Archive for the politics Category

Commentary- Dialogue. Human Rights

Posted in film, People of Color, politics with tags , , , , , , on July 15, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I have been questioning the sanctity of commentary a bit as of late. Thanks to fevers and homebody time and, of course, multiple other factors. This morning, however, I got a welcome reminder of what the point of it all is. That’s right friends, Dialogue. It’s all about the discussion, debate, free share, book club style, writing workshop, round table chat. Sometimes we find engaged minds in non-cyber life that want to dig into our topics with us, while other times we find these passionate opinionated folks online. After I posted my recent interview with Pamela Yates, the director of The Reckoning on the Huffington Post, as promised, this lively multi-voiced dialogue ensued. In progress, and quoted full text, here are our comments.

godlessliberal I’m a

Great interview. It’s sad, a story about Sarah Palin can garner up to a thousand comments but a film about the International Criminal Court has one lonely comment, it speaks volumes about our priorities as a collective people. I, for one, am looking forward to watching this film to get a better understanding of the kinks that still need to be worked out within the court and why our government refuses to sign on as a member state.

Posted 10:27 PM on 07/14/2009

Robyn Hillman-Harrigan – Huffpost Blogger I’m a Fan of Robyn Hillman-Harrigan I’m a fan of this user permalink

Thanks, I’m glad the post has sparked your interest in the ICC. It is such significant work, quietly being hacked away at in the Hague and I agree that more of us should know about the court and our countries opposition to it.

Reply Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 01:45 AM on 07/15/2009

As a member of one of the communities that has dealt with the aftermath of ICC indictments — the ICC has a long way to go in terms of implementation. Especially in Uganda, we’ve witnessed a lot of double standards. The Ugandan President and Moreno-Ocampo attended a press conference together to announce the arrest warrants.

After seeing that, it was clear there would be no accountability or justice for crimes the Ugandan government had committed either in Congo or Uganda. Justice is a two-way street. This is one are the ICC must work on in order to garner popular support.

A couple of interesting articles:

Waiting for Bashir: http://ugandagenocide.info/?p=1527

The ICC is a Western Tool But Can Be Improved: http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/122/ARTICLE/5828/2009-07-01.html

Posted 07:05 PM on 07/14/2009

Robyn Hillman-Harrigan – Huffpost Blogger I’m a Fan of Robyn Hillman-Harrigan I’m a fan of this user permalink

Hi, thank you for your comment. Yours is an important perspective, could you tell us more about how the ICC is experienced on the ground in Uganda? The film definitely delves into the criticisms the court has received from African member states and their citizens. What do you see as the way forward?

Reply Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 01:49 AM on 07/15/2009

Thanks for the questions.

For many, the experience of the ICC in Uganda has been tinged with a lot of contradictions and confusion. People can see the government using the ICC when it is convenient, to garner international support, but the law has not been applied to the government itself.

(Right now, Uganda is presiding over the UN Security Council, and ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo is in Uganda to convince Ugandan officials to arrest Sudan”s Al-Bashir, who will be visiting later in the month� in 2010 the ICC review conference will be in Uganda ” these facts alone bring up many contradictions.)

There is a national Amnesty Act for former rebels — this adds to the confusion of whether ICC law or Amnesty will be applied. A war crimes court is another confusing option.

Direct communication with the ICC has been difficult. Victims have written the court to raise issues of systematic government abuse but have received little response from the court. Meanwhile, the Court is spending money to “sensitize” victim communities about their rights.

Posted 10:29 AM on 07/15/2009

FindingTruth I’m a fan of th

(Continued Thoughts)

Many people see the court as a walking contradiction. I have a relative who is a member of the Ugandan army – he said the investigators were only interested in interviewing child soldiers. He raised the question of how truthful the child soldiers might have been, due to army presence.

Most people are afraid to speak too loudly about the history of serious human rights violations by the government. (It was stunning to see the people in the film speaking out.)

From a survivor perspective, the crimes of the government are worse than those of the LRA, yet it is only the LRA”s crimes that are being addressed. This is where the ICC’s lack of effectiveness is most apparent.

Amnesty International Report: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2005/09/19/uprooted-and-forgotten

Many politicians and civil society groups who have raised issues of justice around the LRA issue have been targeted for intimidation by the government ” the conversation in Uganda around the ICC/LRA/Justice is far from free.

The way forward in Uganda: interpret the ICC Statute as it is written and aid the Chief Prosecutor in neutrally applying the law to both sides. The Court also must recognize that governments do not have the ability to try themselves!

The other issue is execution of the warrants. Perhaps the warrants need not be made public? The court’s current system of relying on member countries for arrests hasn’t been successful.

The dialogue is still in progress. To read the actual interview with Pamela Yates click here.

Tony Blair in Person

Posted in politics, talk with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

92Y Tony Blair 1

Yesterday was exciting, not only did I get to while away the late night dancing to some determinedly old school djs at the Nightlife Preservation Community party, but I also was among the security cleared crowd at Tony Blair’s talk at the 92 Street Y.

Having been a History student and residing in the British empire during much of the reign of Blair, and most memorably during his decision to go to war in Iraq based on imaginary Weapons of Mass Destruction, I was very interested to see what he had to say for himself.

Charming to a tee, it was clear how he had managed (at least in part) to ascend to the highest level of office. Within the span of little over an hour he quoted Rabbi Hillel and Winston Churchill, did impressions of Americans who have mistaken him for the actor in The Queen and of his cockney friend who always gives him good advice.

Where was that helpful mate in 2003 when it came time to issue the command for war? Although Blair channelled him and his other cast of colorful cultural references to please the crowd, he was undeniably uncomfortable when Mathew Bishop the interviewer leading Blair’s Q&A asked him point blank if he regretted the decision.

Blair gripped his chair with both hands and stuttered through a long explanation of how he admits that the intelligence was faulty, but they believed it at the time and any way the world is still “better off without Sadam and his two sons ruling the country.”

When asked whether he thinks that the war in Iraq has actually increased Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and ill feeling towards the west, he said absolutely not. “The responsibility for terrorism lies in the hands of the terrorists.” he said.

