Tikkun Daily button

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Let Them Talk: The Piano Prince

May2

by: on May 2nd, 2016 | No Comments »

If I asked you to name a prodigiously talented, extravagantly flamboyant, African American, sexually fluid musician with a body like an exclamation point and a taste for the rococo whose premature death left the world a little grayer, of course you’d say “Prince,”and you’d be right. Or half-right.

Every since Prince’s April 21st death was reported – ever since a tidal wave of mourning began to gather force, leaving testimonies and tributes and tall tales in its wake – I’ve been thinking surfing the Zeitgeist, thinking about James Booker.

If you don’t know Booker’s music or his story, start with the 2013 film Bayou Maharajah (it streams from all the usual sources), which traces the pianist-singer’s life from its 1939 start, his coming up in the home of Baptist-minister parents in Bay St. Louis, Louisiana, to its sad, sorry end in an emergency room waiting-area in New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, where he was born. His story is full of twisted luck and uncanny moments: the film’s sequence where a dozen friends relate contradictory stories of how Booker lost his eye. The sequence where Harry Connick, Jr., demonstrates Booker’s baroquely syncopated piano technique, which Connick as a child studied firsthand (Connick, Sr. was a New Orleans District Attorney who traded Booker a get-out-of-jail-free card for his son’s piano lessons). The sequence where a young guitarist struggling to keep up with Booker onstage describes how the musician maintained his almost unfollowable pace – more notes than any ten fingers could possible play – all the while trying on a succession of glitter-studded eyepatches, hoping to find the one that most appeal to a man in the audience he hoped to attract.

After his 1954 debut as “Little Booker,” he played with just about everybody from Fats Domino to Freddy King, Aretha Franklin, even Ringo Starr and the Doobie Brothers before issuing an amazing string of live and studio albums, many solo. Booker taught Dr. John to play the organ. He studied classical piano as a child. He played a version of “The Minute Waltz” (dubbing it “The Black Minute Waltz”), a ton of standards (I love his “Angel Eyes,” for instance) adaptations of pop songs (Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue”), classic blues like “St. James Infirmary,” and original songs like the mysteriously allusive “Papa Was a Rascal,” opened and closed by these lines:

There was a sweet white woman down in Savanna GA
She made love to my daddy in front of the KKK.

You know we all got to watch out for the CIA.

Booker’s addiction to opiates started in childhood, in the aftermath of a terrible and traumatic auto accident. In 1970, he spent time in Angola for drug possession. The rest of his life he rode a surreal roller-coaster: successful gigs in the U.S. and Europe; throwing it away by ditching recording sessions to get high as soon as he got paid; worshipped by astounded fellow musicians; treated like dirt by every racist, homophobic institution that crossed his path. Knowing how good he was made it all worse. By Booker’s last years, he was seeing the CIA around every corner, tapping into not only his deeds but his thoughts. You can call it paranoia, and it would be hard to argue with that, except to say that the thicket of everyday hostility a black, gay, one-eyed, drug-addicted musician would be expected to hack his way through in mid-twentieth century America could make it very hard to see the world as a welcoming place.

Read more...

A Love Letter To Our Community

Apr27

by: Sarah Brammer-Shlay and Sam Jewler on April 27th, 2016 | 8 Comments »

Dear American Jewish Community,

(Photo Credit: Gili Getz)

This is a love letter. And we mean LOVE in every sense of the word. The type of love that draws you close, makes you want more and yet can hurt you so deeply. This is the type of love we and other members of IfNotNow DC brought to a mass public seder at the doors of Hillel International on the morning of April 19, three days before Passover.

This love is complicated and disturbed by our community’s support for the inhumane occupation of Palestinians. For both of us, our Jewish identity has at times come into deep conflict with our desire for justice in Israel/Palestine.

We were raised to believe that Israel was a utopia and solely a victim and it was our duty as diaspora Jews to protect and defend the state. Then we learned a more complicated tale, a tale that included the horror and daily nightmare of the occupation for Palestinians. That’s when the heartbreak began. We felt betrayed by the American Jewish community, and we felt that everything we had learned about repairing the world came into contradiction with the community’s support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Our hearts broke and it was hard to look at you. It was hard to believe that you would support a state without question that contributed to the suffering of the Palestinian people. It was hard to believe you could do such a thing. Through our community’s history of trauma and persecution, could we really be the perpetrators of oppression ourselves?

