Album Review: Stranger Fruit by Zeal & Ardor


Album: Stranger Fruit
Artist: Zeal & Ardor
Release Date: June 7, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Gravedigger’s Chant
  • Row, Row
  • Stranger Fruit
  • Built on Ashes

Thoughts:

Swiss-born Manuel Gagneux is part African-American on his mother’s side and his black metal band incorporates blues and spirituals into their metal sound.  It has the raging guitars and propulsive percussion that I like of metal, without the “I’m singing like a demon, aren’t I scary” vocals that I deeply dislike.   This album is a good companion to Algiers’ The Underside of Power, one of my favorite albums of last year.

Rating: ****

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Podcasts of the Week Ending December 1


The New Yorker Radio Hour (via Re:Sound) :: John Thompson vs. American Justice

This podcast about the corruption and racism built into America’s criminal justice system was released in March, but brought to my attention by winning the bronze medal in the 2018 Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.  John Thompson was tried and found guilty for two crimes he didn’t commit and spent 20 years trying to prove his innocence.  By the end of this story you’ll be cursing as much as Thompson.

Monthly Mixtape – November 2018


One last mixtape for 2018.  I’ll post my favorite songs of the year at the end of December.  Do you have any favorite songs from this year?  Let me know in the comments or tweet me @othemts.

The Chrystal Method :: Ghost in the City

Huun Huur Tu & Carmen Rizzo :: Baiah Dug Duble

The War and Treaty :: Are You Ready To Love Me

Gabi Garbutt & The Illuminations :: Lady Matador

Y La Bamba :: Mujeres

Previous Mixtapes:

Photopost: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island


This Thanksgiving weekend, my family & I visited the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. I’ve been to Ellis Island twice before as an adult, but my last visit to Liberty Island was when I was a small child in the 1970s.  Every child should get the chance to visit the Statue of Liberty at least once, so I purchased tickets well ahead for the full experience.

The ferries are efficient at getting visitors to the island although the experience of slowly disembarking with the “huddled masses,” hearing dozens of languages spoken around you, and being barked at to keep moving along is perhaps an unintentional living history experience of our immigrant forebears.  Once on Liberty Island, we were able to move more freely from the crowds.  We had tickets to go all the way to the crown, but first we circled the island listening to the excellent audio tour which told us about the history of the island, the statue, and the many things the Statue of Liberty has come to represent.  My favorite new thing I learned is that since women were prohibited from attending the dedication ceremonies in 1886, a group of women activists hired a boat to circle around the island and shout protests to disrupt the event.

It was an overcast day and rather blustery, but the warmest day of the weekend, so it was a good day to take in the views of the harbor.  The wall of skyscrapers spanning the Hudson River is particularly spectacular from this angle, and made me realize how much it has changed since my childhood (especially Lower Manhattan and the spectacular growth of Jersey City).  Finally we got out of the wind and headed inside to scale the Statue (having to fuss with some unfriendly lockers and crowds before entering).

The walk up the pedestal was not bad and then there was a nice view from the balcony, albeit exposed to stronger winds.  Then we continued up the spiral staircase to the crown.  This is something that was changed significantly during the renovations in the 1980s and a glimpse of the remnant of the old staircase actually brought back a memory of climbing them as a child.  The stairs were long and steep but didn’t feel all too taxing to climb.  The greater challenge was keeping my head down to avoid getting clocked.

And then suddenly we were at the top!  The crown is much smaller than I imagined (or remembered), basically a small platform no bigger than a landing between the upstairs and the downstairs.  We briefly took in the view, took a few pictures, and I banged my head a couple of times, and headed back down.  After a visit to the museum at the base, we took a crowded ferry to Ellis Island.

We had lunch in the cafe which had tables and chairs modeled on those used at the immigration processing center, thus once again giving a living history experience.  The audio guides lead us through the Great Hall and surrounding rooms following the experience of newly arrived immigrants processed through the buildings.  Even my 7-year-old was able to maintain interest through the whole thing.  There were several other exhibits we did not make it to that focused on the history of immigration before and after Ellis Island, as well as hard hat tours of buildings not yet renovated.  But it had already been a long, and tiring day.

Before departing we visited the Wall of Honor, the only wall we should have for immigrants in this country.  The kids were able to find the name of their great-great grandmother Bridget King Sullivan who arrived at Ellis Island from Ireland in 1908.  We sailed back to Manhattan followed by a flock of seagulls, hopefully to return another day.

Vista of New York

 

Ms. Liberty
A ferry cruises in front of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.
Liberty’s foot steps free of her chains.

The interior structure of the Statue.
The Great Hall on Ellis Island is perhaps the most important room in United States history.
The kids find their great-great grandmother’s name on the Wall of Honor.
The Main Building on Ellis Island.

Sailing back to Manhattan.

Album Review: Acrylic by Leikeli47


Album: Acrylic
Artist: Leikeli47
Release Date: November 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Tic Boom
  • Girl Blunt
  • Roll Call
  • Hoyt and Schermerhorn
  • Iron Mike

Thoughts:

Leikeli47 is mysterious, masked figure from Brooklyn who raps about life in her neighborhood and the challenges of Black women in 2018 America.  The rhymes are strong and the beats are fine.  The music is fun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.  This album is a throwback to old school rap of the 80s while simultaneously forward looking.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein


Author: Richard Rothstein
Title: The Color of Law
Narrator: Adam Grupper
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

Housing segregation continues to be the rule in the United States today as most neighborhoods, cities, and suburbs are greatly tilted to be either mostly white or mostly African American. Politicians, pundits, and everyday people consider this de facto segregation, based on the choices of individuals to live among people of “their own kind,” or credit the wealth disparity that prevents Blacks from affording to live in white areas.

In this book, Rothstein argues that this common wisdom is all wrong.  He argues, with lots of evidence provided, that in the past 100 years, the Federal, state, and local governments have created de jure segregation of housing.  By historically being shut out from housing opportunities offered to whites, African Americans were unable to build equity and create generational wealth to pass on to later generations, contributing to the prosperity gap that exists today.  The places where Blacks and whites live today were created by the de jure segregation laws of the past, and laws against discrimination are only half-measures in that they do not undo the damage done in the past.

Here are some of the ways in which the government segregated housing detailed in the book:

  • Federal Housing Authority subsidizes housing in whites-only subdivisions.
  • FHA enables redlining by refusing to insure African American mortgages.
  • FHA regulations for segregation actually written into widely-distributed manuals. Local projects that intended to be integrated could be forced to follow these Federal regulations.
  • Public housing projects built for whites were larger and better resourced, while separate public housing for Blacks were usually smaller and something of an afterthought. White projects often had vacancies while Black projects had waiting lists.
  • Property taxes overassesed in Black neighborhoods and underassessed in white neighborhoods, adding to the burden of making ends meet for Black families.
  • Government programs that enabled whites to buy homes in the suburbs not available to Blacks. A generation of African Americans ended up trapped in decaying cities, far away from good jobs that had also moved to the suburbs.
  • Restrictive covenants that prohibit Blacks from moving into white neighborhoods granted legal protection.
  • Highway projects deliberately targeted Black neighborhoods for construction, demolishing viable communities and creating barriers around what remained (while at the same time benefiting prosperous white car owners commuting between city and suburbs).
  • Police and governments allow and abet violence by whites against Blacks who move into white neighborhoods. If fact, Black victims more likely to be charged with a crime if any legal action is taken at all.
  • IRS maintains tax exemptions for organizations that fund segregated housing.
  • Housing segregation serves as a stumbling block to integration of schools.
  • Government aware that Black home buyers were being targeted for risky subprime mortgages but fail to act on regulations to protect them.
  • Section 8 vouchers restrict African Americans to housing located only in poor, African American neighborhoods

Rothstein also offers a final chapter with several solutions to segregation and inequality in the United States:

  • Education – this book is a good start to countering the widespread belief in de facto segregation based on individual’s preferences and prejudices. The history of the government’s support for funding and requiring segregation must also be taught in schools.
  • Revive George Romney’s proposals to deny HUD funds to any communities that use exclusionary zoning to enable housing segregation.
  • Use the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing of the Fair Housing Act to rectify barriers to desegregation of housing.
  • Subsidies for African American homebuyers in predominately white areas (in a sense, restitution for their parents, grandparents, great-parents being unable to buy homes in these areas back when whites purchased homes at bargain rates).
  • End zoning regulations that prohibit multifamily housing or require large lots.
  • Promote inclusionary zoning.
  • “Fair Share Act” to require states to establish mechanisms to ensure that every jurisdiction houses a representative share of African Americans and low income people.
  • Allow African Americans to use Section 8 subsidies in areas with higher rents, and model Section 8 programs on the mortgage income deduction which applies to all rather than being first-come, first-serve.

This is a powerful and important book and should be read by all Americans who care about creating a just and equitable country.

Recommended books: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill, The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Rating: *****

Book Review: Fire on the Prairie by Gary Rivlin


AuthorGary Rivlin
TitleFire on the Prairie : Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race
Publication Info: New York : H. Holt, 1992.
Summary/Review:

Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago, is center to this narrative of big city politics in the 1970s and 1980s.  Rivlin establishes the background by detailing the rise of machine politics under long-time mayor Richard J. Daley.  The Chicago machine makes what I know of similar operations in Boston and New York look like amateur hour, and machine politics persisted in Chicago under Daley decades after it died out in other cities.

While Daley was responsible for perpetuating the segregation and inequality of Black Chicagoans, he was also wise enough to bring leaders from Black wards into his machine, thus making it difficult for a reform candidate to gain support among Black voters.  In 1979, Daley protege Jane Byrne ran an anti-machine campaign for mayor and upon election turned her back on reformers and the Black community.  This set the stage for Harold Washington to make his historic run in 1983.

Rivlin details the ins and outs of the Democratic primary among Washington, Byrne, and the young Richard M. Daley, running for the first time to follow in his father’s footsteps.  After Washington squeaks out a primary victory, the Democrats failed to support his campaign in the general election, with many white voters rallying to lift up the previously moribund campaign of Washington’s Republican opponent.  With a massive turnout of Black voters and the help of Latin and some progressive white voters, Washington once again eked out a victory.

Jesse Jackson is an interesting figure in all of this as the most prominent African American leader in Chicago.  He proves to actually be somewhat unpopular among Black Chicagoans both for his shameless self-promotion (several times he tries to get himself into a prominent spot to be seen on tv with Washington during the campaign) and his lack of knowledge of local concerns.  Jackson actually performs poorly in the 1984 Democratic primary in Chicago compared to other Black Democratic cities.

The celebration of Washington’s victory was short as a block of 29 city councilor’s organized to oppose his every proposal.  The Council Wars dominate much of Washington’s first term. Many of the strategies used to disrupt Washington’s agenda are very similar to what Republicans would later do to Barack Obama.  The Black community is also frustrated by Washington’s commitment to reaching out to white Chicagoans and being “fairer than fair” rather helping them take the share of the spoils they’d been so long denied.

Nevertheless, Washington is able to make some progress and win a second term in 1987.  Sadly the momentum and the council majority were cut short by Washington’s sudden death in November 1987.

I was a bit disappointed that this book largely focuses on the political horse race.  I would’ve liked to learn more about Washington, his accomplishments, and legacy in Chicago.  Nevertheless, this is a compelling narrative of city politics and the racial conflicts of Chicago.

Recommended booksThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja, and Eyes on the Prize by Juan Williams
Rating: ***1/2

Two Sentence Album Reviews: The EP Edition


Three short albums with three short reviews.

Album: A Simple Reflection
Artist: Cold Beat
Release Date:  24 August 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Jennifer
  • Love is a Stranger

Thoughts: Ethereal vocals over synthpop beats transport the listener back to the 80s. Yes, these are all Eurythmics’ covers.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: boygenius
Artist: boygenius
Release Date:  October 26, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Souvenir
  • Salt in the Wound
  • Ketchum, ID

Thoughts: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus formed a super group but only recorded 6 songs.  Strong harmonies and rich instrumentation make one wish for more.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Collapse
Artist: Aphex Twin
Release Date:  September 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks: All of them.
Thoughts: Richard D. James mixes blips, whirrs, and beats into an ineffable whole.  I really like it and can’t explain why.
Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 24


HUB History :: Mary Dyer, the Quaker Martyr

The history of religious intolerance and persecution in early Massachusetts.

The Truth :: Murder at the Cakery Bakery

Anyone who has ever worked in customer service may feel an uncomfortable pleasure in this fictional revenge fantasy.

The Moth :: Dinner with Wonder Woman – Adam Linn

A story of a Thanksgiving miracle involving Skype and a full-sized pig.

Best of the Left :: Why Men Will Be Better Off Without the Patriarchy

Stories of how patriarchy harms men too.

TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)


Title: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 1
Summary/Review:

Before watching this ostensible gritty reboot of the 1990s sitcom Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, I learned a few things I didn’t know.  First, Sabrina originated decades earlier as a comic book character.  Second, Sabrina lives in the same universe as the Archie comics!  Third, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina originated a few years back as a comic book. So essentially this a television adaptation of a gritty reboot of a comic book.  It’s a good concept though as it naturally follows that if you’re going to tell a story about a teenage witch that you should follow through on the full meaning of witchcraft and Satanic worship.

Let it be known that this is NOT for kids (well, young ones, teenagers will probably love it).  Granted, much of the horror is jump scares and creepy creatures, but there’s also a horrific scene of ritual cannibalism and a lot of violence.  Much of the show is highly stylized, with it being hard to tell what decade this is supposed to be happening in.  Apart from actual witches living among the mortals, the town of Greendale just feels a strange place, not like a real American town, but an amalgam of television towns.

I don’t think I would like the show’s writing or stories all that much if it wasn’t for the excellent cast who carry the show.  Lucy Davis plays Sabrina’s goofy and more lenient Aunt Hilda while Miranda Otto regally portrays her more elegant and stern Aunt Zelda. Chance Perdomo is effortlessly cool as Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose who is living under house arrest and casually helps Sabrina with her misguided plots.  Michelle Gomez follows up her genius Doctor Who role as Missy by playing Sabrina’s teacher Ms. Wardwell, who offers guidance to Sabrina while secretly guiding her into a sinister plot.  Sabrina’s best mortal friends are Roz (Jaz Sinclair) a young activist at her high school and Susie (Lachlan Watson) who is bullied by jocks and experiencing gender dysphoria.  Roz and Susie both give a Sabrina a realistic strong tie to the human world while also helping tie together the supernatural events with the social issues they symbolize.

A couple of things stand out as problems with the show.  One is the performance of Kiernan Shipka as the lead character.  She always seems to respond to everything with a deadpan expression and very little real emotion, even if a tear is rolling down her cheek.  I don’t want to say she’s a bad actor but it strikes me as a curious decision to have her play the character that way.  The other thing is that Sabrina’s knowledge of witch history and spell casting seems to vary on what is convenient to the plot.  She pull of amazing spells in one scene and express basic ignorance about things in the witching world the next.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is good but not great tv but definitely some cotton candy fun worth a binge.  I expect I’ll be back for more