2011 - %3, October

Book Review: Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar

| Fri Oct. 21, 2011 3:30 AM PDT

Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar

Edited by Matt McAllester

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS

If breaking bread is key to our humanity, it is doubly so in a conflict zone. In this riveting collection, correspondents share war stories through the lens of food and drink. The fare ranges from pagan sheep sacrifice in war-torn Ossetia (the ear tastes "burned, hairy, cartilaginous") to the overindulgences of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il ($120-a-bite rice cakes). Under fire in Afghanistan, US soldiers fetishize MREs, while, amid Rwanda's horrors, the tea tastes like death due to corpses clogging the waterways. One author trains to withstand excessive drinking, a prerequisite for broaching the Irish Republican Army's inner circle. Another one concludes his profile of Benazir Bhutto with a recipe for burfi, a sugary sweet that Pakistan's former leader gobbles compulsively during their visit—only days before her assassination. In the end, the food rituals become a vehicle for tales of greed and pettiness, but also friendship and human dignity.

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Review: "There Always Was," by Peggy Sue

| Fri Oct. 21, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

TRACK 11

"There Always Was"

From Peggy Sue's Acrobats (Yep Roc Records)

Liner notes: "She said, 'I'm just a severed head/No arms, no legs, no mans to bed,'" Rosa Slade and Katy Beth Young murmur in eerie harmony as clanging guitar and Olly Joyce's clattering drums amp up the tension on the thrilling climax of their second album.

Behind the music: Formed in Brighton, England, the trio was previously known as both Peggy Sue and The Pirates and Peggy Sue and Les Triplettes. On Acrobats they worked with producer John Parish, of PJ Harvey fame, featuring electric instruments for the first time.

Check it out if you like: Modern folk revisionists like Wye Oak, Mumford & Sons, and Laura Marling.

Herman Cain: Give Pizza Chance

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 11:35 AM PDT

Last week, we dug up some photos from GOP candidate Herman Cain's cheesy past as a fast-food magnate. Now comes this video, unearthed by the Omaha World-Herald, of the former Godfather's Pizza CEO crooning a version of John Lennon's "Imagine" where all the lyrics are about—what else?—pizza.

That inspired a Twitter hashtag: #HermanCainPizzaJams. Here's a collection of some of the most memorable.

 

 

 

Must Iranian Authors Write about Iran?

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 1:53 AM PDT

Only in San Francisco would you find a poetry reading so packed, it requires bouncers to turn away bookish crowds at the door. Saturday night's Lit Crawl in San Francisco's Mission District was the crowning event of the city's annual, week-long literary festival, Litquake. Though Lit Crawl bars were brimming with sweaty revelers, events earlier in the week provided enough breathing room for contemplation. At last Thursday night's "Writing Human Rights: Literature as a Window into Iran," held at the San Francisco Public Library, panel moderator Anita Amirrezvani asked her fellow Iranian authors on stage the million-dollar question: "How has your Iranian identity shaped your writing?"

"I hope that in 100 years you don't have to ask this," Laleh Khadivi responded. "We're just humanist writers." But until then, as an Iranian writer, Khadivi said she felt responsible for representing her identity. "I don't know how literature can be a window into a culture. I do know, when the sound of the media is so loud vilifying your country, [writing literature] is the best we can do."

The event drew an assorted crowd of about 40 members, from women bespectacled in chic red glasses to old men sporting ponytails. To begin, moderator Amirrezvani gave a breezy intro to 20th Century Iran, from the hostage crisis of 1979 to the Green Revolution in 2009. "Since then, alas, a deteriorating human rights record in Iran," she said. "This is the backdrop against which these writers are working." Khadivi, along with the three other authors, have sublimated Iranians' struggles at home and abroad into literature. Excerpts from their recent publications, which often recount Iranian human rights violations such as censorship and secret executions, captivated the audience.

Persis Karim, who teaches at San Jose State University, read from a collection of lyrical poetry. In a solemn voice, she told the story of a 16-year-old girl executed for adultery in 2004, Atefah Sahaaleh: "That night her body lay in the hot, humid ground./ Someone, perhaps the men, dug her up,/ Fearful that her skin and bones/ Might eat away at the earth/ where mortal saviors walk." Karim said her Iranian past is unavoidable in her writing. "Because of the events that shaped me as a young adult, I haven't been able to escape that lens."

Nazy Kaviani, a human rights reporter, works at a newsroom "on my dining room table in San Francisco." She shared the true story of how she confirmed the execution of a Iranian man by calling his family over Skype. When calling his brother, she heard an unusual message: "'This account has been restricted.' Even all these miles from Iran, I feel a sense of dread...Restricted by whom?" Eventually, Kaviani reached the man's daughter, only to discover that her mother, sister, and uncle had been arrested simply for asking about her father at the prison where he was being held.