What lesson did we learn from our pain? That no group of people should suffer based on its identity? Or that Jews should militarize and try, futilely, to use domination to push the fear away?

Read more...

How the latest Bernie Sanders Israel Controversy Over Simone Zimmerman Misses the Point

Apr21

by: Liza Behrendt on April 21st, 2016 | 5 Comments »

In the war to silence criticism of Israel, the Palestinian voice is the ultimate target.

Last week, progressives celebrated Senator Bernie Sanders’ appointment of Simone Zimmerman, an activist opposing Israeli occupation, as the Jewish Outreach Coordinator of his presidential campaign. Their celebration would be short.

Right-wing blogs scoured her Facebook page for incriminating information, and institutions purporting to represent the Jewish community demanded she be fired. Just two days later, the Sanders campaign suspended her.

Celebration became outrage. The hashtag #IStandWithSimone trended on social media and thousands signed a petition demanding Zimmerman’s reinstatement. Articles and op-eds condemned Sanders and the Jewish institutions that pressured him, rightfully pointing out that Zimmerman’s politics on Israel represent a generational shift in the U.S. Jewish community. But most of the conversation failed to link Zimmerman with a broader Palestinian-led movement that is systematically silenced, especially those engaging in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel.


Read more...

​Politicians Invading Our Unconscious?

Apr18

by: James S. Gordon on April 18th, 2016 | No Comments »

The other night I dreamt about Donald Trump. I hadn’t planned to and hadn’t wanted to. I don’t know him personally and I’ve never before dreamt about a presidential candidate or a politician.

But there he was, large and urgent, washing his hands at a sink with ornate golden faucets in a very big marble bathroom in one of his residences. As I waited to use the sink myself, I could hear the noise of a party.

Mr. Trump is, of course, becoming a central figure in the daily drama of our national life. He’s there whenever we open the paper or turn on the news. And virtually every day, he is being described, discussed, and analyzed in the op-ed columns. He’s an uninvited presence at dinner table conversations and on phone calls from friends everywhere on the planet.

A few days before my dream, I’d received an email from a philanthropist who was congratulating me on The Center for Mind-Body’s work with population-wide psychological trauma. Just before he signed off, the philanthropist observed that if the Republican primaries were any indication, our work with psychological trauma might become even more necessary.

Read more...

Authoritarian Politics in the Age of Manufactured Illiteracy

Apr18

by: Henry A. Giroux on April 18th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

The dark times that haunt the current age are epitomized in the monsters that have come to rule the United States and who now dominate the major political parties and other commanding political and economic institutions. Their nightmarish reign of misery, violence, and disposability is also evident in their dominance of a formative culture and its attendant cultural apparatuses that produce a vast machinery of manufactured consent. This is a social formation that extends from the mainstream broadcast media and Internet to a print culture, all of which embrace the spectacle of violence, legitimate opinions over facts, and revel in a celebrity and consumer culture of ignorance and theatrics. Under the reign of this normalized ideological architecture of alleged commonsense, literacy is now regarded with disdain, words are reduced to data, and science is confused with pseudo-science.

Thinking is now regarded as an act of stupidity, and ignorance a virtue. All traces of critical thought appear only at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society. For instance, two thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and most of the Republican Party in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity, making the U.S. the laughing stock of the world.  Politicians endlessly lie knowing that the public is addicted to extreme violence and shocks, which allow them to drown in overstimulation and live in an ever-accelerating overflow of information and images. News has become entertainment and echoes reality rather than interrogating it. Unsurprisingly, education in the larger culture has become a disimagination machine, a tool for legitimating ignorance, and it is central to the formation of an authoritarian politics that has gutted any vestige of democracy from the ideology, policies, and institutions that now control American society.

