Monday, August 21, 2006

Why I Hate "The New York Times"

Before I get into my article/statement/rant, I’d like to mention that I do think that the New York Times is one of the better mainstream newspapers because it does have some valuable information and original reporting, while many other major newspapers are packed with filler news and rewrites of Associated Press wires. However, using the term “better” when describing mainstream media isn’t necessarily a compliment. It’s like saying that Ashley Simpson is a better singer than Paris Hilton. Unfortunately, when people aren’t regularly exposed to alternative media (like “Mother Jones” magazine,, or smaller community-based papers like The Austin Chronicle), the Ashley Simpson of newspapers can look pretty good. Many people are pretty savvy and know to read more than one source for balanced information, but living in a fast-paced world forces many of us to simply trust what we hear on TV or what the headlines are in the traditionally reputable Times. Here are just a few examples of what has bothered me about the NY Times:

1) THE FOOD FIGHT QUOTE: This is the reason I decided to finally write about the issues I have with the NY Times. On August 19, 2006, on the first page of the first section of the paper, down on the bottom corner, the question that looked up at me was, “Will more healthful school lunches really make American children less fat?” If all the excess fat in the U.S. was collectively liposuctioned and placed in a heap in the middle of the Grand Canyon, it would still be smaller than the amount of collective stupidity needed for a newsroom to decide to print such a question. Have we really gotten to the point where educated people in charge of an internationally known newspaper aren’t sure whether healthy food will make healthier kids? I guess that’s a stupid question, too. The article argues that kids, and their parents, may have unhealthy habits outside of school, but I think we all know that eating junk all the time is worse than eating junk part of the time. To quote my friend Antowand, “Common sense ain’t that common.” Although, I would think at a major newspaper common sense would be a job requirement. Take a look at your daily paper, or the one they give you for free at the train station. I’m sure you can find at least one “article” that wears the clothes of research but is actually a tool in making us question our common sense.

2) THE PICTURES: We all know the old research. We know it so well and see it so often that occasionally we have to remind ourselves that nothing has changed. Yes, most of the pictures of black men deal with “criminals” and most of the pictures of white men don’t. It’s biased reporting, period. This propaganda is so ingrained that when, earlier this year, a fellow teacher at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center showed her students two newspaper pictures, one of a white guy and one of a black guy, and then asked the kids to figure out what the articles were about, the majority of kids said the black guy probably did something wrong and the white guy was hanging with his family. It turned out, the African American man had been named CEO of a company, and the white man was on death row. The NY Times has taken care in trying not to present such stereotypes anymore, but there are a few that still exist. The propaganda against African Americans has changed slightly: most of the “criminal” faces are now famous ones. Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, and George Clinton are just a few of the African American elite who have been purported to have trouble with the law in recent years. It seems to me that if I were sitting on millions, getting arrested is the last thing I’d want to do. I’d be enjoying life, not causing any trouble, but somehow these folks keep getting pinched. I question the validity of these constant arrests. Shouldn’t the Times, too?

The other pictures I have an issue with are the ones where people with head coverings are represented. I am not going to name specific cultures/races because they are varied. Whenever these folks are pictorially represented, the picture either shows them in an angry stance or next to destroyed buildings or dead victims. Pictures are very influential and I do not want to associate people of certain cultures with anger or destruction or death. When these pictures are shown over and over and over and over, it becomes a tactic. One could argue that the photographers are simply showing what is happening in the news. There are many aspects of news that can be covered. How about folks praying for peace? How about families here, waiting in line to send letters and food/health supplies overseas? How about community leaders rounding up women/men to cook and care for the orphaned? I’ve never liked the racist way in which African Americans or Latinos are portrayed in pictures, so why should I accept it when it is done to people outside of my culture(s)?

3) THE LBJ REVIEW: There’s a new biography on Lyndon Johnson called LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, and while I think the title is more than appropriate, the review made my jaw drop. In the New York Times Book Review of 8/20/06, Allan Brinkley stated, “…Lyndon Johnson was one of the greatest of all American presidents. He did more for racial justice than any president since Abraham Lincoln.” I’m assuming that Brinkley believes this because Johnson worked to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a bill that John F. Kennedy had introduced and was being debated in Congress when he was murdered. To say that LBJ was a proponent of “racial justice” when he sent countless teenagers to unknowingly commit genocide in Vietnam is a sick distortion of history and it takes away the credit from a president who died for what he believed in. LBJ had to continue to support Kennedy’s bill in order to keep the U.S. from exploding. Remember, all the civil rights leaders were being knocked off at this time and if a bone hadn’t been thrown to the masses, who knows what could’ve happened. LBJ’s actions weren’t out of caring; they were a survival tactic to keep the status quo. If I can figure this stuff out, the NY Times book reviewers should be able to, too. Brinkley does mention that the biography acknowledges the Vietnam fiasco, but both he and author Randall B. Woods come to the conclusion that despite his flaws, LBJ was a great man. I must live on Pluto.

4) METS WHO?: I wouldn’t have known this if I didn’t have a baseball fan for a husband. Apparently, the Mets scores can be found in the NY Times about 1-3 times a week. On the other hand, Yankee scores can be found everyday, along with at least one extensive article on the team each day. Aren’t the Mets a New York team? Doesn’t this paper cover all New York interests? Favoritism? In a newspaper? Noooooooo.