Khadivi, wearing cowboys boots and a fringed bob, read mellifluous prose from her trilogy about three generations of Kurdish men. Her latest novel, The Walking, follows a Kurdish boy's move to the United States, set against the backdrop of the Iranian mass exodus to America. In the past century, Iranians moved "most specifically, for some reason I cannot understand, to Los Angeles," Khadivi said, eliciting chuckles from the Bay Area crowd. Her story shows the melding of immigrant cultures in Southern California. "Imagine our shock when we realized we had not become American," Khadivi read, "but America had become more like us."

 

Bringing Occupy SF to the World

| Mon Oct. 17, 2011 4:40 PM PDT
Kames Geraghty, left, and Kyle Lesley, right, work on the Occupy SF Media Team.

In San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza on Monday afternoon, a group of young, ragtag tech wizards sat among a tangle of electrical cords and surge protectors. This was the Occupy SF Media Team, which has been live-streaming video from the downtown location as much as possible in recent days. It has its own website and Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000 in the coming week. While other protesters wandered around barefoot or strummed acoustic guitars waiting for the next general assembly meeting, the media team provides videos of the event and edited a radio story about Sunday night's police raid for the Berkeley station KPFA.

They work with everyone at the protest, but they aren't always in sync with other participants. At a Monday afternoon meeting of the general assembly, members of the media team were shooed away when they brought their recording equipment. "They booted me out of committee when they saw the microphone," said Kyle Lesley, 30, an audio engineer. "They said, 'We didn't vote on that.'"

Some members of the media team express qualms about the amorphous nature of the protest. "Roles are necessary because they create the movement, they are the movement," said Kames Geraghty, 20, a web developer. "Active participation is important. Talking [alone] is not participation." Beside him, a white Apple laptop boasted a message in black permanent marker, à la Woodie Guthrie: "This machine kills fascists."

Many of the team have taken time away from their jobs and apartments to camp at Justin Herman Plaza for an indefinite period. Lesley has subletted his Mission District apartment and taken a break from his audio engineering gigs to sleep at Occupy SF. "I have a job, pay my bills, wash my clothes," he said, wearing a Zoo York T-shirt and paint-splattered slip-ons. "I don't normally sleep on the street, but I'll do it now...My fingernails are dirty. My breath probably stinks a lot." But Lesley's motivation is great, he said, because the spread of information plays such a crucial role in the protest: "I've never liked a job so much."

"Ever since Sept. 17, I've been watching New York's [live stream of] Occupy Wall Street," added Ron Font, 35. "I was hooked, first thing in the morning. I knew it was important for information, and just to stay there emotionally."

The team's coverage began a few weeks ago when "some fellas showed up in the middle of the night and gave us the software...like elves" said Cory Scher, 20. The distributors are traveling between Occupy movements nationwide, Scher said, and they wished to remain anonymous. The software "elves" set the team up with Wirecast software, and Lesley brought a professional microphone to the mix. But since the live stream started, it has encountered a few kinks. Often, the battery in the streaming laptop runs out—forcing a volunteer to mount a bike generator to recharge it. Reruns of the protest are then made available on the website.

Members of the media team say they plan to occupy Justin Herman Plaza as long as they can. And they're hoping to bridge the divide between their tech-savvy group and other protestors. Despite Occupy SF's relatively low turnout and the obvious rap it's gotten for attracting "dirty hippies," the media team is undeterred. "I don't really give a shit about image," Lesley said. "The 99 percent is prisoners, homeless people, my parents, and doctors. They look like very different people."

DJ Spooky's Icy Philharmonic

| Mon Oct. 17, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Where most artists hone in on one medium, DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid—né Paul Miller—has spent his career breeding a tizzying, singular brand of organized, multimedia chaos. He's all over the place, and yet remarkably put together. One reviewer called him "Einstein with a better haircut."

Spooky's The Book of Ice, released this past summer, is a motley collection of photos, essays, data, and relics of an imagined People's Republic of Antarctica. It's also just one chapter of Spooky's Antarctic opus, which includes a film (North/South), and Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica—an acoustic portrait of melting ice molecules that's part science experiment, part symphony, and part cautionary climate-change narrative.