I am not talking simply about the kind of anti-intellectualism that theorists such a Richard Hofstadter, Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky, and more recently Susan Jacoby have documented, however insightful their analyses might be.  I am pointing to a more lethal form of illiteracy that is often ignored.  Illiteracy is now a scourge and a political tool designed primarily to make war on language, meaning, thinking, and the capacity for critical thought. Chris Hedges is right in stating that “the emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture.”[1] Words such as love, trust, freedom, responsibility, and choice have been deformed by a market logic that narrows their meaning to either a relationship to a commodity or a reductive notion of self-interest. We don’t love each other, we love our new car. Freedom now means removing one’s self from any sense of social responsibility so one can retreat into privatized orbits of self-indulgence. And so it goes.  The new form of illiteracy does not simply constitute an absence of learning, ideas, or knowledge. Nor can it be solely attributed to what has been called the “smartphone society.”[2] On the contrary, it is a willful practice and goal used to actively depoliticize people and make them complicit with the forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives.

Read more...

Liberals Are the Future of America

Apr18

by: James A. Haught on April 18th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In the chaotic presidential campaign, the remarkable popularity of Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders spotlights a large, not-always-recognized vein of liberal political sympathy in America.

Suddenly, the L-word is popular again — not an embarrassment to be avoided. That’s great, I think, because progressives have been the driving force behind most social improvements in western civilization.

Look at the historical record:  In the three centuries since The Enlightenment, democracy, human rights, personal liberties and family wellbeing have blossomed.  Life gradually became more decent and humane.  Virtually all the advances were won by reform-minded liberals who defeated conservatives defending former hierarchies, privileges and inequalities. 

Read more...

Wrestling with God: Church Shootings and Gay Wedding Cakes

Apr15

by: Reverend Max Lynn on April 15th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Transcribed from the sermon preached July 12, 2015
Scripture Readings: Genesis 32:22-32, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1865 painting by Alexander Louis Leloir)

The story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God falls between the stories of Jacob’s tricking his brother Esau out of his inheritance and their reconciliation. You may remember that Jacob, the younger son, conspired with his mother to trick his father into giving him both the first born birthright and blessing. Gypped twice by his brother, Esau was fuming, and promised to kill his brother after his father died. Now Esau did alright for himself despite Jacob and is coming with an army. Jacob, hoping for forgiveness and reconciliation, sends out a sequence of offerings to soften his brother’s anger.

Awaiting the actual meeting with his brother, Jacob is camped along a river. As it becomes night, Jacob runs into a man who seems to be the guardian of the river crossing. They wrestle all night. Eventually, Jacob decides this guy is related to the divine and asks for a blessing. Jacob won’t give up so the guy injures Jacobs’s groin. But Jacob still won’t give up and demands a blessing. Finally, the guy blesses Jacob with the new name Israel, because he has struggled with God face to face.

If all goes according the convention in the culture, Jacob is not someone who gets to be primary protagonist in scripture. “Bless me, make me a cake,” he might say, and his father would say, “no, that is not the way it goes. You don’t get the blessing. The established order says your brother gets the blessing.” On the one hand Jacob is a bit of a snake. On the other hand, who came up with the conventional order anyway? This bucking of the conventional culture is going to reverberate in the story of David, the young brother who makes his way from musician to giant killer and then king. This theme runs through scripture: don’t give up, be faithful to God, wrestle with him enough, and you just may get a blessing.

The other night I went over to St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church to hear Cornel West. Now one might be tempted to look at the ongoing struggle of the African American Community and just say, the heck with God. Certainly more and more people have decided God is not making much of a difference. God is not preventing racist lunatics from shooting down church folks. God has not ended racism. God has not ended poverty and violence and discrimination. Meanwhile Central America is turning into a present day Sodom and Gomorrah, where society is disintegrating before the raw violence, corruption and disrespect of human life to such a degree one might be tempted to just erase everything and start over.

Read more...

An Instruction Manual for and about Dissenters

Apr13

by: on April 13th, 2016 | No Comments »

A few weeks ago I posted an entry about how dissent strengthens collaboration. In that article I spoke some about how to respond to outliers – the people who express a divergent opinion, persist in not trusting, or in some other way stand apart from a group. While some may call them “dissenters,” when my colleague Lisa Rothman started referring to them as “outliers” I immediately took to it. The word “outlier” for me describes something wider than dissent. It can include being apart from a group even if in general agreement with it, and is more emotionally evocative for me. This is not a finished discussion, and I welcome your comments about it.

