Stevie Davies - Unbridled Spirits: Women of the English Revolution: 1640-1660 (The Women’s Press, 1998).
Luc Sante - Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (Vintage, 1992).
E. P. Thompson - Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law (New Press, 1993).
Sandor Ellix Katz - The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements (Chelsea Green, 2006).
Terence McKenna - True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise (Harper, 1994).

Fiction (again, in no particular order):
Cory Docktorow - Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2007).
Élisabeth Vonarburg (translated by Howard Scott & Élisabeth Vonarburg) - Dreams of the sea (Tesseract Books, 2003).
Kim Stanley Robinson - The Years of Rice and Salt (Spectra, 2003).
Shani Mootoo - Cereus Blooms at Night (Grove, 1998).
Ursula K. LeGuin – Gifts, Voices, and Powers (Harcourt Children's Books, 2006, 2006, 2007).
Clark Ashton Smith – Zothique
Marjane Satrapi - Chicken with Plums (pantheon, 2006).
Neal Stephenson – Cryptonomicon (Avon, 2002).

Actually I listed Three books by Ursula K. Le Guin, so I guess it is a fiction top ten.

Who doesn't love Ursula K. Le Guin???

Ursula K. Le Guin - Powers YA LEG

In many circles Ursula K. Le Guin is known mainly for things she wrote in the 60s and 70s. In SciFi circle for The Left Hand of Darkness or The Lathe of Heaven, in radical circles for the Dispossessed, her ambiguous anarchist utopia, and in YA circles for the Chronicles of Earth Sea. I agree that these are all excellent books, but Le Guin has been writing for more than 40 years and has published SciFi, Fantasy, non-scifi/fantasy fiction (ie literature if you are among those who can't consider 'genre fiction' literature), poetry, essays, ya and kids books. You are simply missing out if you read the Left Hand of Darkness, like it, but stop there.

Powers is the third book in the Annals of the Western Shore. I liked Gifts, first book and loved Voices. Powers is every bit as good as Voices, perhaps even better. Hopefully Le Guin keeps going with this series because it seems like they would only get better and better. The Annals of the Western Shore are pretty much stand alone books set in different parts of the same continent, although there is a thread that ties them together, so it would be better (although not essential) to read them in order. Powers follows the life of a slave named Gavir who is being educated to become the teacher in one of the nobel house of Etra. He eventually escapes and wanders around eventually finding himself in a rebel free city of escaped slaves, not entirely unreminisent of real life communities of escaped slaves like maroon communities in Jamaica, and Quilombos in Brazil. I won't give too much of the plot away, but merely comment that Le Guin manages the difficult task of writing a book that is appropriate for even young YA readers that also doesn't gloss over the horrors of slavery. Without being needlessly traumatising, she crafts a tale that has a lot of emotional resonance that gets beneath the superficial and asks some pretty tough questions. Very evident throughout this series is LeGuins love of words, of books, poetry and learning. Libraries play an important role in the second and third books, and poetry and ballads in all three. So if that sounds good to you like it does to me, read these books!

Some other Ursula K. LeGuin books:
Angelica Gorodischer(Ursula K. LeGuin translator)- Kalpa imperial : the greatest empire that never was SCIENCE FICTION GOR
The birthday of the world and other stories SCIENCE FICTION LEG
A fisherman of the inland sea SCIENCE FICTION LEG

Ursula K. Le Guin's website is worth checking out too. Here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

More Desert Music

Tinariwen - The Radio Tisdas Sessions (Wayward Records, 2000) CD MAI AFR TIN
Tinariwen - Amassakoul (Triban Union, 2004) CD MAI AFR TIN
Tinariwen - Aman Iman: water of life (Outside Music, 2007)CD MAI AFR TIN

The Kel Tamashek (meaning, "those who speak Tamashek", a preferred name to Tuareg, which is arabic for "abandoned by the gods") are a nomadic pastoralist people of the Sahara. With the dividing up of Africa by colonial powers and later the newly independent nations in the area (Mali, Niger, Libya, Mauritania, and Algeria ) the interests of the Kel Tamashek were not considered and their traditional teritory cut up by artificial borders. War, resource extraction, and global warming are among the factors threatening their traditional way of life. Indeed much of the Kel Tamashek population has been urbanized or forced into refugee camps. There have also been uprisings and Guerrilla movements in Niger and Mali.

Tinariwen, which means empty places, are considered to be the pioneers in Kel Tamashek music. They formed in 1982 in rebel camps in Libya. This style of music, Ishumar (meaning unemployed), which has also given its name to a generation, was created largely by Tinariwen. They were the first band to incorporate electric guitars and western style rock instruments into traditional Kel Tamashek music. They have had many cassettes through the years but the Radio Tisdas Sessions is their first cd. And what an introduction to western audiences! Absolutely wonderful. Tinariwen has ten members listed on this recording, including six guitarists. Very rocking stuff, despite (or perhaps because of) deep roots in traditional music. On the back of Amassakoul they are described as "Legendary poet guitarists and soul rebels from the southern Sahara desert", which seems a bit like marketing department talk meant to appeal to fans of Bob Marley or Bob Dylan, but it also underscores the reality that this is rebel music. Both in the sense that the lyrical content is often directly dealing with the struggles of the Kel Tamashek people and often specifically this generation, but also in the sense that it is part of the struggle to preserve their way of life, music and traditions. All music made around the world by peoples who are threatened is rebel music. Its interesting to note that one of the major forces threatening the Kel Tamashek is Uranium extraction in Niger, driven by the same industry poisoning the largely indigenous population of Northern Canada. Something to keep in mind as the push continues for nuclear power in Alberta.

So check out these cds if you are so inclined. Bill Weinberg conducted an excellent interview with Issouf ag-Maha about music the current situation of the Kel Tamashek on his excellent radio show The Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade on November 13, 2007 (and it can still be downloaded from the wbai archive here, although you'll have to scroll down and find it, download some other episodes too while you are at it). He also transcribed the interview and posted it on his website World War 4 Report, one of the best english language sites for information on the Kel Tamashek, as well as resistance around the world.
Oh, and the library has ordered Toumast - Ishumar (Realworld, 2007), another excellent Kel Tamashek band.
Also check out the Tartit albums I've mentioned before.