Climate change is just one of several causes Spooky, 41, has tackled over the years. His 2009 album, The Secret Song, slams corporate America with tunes like "The War of Ideas," a new version of The Coup's "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO," and a title track whose lyrics are based on economist Adam Smith's "invisible hand" theory. "The Secret Song," Spooky says, is the sound of "credit card fraud and jazz motifs made into stock exchanges." The album's brainy tracks are also supposedly hidden in smart-phone-scannable barcodes scattered around Manhattan. (Occupy Wall Streeters, after all, could perhaps use some additions to their repertoire.) His remake of D.W. Griffith's 1915 film "Birth of a Nation" turns the original—a glorification of racism and the Klan—on its head, making a once-silent film into one of rich sound and transforming a work of bigotry into a powerful educational tool.

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Review: "Woebegone," by Shelby Lynne

| Mon Oct. 17, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

TRACK 6

"Woebegone"

From Shelby Lynne's Revelation Road (Everso Records)

Liner notes: Shelby Lynne sets her sultry voice to a lazy shuffle, purring, "I should drive off of the road/I'm in a war I cannot win," in an attempt to make sense of her mistakes.

Behind the music: Lynne won a Best New Artist Grammy in 2000, more than a decade after her first album. (She also played Johnny Cash's mother in the 2005 film Walk the Line.) Launching her own record label last year, she took self-sufficiency to the next level with Revelation Road, producing and writing all the songs and playing all the instruments.

Check it out if you like:

Tony Joe White, Arthur Alexander, and Dusty Springfield, all masters of soul-country fusion.

Book Review: I'm With the Bears

| Sat Oct. 15, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

I'm With the Bears: Short Stories From a Damaged Planet

Edited by Mark Martin

VERSO

In this imaginative collection, celebrated storytellers riff on climate change. Our grim future is one theme: Margaret Atwood's prose poem envisions a "dry lakeshore," while Paolo Bacigalupi describes a "Big Daddy Drought." It's not all dystopian. T.C. Boyle writes about a family's botched environmental protest, and up-and-comer Nathaniel Rich evokes a biologist's conversation with an ailing hermit crab. Each story packs an emotional punch that staid reports of melting ice caps can't rival. "Science can only take us so far," notes Bill McKibben in the introduction; it's the artist's job "to help us understand what things feel like."

Simon Kuper: Soccer Does Not Explain the World

| Fri Oct. 14, 2011 3:15 PM PDT
Egyptian soccer fans celebrate a victory over rival Algeria.

In the 17 years since his trailblazing travelogue cum anthropological study Soccer Against the Enemy pioneered what might today be called "soccer lit," Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper has established himself as one of the sport's preeminent writers. After a childhood spent in Uganda, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, and Jamaica, the 40-year-old Kuper now calls Paris home. But as we chatted about his new book, Soccer Men, outside a Starbucks in San Francisco's Mission District, I learned that his rise to global renown began just a few blocks away.

"I won a student travel writing contest in 1991," he told me. "I wrote about being mugged in the Mission District actually, which happened around then." A book deal followed, and with the roughly $5,000 advance, a 22-year-old Kuper embarked on a nine-month, 22-country trek to chronicle soccer's geopolitical import. On his travels, he encountered, among other things, a Ukrainian club that exported nuclear missile parts and an East Berliner who'd been harassed for decades by the Stasi for supporting a West Berlin team. Since Soccer Against the Enemy's release, hundreds of kindred books have flooded the market, all aiming to deploy the planet's most popular sport to understand assorted phenomena.

Today, Kuper is more circumspect about soccer's power to, as Franklin Foer's 2004 bestseller famously put it, "explain the world." "I think when you start writing about soccer and politics, you're quite missionary about it," he said. "Over time, I've begun to see soccer as an illumination—a lens—and not as a hammer. It doesn't change things. Almost never." It's not that soccer and politics don't mix. Kuper pointed to the coalition of hard-core supporters from Cairo's two fiercest rivals that was instrumental in bringing down Hosni Mubarak. But whereas an event like the World Cup was once a hub of nationalistic zeal, fans now support their national teams in a "much more jokey, relaxed manner than they did even in '80s."

OWS: Time to Withdraw From Big Banks

| Fri Oct. 14, 2011 4:57 AM PDT

Nearly one month into the Wall Street occupation, critics are bemoaning the movement's inability to funnel its rage into something actionable. But some participants are letting their money do the talking—by taking their cash out of the hands of corporate financial giants altogether. Bank Transfer Day, launched on Facebook and racking up an attendance list of 45,000+, urges major bank account holders to transfer their funds into community banks or local credit unions by November 5 (Guy Fawkes Day).

This event comes on the heels of a recent hike in fees at large national banks. Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo have recently announced plans to charge customers $3 to $5 per month for using a debit card. Frank Keating, President and CEO of the American Bankers Association, lays the blame for the fee hike on the Durbin amendment. Introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the amendment puts a federal cap on the swipe fees banks collect from merchants when customers make debit card purchases, amounting to a projected $1 billion loss in profit for the banks.