At the next Fearless Heart Teleseminar, a number of those present were grappling strongly with the topic, introducing an entire new angle: if any of us is an outlier, what can we do from that perspective, so we don’t have to wait for a facilitator or leader to be skilled enough to invite us in? This post was born on that call.

Why Outliers Matter

For the longest time, I figured that the reason to respond to outliers with kindness and interest is simply to model those qualities and to support people’s well-being. I didn’t even pause to think about the topic, even though I myself have been an outlier for as far back as I can remember. It wasn’t an epiphany that brought me to my current thinking, only a painstaking, incremental learning through practice.

Read more...

Freedom University: Students & Allies Fight for Access & Education in Georgia’s Public Colleges

Apr12

by: Sagiv Galai on April 12th, 2016 | No Comments »

“Undocumented—Unafraid! Undocumented—Unafraid!”

After a 14-hour classroom sit-in, Freedom University students and allies refuse to leave Georgia State University during the #Greensboro Now action. Eight students were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing. February 2, 2016. Photo: Laura Emiko Soltis.

Such is the slogan that has been galvanized by this nation’s immigrant youth movement. It has been heard in the hallways of Congress, it has been invoked in Miami, throughout California, and for years it has been chanted in the streets of Atlanta.

In order to fight what activists refer to as The Ban: a policy of modern segregation that prohibits access for undocumented students in public universities, undocumented students have been oscillating between the streets and the classrooms, issuing their demands in both forums. The Ban, encapsulated in policies 4.1.6 and 4.3.4 enacted by the Georgia Board of Regents in 2011, stipulates that individuals who are not “lawfully present” in Georgia cannot qualify for in-state tuition in Georgia’s university system, nor can they qualify for admittance in Georgia’s top-five public universities.

The discriminatory impact of the Board’s policies also entailed an unintended consequence. Almost immediately after it was instituted, a hub of resistance and education emerged—Freedom University Georgia.

In this underground and un-accredited institution, the premise of education is its direct relationship to the students’ political environment. Beyond workshops in essay composition, tutoring, photography, graphic design, a critical history of the United States (as inspired by the late-Professor Zinn), or their A Cappella ensemble, the students of Freedom U. focus on crafting resistance strategies to The Ban and on expanding their network of artists, lawyers, veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, former and current politicians, professors, student-allies, and local activists.

During the last five years, as the student activists disseminated their message throughout their community and the nation, a coalition of Freedom U. chapters has emerged in different colleges around Georgia, California and the North East. The network depends on connections that are made between institutions and students, as the Atlanta immigrant youth movement’s focus is access to education and the abolition of admissions policies that discriminate based on the applicant’s immigration status.

Read more...

Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Apr11

by: on April 11th, 2016 | 10 Comments »

If you grew up in the inner city in the 1970s and 1980s and were a hippie, black or latino–never mind a hippie who spent most of his time with blacks and latinos–chances are you had occasion to call a police officer a “pig.” Real pigs are actually kind of nice, as Charlotte’s Web, the movieBabeand the fact that people keep them as pets attests.

But at least in places like Paterson, NJ, Harlem or the Lower East Side, cops seemed to behave with regularity the way people generally imagine pigs to be: dirty–as in corrupt, gluttonous–as in often overweight and also corrupt, sniffing into people’s business, and often running amok in the communities they were supposed to “protect and serve.”

Sadly, the rise of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing police brutality and corruption it’s brought to light reminds us that things haven’t changed too much. Is calling a cop a pig today a sign of bigotry or prejudice? Or can the insult, however crude, reflect a reality that needs to be highlighted?

I raise these questions because at its last meeting the Regents of the University of California approved a new Principles of Intolerance which, despite the ongoing epidemic of sexual assaults on UC campuses, decreasing of our pensions, weakening of health care benefits, lowering of educational quality and rise in tuition, focuses on the alleged plight of one of the least vulnerable groups at UC by most measures (including UC’s own “Campus Climate” report) – Jewish students.

As word leaked of the language being considered for the final version of the Principles, which would have explicitly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism an international uproar ensued that condemned the equation as historically ill-informed and empirically wrong much if not most of the time (to cite the most obvious problem, Jews themselves have been and continue to be anti-Zionist).

Read more...