At the moment the former PM’s main activities are his work with the recently formed Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Africa Governance Initiative, the Climate Group and his position as a negotiater of sorts for peace in Israel/Palestine.

On climate, he seemed to grasp that it is a very real and pressing issue, yet one of the main solutions that he proposed is Nuclear power- in my mind a terrible idea.

On Africa, he said that aid alone is not enough, governments have to be taught (by him) how to operate. He proudly asserted that he is working on bottom up state building in Sierra Leone and Rwanda.

On the Middle East. “For Israel the only Palestinian state they will be able to accept is a secure and well-governed state.” Blair said. He is working on state building there as well. Well clearly Britain and its former leader know best. Perhaps those good old imperialist days are not yet over after all.

He said many additional things about religion, democracy and justice, but I am more concerned with what he didn’t say. Bishop actually selected my audience question, “What was the most significant mistake you made as Prime Minister?”  Blair’s response, “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” A chilling thought.

Ella at Howard Zinn

Posted in Book, ella, People of Color, politics, queer, reading with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I will just preface this by saying that as someone with a degree in History, yes not your typical socialite trade, nonetheless true…Howard Zinn is my idol. Take that American Idol, last week, while I was paying my dues in the country, Ella went to hear him speak along with a few other visionaries at the 92 street Y. Here’s her report back. R

Entering the 92nd Street Y last Wednesday, I may have been guilty of bringing more than a healthy dose of cynicism. Don’t get me wrong – I cried as much as the next liberal during Obama’s acceptance speech. But, well… I struggle with a lot of the liberal left’s self-righteousness and lack of self-criticism. Especially when confronted with it in its Park Slope post-hippie incarnation. And let’s be honest – if I struggle to stay polite to Park Slope liberals, Upper East Side liberals should entice me to set off fire alarms by smoking Marlboro Reds,  and to loudly proclaim my affection for clubbing baby seals.

Also, taking the subway from Crown Heights to 86th street is such a bizarre exercise in people watching.  Not a situation geared to inspiring faith in the existence of a post-racial America. Even in oh-so-liberal New York.

The high schoolers carrying AP-study guides and the people handing out fliers for every cause and demonstration under the sun did nothing to raise my spirits. I haven’t been grumpier since my mother forced me to take part in a Swedish outdoor Hannukah celebration.

Imagine my surprise when A Young People’s History of the United States
turned out to be the most inspiring and intellectually challenging event I’ve been to in a long time.

Howard Zinn, I shouldn’t have doubted you. Surprisingly tall and gangly, Zinn’s introduction to the evening showed not only that he’s still sharp and funny but also that he can command an audience without bogarting the stage. Despite the fact that the evening tied in with the publication of A Young People’s History of the United States, the self-evidently titled young reader’s version of Zinn’s non-fiction bestseller, it didn’t feel like an excuse to hawk books.

Instead, the evening introduced me to several historical speeches I’m going to have to revisit, and several performers I’m keen to check out again. Tim Robbins has been a long-term favorite of mine, but Avery Brooks is definitely someone I’d love to see act again. And I want to hear Shontina Vernon sing again and Staceyann Chin perform poetry.

For me, one of the very genuine effects of the evening was a return to the feeling that dissent and questioning of the ruling order can be intellectually satisfying. And that this doesn’t have to be done mockingly. The Martin Luther King Jr speech, Where Do We Go from Here?, performed by Brian Jones, was a picture of sincerity, while at the same time addressing the troubling link between race and class which was true in the 60s and has not yet been overcome.

Emphasizing the role of young people in shaping the world, Evann Orleck-Jetter, the twelve year old girl whose testimony helped sway the Vermont state legislature to allow equal marriage rights, read the piece she’d delivered early this year, as well as a document against child labor from 1913. I was worried for a while that this would be gimmicky and embarrassing. Instead, her calm performance was a restrained tear-jerker –- impressive in anyone and incredibly dignified for someone that young –- which highlighted Zinn’s argument that the study of history should inspire people to participate in the struggles of their own age.

The evening inspired me to email one of the poems performed to an old teacher of mine, from back when I was a super idealistic teenager. She wrote back, thanking me, saying she’d needed it that day. I guess the evening brought back those feelings of I matter-ness that otherwise tend to get trapped beneath my everyday life. Maybe, sometimes, the enthusiastic young person in me needs to be given space to push the post-ironic jaded city dweller aside.

By Ella Fitzsimmons

The Girlfriend Experience, Fixer, Print vs Blog

Posted in film, Food, Party, People of Color, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

It’s been another busy week friends. Since last I wrote I saw The Girlfriend Experience and  Fixer:The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi at the Tribeca Film Festival, went to a Print vs Blog talk at the Tribeca Y, had a poetry reading and danced the blues off at two Brooklyn house parties. Plus, I had another successful meal at Buttermilk Channel, this time brunch. Their biscuits are pretty good, but not as good as mine! I also had a chance to live it up a little bit on Saturday while actually reading peacefully in the sun in Choice Greene’s backyard patio. On the way there I passed an awesome kids clown show on Grand, in front of the Still Hip clothing store. Apparently they are having them every Saturday, if you love costumes and clowns, and environmentally themed, musical children’s performances as much as I do, then definitely check it out!

First a note about Brooklyn house parties and then onto my film reviews. Note: They rule! Ha, ha, no really they do. OMG Michelle played at the one on Friday night, which was at this house called Mansion (not to be confused with the snooty Manhattan club, Mansion.) DJ Designer Impostor played and on Sat, DJ Shomi Noise was awesome. Aside from being my friend, she is also a generally great DJ!

Ok film. So, the two films were extremely different than each other, the first Steven Soderberg’s new opus on high class prostitutes, who give their customers the illusion that they are somehow in a loving relationship with each other, was less than spectacular. Although the directer himself, with huge successes like Erin Brochevich, Sex Lies and Videotape, and Traffic under his belt, was wildly confident during the Q & A after, several elements of the film caused me to take pause.

He typecast, if you will, non-actors to play the roles of the prostitute and her personal trainer boyfriend. He didn’t give them a script and instead set them up with a situation and encouraged them to ad lib. Although this technique was quite successful in Ballast it fell very short in The Girlfriend Experience. Soderberg claimed, during his talk back, that if people didn’t know that was his method, we never would have noticed. I beg to differ.