5) COLOMBIA COVERAGE: On 8/19/06, the front page article, “Colombia’s Coca Survives U.S. Plan to Uproot It,” seems like a straightforward article. The dudes in Congress are debating whether the “Drug War” is worth it. Bush and his entourage say it is but others disagree. The Colombian man in the picture on page one is shown confident, in front of a huge pile of coca leaves, and his stance is representative of what the coca growers supposedly feel: “We’re gonna keep growing it.” There have been a lot of articles like this one for most of my life and I get pissed off each time I read them. There are several things that are left out of these articles every time, such as the damage that the supposed “Drug War” does to children and water supplies of the indigenous populations of Colombia. As long ago as 2000, children were found to have skin problems due to the chemical spraying of the “Drug War,” but we’re still spraying. Plan Colombia, in 2000, not only approved spraying, but its multi-billion dollar budget also included a 1.3 billion dollar donation from the U.S. and U.S. training of Colombian military. More money and training have been supplied by the U.S. since then. Many of these U.S. trained soldiers end up becoming paramilitaries. Colombia’s annual murder rate is at about 30,000 and paramilitaries are responsible for about 19,000 of those murders. Who are they murdering? Indigenous people who pose a threat to cattle ranches, mining sites, and OIL companies. In other words, the “Drug War” is actually a war on men, women and children who live on land that is in the interest of business people, including business people from the U.S. Did you know that Al Gore had invested in Colombian land? Did you know that Clinton approved of Project Colombia? All of this information can be obtained at the Project Censored website: If I can find this information, why can’t the folks at the NY Times? Why pretend that the “Drug War” is actually about the drugs? It’s clear that the drugs are still coming in. Why not tell people where their money is actually going? Why not represent the Colombian people in a more sympathetic light? Why not show how the U.S. has been trying to rape Colombia for decades and its only salvation is that the Amazon jungle is so thick and strong that somehow it and its people still survive?


I could go on and on. I have only focused on two days worth of articles and just look at the holes in the reporting. Most of my friends know to look beyond the immediate story, but there are so many out there who simply take “news” as fact. Just because it is on TV or in fancy newsprint does not mean it is the full story or that it isn’t biased. So much of our news is biased, even in our most reputable newspapers. I realize this isn’t anything new for some of you, but I also know that there are still young and old alike who blindly trust our institutions. One of the first things that I was taught in journalism school was that the first newspapers were made by wealthy men who wanted to smear political opponents. They had the money to do it and not much has changed. Lately, I tend to take my mom’s stance and I just don’t read it, but that’s kind of like ignoring weeds, no? I don’t have to look at it, but…shouldn’t something be done to counteract it? It ends up affecting the quality of new life, kids, our garden. Just call me La Weed Killer.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Southern Texas: Good for fish/freaks out of water

I think I’m beginning to realize that I enjoy being a fish out of water, if only because it makes me aware that I am not limited to being a fish. The latest morphing places for me are the hills and plains that encompass the area of and between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, and all these places rock! The truth is, after getting accepted to the University of Texas at San Antonio, I didn’t think much about having to adjust…until my fellow New Yorkers and New Jerseyans kept bringing it up. I had to step back and think, “Hmmm, maybe Texas IS going to suck…maybe I’ll get lynched or something!” Well, I’m happy to say that not only have I not been lynched, but I’ve also managed to find several spots that may destroy the idea most folks north of the border have about the state they call Texas (I tend to call it Tejas or Mexico which, given the majority of the population, seems more appropriate to me, at times).

I’ll start with Austin.
First of all, Austin’s unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird!” I’m not joking. There are t-shirts, stickers, buttons and posters all over the place with this motto, and when Vincent (my husband) and I saw a 70 year-old white woman outside of a hip-hop bar in the Red River Music District start bopping her booty to the music that spilled outside, we knew the motto to be based in beautiful, deep-seated weird. That particular night was spectacular. We started at the Old Pecan Street CafĂ©, a historical place where the host asks you upon entry if you’ve come for dessert or dinner – yes, the desserts pull in just as many diners as dinner does. Along with glasses of cool Pino Grigio, Vincent had seafood crepes and I had chicken crepes, within the old, exposed brick walls and thick wood shutters. This mouthwatering dinner set us back $30 and I nearly fell off my chair thinking that the server had made a mistake and undercharged us.

After dinner, we walked down the street (oh, yeah – it was $6 to park the car ALL NIGHT LONG) to Emo’s, one of the coolest live music venues to exist on the planet Earth. Huge, funky artwork with S&M “Flintstones” and acid trip elephants dominates all of the walls around the indoor stage, and an enormous patio and seating area surround the outdoor stage. On this night, and usually on every night in most of Austin’s venues, several bands were playing: Georgie James and Camera Obscura outside; Ume, The Arm, and I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness inside. Five bands – could be expensive, huh? Nope. $10. We got to see Georgie James first and after hearing them I bought the CD. One of the members of Q and Not U (now disbanded) started Georgie James and I am so glad. They are happy, punky and really tight live. I couldn’t believe that we had only paid $10 to see them, and there were still more bands coming! Next, we went inside to see The Arm – a totally angry punkish band. Nice change. Then, back outside to see Camera Obscura, which seemed to be the major draw that night. CO was very soft and pretty, and I thought it was interesting that such different bands could all be part of the same show. We didn’t stick around for ILYBICD because we’re catching them at Austin City Limits.

Instead, we decided to go to another show! We walked a couple of blocks to Headhunters, a heavy, heavy, heavy rock venue that is decorated in tiki idols and fluorescent lights. We paid $5 to see six bands, although we only stayed for three: Hognose, Chuch, and Super Heavy Goat Ass. Hognose was playing when we got there…wait, I mean WAILING. At this point Vincent had to laugh at me because I honestly started to feel bad that such talented musicians were probably not getting much out the five dollar cover. We went to the patio (apparently all the places have indoor & outdoor stages) and Chuch was setting up. These guys are from Vermont and they play real southern rock about real people with real problems – and it was great! Midway through the set the drummer, Justin Crowther, totally surprised us and just started freaking out on the drums with a solo ala Bonham, and this time it was Vincent who went over to the indy store on the side and demanded a Chuch CD with the drum solo on it. We found out their manager is from New York, so we talked to her for a while and she gave us stickers and buttons. Sweet. The next band was why I wanted to go to Headhunters: Super Heavy Goat Ass. It was absolutely necessary that I see Super Heavy Goat Ass. First of all, the name is one of the best names I’ve ever heard. Second, the song “SSOB” has some of the funkiest guitar work I’ve ever heard (we got a pre-show listen online). Third, it’s SUPER HEAVY GOAT ASS…isn’t YOUR curiosity peaked? Well, the guitarist was A-MA-ZING live and they had a decent set, but the “sloppy” nature that is implied by the name was quite evident. However, the inebriation of SHGA only added to the pleasure of the moment; it definitely beats a drunken Tommy Lee on Rock Star: Supernova.

