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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rudy Giuliani and sexual assault

I have not written anything at my blog about Rudolph Giuliani and probably won't for the simple reason that I don't think I can calmly write about him. In all seriousness, I would rather have Dick Cheney as president for another four years than Giuliani. If I thought Giuliani's campaign had any chance of success, I would begin my ten million-part series on why he is unfit to hold office. I think the main reason he is running is not to become president but to drum up more business for his consulting company Giuliani Partners, former employer of convicted felon and Giuliani buddy Bernard Kerik.

It is another Giuliani friend and employee that prompts this brief entry. Today's information comes from Wayne Barrett's excellent Giuliani cover story in the July 3, 2007 issue of the Village Voice. I recommend the article to everyone. Wayne Barrett, for those of you outside New York, is the dean of the local print journalists. It was Barrett's 2001 biography of Giuliani that first revealed his family's mob connections. (His most recent book, co-written by Dan Collins, is Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.)

Among the facts—some new, some familiar—reported in the Voice article are details of Giuliani's friendship with Alan Placa, a former Catholic monsignor removed from the priesthood because of a series of criminal sexual allegations against him. Where does Placa work today? Where else? At Giuliani Partners. From the article:
'Alan Placa is not just a major figure in Giuliani's marital life: He baptized both of Giuliani's children, and though already stripped of his priestly powers, he was given special dispensation from his bishop in Long Island to preside at Helen Giuliani's September 2002 funeral. A month earlier—despite still-pending allegations that he'd groped four minors in Long Island's Diocese of Rockville Center—he was hired as a three-day-a-week consultant at Giuliani Partners, where he remains today. Michael Hess, the managing partner of Giuliani's firm and the city's former top lawyer, represents Placa in the ongoing cases. When first reached by a reporter at Giuliani Partners, Placa claimed that he was only visiting—a falsehood quickly reversed by a firm spokeswoman.'

According to the article, there was a Suffolk County grand jury report on Placa in 2003, but he avoided prosecution because the statute of limitations had run out. That does not make the information reported by the grand jury, and quoted in the article, any less chilling.

Barrett's article does not just point out that Giuliani keeps an accused sexual abuser of children on his payroll. It also reminds us of the 2001 City Council bill requiring schools to report abuse claims directly to the police. Under Giuliani's direction, the bill, which passed as a charter proposal, was stripped of its language covering private schools. I'm tempted to joke that the different standards might indicate a higher regard for public education, but my sense of humour leaves me when I think about Rudy Giuliani.

I can only hope that more journalists will see through the 9/11 dust cloud of his undeserved image as 'America's Mayor' and report the disgraceful facts of his actual conduct in office and in business. Rudy Giuliani may be the one person in American public life who makes Dick Cheney look thoughtful and decent by comparison.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

free Dizzee Rascal

Dizzee Rascal has been the most exciting rapper in the world for the past four years, yet, as reported by Billboard, his third album, Maths and English, is not being released in the States on cd. Here one can only download it or wait for delivery from Amazon UK, as I am currently doing. This is very bad news, particularly while American hip hop continues to suffer the hegemony of crunk. (His first two albums, Boy in da Corner and Showtime, belong in everyone's musical library.)

I was lucky and curious enough to attend Dizzee's U.S. debut at Volume in Williamsburg on February 7, 2004 before I had even heard any of his music. The buzz from Britain was deafening at the time, and being a lifelong rap aficionado I figured what the hell. What I saw and heard that night blew me away. The space itself was bizarre for a concert venue. The club, which had only been open for a month and is now long gone, was a high-ceilinged, featureless, hangar-like space. And slashing across it diagonally was a huge, shiny, stainless steel flatbed truck.

When Young Master Rascal finally emerged, he climbed right on top of that shiny hulk and, charisma in abundance, turned it into a runway-style stage as if there could not be any other conceivable uses for a flatbed truck. On first listen, and live no less, I had no clue what the hell he was saying, but I was in awe of his speed, his skills, and his confidence in performing a style of rap that, musically and vocally, was like nothing I had ever heard before.

Dizzee Rascal's great accomplishment has been to pioneer a style of rap that is true to one of the original missions of American rap while while sounding nothing like it. Musically, his work is distinctly British in drawing on garage and electronica. It's as much about the beeps as the beats. Obviously, he is neither the first nor the only British rapper, but he is the most distinct and has unapologetically ventured the furthest away from the American sound. Vocally, even among British rappers, no one sounds like Dizzee. He has his own unique accent which sounds like that of no other English-speaker on earth, and he raps precisely while keeping to a pace that would exhaust most vocalists, not to mention some listeners as well. For the sharpest example, download his first big hit 'Fix Up, Look Sharp', and note the exaggerated emphasis he consistently puts on his oo's:

'Flushing MC's down the loo,
If you don't believe me bring your posse, bring your crew. '

Thematically, his songs return to the early American tradition of urban testimony—think 'White Lines' or 'The Message'. But there is a second, less noticed tradition that he draws on: that of the angry young men of the postpunk late 70's—Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson et al.—and their frustrations and dim understandings about sex and romance. His lyrics to 'Round We Go' from his first album demonstrate what I mean:

'She used to love him, he used to love her, she used to kiss him, he used to hug her, call it deep love or puppy love, they bunked off school.
Now there's no flame, things ain't the same, look's like she's changed, thinks it's some game, he's left in the rain, trying to point blame, talks for a fool.
She moved on quick, he's still lovesick, she's not having it, thinks he's some prick, he won't believe it, wants it just how it was in school.
He keeps calling, night or morning, break of evening, break of dawning, he keeps ringing up, she keeps hanging up, oh what a fool.
She is the best friend, of a ex-girlfriend, of a old school friend, who is the close friend, of this best friend, best friend likes this boy called Blue.
Best friend loves him, best friend needs him, but the ex-girlfriend, of the old school friend, who is the close friend, of this best friend, likes him too.
So the ex-girlfriend, of the old school friend, who is the close friend, of this best friend, sits with best friend, who by now has slept with Blue.
Now the ex-girlfriend don't want to pretend that she ain't slept with that boy Blue 'cause he was a friend of an ex man too.'

From the chorus:
'Ain't no love ting here, it's just one big cycle here.
Ain't no friendship here, it's just one big cycle here. '

These are unusual observations, not to mention line lengths, for a rapper. On the rare occasion that his vocal persona disses women, it's not misogyny but youth being served. In 'I Luv U' his perspective is de-centered by a female response that calls his claims into question:
[Dizzee Rascal:]
'That girl's some bitch, you know.
She keeps calling my phone,
She don't leave me alone,
She just moan and groan,
She keep ringing me at home.
These days I don't answer my phone. '

[Jeanine Jacques:]
'That boy's some prick, you know,
All up in my hair,
Thinks that I care,
Keeps following me here,
Keeps following me there,
These days I can't go nowhere. '

So is that girl really 'some bitch', or is he a jilted stalker? Ah, youth.

When Dizzee testifies to how he's living, a rap commonplace, he marks his turf as distinctly British and tackles the class question from a fresh perspective, as in 'Imagine' from his second album:
'Imagine if I showed you one day I was leaving the hood,
Would you call me a sellout? Would you say it's all good?
Would you follow if you could?
Or would you just tell me get the hell out?

And imagine if I showed you that I found another way of getting dough without doing dirt—let's blurt.
Would you love me for giving me some hope
Or resent me 'cause your pride got hurt?
Imagine if we never grew up on a council estate
And was country manor-raised with a spoon in our mouth,
Would we still be making fuss about the East and the South?
Would we shiver at the robberies, murder and the crack
And thank god that we didn't have to live like that?
Just the image on the TV as we're comfortably sat
Sipping wine, room lit by the summer sunshine
Not a worry in the world as we casually chat. '

Unlike American rappers boasting of their hustling ways while they're chilling at their mansions (not that there's anything artistically wrong with that), Dizzee is dreaming of a materially better life and simply wanting, without apparent anger, what others have: not the bling but the bucolic. Life on a council estate, or in the projects, is not something to boast of but something to get away from.

Yet another strength of his œuvre is the unexpected sources of his samples. On his first album, the standout was 80's arena rock star Billy Squier's 'The Big Beat', a source later used by Jay-Z on '99 Problems'. Outdoing Jigga one more time, on his second album Dizzee turned to the Broadway canon, once removed. It was both brilliant and daring when Jay-Z sampled Annie on 'Hard-Knock Life', but Dizzee went after bigger game: Rodgers & Hammerstein. On 'Dream', he not only took the chorus to 'Happy Talk' from South Pacific but specifically sampled Captain Sensible's 1982 pop recording. Yeah, he's that cool.

This is the young prodigy whose new album won't even be out on cd in the States because no one here is listening. According to the Billboard article linked above, his first album sold 58,000 units here and his second a mere 16,000. I wrote a blog entry last December called 'the problem with American hip hop today', but I see now that the biggest problem may be something else entirely: an uncurious, risk-averse buying public. Why are American rap listeners not supporting this important and groundbreaking artist? Are their needs really being met by the stale crumbs of the crunk mafia?

Reader, if anything in this blog entry sounds interesting to you, download a song or two and if you like it buy Dizzee's albums. It's time for the United States to work with its hip hop allies around the world. Clearly, we can't go it alone anymore.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

don't stop

Warning: this entry contains spoilers about the Sopranos finale.

I was surprised to read in Monday's New York Times that Tony Soprano was alive and well after Sunday's series finale—surprised because I saw his consciousness flick off as the assassin's bullet entered his brain.

What's that, reader? You missed it when you briefly lost your cable signal? Even after Bobby Bacala's warning that you 'probably don't even hear it when it happens' from episode 78 was repeated in flashback in episode 85? Don't worry. I will fill you in on what you missed.