The holes in the dialogue were obvious. The language was incidental and often seemed forced. Many of the relationships were unconvincing and the main character, played by porn actress, Sasha Grey, was stiff and boring to watch. If you made a film about me walking around NY having somewhat random conversations with strangers, I’m sure I would also be stiff and boring to watch. Why? Because I’m not an actor and films which follow non-actors are usually called documentaries. Why not just call the whole thing off, and make a documentary about a real prostitute who offers the girlfriend experience? Just asking.

Speaking of documentaries, let’s talk a bit about the really good film that I saw at Tribeca. But first, a note about opinions. Yes everyone has one, and some people start blogs and share them, people like me. But Tony Ortega, editor, and Michael Cohen,  publisher, of the Village Voice have a bit of a bone to pick with people like us. However, the founder of Gothamist and a writer from Mashable, who sat on a panel with them on Thursday, they kinda think us bloggers are great. If you’re interested in finding out more about this secret society who is bringing down the media oligarchy, come to the Brooklyn Blogfest on Thursday, that’s where most of our upcoming schemes for world domination will be hatched.

No, to be fair, Ortega claimed to support bloggers, to want to maintain the integrity of the Voice, and most shockingly, he insisted that the Voice is still making good money.  Strange, those claims seem to run counter to the Voice‘s recent massive layoffs and to their stubborn attempt to remain the source of NYC event advice. Unless they become a little more cutting edge with their suggestions, I don’t see people continuing to look to them to find out what’s happening.

But that’s just my opinion, and it’s here in my blog, not pretending to be impartial in some newspaper. Anyway enough angst right? Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi without necessarily seeking to do so, makes a very different and much more compelling argument in favor of the old media establishment. There is absolutely a place for researched, well-sourced journalism, especially in terms of foreign correspondence.

Fixer is a documentary that follows Christian Parenti, a Nation journalist, on a fact gathering trip through Afghanistan. As he travels around the country, meeting with Taliban leaders, villagers and any other potential sources of information, Ian Olds, the filmmaker is in the back seat of the car, a fly on the wall, observing Parenti’s transactions.  In order to navigate this active war zone, Parenti requires help from what is known in the journo trade as a fixer.

A fixer is a local person who makes contact with potential sources, estimates the level of risk in traveling to various areas and then facilitates the actual journey by driving the foreign journalist to the rendezvous points and serving as translator while there. More than a middle man, Parenti’s fixer, Ajmal Naqshbandi was a journalist in his own right and as portrayed in the film, was a very savvy and intelligent individual. He died not long after the journey that Parenti and Olds took with him.

On another fixer job, working for an Italian journalist, Naqshbandi and the Italian were both kidnapped by a notorious Taliban leader. This man is known to have kidnapped and brutally executed several people. We are told at the start of the film that Naqshbandi died in this cruel way, but that his Italian employer was released relatively unharmed. The rest of the film navigates how the fixer got to that point and questions why he was not saved.

I was glad to see that Fixer won best documentary at Tribeca. It is truly an interrogative film. It forces us to question A. what is really going on in Afghanistan, B. how much that self-government and democracy actually protects Afghan citizens and C. How we would  even begin to answer these questions without the field researched findings of foreign corespondents funded by media institutions.

1 point scored for blogs and 1 for old media. Looks like a tie Tony.

Brooklyn Socialite on Huffington Post-Bedstuy Meadow

Posted in film, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I hope you all have had the chance to check out my Huffpo post on the Bedstuy Meadow project. Here’s a little excerpt below and a link to rest of the post. Tonight I’m going to check out a doco on Al Franken at Stranger than Fiction. Report back to come, and I hope to see you all there!
R

Last week I interviewed a Brit, Andy Lang, about his new film based in Cuba. I was thinking Global then, but this week’s interview is all about acting local. Saturday morning I woke up early and suited up in full-body rain-gear, then trudged through the downpour to my rendezvous point in Zone 4, which happened to be about 3 blocks from my apartment. I was feeling quite stealth and shrouded in mystery as I arrived at lab 24/7, a basement apartment, which doubles as an event space. There I met, for the first time, about 30 of my neighbors and was given a seed bag, a map and a small team to work with. Me and my new planting crew then spread out over Bedstuy to begin scattering wildflower seeds. There were 5 meet-up zones and 100 volunteers in total. We all found each other and signed on to the project after a new website sprung up, promoting the Bedstuy Meadow Project, created by one woman who envisioned it all, Deborah Fisher.

Read More

Brooklyn locavore at Full Frame

Posted in film, Food, People of Color, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

We’ve discussed my vegan-envy in the past, but this sentiment has now reached new heights. After seeing Food Inc. I’ve been pretty much unable to eat meat, and quite uncomfortable with eating corn products.

True, it’s only been 2 days, but I feel pretty serious about this new conviction. The film details the social impact of the meat industry, as well as its environmental impact and effect on animal welfare. Meatpacking and processing is now one of the most dangerous jobs in the country and the very small number of employers actively recruit illegal Mexican immigrants to work in the plants. Under constant threat of deportation, the workers will then submit to the most dangerous conditions and minimal salaries.

Farmers who raise soybeans, corn and chickens fare no better within the American food industry. Monsanto, famous for having created Agent Orange and for championing genetically engineered food has  patented the soybean. That corporation now owns a piece of natural life. This means that all over the country farmers are being sued and harassed for growing non- Monsanto seeds. Since the dawn of agriculture farmers have saved their own seeds, but now the law says that only corporate owned and sold seeds are permissible, seeds that require toxic Monsanto fertilizers in order to grow.

It gets worse, remember Mad Cow disease, aka  E. coli. This is not a mutant strand that appeared out of nowhere, it is a disease created by the meat industry’s practice of feeding cows corn, in place of their natural grass diet and confining them in inhumane conditions, where they are left standing in their own feces. When one cow contracts this virus, it easily spread to the others, and it then finds itself mixed into meat at processing plants.