So we saw six live bands at two different venues, and had dinner, and got CDs and stickers and buttons, and I had a couple of drinks – and it was darn cheap! What I think I liked the best was that the two venues we went to were so different. Emo’s has the nerdy, arty types, definitely gay-friendly, definitely people who want to be sweet and such. Headhunters had chicks in sleazy outfits everywhere, angry boys in chains, and seemed to take pride in being absolutely gross and tacky, yet when women who looked 40ish and dressed like soccer moms walked in, they were greeted with hugs. Vincent and I totally enjoyed this eclectic vibe and it is incredibly encouraging that we only went to two places, and there are at least a hundred more!

I’ll continue with San Antonio.
San Antonio is about an hour and a half south of Austin and that affects everything from the temperature, to the architecture, to what people like to do. While the music scene in Austin screams diversity, San Antonio seems to have more of a surprising edge within its traditional tastes. One of our earliest excursions into San Antonio included a trip to Hogwild Records, Tapes and CDs. This record shop has one of the best collections of punk music I’ve ever seen, and it’s run by a little Mexican woman. She doesn’t look punk at all. She’s cute and sweet. The place is right next to Sanctuary, a rock club that regularly puts on shows. Hogwild carries the CDs of the bands that play the shows, too. Not only does Hogwild cater to punk fans, it also has an extensive Spanish-language music section. This independent music store knows how to cater to the San Antonio population.

The actual population of San Antonio is interesting. About 60% of the population is Latino and nearly one-third of that group considers itself non-Mexican Latino, according to the 2000 Census. The city itself reflects both the Spanish influence, found in old stucco structures and many preserved Spanish missions, and the Southern plantation influence that continues to echo from the long, wrap-around porches found in beautifully preserved houses all over the city. In fact, most of the city is composed of single-family homes, although some are more rustic than others. What Vincent I especially enjoy seeing is all the shops and restaurants that are in former single-family homes. They are so cute! There are palm trees everywhere and if it weren’t for the high-rises in the center of San Antonio, I would struggle to call it a city at all, even though its 1,000,000+ population cannot lead to any other conclusion. People here say that San Antonio is a city that lives like a small town and I think that is appropriate.

In fact, Madhatters probably proves that point well. One of the next stops we made was Madhatters, a cute, airy house-restaurant surrounded by lush vegetation and cooled off by ceiling fans and spacious rooms. I found the restaurant listed on a website that provided gay-friendly hot spots, and Madhatters certainly is gay-friendly but I think its clientele and staff are simply friendly to everyone. You will see families there, people in suits who don’t want to lunch in the center of the city, students, artists (local artwork dots the walls in several rooms) and people from the neighborhood. They serve meals for both meat-eaters and vegetarians, and they have kid and adult events. Here, Vincent and I did something really Southern: we had high tea. They brought out several sandwiches on a tea service, a pot of tea and little mini-desserts. It was inexpensive, delicious, and even though we were in the city, we felt like we were transported somewhere else, perhaps because of the casual atmosphere.

Even one of the city’s major cultural centers has a mellow vibe. Being the artists and educators that we are, one of the first places we reached out to was the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. It is an amazing place that puts on Latino theater productions and festivals, teaches kids how to dance and act, and has media and literature programs. Those are just a few of the facets of GCAC. If you look at its website, it appears to be quite a place, and it is, but that is not the impression one might get when walking into its main office. Everyone is friendly, relaxed and so completely non-judgmental. If there were ever a time that I felt I was a New Yorker, it was when I met the folks at GCAC. I was ready to engage in some big talk, but none was necessary. They were cool, yo. Now, from what I hear, that doesn’t mean they won’t say to the neighbor, “Did you see that girl with the devil tattoo on her back? Mmm-hmmm. She came into the office today.” It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, but they do like talking about you. Seems that’s the same everywhere. And isn’t that part of the fun?

So, you might be able to see, after my earliest travelogue, I’ve concluded that Southern eccentrics are just fine by me. I like ‘em. I hope to become one of ‘em. I like the rock AND the tea.

Cool Links - if you have a book, check out their book fair info. - fun for kids of all ages - southern psychedelic rockabilly - not for the humorless feminist - sweet punk, neat funk

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Aliens, germs and irrational fears

Boy, the immigration thing has not calmed down, and now I'm reading on that we may also have to close our U.S. borders in the near future because of the bird flu. NBC News called the immigration issue a crisis and it is anticipated that the bird flu will become a problem of pandemic proportions. Well, that and a quick viewing of the film "Hostel" is enough to convince me. Seal up those borders! Keep the aliens out! Keep the germs out! Don't travel! Just keep me in my safe little cocoon!

