Thursday, December 29, 2005

best “world” music of ‘05

I’ve not compiled a best-of list for a couple years, although I used to do it regularly on my Interzone Radio show. But lately I’ve been consuming music in a somewhat different way, sampling cuts from here and there, and I’ve been less focused on what is the most “current” or hip in the world music scene. But inspired by Steven Shaviro, I’ve decided to have at it again. My top 10 is all “world music”, whatever that is. My "others" ventures a bit further generically. This list is not necessarily in order of what I think is best, and for sure I’ve forgotten some things....

1. Kamilya Jubran and Werner Hasler, Wameedd. Amazing collaboration between former Sabreen vocalist and Swiss electronic sound producer. Spare, beautiful, experimental, eerie.

2. Tranglobal Underground, Impossible Broadcasting. TGU (pictured above) finally return to their true transnational ethno-funk roots, this time with some great Bulgarian assistance.

3. Mutamassik, Masri Mokkassar: Definitive Works. Egyptian-Italian American d.j.’s collection of her finest work. Breaking down Arabic music, cutting it into hip-hop & drum ‘n’ bass.

4. Konono No 1, Congotronics. A total assault from Kinshasa: massively-distorted electric thumb piano and frenetic percussion. (Congotronics #2 now available from

5. V.A., Guitars of the Golden Triangle: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma), vol. 2. Another Sublime Frequencies revelation: more wonderful surf and psychedelic rock from Southeast Asia. After hearing various S.F. collections from Thailand and Cambodia, these rockified versions of Myanmar cease to sound weird.

6. Baba Zula & King Tubby, Duble Oryantal. Despite the punned title and the presence of King Tubby, the dub is lowkey, just enough to lend the various Turkish folk-based genres presented here an edge, and an element of subtle strangeness.

7. V.A., Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara. The revelation here is that the incredible gutbucket blues guitar of the legendary Malian group Tinariwen is not a one-off, but a much wider phenomenon. Check out Nayim Alal and Mariem Hassan.

8. Balkan Beat Box, Balkan Beat Box. New York based underground Israeli scenesters Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat lead a high energy romp that fuses not just the Balkans but also Israel and the Arab World, an Eastern Mediterranean with the boundaries--temporarily at least--blown apart.

9. MIA, Arular. This dancehall/grime blowup, with its Tamilese Sri Lanka tinges, is on everyone’s list, and I am compelled to concur. Although MIA’s references to violence and terrorism are controversial,she does namecheck the PLO--and gets away with it.

10. Khaled, Ya-Rayi. The US mix was released in 2005, but the producers almost wrecked it for me by putting the execrable “Love to the People” (English and Arabic versions) onto what, in the French version, was in part a return and tribute to the roots of rai, the Wahrani genre. So skip cuts 2 and 11 and all the “peace through music” bullshit.

Other favorites: I get lots of my music from emusic, and lately have been very keen on all the offerings from Tzadik (John Zorn’s project to expand our notions of Jewish music) and Doublemoon, which features all kinds of great Turkish music. I’ve also been into favela funk and reggaeton, like everyone else. Also into Ellen Allien (everything! this year’s release is Thrills), Laura Veirs’ Year of Meteors, and OOIOO’s gold & green.

Good news from the NYT: "Independent labels account for more than 18 percent of album sales this year - their biggest share of the market in at least five years, according to Nielsen SoundScan data...The independent sector as a whole already outsells two of the big four companies, Warner Music and EMI."


Monday, December 26, 2005

Hakim in "Vanity Fair"

I finally have seen Mira Nair's film Vanity Fair (2004), starring Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp. I found it somewhat entertaining but felt by the end that it had run aground. But really, what I want to comment upon is the unbelievable and completely non-credible "dance scene," staged by the Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) and featuring Becky Sharp, to impress the King of England.

It's hard to imagine why Indian director Nair would put such a sequence on screen, where a posse of white British dancers wear what basically are bellydance outfits (somewhat Indianized) and perform ersatz bellydance moves, and where Reese Witherspoon wears Goth-style eye makeup. Such "bellydance" costumes were invented, in fact, by Hollywood in the early 20th century, and eventually adopted back in the Middle East. But what is really strange about the sequence is that it features Egyptian bellydance music by acclaimed sha'bi vocalist Hakim. The song, "El Salam," (from Hakim's 2002 Mondo Melodia release, Takatik), features all acoustic accompaniment, but nonetheless it's entirely inauthentic and anachronistic. Normally I like such "Arab inroads" into Western culture, but this one sits ill with me. Plus it fits into that standard Orientalist trope, whereby all "wog" culture, whether Indian or Arab, is more or less equivalent.

I also hated the end of the film, where Becky realizes her dreams and ambitions by finally marrying Joseph Sedley and traveling to India. The last scene shows Becky and Joseph riding elephants in a gorgeously colorful and exotic India. Pure raj/imperial nostalgia.

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"has so Eunucht our Husbands...": The 1674 Women's Petition Against Coffee

London, 1674, women petition against the "Grand INCONVENIENCIES accruing to their SEX from the Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling LIQUOR [coffee]." Here are a few choice bits:

"Never did Men wear greater Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever."

"They come from it [coffee] with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears..."

" young Train-band-men when called upon Duty, their Amunition is wanting; peradventure they Present, but cannot give Fire, or at least do but flash in the pan, instead of doing Execution."

"Certainly our Coutrymens pallates are become as Fanatical as their Brains; how else is't possible they should Apostatize from the good old primitive way of Ale-drinking, to run a whoreing after such variety of distructive Foraign Liquors...this ugly Turkish Enchantress..."

(I found this thanks to the latest issue of Harper's.)


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: "Paradise Now" #14 in best movies of '05

Philip Martin, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's very fine film reviewer, ranked Paradise Now (dir. Hany Abu-Assad) #14 in his review of the best films of 2005 yesterday (Dec. 25). Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, the film hasn't opened anywhere in Arkansas. (I saw it in Washington, DC.)

Here's what Martin had to say: "While geopolitical realities shape this story of two would-be suicide bombers from Palestine, the characters remain recognizably human, to the point where we begin to suspect their arguments are voiced largely to convince themselves."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Benefits of "Separation Barrier"

Great and unexpected news! Now it is easier, and cheaper, to buy olive wood carvings from Bethlehem (nativity scenes, rosaries, crosses, etc.) due to in part to their availability on the internet--a boon not just for consumers but for the woodcarvers as well. And as an AP report by Sarah El Deeb explains, "Bethlehem's woodcarvers are getting another unexpected boost: cheap olive wood from the construction of Israel's controversial West Bank separation barrier. Thousands of olive trees have been uprooted to make way for the barrier, creating an abundance that has driven the price from $260 to $195 per ton, carvers said."

Who would have thought that Israel's construction of the apartheid wall (shown above, with Christmas pilgrims passing through) could have such positive benefits for producers and consumers?

There is, however, a downside, as El Deeb explains, "the barrier is creating new hardships for Bethlehem, cutting off many people from farmlands and defacing the landscape that draws tourists."

But does that really matter, as long as we can still buy our Christmas creches and our rosaries, made from authentic Holy Land olive wood?

Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No More "Hotel California" in Iran: Great!

Along with all the world's civil libertarians, music lovers, neo-cons, and professional Iran bashers, of course I think it's awful that Western music is banned from state broadcast outlets in Iran. But I'd like to also dissent, slightly. Is it really so bad that the Eagles' "Hotel California" will now no longer be heard accompanying Iranian news broadcasts? I wouldn't mind visiting a country where you couldn't hear that execrable song, which has been torturing me for years and years.

(On second thought, if it's banned that will, inevitably, make it that much more popular. Strike a blow for freedom and listen to "Hotel California" in Tehran. Argh!)

Monday, December 19, 2005

North African Chic in Paris

In the Travel section in the Sunday New York Times, an article by Seth Sherwood describes the multiple ways that North African fashion, cuisine, and music are so-o-o hip today in Paris. Inappropriately titled, "In the Heart of Paris, an African Beat" (inappropriate because Moroccans, Algerians, and Tunisians most often tend to think of themselves as part of the Maghreb, the "West" of the Arab-Islamic world), it elaborates on the ubiquity of North African culture in the French capital. Seth describes many of the hippest restaurants, clubs, and boutiques, and his descriptions of the varieties of couscous and tajine dishes is especially enticing. Two of the most noteworthy restaurants are 404 and Andy Wahloo, owned by Hakim and Mourad Mazouz, who own Momo and Sketch in London.

I've been to both Sketch and Momo in London. (An old friend of mine who is a friend of Mourad got us in.) Sketch is unbelievably posh and gorgeous, but not Middle Eastern themed. Momo by contrast is ultra-chic Middle Eastern, with a hookah bar/café upstairs and a restaurant downstairs that features very fine world music. (And Mourad has compiled 3 volumes of fabulous Middle Eastern music, Arabesque [vols. 1-3].)

Andy Wahloo, in Paris, is a wonderful pun on "Andy Warhol" which means, "I have nothing" in Maghrebi Arabic.

I'm pleased that Maghrebi culture has become so mainstream in France, and have been involved over the past 15 years in documenting the movement of Arabic music in France from the margins to the center of French pop culture. I'm glad as well that entrepreneurs like Mourad Mazouz, and not just white French citizens, have been key figures in these moves.

But while the "Beurgoisie" has moved into the center of French pop culture, the unemployed and working-class youths of the banlieues have been mostly left behind, as the recent riots show dramatically showed. The fact that Maghrebi culture attracts French bohos (and boho US tourists, if this article does its work) doesn't guarantee jobs, or respect, to Franco-Maghrebi residents of the cité. (Nor does the fact that rap music dominates US pop culture mean that poor blacks will be treated with any consideration when a disaster like Katrina strikes.)

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More on Rock Music as a US Military Weapon

The HRW report on the US use of Eminem and Dr. Dre as tools of torture reminds me of how US forces used loud rock in the December 1989 invasion of Panama ("Operation Just Cause"). President Noriega (sought after on drug charges) took refuge in the Nunciatare of the Vatican Embassy. US troops surrounded it and attempted to use loud rock music as a form of psychological warfare to drive him out. The Vatican protested and the troops shut off the noise. Noriega finally surrendered on January 3, 1990.

The president in charge: President George H.W. Bush. Secretary of Defense and director of "Operation Just Cause": Dick Cheney. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Colin Powell.

You can see a list of songs here, courtesy of the National Security Archive.

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Eminem & Dr. Dre: Weapons of Torture in the "War on Terror"

The Associated Press informs us that Human Rights Watch released a report today on a secret US prison outside Kabul, Afghanistan, where as recently as last year, detainees were tortured by, among other things, being forced to listen to loud music in the dark for days. "They were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music or other sounds blared for weeks at a time."

One detaine, Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian-born Guantánamo detainee who grew up in Britain, said that he was "forced to listen to Eminem ["Slim Shady," to be precise] and Dr. Dre for 20 days before the music was replaced by 'horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds.'"

The HRW report can be read in full here.

So much for music as a "universal language"...

I've not heard Eminem and Dr. Dre's position on the use of their music as a torture, but teenagers have deliberately used loud rap and heavy metal for years to torture their parents. And remember ghetto blasters on city buses?

(To his credit, Eminem is against the war, as is evident from his video "Mosh.")

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Kominas: Islamic Punk

Taqwacores: 4 songs available to download from The Kominas' homepage. My fave, right now, is "Sharia Law in the USA," recorded with 8bit, which invokes "Anarchy in the UK": "I am an Islamist, I am an anti-Christ."

Thanks to Michael Muhammad Knight, I have learned that Kominas member Basim is now in Pakistan, volunteering for the Kashmiri relief effort. That is so punk rock. You can read his "punkistani" blog here. [Correction: for some reason that link doesn't work, so paste this into your browser:]


Why Bin Laden Will Lose

George W. Bush, December 11, 2001: " I couldn't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah, or the joy of Christmas, or celebrating peace and hope." On the occasion of the first lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah at the White House.

I was, of course, tipped off to this by The Daily Show. You can hear these immortal words here.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Kamilya Jubran: Wameedd

Kamilya Jubran, lead vocalist for Palestine's beloved, avant-folk group Sabreen from 1982 to 2002, has recently put out a solo recording called Wameedd. I don't yet have the album, but I've listened to the quite long samples from the album that are up on Kamilya's website and they are just amazing. Wameedd features the voice and 'ud playing of Kamilya and the very creative electronic sounds produced by Swiss composer and sound wizard Werner Hasler. The result is truly remarkable, about as unusual a recording of "Arabic" music as I've ever heard. It puts me in mind of Sabreen's last release, Hases Maz'ooj, not because the latter sounds like Wameedd but because both are so singular, so unlike anything else. Someday (but not now) I hope to write something about Hases Maz'ooj, which is very hip-hop/electronic and a radical departure from Sabreen's earlier work.

I highly, highly recommend Wameedd. I will be reviewing it soon for RootsWorld, along with the new solo release, Min Ba'd, from Wissam Murad, also of Sabreen.

Wameedd is available from CDRoots (and so is Hases Maz'ooj).


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Psychebelly: Baba Zula

Continuing the bellydancing theme...This is the cover to Baba Zula's album, Psychebelly Dance Music (2003). Baba Zula perform what one might call "treatments" or "wreckings" of Turkish folk music. They play traditional Turkish acoustic instruments and mix them up with electronica. Although Mad Professor works with them on Psychebelly, the dub elements are quite subtle and organic sounding, not as crazy and excessive as the Professor's usual outings. I highly recommend this, and all of Baba Zula's recordings. They are put out by Doublemoon; I access them through the fantastic online music source, Psychebelly is available from cdroots.

Baba Zula, along with many other great Turkish artists, are featured in Fatih Akin's film, Crossing the Bridge - The Sound of Istanbul. I've not yet seen it, but informants tell me it is fabulous.


Make Love Not War

Another provocative work of art from Josephine Meckseper: Make Love Not War, 2003, Mixed media and gouache on paper. First, the two pieces as reproduced by Gavlak (West Palm Beach), second, as hung at the Galerie Borgmann.Nathusius, Cologne. Two works by Meckseper featuring the kufiya are here and here.

Grassroots Middle Class Antiwar Sentiment

A simple, low key yet effective expression of sentiment against the war. A ranch house, up the block from us on Olive St., with an enormous lawn, on one acre of prime real estate. I don't know the owners of the house, and I think this display went up only recently. I think it reflects the very widespread and deepseated public disaffection with the Iraq War, even among prosperous, upper middle class southerners. (Photo taken on December 13.)

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Green Party Calls for Divestment from and Boycott of Israel

Resolution: Adopted by the Green Party of the United States, November 21, 2005

1. The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) publicly calls for divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized.

To maximize the effect of the Green Party's support for divestment and boycott of Israel:

2. The party calls on all civil society institutions and organizations around the world to implement a comprehensive divestment and boycott program. Further, the party calls on all governments to support this program and to implement state level boycotts.
3. The party urges the Campus Greens network to work in cooperation with other campus organizations to achieve institutional participation in this effort.
4. The GPUS National Committee directs the Green Peace Action Committee (GPAX) to encourage the larger anti-war movement to promote the divestment/boycott effort.
5. The GPUS National Committee directs the International Committee to work with our sister Green parties around the world in implementing an international boycott.

On July 2, 2004, the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 431-62 “to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine.”

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Absolut Beirut.

I found this at Queer Arab and just had to put it up. (It's from It reminds me that I must get back to my beloved Beirut, where I lived from January 1964 to January 1976 (with a couple sojourns in the US).


Iranian Girl Rock Group Orkideh

...Or Does It Explode? reports that a pair of concerts (women-only) by the Iranian rock group Orkideh ("Orchid") are upcoming in Tehran on December 16 & 17. No mp3's available yet!


Condaleeza Greeted by Nadia Comaneci

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci greets Condi on her arrival at Bucharest airport, Romania, on December 6. Before the visit, one of Condaleeza's senior staff predicted, "Romanians 'will go crazy' over the meeting"--confirming Condi's "rock star image."

Although Romania is now post-Communist, Nadia continues to show her good training under Stalinism as she greets the torture-apologist on behalf of the state.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Fred Pfeil, R.I.P.

I just received word about the passing of Fred Pfeil, on November 29. Fred, who taught in the English Department at Trinity College, was 56.

I had the great privilege of getting to know Fred during the First Gulf War. I had previously read some of his essays and had seen him at a conference or two, but I first met him in the offices of the Seattle Coalition Against the War (I think that was the name), shortly after the US invaded Kuwait, in early 1991. We got to be good friends. I was living in Seattle, teaching (sometimes) at UW, and looking for a tenure track job. Fred was on a post-doc and living in Seattle. We were both heavily involved in anti-war organizing. The day of the invasion the Seattle Coalition mounted a sit-in at the Federal Building in Seattle. (I was in the Coalition 'leadership', so I didn't sit in.) Fred cut off his long hair, put on a suit so that he looked like a bureaucrat, and stood outside the Federal Building, telling federal workers that they could go home. (And a lot of them took his word for it.) When the police started arresting protesters, Fred was one of the first they grabbed. (He later served a day or so in prison for the offence.)

So, we hung out a lot, discussing politics, film, music, and reading each other's work. I remember lots of great times, and one night in particular, when we went to a concert of jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine, who Fred turned me on to. It was a simply great and inspiring concert (although a lot of Courtney's recordings are too commercial). We next went and caught the end of Maceo Parker's set at Blues Alley. We topped the night off by going to the ReBar (Seattle's best dance club at the time), where it turned out to be Fetish Night. A truly memorable night.

Fred was working on his great book on masculinity, White Guys, at the time. In particular, he was doing the chapter on the Men's Movement. One Saturday he convinced me to go along to a men's meeting, he thought he should have a "real" ethnographer assist him with his fieldwork. It was quite interesting, and even though the stereotypical men's movement things happened, such as the dancing and drumming at the beginning and end and the passing around of the "wisdom stick" to those who addressed the crowd, I came away with a much more sympathetic and nuanced sense of the men's movement, thanks to Fred.

Fred was incredibly multi-talented, and I don't ever think he received the academic props he was due. His highest advanced degree was "only" an MFA, and this, I believe, kept him from landing a position at a more "prestigious" institution. But never mind that, and Fred himself was never bitter about this. His two "theory" books, Another Tale to Tell: Politics and Narrative in Postmodern Culture (1990) and White Guys: Studies in Postmodern Domination and Difference (1995) are first rate: smart, theoretically astute, witty as all hell, politically engaged and nuanced, extremely well written. Many scholars, as we all know, never manage a second book, and Fred produced two first-rate ones. But he was also a writer of very fine fiction. His novel, Goodman 2020 (1986), is a fabulous work of science fiction, very dystopian, very depressing. I've never understood why it is not more widely read and celebrated. I try to foist it off on friends to read, and those who do, seem to like it as much as I do. What They Tell You to Forget: A Novella and Stories (1996) got a lot more props, and won the Editors' Book Award of 1996. It is just brilliant. Also very depressing and has a very dreadful (because so depressingly bad) sex scene. Fred was brilliant at writing about the depressing stuff, in part because he came from a real working class family (but he never beat people on the left up with his proletarian background) and he had some good old Scandinavian blood (on his mother's side, I think). On occasion he'd venture into Ballard, Seattle's Scandinavian neighborhood and bring back some pickled herring to share with me. While we were sojourning together in the Northwest, he was also working on a libretto for an opera. I can't remember the title, it had to do with dogs, and it was performed. I mention it only to give another dimension of Fred's many activities.

I only got to hang out with him 2 or 3 times after I moved to Cairo in 1992. I visited him once in Trinity, in fall 1993, I think. I may have seen him in summer 1996, but I'm not sure. The last time was in September '02, when I was lecturing at Wesleyan and my friend Elliott drove me over to see him for a couple hours in Hartford. We had the usual great Fred conversation. One of the things I remember talking about was, what anti-war slogan was he gonna write on a highway overpass, once the Iraq invasion started. (Fred and his direct-action pals already had it planned out.) For me, Fred was an exemplary political academic, always working with students and community-based groups on progressive political action. One of his favorite activities was "improving" billboards, and he had lots of stories. He was also involved, after going back to Trinity in the nineties, in work with prisoners, promoting alternatives to violence. I don't think I've ever met an academic who was so politically engaged, and in such nuanced, lving, humane and non-dogmatic ways.

Fred wrote a very moving obituary in New Left Review for his departed buddy Michael Sprinker. (And Fred co-edited, A Singular Voice: Collected Writings of Michael Sprinker [2003]). I hope someone writes an equally brilliant and compelling tribute for Fred. (I'm not up to the task, either intellectually or stylistically.)

I miss you buddy. You made the world a much better place by your example. Thank you so much.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sonny Lester: How to Belly Dance For Your Husband

The cover of the 1968 release from Sonny Lester - His Orchestra & Chorus:
Little Egypt Presents: How to Belly Dance For Your Husband.

The “Little Egypt” referred to is not a real person but a marketing hook. The name evokes the “original” Little Egypt, the scandalous sensation who bellydanced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. There was probably no “real” person called Little Egypt at the World’s Fair but there were a number of bellydancers from Egypt and Algeria at the Fair and they did create a sensation and a longlasting legacy. The scandal and sensation launched a “shimmying” trend in female dancing that reverberated in carnival sideshows and burlesque halls and strip clubs for decades, and it lives on today in the huge network of US bellydancers and the performances of Shakira and Britney and....

Bellydancing music was HUGE in the US in the 1950s and early and there are dozens of recordings and many amazing covers. The theme was: middle class women, spice up your married lives by bellydancing for your spouse. Belly dance clubs in New York City and other urban centers were hip meccas for middle class whites looking for exotic and wild experiences. has a great archive of album covers and also uploads albums once a month. The Lester recording is still up as of today. I’m not sure about it’s legality but....

Sonny Lester (b. 1924) was an important figure in the “exotica” genre, so popular in the 50s and 60s. (Check out David Toop’s book Exotica for a great account.) He was especially well known for his album, How to Strip for Your Husband, and put out a number of exotica stripping and bellydance releases on the Roulette label. I was somewhat surprised to learn that this release appeared in 1968. I wasn’t aware that the “craze” was still going on at that late date.

The music on How to Belly Dance For Your Husband is in the exotica vein and evokes rather than performs Arab/Middle Eastern bellydance music. It is nonetheless quite fun. Most of the releases I’ve heard from the period by contrast are quite “authentic” bellydance tunes performed by Arab or Armenian or Turkish musicians.

Earlier bellydance posts: a description of an album featuring Özel Türkbas here and covers with Özel Türkbas are here and here. A photo of bellydancing in stereo is here.


Condaleeza's "Rock Star Image"

Joel Brinkley had a silly piece in the New York Times on Monday, entitled "The Man Behind the Secretary of State's Rock Star Image." (I'm commenting on this a little late, because I've been away at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings in Washington, DC.)

Silly on a number of accounts. First, because: what "rock star" has to spend all his/her time attempting to explain away torture, secret prisons and extraordinary renditions as s/he travels around the globe?? The worst that a "rock star" might be called account for might be, what, sexist or homophobic lyrics? Second, silly because Brinkley seems to agree with "the diplomats, politicians and journalists of the world, [who believe that] there is no argument that [Condi] has ascended to rock star status." Who are these foolish diplomats and pols and journalists? Brinkley gives us no evidence that this benighted circle includes any other than US pols and journalists. When Forbes magazine put Condi at the top of its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, the New York Post's headline read, "Condi Rules the World!" Brinkley somehow doesn't understand that the statement, "Condi Rules!" means something very different than, say, "Missy Elliott Rules!" Celebrity showbiz and politics have been getting more and more intertwined in the US for years but this doesn't guarantee that when Condi is greeted by Olympics gymnast Nadia Comaneci on her visit to Romania, the images of Abu Ghraib are automatically obliterated and forgotten. Plus, when did the New York Post become a rock star maker?

A close reading of Brinkley's article leads one to suspect that it is mostly Condi's staff and especially the man in charge of Condi's image-making, Jim Wilkinson, who believe this rockstar nonsense. (Another case, I think, of a Times reporter getting so "embedded" in his sources that he can't see the obvious.) The staff seems quite convinced that their efforts at image-making, such as having Condi greeted by Japanese-American sumo star Konishiki on her arrival in Japan, are brilliant strategy successes that help her "connect with the ordinary citizens of the countries she visits." Maybe her staff is compensating for the fact that no other foreign policy strategy seems to be working?

Given that all the news about Condi's trip to Europe that has come out this week since Brinkley's report is about how she is dealing with the question of torture and renditions--how rockstar could she be?

I'll leave the last word to a real rockstar: Mick Jagger. Mick is a multimillionaire and is in his mid-sixties and we don't really expect much of him anymore, but he is much more clued-in than Brinkley and all those pols and diplomats and journalists. From the Rolling Stones' recent song, "Sweet Neocon," off the album A Bigger Bang:

You parade around in costume, expecting to be believed
But as the body bags stack up, we believe we’ve been deceived

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