These are just a few examples, the list of abuses is long. Yet, because of the powerful legislative bargaining power of corporate food interests, there is no law in place to require labelling of GE or cloned foods and Kevins Law,  the legislation that would  hold the meat industry accountable for e coli deaths, and protect against further infections has still not passed 7 years after its proposal.

I have long been an organic food eater, have tended to favor local over corporate and am even a member of my local csa( community supported agriculture), but I wasn’t exactly a purist before. I’d eat microwave popcorn and dubious diner hamburgers, but I’m just about ready to make a locavore pledge… To Know Where my Food has Come From and to understand its true social, environmental, and animal welfare costs.

The Food Inc trailer- Directed by Robert Keener

The South…..Brooklyn Socialite takes Full Frame-Wounded Knee

Posted in film, People of Color, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Wow guys,
Its been a busy couple of weeks. Aside from working like crazy(as always), I’ve been traveling and socialiting, rest assured. Now I’ve finally gotten the chance to breathe and blog, of equal priority right? Yes. So gosh, where to begin. I’ll start by talking like a southerner, saying this like, “oh gosh” and ma’am. Except, no way am I saying that to anyone and I wish that I could stop them from saying it to me. I’m not your mama, your mom, your missus or any combination of those terms. I am from New York, and no that’s not why I’m being rude. I’m being rude because you are looking at me like I’m an Alien. I’m not an Alien, am from Brooklyn and don’t like your fashion sense either thank you very much. Whew, now that I got that out of the way, lets talk film.

This afternoon, I saw Wounded Knee , which is a great new film, directed by Stanley Nelson about the second Battle of Wounded Knee. The first took place in 1890 and is considered to be the end of the Great Indian Wars. Over 300 Native Americans were massacred. This event would usher in the period of forcibly removing children from their homes to send them to de-Indianization boarding schools. The second battle at Wounded Knee began when the Oglala Lakota who lived on Pine Ridge reservation teamed up with the American Indian Movement(AIM) to occupy the village of Wounded Knee as a bargaining tool. The demands that they placed on the table, were that Dick Wilson, the so called Tribal council leader (this was an appointment made by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, not by way of local election) and his goon squad be removed from power. They also requested that the government money and food supplies that were being funneled into the reservation, actually be distributed among the people (rather then kept by Wilson and his cronies).

After trying all legal means to redress their grievances, the Oglala Lakota called in the, at time militant, AIM leadership and membership to take up arms and escalate the fight for their people. The seizure lasted for 72 days and was met with an occupation by federal marshals and other agencies under the aegis of the U.S. government. The media extensively covered the event, reporting favorably on the movement, and Indians from all over the U.S. came to join the struggle at Wounded Knee. The film deftly captures the conflict and provides useful background into the childhood experiences and historical understandings of many of the people who were involved in the standoff. Take note: These events, which took place in 1973, set the stage for a continued reign of terror by the goon squad, and the eventual arrest of AIM leader Leonard Peltier, who was  accused of killing 2 FBI agents and remains in jail to this day.

Ok, lets stop there, got to go see another film…but I promise I will be keeping a daily Full Frame diary. Back soon! Robyn

Battlestar Gallactica at the UN with Woopi Goldberg

Posted in People of Color, politics, tv with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

A Battlestar Galactica discussion, held at the United Nations Economic and Social Council Chamber, moderated by Whoopi Goldberg? It sounds like the premise of a fevered dream or a bad trip. It may well be the first time that the UN’s diligent sign makers had to dedicate their skills to crafting signs with the names of extra-terrestrial places like “Virgon” and “Sagittarion” for the assembled delegates.  It was definitely the first time The Brooklyn Socialite made a dent in the United Nation’s amazing seafood buffet, looking out over the Hudson while chugging industrial-sized whiskeys and thinking about the strangeness of being in a building which, as the wise Whoopi G put it, “is as much an idea as a place”. Which we agree with – especially as it’s an idea that incorporates waiters in tuxes and brings together diplomats, high school students and geeks in a building decorated with tapestry portraits of Secretary Generals past and present.

A team-effort between the UN Department of Public Information and the Sci Fi Channel, the evening was less trippy and more substantial than it sounds. Tying in themes from the science fiction series with the UN’s work, actors Mary McDonnell (who plays President Laura Roslin), Edward James Olmos (the battle-scarred Admiral Adama), producers Ronald Moore and David Eick were joined on the podium by a variety of UN representatives, touching on subjects such as human rights, children in armed conflict, terrorism and religious reconciliation.

Helping the non-Sci Fi geeks in the audience, each segment was introduced by a clip from the series. It quickly became clear that Whoopi hadn’t only done her homework by watching the show, but that she’s a genuine Sci Fi fan (she admitted to using the Battlestar Galactica curse word “fraq” on The View – she works with Elizabeth Hasselbeck, so innovative, non-censored swear words are clearly called for). Deputy director of the NY office of the high commissioner for human rights Craig Mokhiber’s gave an impassioned and witty description of the continued importance of the UN declaration of Human Rights, saying that it is not a quaint idea only held by the liberal softies at the UN, but  what stands between humanity and the slippery slope of moral relativism , which de-humanizes the “other”. Ron Moore seemed to agree, though throughout the evening he hesitated to take a clear stance on any of the moral issues in the show.  Instead, he’d emphasize the complexity of the characters – answers which may have disappointed the avid fan who, delighted to have avoided paying the entrance fee for a Comic Con, wanted the definitive definition of the difference between Cylons and Humans in the show.

No fan’s passion for Battlestar Galactica could match that of Olmos, who seemed to be slipping in to his Adama character throughout the evening. His voice is pretty mesmerizing (he seemed to think so too), so he might be forgiven for some of his more extraordinary statements – at one stage he seemed to be supporting Cheney’s policies on national security, which we all know is more ridiculous than thinking you’re a commander at a floating space colony.  Though to be fair to Adama (Olmos?) he did have some interesting ideas about how fans blogging about the show had caused it to take on a life of its own, to become a cultural phenomenon intelligently addressing current affairs.

The only downer of the evening, actually, was the disinterested girl who, during Radhika Coomaraswamy’s touching presentation about children and armed conflict, sat next to The Brooklyn Socialite playing Brick Breaker on her BlackBerry. Not cool.