Oh, but wait. I don't really believe that. In fact, I wrote about all of this several years ago. It came to me in a dream (I'm not joking - it was a rockin' dream). My poem was somewhat appreciated when I first unveiled it, but it wasn't something people really thought twice about - a sci-fi poem, geek stuff, so what? Well, maybe the themes that were touched on might resonate a bit more now? You be the judge. Here it is, once again:

The Aliens

The aliens came in
as a vapor.
They were ancient beings,
very old,
some say immortal,
but others still insist
they never existed at all.
This is because
they are so small.
They floated through the universe,
hitching rides on comet tails
to pick up speed, if necessary.
Little viral microbes,
too miniscule
for most living things to notice.
They traveled long and far,
adapting themselves
to each new environment.
And this is how
they came to be

Some of them were
in our upper atmosphere,
where they lingered for a long, long time.
A few would come down,
with rains and wind,
but they could easily find each other.
Their perception connection
was very strong.
Some would say it was
others would, again, refuse to believe it.
When enough of them gathered
within our skies,
they decided to learn about us,
and this is when
the problem began.
For we humans couldn’t see
the aliens,
even though we breathed them
into our bodies,
just like we might breathe in
any random vapor.

No one understood
what caused
the plague.
Panic ensued.
Pharmaceutical companies
worked through time
to create drugs

to attack the symptoms.
Soon, many efficient ones
were available
to anyone with money
to pay for them.
The injections were very popular.
They kept humans looking young
and healthy.
Folks were able to
remain active.
the aliens were able to
mutate at will.
They were wise and strong,
thus able to live in almost any environment,
even one of attack.
So with each injection,
a new set of symptoms
kept cropping up.
Humans went mad
for the next set of injections,
anything to keep the alien symptoms
They would inject and inject,
until there were no satisfactory injections left,
and the ailing humans would
completely ravaged by their weak bodies.

But there was one girl
who felt differently.
On the evening when she inhaled
the aliens,
she thought she heard them speak
to her
in her sleep.
She heard them say they were there
to help her.
When she went to the government-mandated doctor
her poverty allowed,
with the first sign of symptoms,
she refused the injection.
The doctor insisted,
“The virus must be attacked, killed!”
She said that it couldn’t be killed
and perhaps if it weren’t attacked,
then it wouldn’t counterattack
so fiercely.
The doctor called her insane.

She left and confined herself to a room.
News channels heard of
her theory and attempted to
interview her and debate the issue.

Her state of illness was carefully watched
around the world.
She began with digestive sickness
and dehydration.
She patiently drank water
with trembling lips.
Then the aliens challenged her
circulatory system and she
became very cold.
Her arteries, veins, capillaries
became filled with dead
white blood cells,
which seeped out of her skin
and crystallized into a beautiful, yellow
that would build, layer upon layer,
like amber lace made of glass.
She would take warm water
and painfully dissolve the shell,
slowly, every hour, without rest.
Some humans died during this stage,
falling asleep and becoming petrified
in a cast of topaz.
The aliens would multiply fiercely
in the dead body
and then escape through the nose or mouth
they had entered,
and then find new hosts.
But the girl remained strong.
She allowed the aliens
to seize each organ,
find its weakness,
and then move on to the next.
She coughed, moaned and cried out,
even though her voice gave.
The ordeal took her
six months,
after which she emerged

Her body became their home.
The aliens had made her flesh
She was now immune
to what killed so many weaker souls.

She began to find others
who had accepted the aliens
into their bodies.
They all opened a center
where the sick could come
and have help in becoming immune.
The pharmaceutical companies
and the Medical Association
attempted to shut down the center,
but found they could not
when it was proven that no one

dispensed drugs
or technical medical advice.
through time,
the aliens killed off all who attacked them
and made those who didn’t
closer to being

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Immigration, Wiseguys and the Academy Awards

Some United States Congress members want to make a felon out of anyone who gives healthcare or shelter to an immigrant and, just in case you’ve been asleep the past few weeks, it has resulted in nationwide protests, the latest one taking place in New York on Saturday, April 1st. Pictures in the media imply that all the protesters are Mexican, but even the Associated Press has reported that the rallies have included people of Irish, Polish, Korean, Pakistani, Italian, and many other descents. Instead of taking the “stay out” attitude of some of our legislators, why not ask yourself this question: “Why do all these people come to the United States?” Whoa! Refrain from the usual programming and hesitate before you think that the U.S. is the greatest friggin’ nation on the planet, that’s why, damnit! Sure, it might be, but how does everyone else on the planet, people who live thousands of miles away on remote little islands or in out-of-the-way towns, get the notion that our streets are paved of gold? I’ll tell you how. We keep telling them!

When my cousin Dorcas came to the U.S. for a visit in 1998, she was very disappointed. She had been here a whole week before she saw a blonde person. It was also troubling for her to see that we didn’t have a gorgeous house with a courtyard, like her parents do, and that we didn’t have a maid, like she’s always had. Of course I thought, “Where the hell did she get her ideas?” It reminded me of the old flick, “Moscow on the Hudson,” where Robin Williams plays the famous Russian defector, Yakov Smirnoff, and he doesn’t understand where all the American people are because the friends he makes are Asian, African American and Latino. Well, I figured at least my cousin’s confusion was because of the lame Colombian theaters that only play films like “Bird on a Wire” and “You’ve Got Mail,” films that don’t necessarily represent the diverse U.S. population. I didn’t realize there is a reason for the lame choices until a few other pieces of information came into play.

Danny Hoch, the famous New York playwright and actor, wrote an interesting article for The Nation called, “Mr. Hoch Goes to Hollywood: Why ‘Whiteboys’ wasn’t at a theater near you.” In it he describes how his story about a white boy who acts black, and who engages in violence in an urban projects area, was buried by a studio. This was years ago, and since then other writers have produced similar projects, but at the time Danny found out that the studio didn’t want to promote a white person in such a situation nor did it want to show the real projects. I know that if my cousin and countless other people in foreign lands saw films that depicted housing projects and how some of our poor live in the United States, they might have a more realistic view of what goes on here and they might not be so keen on moving here. But films that show our mansions and supposedly glamorous lives are not the only way people are falsely lured to the U.S. We go deeper than that.