In an ending out of Six Feet Under—it even featured a driver-less car running over the head of its owner, as in SFU episode 53—Tony died surrounded by a vision of the people he loved most in the world, listening to his favourite song in a family diner, and sharing a plate of onion rings. The bells rings, he looks up, sees Meadow, and his consciousness ends. I'd call it the ultimate POV shot except that the final shot is not a POV but a close-up of Tony. That makes what happens next something like an internal diegetic cut to black, if that makes any sense.

Can we say of a novel or a television programme that something undepicted did indeed happen? I would never allow my literature students to get away with that. Be that as it may, until I see Tony Soprano again, I can only consider him dead, for what else could he be if he never lives again?

Even so, let's consider the argument that nothing happened at the end, that the narrative did not end according to the culturally expected rules of narrative. The one rule of narrative that no novel or television finale, no matter how experimental, can violate is closure. The Jane Austen heroine gets married, the bad are punished, the family members reconcile, and, on Six Feet Under, everything ends and everyone dies.

One recurring, distinct feature of The Sopranos was the show's avoidance of closure. Would there be any consequences from the asbestos dumping or the two Arabic guys reported to the FBI? And what ever happened with Valery, the Russian veteran of Chechnya lost in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in episode 37?

In the bigger picture, David Chase as a writer has challenged himself and his audience to ask questions about the necessity of closure in narrative fiction. We don't experience closure in real life. Why should we expect it from fiction? And what, after all, would a more definite ending to The Sopranos have achieved? Bullet or no bullet, the series has ended. What distinct benefit do we derive from watching a story end neatly as opposed to messily or indefinitely?

Ending the way it did, the final episode achieved something different than any other long or serial fiction: it made the audience acutely aware of its traditional need for closure by refusing to satisfy it, and it invited them to see the limitations of that need. My earlier statements notwithstanding, it's quite pleasurable to experience such a provocation. Denying closure is as radical a move as a writer can make. I look forward to the climate of experimentation, but hopefully not direct imitation, that this bold gesture promises to usher in among the next generation of screenwriters.

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it sucks being right

I recently wrote about George Bush's policy, reported by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, of arming Salafist groups as part of a misguided anti-Shia campaign. (See my entry of May 26, 2007.) In it, I speculated that some part of this U.S.-supplied weaponry would ultimately be used against U.S. interests and troops, potentially in Iraq. The New York Times for June 11, 2007 corroborates my concerns. The two-column headline across the upper right corner of the front page says it all: 'U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies'.

According to the Times article:
'In some cases, the American commanders say, the Sunni groups are suspected of involvement in past attacks on American troops or of having links to such groups. Some of these groups, they say, have been provided, usually through Iraqi military units allied with the Americans, with arms, ammunition, cash, fuel and supplies.'

But the U.S. would not knowingly supply weapons to groups with a history of attacking U.S. troops, would they? Surely, there is a policy against arming such groups. Indeed, such a policy seems to exist, but
'The requirement that no support be given to insurgent groups that have attacked Americans appeared to have been set aside or loosely enforced in negotiations with the Sunni groups elsewhere, including Amiriya, where American units that have supported Sunni groups fighting to oust Al Qaeda have told reporters they believe that the Sunni groups include insurgents who had fought the Americans.'

This is the new Bush/Cheney strategy for Iraq: trust supposedly former allies and affiliates of al-Qa'ida—people with histories of attacking U.S. troops—by giving them arms, ammunition, cash, fuel, and supplies to fight their al-Qa'ida comrades and hope that they don't turn their new U.S.-supplied weapons against U.S. troops. Adding to the contradictions, the U.S. has spent $15 billion on Iraq's army and police force and is now arming groups that are opposed to the new Iraqi government altogether.

When I wrote my earlier entry, I predicted something like this but I could not have conceived that the U.S.-supplied arms would be so directly transferred by the U.S. to those attacking U.S. troops. I also predicted that I would soon be surprised yet again by the dangerous stupidity of Bush and Cheney. With these idiots in charge, it's no longer any fun being right all the time. The only thing that would defy belief at this point is sanity.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

accidental poetry

In a blatant ripoff of Steve Poole's Google poetry at his excellent blog Unspeak, I am posting my own installment of poetry generated solely from the Google search terms that drew readers to my blog in the month of May. I call it Accidental Poetry. Everything that appears below, including the title and the signature line, come from Google searches. I only did cutting, pasting, and layout. Enjoy.

"catastrophically fatuous"

american hip hop today
rap with assonance
french government, limited or unlimited
toilet stall divider affordable
rinko kikuchi node

american hip hop meaning
genre money
morality in sexual and pecuniary terms
men like pastries women like custards
ramrod cum

apple gowanus
goya ritual

do you think gangsta rappers are really gangsters or just misunderstood poets
stasi artist classification
bach intellectually demanding

park slope real estate prices and predictions
photographs of sinagoga del transito
artist spanish nightlife painting target
little miss sunshine and nihilism

ain't no love in the heart of the city
alabama's deadliest intersections
atlantic yards highest density building
shylock character profile

dockers unhip
scorsese auteur
most focussed albums
adore tony leung

strabone brooklyn