By Ella Fitzsimmons

Art Fagery with Slate Honey

Posted in art, Mr Slate Honey, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I attempted some art fag-ery last Friday, as it seems I do best at activity-driven procrastination when I am under the pressure of Grad school deadlines.  My first stop was the Whitney, and apparently my first task was to haggle the pretty boy art students at reception for my tickets.  Skinny mini attitude is best rocked at the club, I think, where bitchy can look cuter with your new haircut and horn-rimmed glasses combo.  But hey, what do I know, I like to remain only a visitor to the art fag universe.

My friend and I were first drawn to the multicolored kid’s room on the ground floor which houses Alex Bag’s brilliant installation video.  Planted ourselves on a bright yellow rectangle and nestling our feet in the faux polar bear shag carpet, we slipped into a trippy world of hyper consciousness.  In the style of 70s era children’s show “The Patchwork Family,” Bag places her super imposed selves on screen in conversation with a witty red dragon puppet whose wake-up call commentary provides hilarious punch to the self-deprecating humor.  Dressed in various costumes, Bag and the dragon discuss dysfunction, depression and denial as their background melts together images of Renaissance art and trippy graphics.  Every so often,  Bag’s ghost appears as a semi-transparent double that hovers creepily around and upon her as she talks about how the ghost is able to surpass the limits of her body in a way she herself cannot.  Cutaways from this existential dialogue include David Bowie covers performed by a tired-looking man in a wheelchair surrounded by children who stand and sit awkwardly around him and clips from “The Patchwork Family” in which Bag’s mother was a host.

The video has a slow pace and parts of it drag on–in particular, the Bowie covers.  While other segments are straightforward in their symbolism, the most complex and layered segment is Bag’s exchange with the dragon and her ghost.  Bag’s different characters and the dragon play counterpart to each other as if they are each separate parts of her mind–conscious, sub-conscious and ego.  The dialogue is deep and witty, coming from a place of pain.  However, Bag does not use her multi-media space as an emotional dumping ground.  She is careful to critique her own self-indulgence and adds a broader critique on artistic navel gazing.  At moments, the video offers advice to children that feels deeply reflective and tinged with regret.  Bag’s warped children’s show is an adult arena for processing but it brings to mind an adolescent emotional absorption that feels really universal and eerily familiar.

After watching Alex Bag’s piece, my friend and I strolled through the rest of the museum.  Lynda Benglis’ sprawling latex formation in the “Synthetic” show struck me as beautifully conceived.  I was also intrigued with one of Elad Lassry’s 16 mm films in which actors sit on a two-dimensional painted surface and appear inside a three-dimensional space.  When we got to Alexander Calder’s moving sculptures, I realized I was already exhausted.  Amidst the tinkling of small weights wandering freely through the air to hit bottles and metal, I took a rest to gather some energy for the next leg of the art day.

We headed to Rush Arts Gallery for the opening of “Latitude”.  The work in “Latitude” explores mixed cultural identity, homeland as an unstable concept, and deconstructing fixed identities and definitions of authenticity.  The pieces range in medium with photography, sculpture, and mixed-media installations.  The artists in the show include Sung Jin Choi, Brendan Fernandes, Mona Kamal, Sungmi Lee, Vered Sivan and Jessica Vaughn.  Packed tight with gorgeous folks buzzing in conversation, there wasn’t much space to walk around and get deep into the work.  Already art-fagged out, I was perfectly content to sip on some wine, chat with the few kids I knew, gawk at the beauties and absorb “Latitude” more conceptually than anything else.  I am particularly interested in visual art and writing that explores notions of identity along cultural and political faultlines, so I’ll have to return for another closer look.

Salmon Rushdie,Irshad Manji, Morality

Posted in People of Color, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite


At the 92 St Y, on Sunday night, I heard Irshad Manji, aka “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare”, interview Salmon Rushdie, aka Padma Lakshmi’s womanizing ex-husband, aaka one of the greatest living writers. The subject of their chat was Moral Courage. In fact, it was the first conversation in a series started by Manji, which aims to tackle the subject of ethical fortitude from several different angles. Manji, a reformist Muslim, questioned Rushdie, an Indian born devout Atheist, about the effects of the Fatwa, which Ayatollah Khomeini passed against him after the publication of his book, The Satanic Verses.

At the time of the book’s release, Islamic fundamentalists took offense at his descriptions of the prophet Mohamed, and the circumstances of his life. The fatwa called for the death of Rushdie, and when it was issued there were serious attempts to assassinate him, initiated by the government of Iran. As a result of this it was dangerous for Rushdie to travel to the Middle East, imposing a form of exile upon the man, although he was already living in the west. The attacks and threats even spilled over into England and were also used to intimidate his publisher and other colleagues. Rushdie was educated in India, then England and has since lived in Pakistan and here in the United States

A lot of my friends don’t like the man. Rushdie although well-versed in upper-class charm, has often been called sexist and elitist for good reason. However, like that old Woody Allen, it’s too hard to hate him, no matter how much I try. He is a great writer. His brilliant way with words is matched by his lucid mind. It is a rare gift to possess the ability to craft such unique characters and give them appropriate language styles, distinguishing one from the next so effectively that the reader can really get lost in the dreamscape of the novel, without remembering to be cynical. Agreeing to judge the artist, above the man (no matter how much he reminds me of Bridshead Revisited), let us move on to what the Muslim-Canadian-Feminist-Lesbian said to the Indian/British/American- Sexist-Atheist-Booker Prize winning Writer…

Although you could sense a note of resistance between the two, there also seemed to be a significant amount of respect flowing both ways. They both oppose censorship and bemoaned the way that our society has slinked into an Orwellian dystopia. They spoke against the type of moral relativism and political-correctness, which dissuades people from speaking out against things like honor killings, stonings and female genital mutilation. Rushdie said that in the past 20 years people have become more afraid to speak out about things. However, he also called our contemporary culture, “a culture of offense.” He claimed that because of the explosion of identity politics, people now define themselves by what they’re angry about. “Who are you if you’re not pissed off by anything?” Rushdie said.

He seems to want it both ways, and maybe we all do. One should be able to shout at someone else for offending their cultural, religious or gender identity, expecting a degree of “tolerance” or political-correctness. Yet, people should not just accept and respect each other, because their practices fit under the veil of some sort of culture. Now this is tricky terrain. I think the main point is that we can disagree, and even vocalize this, but the danger comes when we back our views with violence, whichever side we’re on. But again, the danger, If the US violently intervenes, for instance, when the Taliban oppress and kill women, this is an example of not tolerating or succumbing to moral relativism. When they attack us as infidels, is it the same example reversed? It is as though they are saying, we are Right, so we can use might, they are wrong, and so they can’t. Maintaining a sense of moral superiority is nice, but somehow not an effective argument against others who believe they are also superior. For all his pretty words, I’m curious as to how Rushdie would respond to this, and for all of her moral courage, how would Manji? I welcome their responses.

Inauguration 2009-Andrea Chalupa

Posted in People of Color, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I want to extend a warm Brooklyn Socialite welcome to the illustrious Andrea Chalupa.

Letter to Myself, 2004- by Andrea Chalupa

My first job out of college was community organizer. Now that’s a hot term. Back then, for me, in the 2004 presidential election it was a duty. For my country, for the world. Every morning I was getting up to keep George W. Bush from getting re-elected. If he won another term, he would be getting away with it–away with starting the wars, putting our country into some dark shell of its former self. Paul Krugman’s right, we cannot ignore the crimes of the Bush administration even if crisis forces us to move forward.

I fought for my country in 2004. I didn’t fight for it like my former college roommate is fighting now in Iraq, but I lived and breathed something I believed was a matter of life and death. Bush smelled of Armageddon since the first election. We couldn’t give him a second term. Ironically, before graduating college and joining the 2004 campaign, I read a book that nearly shocked me out of my young idealism. It’s called Addicted to War, a comic book about the U.S. military industrial complex and its widespread impact and control on the world. This book is devastating, each footnoted fact lifts back the veil of ignorant bliss. Reading it made me realize that Bush can’t be defeated. I even called my dad in a near panic. He did his best Yogi Berra speech, using one of his favorite sayings: have the courage of your convictions. So I went heart first into the 2004 election.

The campaign was amazing. The long, long hours. Being in at 7am, staying sometimes until 1am, later. Working closely and intensely with dynamic, hilarious people, doing the craziest things like office dodgeball, because there’s no loonier high than lack of sleep. The drinking, the sex, the Melrose Place gossip, the alliances and betrayals. I can’t tell you how strange a site it was to see young people in their pajamas on a Sunday going to brunch, leading normal lives, when I had already been turbo-productive since 8am. You learn to make five minutes go a long way working on a campaign. Every vote counts so you spend your time trying to reach the most people possible. I feel bad for the men and women who lost or nearly lost their boyfriends and girlfriends to campaigns. Working on one is a special experience, the stuff of novels. The only time I woke up with a hangover was the day after the election–Bush had won. Never been so hungover.

I wouldn’t say I lost my ideals after that, I just needed to do something other than think about governance. I had been working in politics since I was sixteen. Okay, I felt dead inside. I chose the private sector route, over a job on Capital Hill or at a non-profit. I didn’t hitch my star to that name that was being buzzed about even back then, Barack Obama. I thought: Bush won again, it’s obviously meant to be. The apathy set in. There’s this condition called learned helplessness where the sufferer feels resistance is futile. Why vote? That’s what I heard so many times while campaigning. Why vote, when corporations, the C.I.A., Dick Cheney decides elections for us? Why vote? I was struggling to shove my idealism down the throats of apathetic voters. Incensed by their cynicism, their laziness, I soon became one after we lost. I suffered learned helplessness along with the rest of the country.

And then came Barack Obama. I admit I didn’t fall in love right away, it took me until the general election to dive into that kool-aid and get it. I guess I was annoyed at the wave of support he got because he was some rock star, a Messiah, when that shouldn’t matter. John Kerry should have gotten the same amount of support in 2004 because of what was at stake if Bush got four more years, and he did, all because John Kerry couldn’t give a speech that wasn’t the color of oatmeal or make a decision without a focus group. I resented the Obamamaniacs for not being there sooner, for needing a rock star before they got that active, that instrumental. I sat this election out, knowing full well what I was missing, and I was jealous that the fight was so much more electrifying this time around because of the leader. Though I am thrilled Obama has turned so many people on to public service–he isn’t the only one we need right now.

Today I go to Washington to experience the inauguration, to be with my fellow Americans. And today I write a letter to my former self, the one who lost a four-year relationship working long hours on that campaign, who felt so sure of victory on that campaign, who learned to stop worrying and love John Kerry, on that campaign. I write that letter to you because since then, the impossible has happened. And it’s going to have to keep on happening to turn this world around. What I’m saying is, don’t go in fear, don’t go in isolation, open your heart to the impossible.

Expressions Dance-Reality TV-by Natascia Boeri

Posted in politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Expressions Dance Company at Brooklyn Center- review by Natascia Boeri

I am proud to welcome Natascia one of our lovely new writers!

“Don’t take this personally but you were very corny,” was a comment to one of the dancers during the Q&A following the performance from a red-haired lady. The dancer didn’t seem offended and in fact agreed with her. Other adjectives that the company might have enjoyed hearing as well could have been superficial, loud, slutty, and so on, but that is to be expected when you choreograph a dance with a reality TV show as its backdrop.

Expressions Dance Company arrived from Australia, fresh and un-rested, due to libation consumption the night before, as I later found out – yet you would have never guessed from the energy the dancers kept throughout the show. And in case you started to tire of seeing sweaty, lean bodies intertwining themselves gracefully through different poses, there were photos, films, and words projected on the set pieces, accompanying the dancer’s story.

For this piece, Maggi Sietsma, the artistic director and choreographer, drew inspiration from the Russian ballet Petrushka, where a puppet-master craftily manipulates his three puppets through the stages of a tragic love triangle. This plot transforms easily into a reality TV show where contestants, despite being real people like you and me, are controlled in order to attain the highest ratings. It was this and actual reality TV shows that Ms. Sietsma wanted to confront in her production, having already tackled climate change in her previous piece,”On Thin Ice”. Turns out that they have their own version of “American Idol” in Australia – “Australian Idol.” Having strong, often-negative feelings surrounding the culture of reality TV, (maybe in part because I find it just so darn hard not to get snared into the shows when they’re on!) I was interested in seeing what issues would be brought up.

As expected, the superficiality, power, dishonesty, and sexism of today’s programs were performed and criticized during the show, with the chance to participate in a dialogue of these matters when the company sat down with the audience members afterwards. I especially enjoyed Ms. Sietsma comment that she wanted to illustrate how today’s media (she actually said “producers” but I’m taking the liberty to expand the guilt further) are manipulating puppeteers not only of the contestants but of the viewers as well. As the contest – and dance – progresses, the viewer sees the ugly truth of reality TV. Most of us are probably aware that these shows are just cheap imitations of life in the name of entertainment. However, the real problem here is how reality TV, with all its glaring sexism and ruthless stereotyping, is not only a replication of our society but also a tool of manipulation for that society – which is especially startling when one considers the young age of some of the viewers.

Other than leaving the theater with a grim outlook on our present and possible future society, I was glad to have trudged out to Brooklyn College on a cold, snowy night to experience a dance show on the reality of reality TV.

“Family” Planning- Irene Tung on Queer life in China

Posted in People of Color, politics, queer with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

This Article was written by Irene about her very interesting recent trip to China.

Dou Dou and Feng, a Chinese lesbian couple from the city of Shenyang in Northeast China, plan to have a baby together.  However, they have no intention of ever coming out to their parents.

I met them this October at a lesbian, bi and trans organizing training in Anshan in the Liaoning province of China where I was helping to conduct workshops on global LGBT history and organizational development.  Feng and Dou Dou (pronounced DOUGH-dough), both 23, created and maintain a popular web-based bulletin board that provides information and on-line counseling to Chinese lesbians. They were among activists from throughout Northeast China who attended the training.

Over breakfast one day, I asked Dou Dou and Feng, who requested to be identified only by their nicknames, about their plans for the future. They have been together for several years and have decided not to come out to their families. Instead, Feng plans to arrange a fake marriage with a gay male friend.  They will hold an elaborate wedding with friends and extended family, buy property together and live together. Dou Dou will stay “single”.  Feng and her gay friend will stay in their queer relationships, but maintain the facade of a heterosexual married lifestyle to their families. Dou Dou and Feng are both only children, as per China’s one child policy. They are part of a generation of children, born after the policy was enacted in 1979, who are facing severe pressure from their families to marry as they enter their mid-to-late twenties. Many are considering fake marriages, a practice which has created tremendous controversy in the Chinese queer community. Some see it as selling out, while others counter that the pressure from their family is too strong for them to bear.

When I asked Feng and Dou Dou about having children, they said that they definitely plan to have a child within the fake marriage arrangement.  The child would bear the gay man’s surname. It would call Feng, “mom”, the gay friend, “dad”, and Dou Dou, “godmother”.  But Dou Dou says she would still consider it her child. They say they wouldn’t tell the child the truth about the fake marriage until he or she becomes a teenager. Both of them see it as the only viable way for them to raise a child together.

One evening during dinner with other conference participants, someone asked if my partner and I plan to have kids.  I had traveled to China with my partner, who is Irish-Italian from South Jersey.  We answered that we were unsure, but that it was a possibility.  At that point, the three young gay men at the table literally jumped out of their chairs in their enthusiasm to volunteer themselves as sperm donors. We were a little taken aback, not quite sure what to make of it. It became clear very quickly however that they were only interested in providing sperm to inseminate my white partner, and not me. In response to their offers, we poured another round of drinks and told them we would think about it.

It turns out that Chinese people are obsessed with biracial, hapa babies. I spoke with several people in China who believe that hapa children are not only more beautiful, but also more intelligent. In Beijing, I met one couple that is actively seeking a white sperm donor.

Some lesbian couples in China who–unlike Feng and Dou Dou–are out to their families, hope to raise children together as openly queer parents.  Couples seeking to do so face significant legal and cultural obstacles. The Chinese government has actively opposed LGBT couples raising children. In 2006, it banned adoption of Chinese children by foreign gay couples, citing a stipulation that adoptive couples must be “healthy”. Also, unmarried women are not officially allowed to buy sperm from authorized sperm banks in China.

While the act of homosexuality is decriminalized in China, activists have recently reported an increase in surveillance, raids and arrests of people involved in queer organizing activities, especially in the period leading up to the Olympic Games this past summer.  Despite these challenges, the movement is growing in strength.  This November, following the training in Anshan and similar events in other cities, the first national alliance of lesbian, bi and trans organizations, representing thousands of members, was formalized in Shanghai. (Support their efforts!)

An amazing break dancing performance by two teenage trans boys at the closing ceremony of the conference in Anshan.

An amazing break dancing performance by two teenage trans boys at the closing ceremony of the conference in Anshan.

photo from one of the panel discussions. The banner reads, “2008 Lesbian Camp, Lesbian Networking, Anshan”

photo from one of the panel discussions. The banner reads, “2008 Lesbian Camp, Lesbian Networking, Anshan”

Ming Ming, from Beijing, wearing a t-shirt that says, “We demand to watch homosexual movies.”  The t-shirts were created as part of an anti-censorship campaign to respond to the Chinese government’s ban of all films that refer to LGBT themes.

Ming Ming, from Beijing, wearing a t-shirt that says, “We demand to watch homosexual movies.” The t-shirts were created as part of an anti-censorship campaign to respond to the Chinese government’s ban of all films that refer to LGBT themes.

Slate Gets Milk- Gus Van Sant’s new Film

Posted in film, Guide to What's Good, Mr Slate Honey, People of Color, politics, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

Great review and thoughtful Analysis of Milk by Mr Slate Honey. Van Sant is giving a Q&A tonight at MOMA- hopefully I’ll get tickets and be able to report back tomorrow.-R

It seems everybody and their gay dads saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk as part of the Thanksgiving routine this year.  I was warned to go equipped with tissues and to be ready for problematic portrayals of the few characters of color in the film.  (Thanks lover, for the forewarning by the way.) I went prepared with a dewey heart and my critical lenses on.

I have been a committed Sean Penn fan ever since I saw Dead Man Walking when I was a little mister.  And I got on the Gus Van Sant train a bit late but his recent films Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park have served my grungy emo-homo skater-boy obsession very well.

Cinematographer Harris Savides and Van Sant make a great visionary team.  They previously worked together on Elephant, a film with a very precise, clean cinema verité style that transforms violence into real-time horror and renders its viewers innocent witnesses.  In Milk, Savides and Van Sant play with perspective, creating layers of consciousness for Penn’s character.  Switching perspective and cinematic style, and weaving archival footage into the film, Savides and Van Sant reveal a determined, emotional man at the center of a violent socio-political setting.  A particularly lush scene that is classic Van Sant perspective comes early on in the film.  Harvey and Scott (played by James Franco) fall in love in a soft-focus dreamscape of close movement, shot all in extreme close-ups set to the soundtrack of their tender conversation.  Gorgeousness.

Overall, Milk is very historically accurate.  Activist Cleve Jones and friend of Milk’s was on-set during production and connected Van Sant with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who had long been preparing a manuscript. Milk serves as a good personal portrait counterpart to the 1985 documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein.  I had the feeling watching MILK that I could trust the filmmaker team’s attention to detail and the solid sense of collaboration gave the narrative a documentary quality.

So the accuracy and detail of the film bring up a pretty big concern on the race-politics front.  I was charmed by Sean Penn’s old-school New York accent and faggy gestures, seduced by James Franco’s flirty eyes and mini handlebar moustache and increasingly worried as Josh Brolin’s character’s passive aggressive repression began to seep out.  And the constant influx of characters served well as a distraction from the tragic and narrow development of the few characters of color.

A member of Milk’s activist dream team includes an Asian man who is only referred to as Lotus Blossom despite his many appearances.  Random folks of color magically appear in the crowd every time Milk gets a further push forward in the political machine.  During an acceptance speech near the climax of the film, a black woman with a classic 70s look complete with afro smiles enthusiastically behind Harvey.  She promptly disappears behind a shower of balloons as soon as Harvey wraps up his speech.

Leaving the theatre, my mom suggested that the race politics of the film merely mirrored the San Francisco scene in the 1970s.  There just weren’t that many people of color, she argued.  And there were barely any women in the film, she added.  Historical accuracy?  (And, I might add, how much has the San Francisco gay scene departed from a mostly white gay male playground thirty years later?)

The seldom appearance of people of color is one thing.  I suppose you can reason this with some argument about accuracy.  What is more troubling is the passiveness of the characters of color.  Black and Asian extras dot the activist scenes, always with their thumbs in the air and big smiles.  Lotus Blossom doesn’t seem to wince at his nickname.  And finally, Jack, the one Latino character that makes it on-screen for more than thirty seconds is portrayed as an irrational, mentally unstable, co-dependent, infantile wifey.  Jack’s tragedy becomes expected and you can almost hear the characters whispering under their breath “She brought it on herself.” This is fodder for post-colonial theory.

So my warnings were well-heeded.  In the end, I cried like a baby, just as hard as I cried when I watched ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk’.  I left the theatre thinking about the fearless work of an older generation of queer activists that laid some ground for young folks to make demands relevant to what it means to be queer and fight for rights today.  I also left thinking about how race politics have systematically been swept under the rug by a white gay and lesbian rights movement in the 70s.  I thought about what work that has left contemporary queer activists of color.  And how truly far-thinking activists never get comfortable and only keep pushing and questioning.  Finally, making my way out of the city back to Brooklyn, I meditated on queer love as freedom, queer survival as civil rights, and a beautiful fearlessness that comes naturally to us.

Normal, Better, Drunker

Posted in Party, politics, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

Sorry I´ve been a little bit out of commission lately. There is a price to pay for being a purveyor of nightlife. Especially when best mates come to town and pour vodka down your throat. It is not that you (me) are saying no at the time, but when you are crawling towards lattes in the morning, the regret does really set in. I can admit that much! In my defense, the work has continued. The joy of The Brooklyn Socialite is not just writing, but also curating, and I have enjoyed the chance to put forth some other perspectives lately. Shannon tells us that Queer is normal, Susan Strkyker alludes to the concept that Queer people may be supra-normal, in fact special spiritual leaders, equipped with extra fabulousity.

Monday night, I attended the GO magazine Nightlife Awards, which suggested that perhaps queers are drunker. Susan Westenhoeffer hosted the affair, a comedian, who actually managed to be quite funny. DJ Stacy was on decks and they hysterically kept giving self-shout outs. “DJ Stacy in the house!!” That was the highlight. The most fun moment came when we went to find food after the party ended. It was in hot mess midtown at a place called Touch (pretty fancy club by the way). We wondered down 8th ave and eventually found a Kashmiri restaurant/deli. It was dirt cheap and we got a selection of quite tasty buffet items, then settled down to eat them at the shop´s single table. We shared the little eating spot, with a  bearded man dressed in traditional Muslim attire. He told us that he was European American, but had long ago converted to Islam. He recommended Briyani and agreed that the food was very spicy, but one gets used to it. I left with my mouth on fire and we wondered down to HK lounge for the Awards After Party. It was a really intense go-go dancer scene and we didn´t stay long!

Last night feels like it was a continuation of Monday night, because my cultural consumption was somehow limited. Not completely though, as I am given to having Existential conversations while under the influence. This is what I love about certain friends of mine. Race, class, gender, identity, art…everything is invoked on the bar stool and when I look around and listen, I notice that other people are doing it too. Last night ended at 4am, me dragging my friend away from a pretty great chat at Mug about Obama and race in America. The Jamaican man told us, he is not African-American, someone said that I wasn´t, my friend insisted that I am, another biracial guy on a  bar stool, said that he considers himself to be black and white and then this white guy said, “I am totally white, I`m Ukrainian!” Wow, I don´t know what was going on. Time for that latte I guess!