According to Nancy Snow, author of Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World, in 1917 the United States set up the Committee on Public Information, which later evolved into the United States Information Agency, or USIA. If you take a look at the online archives of the USIA there isn’t much, but there are a few things worth mentioning. The first is that one of their projects has been Radio Marti. This is a radio station that runs 24/7 and its sole purpose is to broadcast democracy to the island of Cuba. I’m not joking. Our tax dollars are spent promoting our way of life to a country that doesn’t want anything to do with us. The Cuban Government is usually successful in blocking out the transmissions, but we still keep sending them. I asked my mom about this and she mentioned that since the 50s up until the time the Communist Party lost its stronghold in Eastern Europe, the U.S. had radio programming in countless languages called “The Voice of the Americas.” It would send anti-communist programming along the airwaves to all communist nations. So, much like the annoying houseguest who doesn’t listen in monologue-oriented conversation, we send our opinions wherever we like, even if they are not wanted. Snow defines propaganda as communication that intends on changing the mind of its audience, communication that ends up being advantageous to its sender, and communication that is usually one-way. The USIA doesn’t even try to hide that it does this.

The website gets stranger. I noticed that part of its archives has a list of scheduled elections in practically any country you can think of. If we’re just providing information about who we are and how we function, why do we need to know about elections? Next, I saw that many “world organization” dates were listed, such as world meetings on AIDS, or world meetings on women’s issues. The types of organizations that attend or run these meetings are ones like Transparency International, an organization that claims to fight corruption in government and in global business. Interesting. I took a look at the Transparency International website and checked out its board members. They include: Chong San Lee, formerly of Exxon Mobil; Jermyn Brooks, formerly of Pricewaterhouse Coopers (he headed its fairly recent merger as the company’s “worldwide chair”); and Frank Vogel, of Vogel Communications and the Wisemen, a network of U.S. public relation industry leaders…oh, and he was also Chief Press Advisor to the World Bank.

Okay, now how does this all connect to the USIA and promoting U.S. culture? And so what? Shouldn’t we be promoting our culture out there? Perhaps, but who should be promoting it? When Bush went into office in 2000, the USIA was absorbed by the U.S. Department of State. That is the department that decides all our foreign policy. We could actually say that the USIA was always a part of the Department of State and that the way we promote our culture IS foreign policy. At the USIA website, the Dept. of State link informs us of where we have troops stationed (practically everywhere, even if we aren’t at war with the country), our love for the World Bank and the World Trade Organization and how they play in foreign policy, and how we plan to help developing economies so that they can eventually provide U.S. markets (this is symbolized lovingly by our white hand shaking a brown hand). This is the entity that is promoting who and what we are abroad, and it has been doing it for nearly 100 years. Why do they list elections? Because they want to promote our “culture” during election time in other countries so that our intended foreign policy can be carried out. Why do they list world organization meetings? Because they want to show up at the meetings and influence organizations to carry out policy that will be favorable to us. But who is “us?”

Not me. It is people like the guys at Transparency International, the anti-corruption group. Let me take a minute to further describe how its members are connected to public relations and public policy. I don’t need to write much about Frank Vogel. He is both a member of TI, an anti-corruption group, and has worked in PR for the World Bank, arguably one of the most corrupt entities on the planet today. The World Bank has placed countless “developing” countries in incomprehensible debt. A good example of how this happens is explained in the film "Life and Debt." The member of TI that really interested me, however, is Jermyn Brooks, who once headed the worldwide endeavors of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, an organization that is called an auditing firm but if you look on its website it has connections to EVERYTHING. There are connections to any industry you can think of – lumber, publishing, telecommunications, entertainment…. Pricewaterhouse Cooper has chapters in 764 cities in 148 countries, according to its website, and some of its clients include DuPont, Exxon Mobil, GlaxoSmith-Klein, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Nokia and Walt Disney. PwC, according to the Center for Public Integrity, spent over $60 million lobbying in Washington on behalf of its clients between 1998 and 2004. Given that it is an accounting firm, it is understandable that it lobbied for tax reform, but other industries that it wanted to influence, to the effect of at least one mil per, were the electric, defense, oil and gas, and bank industries. The CPI placed it at #15 out of the top 250 highest spending lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Jermyn Brooks headed PwC, a major lobbying force, and now he works for TI, an anti-corruption group, that has met with United States Information Agency, a group that has promoted U.S. democratic culture throughout the world, and has now been absorbed into the U.S. State Department.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, Pricewaterhouse Coopers is, indeed, the company that safeguards under lock and key those deciding ballots at the Academy Awards, the little coveted ballots that decide who is going to become the next, high-paid actor that just might have his/her film voiced-over and exported to Colombia, or Thailand, or any other “developing” country. Well, except maybe Burma. According to, in the article “PwC pulls out of Burma,” PwC had to leave in 2003 when it was discovered that its chapter there was supporting a facist leader in the Burmese elections. Oh, come on…you didn’t think we spent so much on movie-making to entertain you, did ya? It’s to keep the cheap help coming, and then to have someone to blame everything on! If you think the glamorous movies are lures, I’m not even gonna go into exported soap operas.

According to Snow, President Jimmy Carter had attempted to change the USIA’s policies when he was in office. He put in writing that it could not take part in any “covert, manipulative or propagandistic” activities, and he wanted to instill a new vision that would allow for information about other countries to come into the U.S. so that our citizens would be informed about the great policies and cultural attributes of the other countries. This change was squashed when Reagan was elected. The old Smith-Mundt prohibition was inappropriately used to claim that U.S. citizens receiving information about other countries would be like the U.S. using propaganda against its own citizens. The USIA’s budget was raised to $1 billion, where it stayed until the institution was absorbed into the Dept. of State. Now, who knows its budget? Under Bush, its practices have been obscured, but don’t let that keep you from seeing the fact that we go around telling everyone, systematically, how great we are and then when they get here we treat them like dirt, systematically. This process is ingrained in our government and our entertainment. And the winner is….

Interesting Links

The United States Information Agency:

Transparency International Board Members:

Pricewaterhouse Coopers:
(this website is extensive; I suggest you look at the site map and check out one or two industries they cover - the entertainment one is enlightening, especially in terms of the $1000 publication they have about their research on global entertainment)

The Burma article:

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Bravery Is An Unknown Woman

When I was around 15 years old, I remember walking up Springfield Street, after taking the Fullerton Avenue bus home to Logan Square, and taking very slow, calculated steps along the mostly single-family home block. I’d look at the red brick on the corner, the yellow brick two houses later, then the white stucco, the grey sandstone siding right before mine and then, finally, the yellow aluminum siding that encased my family. My steps grew even slower because I didn’t really want to go home. During this time, home wasn’t much fun. One of my brothers was deep in drug use and depression, and this usually set the tone for the day, I was angry and alienated, and my parents didn’t understand me – the typical American family.

By contrast, on most of the weekends and during half days and holidays, I’d spend time at my best friend Nancy’s house. She didn’t know that we were best friends then, but I did. Both of her parents weren’t as educated as mine, so things didn’t get discussed as much at her house. Instead, it was assumed that life was difficult – both of her parents worked multiple jobs while raising their large family and anyone else who might stop by – so the order of the day was to, and I say this as a command, “HAVE FUN!” Nancy’s mom, Zoila, and her husband, Arturo…well, Arturito, really, always had food cooking for guests and made sure to welcome anyone into their steamy kitchen and home with good drink and lots of laughter. There were always relatives and friends sleeping over. Despite working nearly every day of the week in factories and cleaning suburban homes, Zoila was always one of the last to go to sleep and one of the first to wake up. Sometimes we would want to sleep late, but she would come into the bedrooms “to dust,” she would say but later would admit that if she was up and alone she would get lonely. Arturo was always playing his guitar, even though Zoila would cruelly tease him about his ambitions (ah, even she had a few vices), and I happily joined him when he sang “El Rey” or “Guantamera” or “La Bamba.”

Their house was a respite from the neuroses of my own home. In my house there were discussions and analyses of every action and endeavor. In Nancy’s home nothing was analyzed. We all knew we were crazy and overworked and mistreated and we laughed anyway. In my home it was quiet and very tense. In Nancy’s home it was only quiet at about 5 a.m. when everyone was definitely asleep, even Zoila, but you knew she’d be up in half an hour. Some judged Nancy’s family as irresponsible, and perhaps they were in financial matters or those kinds of things, but they were rarely irresponsible with each other. I always felt love in that house and my hope was that would stand for something eventually. It always pained me that they weren’t able to go on as many trips as my family. They deserved it because they worked just as hard, I felt. And it also pained me that their dream of buying a home, not just cleaning other people’s homes, didn’t seem to be coming true.

You can imagine how happy and proud I was when years later, after I moved away from Chicago and settled in the New York area, I heard that the Del Cid’s finally bought their very own home! When my husband Vincent and I went back to visit and we saw the place, it was splendid! Nancy always had a great sense of style and the four-floor space looked modern and comfy, with bright, spicy colors and cool lighting fixtures. The Del Cid’s are very close, some might say smothering, but I say they are a great team. All of them, Nancy and her husband Roy; Norma (the older sister), her son Sebastian, and Lisbett (the younger sister); Holger (the younger brother) and his wife; and the two parents all worked together to create a space for themselves. Each grouping has its floor in the home, so it works very well.

However, such hard work against the odds does take its toll on people. Arturito, after working with lumber for many years, finally had the inevitable accident. Several of his fingers were sliced off when he was asked to work on a machine he wasn’t trained on. I tried to find a lawyer for the family when I heard that all he was getting was worker’s compensation. That didn’t sound right to me, especially when his bosses broke the law, but I couldn’t find anyone to take the case because I was working from across the country without many connections. Despite this great injustice, Arturito still plays the guitar, God bless him.

Zoila has had her own battle, too. She had triple heart bypass surgery at the age of 41, and about a month ago tests revealed that only 10% of her heart was functioning. The doctors that were “helping” her basically told the family that it was only a matter of time and that she should just take medication until that time came. Well, that is not exactly the Del Cid style. Nancy took Zoila on a road trip to the Mayo Clinic and tests there showed that she was an ideal candidate for heart transplant surgery. They asked her if she had any plans should the surgery be successful, and she said, “Yes! I plan to run!” They asked her if she had any concerns about the surgery, any worries relating to it and she said, “Oh yes, the bill!” Well, her adamant love of life was clear to the doctors so they scheduled surgery at Northwestern, close to Chicago. She went into surgery a week ago and because of excessive bleeding and swelling the doctors couldn’t close her up for three days! I didn’t know keeping someone alive was possible this way; when Nancy told me this on the phone, I couldn’t help but look over at my “Hellraiser” figurine and think that somewhere some horror writer thought this twisted thing up. But Zoila, la mas fuerte, lived through this! During the many phone calls last week Nancy said that I was her only friend, her best friend. Well, I already knew that, thank you very much. Zoila is now on the road to recovery and I expect to see her this summer, God-willing.

Hmmmph. Talk about bravery! I feel so fortunate to know this woman, and I also feel embarrassed at my own lack of bravery. I’m terrified of just walking outside and having to look at the trash along the streets of my neighborhood. Her story, her living story, reminds me what is possible. Two humble people, with nothing but common sense and love, came to the U.S. and really created something for themselves and their children. Hell, a new heart is the least this country could give back to them, although I can’t imagine that any heart could be as great as the one Zoila had made herself. And I doubt that Arturo will ever get what he deserves. Still, Lisbett will be the first in the family to graduate from college, and she will be going on to get her M.B.A., okay? And I’m sure Arturo will be playing the guitar at the graduation party, so you can see who the winners are in this situation, right?

The reason I have written about this amazing family in such great detail is because out here in New York we often talk about the stories that the news should be covering. I, in particular, hunt down the stories that I think the common person should know about but doesn’t have access to in mainstream media. The Censored series is always updated in my home. It is where I found out that our “war on drugs” was actually a plan to destroy all plant life in Colombia so that the indigenous people who own resource-rich land will die and leave the land to U.S. developers, for example. Some of the top censored stories that are included in the 2006 volume include articles on worldwide surveillance, journalists being placed in danger, and child wards of the state being used in AIDS experiments. I agree that these stories need to be told on a larger scale, but my whole life I’ve always felt that there was one universal story not being told: the story of the common person. I don’t mean how countless poor are mistreated and taken advantage of. We hear about that all the time. I mean the actual story of the common individual. It is easy to shock people into caring about an issue, for a few minutes, when you reveal how many people are starving in India, for example. However, no one becomes human to us if he is kept veiled in the anonymity of statistical numbers. It is much more important, I think, to tell the actual story of the common person, name and specific actions included. It is also more difficult, supposedly, because we have to take the time to get to know someone.

Isn’t it time that we think of research as something more than facts and figures? Isn’t real research a story? Isn’t real research about relationships? Even if you want to remain in the sciences, don’t we research a subject to find out the relationship between things, such as the relationship between the sun and growth or health, or the relationship between movement and energy? Sure, we need facts and figures, but aren’t those just tools to get to the truth? Doesn’t the truth end up being a story? Doesn’t the story end up being our inspiration to imagine?

I remember being in history classes wondering what actual life was like for someone during 1776, or whatever other year number was thrown at me. The political documents and meetings and battles didn’t mean much. I remember being in science class and wondering what animals had more of this or that mineral in their composition and how that affected what they ate and where they lived. Memorizing the periodic table and breaking down solutions was interesting, but it didn’t mean much. I remember being in geometry and wondering why we didn’t apply the concepts to actual places in the universe instead of thinking of some anonymous plane somewhere. I always wanted the real story, and I still do. What the Del Cid’s story has revealed to me is that love and wisdom, not education, are more important than anything in terms of joyous survival. I think that their story has more use and validity in an American History class than many of the items that are currently being taught. Ah, but for that to happen, we would have to change our entire concept of what history is and what bravery is.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Warehouse of Dreams

A piece of Troy

There was once
a guy named Troy
who tried to share
with everyone his own
brand of joy

Yet every crooked hat
or crazy dance
couldn’t reconcile
the man
with the broken boy

What he
didn’t know
was that his psycho
seeds grew in me
and everywhere the wind would blow

Giving life
to beats
and day-glo streets
that once were bleak
before the freak show

And there will always be
A piece of joy eternally
It goes on
It goes on

DJ Jesse De La Pena was the first DJ to tour and record with the innovative jazz group, Liquid Soul, and throughout the 1990s he was voted hands-down as the best Chicago DJ. Artist DZine has carried his “punk funk” style of fine art to galleries throughout the United States and Europe. DJ Johnny Fiasco has worked with artists as diverse as Justin Timberlake and K.D. Lang, and he tours all over the world. DJ Chunk-A-Bud (ohh, come on now, it’s not that funny) created the house classic, “Zig Zag,” and that single just sold for $67.50 on Ebay. Bryan Sperry is an artist who has been commissioned by various restaurants and the upwardly mobile in Chi-Town. Jake Austen has created “Rocktober” magazine, the Chic-A-Go-Go kid’s dance show, and his own band The Goblins. What do all of these people have in common? They are just some of the folks who came of age in the mid-to-late 1980s at the underground party in Chicago called Club Naked.

Club Naked sounded dangerous to mis viejitos. My parents, who were trying very hard to understand their creatively-inclined teenage daughter, put their only girl on a Halsted Street bus headed toward a place called Club Naked on Chicago’s South Side. They prayed all the way home, and prayed some more at home, too. Oh, and I never mentioned to them that the club was illegal. Perhaps there was some danger there, but this place clearly inspired success. How did that happen?

I first heard about Club Naked from Jake. Jake was one of the most popular guys at Kenwood Academy, my college-prep high school, but not because he was a jerk jock. He liked to dress up like Elvis, he created a club called the Dick Tracy Crimestoppers, he loved to paint, and he liked everyone. Everyone had a friend in Jake and he always knew how to have a good time, so when he was passing the Club Naked flyers out, I figured it was probably a good thing. Still, I waited months until finally going. What decided this for me was that I went to an end of the summer party that Jake threw – packed and complete with police to let us know when it was over – and I saw Troy there. Troy, curly blond and bony, was in the basement where the music and strobe lights were going, and he was swinging off of one of the pipes along the ceiling to the music, allowing his feet and legs to slip all over the condensation that had accumulated on the floor. He looked insane. When Jake told me that Troy was one of the guys who ran the Club Naked parties, I made a mental note to remember to go.

My friends Norma, Vivian, Nancy and I finally went one night when we were totally bored and listening to the late night new wave and house mixes on the radio. We went thinking that it wouldn’t be much and when we saw the cheap X-mas lights strung out in front of the warehouse entrance, our hopes sunk even lower. We were met with Sang at the entrance, the dude in charge of making sure the cover was paid and that everyone was alcohol-free and not so old that the underage girls were in danger. Joe, an enormous Filipino guy, was there to make sure people took thin Sang seriously. Inside, after climbing a couple flights, there was a huge space where kids in leather jackets and spiked hair and/or kids in shiny pants and box haircuts sat around and talked. They milled about the door to the dance area, and the music we heard was really good! In the dance area, we saw just about any type of person you can think of. White guys in t-shirts and Converse, Latinos in long ponytails, black girls with mowhawks, Asian guys in gold chains. The walls were plastered in flyers and original artwork that glowed under an impressive light display. And the music! One minute it was “My Forbidden Lover,” by TAPPS, the next it was “Join In the Chant,” by Nitzer Ebb, and the next it was “Sex and Violence,” by The Exploited. I WAS IN HEAVEN. Or, maybe I was home.

Like many other arty kids during that time, I went to a lot of the kiddie clubs that had sprung up. Medusa’s was the most elaborate and most popular; McGreevey’s split the punk/new wave kids and house kids into different rooms; the Prime and Tender was sleazy and played the worst music (Rick Astley was NOT meant for the club). These places were run by adults who wanted to make money off of kids, and there were resulting degrees of suckiness due to that fact.

Club Naked was different. It was THE place for Chicago’s emerging artists. Why? Did I mention that kids ran the club? Oh, yes, that was the illegal part. Troy, his brother Adam (DJ Chunk-A-Bud), Bryan Sperry and Johnny Fiasco got together and created a place where Bryan could plaster his art everywhere, Adam and Johnny could practice DJing, and Troy could create original music with Bryan and anyone else who wanted to be part of the mix. Their music group, Naked (which later would evolve into The United Freaks of America), was regularly mixed in with the club hits and the kids dug it. As months passed, new ideas came about that led to fashion shows with original fashions made by local teens and galleries with artwork by the clubgoers. Basically, every aspect of the club was run by young artists from Chicago, and technically, due to underage and licensing laws, this was all illegal. Kids created a place that was safe, inspiring and that broke the boundaries of race and ethnicity and even creative tastes, yet it had to be hidden from adults. Silly, isn’t it?

It was a creative coalition of teenagers, uniting as a group to follow our dreams,” said Bryan Sperry in an interview, when asked about the place he helped make. “It gave me an art career, made me an independent artist and musician, and gave me the ability to cope with something innovative. Without that, who knows what I would be?” Bryan remembered fondly of people coming in from everywhere, “from the ghettos to the North Side – it was awesome.”

Johnny Fiasco recalled the humble beginnings during a recent phone interview. “I literally learned how to mix with people out on the dance floor,” he said, laughing. “I was editing stuff from the radio and playing it 10 times a night, but the energy was so supportive, no one cared.” He mentioned that the team, despite being young and without experience, was pretty effective. “Troy hustled for the space, I did the technical stuff and sound, Bryan was the artist. It would just click, it was all business…if only we had kept it that way….” Johnny’s voice dropped as he took a moment to think about how things have changed in roughly 20 years.

The most recent development is that Troy didn’t wake up about three months ago. I found this out by coming across his website and seeing the notice for the wake. I was not surprised by this, but the impact of what I felt surprised me. “He was the most vibrant, charismatic guy I’ve ever met,” said Johnny. “The whole point of Club Naked was to play our own music and display our own art. Bryan and Troy made music for hours and hours; I don’t know why they didn’t pursue it more,” Johnny wondered, referring to passed up connections and possible deals with labels. Johnny split with his longtime friends in the mid-1990s and worked on some projects with Cajual Records, and that is when his independent career was established and began to soar. Troy and the others, in the meantime, fell deeper into drug use.

This is when the lines get really difficult to write. Why is it that so many people who were inspired by Club Naked have gone on to make amazing art and Troy isn’t around to share the joy? Did Troy take all the risks for those of us who wouldn’t have? Is it fair that we learned from his risk-taking and have grown, but he isn’t here to share in our successes? It might be easy, and corny as hell, to paint Troy as an angel who came to Earth to inspire artists everywhere. It might also be easy to paint him as an artistic clichĂ©, caught up in the drug thing and in the end, not too successful. But when I look at all the successes of people who were touched by him, many who made reference to his gift for inspiration at his wake, neither one of those images fit. Nothing fits. I just keep coming back to the feeling that if I had felt just a bit more lonely, just a bit more confused, I could’ve made different decisions that didn’t lead to life. It’s like I knew Troy was right about art, and I followed that ideal, but something else in me kept saying, “follow life, too – keep your ass alive.”

After a bit more talk, Johnny and I agreed that what helped us focus was having a strong family base. “My instinct told me that my parents care about me, I want a family,” he said. What Troy and Adam’s father did pass on to them was artistry and craftsmanship. Francis – they always called him by his first name – had his own interior design shop and he specialized in custom wallpapers, murals and furniture. Troy, Adam, Bryan, and Johnny all apprenticed with Francis. However, Johnny claims that the other three guys had family stories that were heavier than the ones most of us have to carry. Having dated Adam on and off during the 80s and 90s, I have to agree. I was witness to pain…that is the only thing I can call it, but I was also witness to amazing talent. That talent is what I choose to remember about Troy and his cohorts. All any of us who went to/worked at Club Naked can do is continue writing, DJing, painting, singing, laughing, screaming, and letting the world know that we were witness to the artistic love that showed us what kind of art is the best art.

“It was completely non-commercial,” Johnny recalled. “It was homegrown. It was crazy that everyone wanted my job. People from the Power Plant, the Music Box came to our parties and remembered our names when we were older and looking to DJ. Those places would play this or that, but if you wanted all of the above, you had to go to Halsted and Cermak (22nd St.). We had Mexicans, African Americans, Polish kids – it seems like now you can’t even get these kids to go to the same high school. Times are changing…just from playing clubs here and there, they seem based on top level income, they seem segregated. If someone wanted to make this happen now, you would have to align the right things, politically and socially.”

I don’t think Troy would think about that stuff – he’d just do it.

DJ Jesse De La Pena:

DZINE (Carlos Rolon): DZINE'S BOOK
(exhibit to 2/3/06)

DJ Johnny Fiasco: (check the Feb. dates)

Bryan Sperry:

Jake Austen: