Inner City Press Eyeballs the Culture(s) -- Rants, Reviews and Observations

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Updated November 5, 2007

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Bolton Memoir Settles Scores, Dishes Dirt, Ignores Kosovo and Uganda

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Book Review

UNITED NATIONS, October 30 -- Exception must be made for the genre of tell-all books. If one approaches from the beginning with politics, it is an unfair assessment of whether and how fairly all is told. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton's grandiosely titled "Surrender Is Not an Option" is a surprisingly detailed glimpse inside the Security Council, the U.S. State Department, and John Bolton's personality. Criticism of those with different policy views, like the still-ascendant Nick Burns (who Bolton pegs as a "careerist" friend of Democrat Richard Holbrooke), is par for the course in a political memoir.

    But Bolton takes seemingly gratuitous swipes at diplomats most of his readers have probably never heard of.  Bolton includes a description of the United Kingdom's deputy permanent representative Adam Thomson as "'Harry Potter' because of his resemblance to the character from the series of children's books... I could never look at or listen to Thomson without immediately thinking of Harry and all this little friends." Pg. 201. Thomson's boss Emyr Jones Parry fares worse, being called "limp-wristed" and arrogant. Before he retired in 2006, Jones Parry speculated with reporters on how he would be treated in Bolton's memoir. When Inner City Press asked if Jones Parry himself would put pen to paper, he replied that he didn't like tell-alls. Perhaps he'll have time for a book review.

            Swinging lower, Bolton writes of one of the candidates in 2006 for Secretary-General, Thailand's Surakiart Sathirathai as "'a rich man's son' who, according to local gossip, had once tried to bribe a college professor for a grade by giving him a Rolex." Pg. 277.  Simon & Schuster having embraced this standard of reporting, the time has come to note, at the same standard, the whispers among the UN press corps about Bolton's alleged past in sex clubs -- Plato's Retreat is the referent, if only urban legend -- with sourcing to divorce records. Rolex, anyone?

            More seriously, Bolton evinces some refreshing political candor. Of the standoff between Eritrea and Ethiopia (whose Meles regime the U.S. used to invade and still occupy Somalia), Bolton writes that

"neither the Ethiopian nor the Eritrean government would win any popularity contests, and I certainly had no favorite, but it seemed to me that Eritrea had a point: Ethiopia had agreed on a mechanism to resolve the border dispute in 2000 and was now welching on the deal." Pg. 344.

            Apparently Bolton didn't get, or subsequently tore up, the memo, which would downplay criticism of Ethiopia given its role as U.S. proxy in Somalia. That the U.S. subsequently allowed a rogue shipment of tank parts from North Korea to Ethiopia for use in Somalia is not included in Bolton's two-paragraph Somalia analysis, which concludes smugly that "the UN's role had been and remained minimal." Pg. 366. Nor does the book mention a major African conflict, that in northern Uganda with the Lord's Resistance Army. It does, however, show George W. Bush in a September 2005 meeting with Kofi Annan raising "the question of Iraq, saying he wanted a greater UN presence there to help out." Pg. 217. This largely explain U.S. - UN relations since.

            Still-sitting Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin is pegged as objecting "several times to the Weisel [sic] -Clooney meeting [on Darfur], deriding it as a media show, which just signaled to me that Russians were probably wondering how they could put together something similar on an issue of interest to them." Pg. 356. Kosovo, anyone? Strangely, Kosovo is mentioned only once in the book, and then only in passing.

            More a function of anti-Francophony than Fanonian analysis, Bolton dismisses the French as colonialists, "constantly worried that the potentially large force required for Darfur would drain from or constrain other African operations more important to France." Pg. 353. As an aside, there is another analysis, not in Bolton's book or anywhere else that we have seen, that some in the U.S. administration don't want Sudan peace talks to succeed, so invested are they in fingering al-Bashir and "Islamists" more generally for genocide -- a theory for another day. Since-retired French Ambassador de la Sabliere is portrayed as "insulting the Tanzanian deputy perm rep for not known what his instructions were" about a Cote d'Ivoire resolution that France was desperate to pass.

   In full disclosure, this reviewer in 2006 had opportunity to question John Bolton, mostly at the Security Council stakeout, on such topics as the U.S.'s nomination of Josette Sheeran Shiner to head the World Food Program, on the threat to international peace and security posed by drug trafficking by Myanmar -- "known in the United States as Burma," as Bolton used to say -- and his war of words with now-UK "junior minister" Mark Malloch-Brown, a shared bout, on different (UNDP corruption) grounds. (A strange peace ensued in September 2007, with an assist perhaps to Darfur, video here, at Minute 8:30.

            Perhaps the most ironic section, at least to this reviewer, has Bolton lambasting then-envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk for "popping off on his blog." Pronk's online analysis, certainly more restrained than Bolton's book, got him expelled from Khartoum -- "thus effectively ending his mission, which was what we had been trying to do earlier," Bolton writes. Pg. 359. This "earlier" appears to refer to July 2006, when Bolton "faced the bizarre issue of controversial comments on a personal blog that the SG's special representative in Sudan, a former Dutch minister of development, Jan Pronk, had been happily writing." And what was Bolton's mood during this dishing -- unhappy?

"Darfur Now" is Full of Cheadle, Director Chides UN's Paralysis by Complexity

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the movies

UNITED NATIONS, October 17 -- "Darfur Now," a just-released documentary film, cuts from actor Don Cheadle at home to women in Darfur chanting the name of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court prosecutor who has indicted Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister Ahmad Harun for war crimes. There are scenes of Mr. Moreno-Ocampo in his home, musing that if the ICC process doesn't work, the whole world will become like Darfur. California governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, faced with legislation divesting from Sudan, signs it, six times to be exact, handing one copy to the ubiquitous Mr. Cheadle. There is Mr. Cheadle in Beijing with George Clooney, and the same duo in Cairo, meeting with the son of the president of Egypt, referred to by Cheadle without apparent irony as "next in line."

    There is footage of Messrs. Clooney and Cheadle at a surreal UN press conference, which Inner City Press covered at the time. There is more convincing footage of a World Food Program official in his room in Darfur, worrying about truck drivers getting killed, as happened only this week.

            "Darfur NOW" portrays the rebel groups, which it does not name, as being only about returning to their land. The director, Ted Braun, told the audience at the UN's screening Wednesday night that the rebels "do not want to secede," they only want help from what the film's subtitles translate as "the white man." Mr. Braun said the root of the word is "teacher... because the first people to arrive in Sudan from Europe were teachers." Well, no. The first to arrive in Sudan were colonialists.

            The film's Achilles heel is not only its failure to mention that there are now twenty separate rebel groups, some of which kill the African Union peacekeepers, but also its naive presentation of the Save Darfur movement in the United States. For showing so many activists, and with such upbeat music -- by Stevie Wonder and U2's Bono, no less -- it is striking that the war in Iraq is nowhere mentioned. There is bloodshed there, too, and refugees and war crimes -- all of which Americans have more responsibility over, and perhaps more ability to impact, than events in Darfur.

            Mr. Braun afterwards said that complexity can become an excuse for procrastination. You just have to do something, he said, giving as one example his ability to make the film, after "the best journalist" -- on information and belief, Nick Kristof, who is thanked in the credits -- predicted that it could not be done. Mr. Braun diagnosed, not unreasonably, that some in the UN system were paralyzed by complexity.

Cheadle, Clooney, Loroupe and Cheeks, bad rebels and Iraq not shown

            An example of this is the issue of enforcing, or even genuinely trying to enforce, the ICC warrants against Ahmad Harum and Ali Kushayb. Inner City Press asked a post-film panel including Braun and five UN officials to explain why, while the name "Ocampo" is shown in the film being chanted by women in Darfur, it is not chanted in UN headquarters. Earlier this week, the prosecutor chided Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for not including justice in his reports on Darfur.  At Wednesday's UN noon briefing, spokesperson Marie Okabe answered that "Mr. Ocampo is simply doing his job by bringing the world's attention to the justice side of this issue, which as you know is very complex." Inner City Press asked the UN panel at the film to article to other side to justice.

            The most direct answer was provided by Jack Christofides of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who said that trying and convicting a few war criminals "will not solve Darfur's problems," and who spoke of an "over-focus on indicted war criminals." That is the view of many in the UN, but is usually not said publicly. Isabelle Balot of the UN's Department of Political Affairs introduced in her answer the complex word "sequencing," meaning that peace may (have to) come before justice. A UN human right official, who had said he was speaking in his personal capacity, noted that the UN has different arms doing different work. Perhaps that explains the UN's Jan Egeland, and now Joaquim Chissano, meeting with the indicted leadership of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army and not moving to arrest them. On that one, even the ICC's Moreno-Ocampo has remained strangely silent.

            "Darfur NOW" is a film worth seeing. For an American audience, something balanced about Iraq should also perhaps be seen, lest the lure of moral self-satisfaction become too tempting.

October 8, 2007 (click here for review of Oct. 13 "Museum of Fake Art" in LIC)

     The films of Catalan director Pere Portabella are being featured at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, complete with a hyped appearance by Jonathan Demme, by Mr. Portabella and, on October 5 during a screening of his most recent film, Portabella's assistant, who spoke afterwards to Inner City Press. "The Silence Before Bach" opens with shots of a player piano in an empty room, spinning as if radio-controlled. Then an old man with a seeing-eye dog, speaking in French ("doucement, doucement," he tells the dog) is led to another piano, which he begins laborious to tune. The audience keeps waiting for the story to begin. Two truck drivers, in a rig with one thousand Euro religious paintings on the side, talk about Bach. Later the trucker is asked to move a piano, using a crane, from out of a mansion. This never takes place, or is never shown. More than an hour in, the words in the title are spoken. Given the lack of suspense, we won't even do a spoiler alert here - there's nothing to spoil.  In the subtitles, role is misspelled roll. There is a mesmerizing shot of an old piano being dropped into water from a great height; another of a dozen cello players on a Barcelona subway.

   What does it all add up to? Mr. Portabella likes Bach. Bach is everywhere. His music was almost forgotten, until Mendelssohn re-discovered it, reportedly on the sheet music his butcher used to wrap meat and organs.  This butcher scene is among the most through-provoking, at least for this reviewer. In a nineteenth century Germany food market, a butcher offers advice on how to cook lamp with garlic and lard; vegetables are laid out in baskets and bowls, with big loaves of bread. Nearly identical markets, but for the addition of electricity, came be found today, from Barcelona to The Bronx. How little has changed. But the next food shot involves a clearly-affluent couple with an expensive refrigerator, the woman showering behind smoked glass and then playing her cello in a high-rise condo building. Yes, things have changed. Maybe Portabella's visual poetry is too advanced for its time. Or maybe its self-indulgent, or both.  Viva Portabella!

September 10, 2007

  Our mini-review this week is of the documentary film Manda Bala, about today's Brazil in which re-creating the severed ears of kidnap victims can purchase a $400,000 bullet-proof car to drive to a country house far away from Sao Paulo; where a Senator from Belem, Jader Barbalho, stole $2 billion meant for economic development in the Amazon region; where, the film's beginning claims, documentaries such as this cannot even be shown. The filmmaker, Jason Kohn, previously worked with Errol Morris and it shows. The movie's playing in New York at the AMC on 42nd Street (25 screens over mall-like chain restaurants, welcome to the new Times Square) and elsewhere. It's worth seeing.

March 12, 2007

  Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako's ''Bamako" was gushed over in the New York Times of Feb. 14, and a month later was still playing at the Film Forum on West Houston Street in Manhattan, "held over" as they say. Arriving from the United Nations at 9:45 for the 9:40 screening, the ticket-taker said, "Don't worry, the first ten minutes is just a court proceeding."  She could have said, the whole movie is a mock court proceeding. From speeches about the World Bank delivered in a courtyard with stand-up electric fans, the film cuts into a parody of spaghetti westerns, this one starring Danny Glover. People sit fanning themselves, listening to the trial over loudspeakers. One wants to like the concept, and it would work for 15, maybe 30 minutes. But as a feature length film?

November 27, 2006

            As reflected in the NY Times and now the New Yorker, there's been renewed high-brow interest in I.F. Stone this year. In the Nov. 27 New Yorker, Nicolas Lemann paints Stone's crusade as "problematic." Lemann writes that Stone "spent his whole career in that region of the newspaper ecosystem, now vanished, where everyone regarded the Times as unpardonably stuffy and conservative."

            What is Lemann saying? That the Times is no longer viewed as stuffy? Or that one just doesn't hear anymore from those with that view? Perhaps it's Lemann who is stuffy and conservative...

            Of the new Stone books, best is to go to the source. The collection "The Best of I.F. Stone" contains piece short and long over more than two decades. In his August 1964 piece "What Few Know about the Tonkin Bay Incidents," Stone recounts hypocrisy at the United Nations, where Britain's reprisal on Yemen was condemned, but not the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam.

            In Stone's "Word About Myself," he notes that "no bureaucracy likes an independent newspaperman." As quoted by Moyers, Stone said "I have so much fun I ought to be arrested." Hear, hear.

Colonial Hipster Rory Stewart, Review of Author and Book

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, November 6 -- Rory Stewart is a hipster author who walked across Afghanistan. He is also a colonial bureaucrat, who helped rule a province of Iraq and last Thursday said he should have been more forceful. In a session at NYU Law School, Inner City Press asked Mr. Stewart for his views on Sudan's position against foreign troops in Darfur. "I'm not one of those who pontificate," he answered. Oh really?

            Mr. Stewart went on to compare Sierra Leone's to South Africa's approach to reconciliation, and to praise a 950-page study of Iraq tribes undertaken in the 1970s. While some in the audience had come based on Stewart's memoir of walking from Heart to Kabul, "The Places In Between," Stewart focused on Iraq. He chided British forces for not shooting into a crowd of Iraqis before they looted a Governor's office. He joked of a tribal leader claiming his manhood was cut off, then settling for $20 to make his rented protesters go away. We should just leave, Rory Stewart advised. People don't like foreign troops.

            It was at that point that Inner City Press asked, what about Sudan? There, the al-Bashir government claims that UN Peacekeepers would be the Trojan horse through which the U.S. could invade, and cut Sudan in five for its oil. Whatever one's view of this theory, it plays on the distrust of foreign troops. But Mr. Stewart refused to compare this feeling in Afghanistan, Iraq and The Sudan. He is not, it appears, a theorist. Where next will Britain put him in charge? And what portion of the profits does he send to Britain's queen?

March 13, 2006

  Television is not usually our focus. But we've seen the premiere of a TV show so surprisingly bad that if we don't review it now, there may not be another chance. It's called "The Unit" (CBS, Tuesday at 9) and it is juvenile post 9/11/01 wish-fulfillment, with a four year delay. The first episode opens with the Unit's leader (Dennis Haysbert, who doubles or triples as the President on 24, and hawking car insurance for Allstate) pretending to be a business man in Nangahar province, Afghanistan, conning a nebulously evil Afghan in a leather jacket by offering to pay for his drink. The order is a for a coffee, "large and sweet." Outside the con continues, when Allstate shoots a donkey which makes Leather Jacket laugh. A missile is launched and destroys a dusty Mercedes and its occupants, then we cut to the Unit's home base, where well-toned wives await their patriotic men. There's the obligatory plane hijacking -- stopped, this time, in this fantasy. Incongruously, it happens in Idaho, hardly a hot spot for trade delegations. From inside they plane they hear the plan to only blow the bomb once the TV truck gets there. The man from Allstate enters and shoots, in slow motion, terrorists after terrorist. Even the Hardy Boys had more nuance. Only in the final thirty second of the first episode is any non-rah rah material introduced: State Farm has flash backs, and one of the wives is having an affair with the commanding officer who's sent her husband to Afghanistan. Instant pathos! What a come-down for David Mamet, and the creator of FX's The Shield... And why would NPR, "Fresh Air" and others treat it seriously?

February 20, 2006

            Particularly timely in light of the paused but not finished Abramoff lobbying scandal in Washington, and the sailing through of Justices Roberts and Alito, there’s “Globalization, Governmentality and Global Politics: Regulation for the rest of us?” by Ronnie D. Lipschutz with James K. Rowe, London: Routledge, 2005, which cites back to a 1971 US Chamber of Commerce memo by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (later an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) noted attacks on corporations from “the college campus, the pulpit [and] the media and urged that “if our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself” – by lobbying. Also on the Supreme Court’s role in American history, the book notes that “Prior to the landmark Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) case that bestowed legal personhood upon the modern corporation, they were fewer, smaller, but most importantly different in purpose.” The book emphasizes the “disappearance of politics,” for example the “privatization of global forestry regulation.”  Lacking is similar analysis of the financial service sector.  But that can be worked on…

December 19, 2005

  This week, a detour to spirituality, specifically, a new biography of Henri Nouwen, “His Life and Vision,” by Michael O’Laughlin (2005: Orbis). The author was Nouwen’s teaching assistant, and he tells his mentor’s story, from Amsterdam through Notre Dame to Peru, into a barrio nuevo in Ciudad de Dios in Lima, where Nouwen lived in a room on the roof of another house and met with the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez. Then – what a come down -- to Harvard Divinity School, where he taught for two years. In “The Road to Peace,” Nouwen wrote: “I had the feeling that Harvard was not where God wanted me to be. It’s too much podium, too much publicity, too public. Too many people came to listen… It’s not an intimate place. It’s a place of intellectual battle.” O’Laughlin recounts that “these were the years of the Reagan administration, and there was a struggle going on in the United States over Latin America.” Ya don’t say. There’s a photo of Nouwen with Father John Vesey in Santiago Atitlan. Nouwen went to Jean Vanier’s l’Arche community in Trosly, France then to l’Arche Daybreak in Canada. While there, as only murkily narrated in the book, when Nathan Ball pulled back, Nouwen went to a home of spiritual crisis in Winnipeg. The book cites to, but doesn’t quote from, Nouwen’s journal of this time, “The Inner Voice of Love.” Nouwen came out the other side, and is pictured with the acrobats the Flying Rodleighs. He died in 1996, and was buried in Toronto. A wounded healer – and truly a great man.

December 12, 2005

            For our reviews this week, we go global and local: about the United Nations, and the building of New York (with only footnotes on The Bronx). “The UN Secretary-General and Secretariat,” by Leon Gordenker (London: Routledge, 2005) is a short guidebook, part of a series on global institutions. At page 71 it notes that “Pérez de Cuéllar made a point of declining to renew the contract of Theo van Boven, the director of the human rights office, after several Latin American governments protested the official’s zeal in promoting the application of the laws and their extension.”

Of the UN’s Department of Public Information, Gordenker writes (page 87):

“For many journalists, whose media only occasionally give attention to UN affairs, DPI is a ready source of facts, statements by officials and full transcripts of what the Secretary-General has said in public. At the same time, most of what UN organs officially do is open to all comers, including journalists, academic researchers and representatives of NGOs, for whom access is made easy. Although media coverage of the General Assembly over the years fell to such a low level that the representatives there urged the DPI to do more to encourage attention [citing UN General Assembly Res. 58/126, December 19, 2003], anyone who wishes can in person follow all of its plenary sessions and its main committees and can obtain press releases covering most of what is in progress or done. For active media representatives, DPI provides the services of an official spokesperson and staff who can be consulted at almost any time. Yet access and availability of information obviously does not add up to a universally well-informed public or even perhaps to a minimum understanding of the complex procedure, programs and responsibilities.”

     That hasn’t been Inner City Press’ experience with the UN’s DPI… More colorful is “Building New York: The Rise and Rise of the Greatest City on Earth,” Bruce Marshall (2005: Universe/Rivoli). In this 300 page book, there are fewer than a dozen references to The Bronx: to Woodlawn Cemetery, to the Bronx River Parkway, to Parkchester (whose mid-Bronx location is described on page 266 as “a dismal section of the Bronx until the Metropolitan Insurance Company built the huge residential complex”). The example given of early urban renewal is in East Harlem: a haunting photo of the foundations of buildings demolished to make way for Jefferson Park on 112th Street. Even the sections on Zoos and Botanical Gardens, while mentioning that the Bronx has the major example of each, pictures only the Central Park Zoo, and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Perhaps because fewer Bronxites could or would buy this $50 coffee table book…

December 5, 2005

            This week we recommend another book of urban infrastructural history: “American City: Detroit Architecture 1845-2005,” by William Zbaren and Robert Sharoff (Wayne State U Press 2005). The book is chronological, leading to the Compuware building on Campus Martius (and not a word of the demolished department stores). Some examples:

On page 18, a photo of what had been the headquarters of State Savings Bank, at 151 W. Fort Street and Shelby – now the Savoyard Centre with mannequins in the windows…

On page 24, the Dime Building at 719 Griswold Street, with an H&R Block storefront on the first floor, pitching tax refund anticipation loans at 400% interest rates…

Saddest of all: the shattered Michigan Central Railroad Station, at Vernon and Michigan Avenue, ringed with razor wire--

Giving rise in the reviewer to this:

In a vast and vacant railroad station

We played the game of palm. We had racquets

Cross-hatched like a barbequed steak. The blue Spaldeen

We bashed at the glassless windows of the upper floors.


Etiquette obituary: we went to school on it

We smoked enormous bongs and reefers

Looking down on the ball-playing jerks

In the train station lobby.


Commuters will surely return

Roundtrip through the decades

To find a Twilight Zone city in reruns

Seen on-demand, if then, if at all. -M.Lee

November 28, 2005

 This week, a quote from, and reaction to, “Organic Intellectuals and counter-hegemonic politics in the age of globalization: The case of ATTAC,” by Vicki Birchfield and Annette Freyberg-Inan, in “Critical Theories, International Relations and the ‘Anti-Globalization Movement,” edited by Catherine Eschle and Bice Maiguashca (Routledge 2005). The quote:

“ATTAC associations see themselves as part of a movement for critical, popular education. All ATTAC publicity material, whether on websites or in print publications, describes the association as an educational movement and a counter-establishment social force, as opposed to a conventional NGO or issue-based social movement… the key difference being that in ATTAC there is ‘no hierarchical order and no top-down decision-making about common actions’…The fact that a more permanent transnational organizational structure has yet to emerge (there is no international headquarters, for example) is a reflection of ATTAC’s commitment to local autonomy and cultural diversity.”

   The reaction / review: What the authors do no sufficiently question or explore, Inner City Press opines, is the degree to which particular global financial institutions -- as four examples Citigroup, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas – are not sufficiently targeted by ATTAC.  It’s fine to talk about Gramsci and the Tobin Tax. But where the rubber meets the road, there are trillion-dollar institutions running circles around existing rules and even counter-rules…

November 21, 2005

This week we recommend a dry but quite interesting book, “Reinventing Accountability: Making Democracy Work for Human Development,” by Anne Marie Goetz and Rob Jenkins (Palgrave 2005). The authors did most of the research while working on the United Nations Development Program’s 2002 report, Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World. For that reason, the book provides example from all over the world, from the expansion in India of public interest law and of theories of standing and facilitated filing by letter, so-called epistolary jurisdiction, to Bangladesh, where it is reported that “micro-finance programs are known to favor better-off villagers for credit, even though they are above the poverty line.”  The book recites “litigation in the United States for a range of alleged violation: Texaco for the adverse economic impacts of its activities in Ecuador; Unocal for human rights abuses associated with its investment in Myanmar; Freeport McMoran for environmental destruction caused by its copper mine in Indonesia...[and] action against Rio Tinto for its Rossing Uranium mine in Namibia.” And so it goes...

November 14, 2005

            Our review this week is of a new addition to the still-small bibliography of environmental justice books: anthropologist Melissa Checker’s “Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town” (NYU Press 2005). Call it a case study, or (as the author does), ethnography.  The “Southern Town” in question is Augusta, Georgia, specifically the Hyde Park / Aragon Park neighborhood, consisting of 200 houses, 10% of them vacant. This ten percent figure is sourced: “Based on my own door-to-door survey;” from this the author states that “most unoccupied homes had been left to crumble, and crack addicts and homeless people often squatted in them” (65). No source is given for this substance (ab)use, nor explanation given of the incongruity of people in “unoccupied” buildings. But we digress!  The author went to Augusta in the fall of 1998, to volunteer with the Hyde and Aragon Park Improvement Committee (HAPIC).  After three chapters of historical background, the book picks up pace upon the author’s arrival, with HAP resident’s recollections set off in italics, intercut with pollution by ITT-owned Southern Wood Piedmont, pouring PCBs into Rocky Creek. There follows in Chapter Five the story of three lawsuits, spanning the early 1990s until at the time of the author’s arrival, “resigning themselves to the fact that their lawsuit might never pan out, HAPIC leaders looked to longer-term solutions to their problems” (135). The solutions lists run from a study funded by the CDC to a HAPIC leader running for county commissioner. A computer center is set up. Other polluters are identified: Thermal Ceramics and Goldberg Brothers scrap metal yard, whose drums of mercury-contaminated debris are pictured on page 182. Eventually the scrap yard is cleaned up, leveled and cleaned out. The author concludes “that progress toward social change might be halting or slow, or sometimes might event take a few steps backward, but there is progress if you look for it.” We’re glad the Ms. Checker looked for it, and filed this report.

            Our second, or visual, review this week is of “The U.N. Building,” by Ben Murphy (Thames & Hudson 2005).  It begins with black and white photographs of the building being built (stopping at 39 rather than the planned 45 floors, due to budget constraints), including “rarely seen views” of the private apartment of Dag Hammarskjold on the 39th floor, Scandinavian furniture facing the East River and Queens.  Everything is very Jetsons, from the curvy balconies of the General Assembly Hall to the special UN signage typeface, a sans-serif based on Futura. As one caption puts it, “Some of the building’s most endearing features are in the details, such as the vintage clocks or exit signs that might be overlooked during discussion, and yet they very quickly evoke an era in which the building was designed and built.” Of that era, another caption (page 128) says, “At the time the Secretariat was designed, the architects considered the view east over the river more desirable, and therefore located the restrooms on the western side [with] glorious views of the skyline.” There are photographs of the printing plant (“the largest internal reproduction plant in New York City”) and of the mail room, of which it is noted that “the U.N. receives an average of 6.6 million pieces of mail per year, mostly from the United States.” That last seems strange: the country that least believes in the U.N. sends it the most mail. Or maybe the USPS doesn’t allow in some of the mail directed to the U.N. from outside the United States…

November 7, 2005

Now that the 2005 baseball season is over, complete with Fox’s send-up of “Latin Legends” before the final game of the White Sox’ sweep, we want to review the just-out book, “Early Latino Ballplayers in the United States: Major, Minor and Negro Leagues, 1901-1949.” When the Cincinnati Reds in 1999 added to their roster two Cubans – one of whom, Aramando Marsans, was called the “Ty Cobb of Cuba,” apparently without intentional irony – the Cincinnati Tribune complained that “the peculiar social conditions of [Cuba] make it mighty hard to determine the exact standings of most of the natives regarding color.” Who’s peculiar? In 1918, Marsans was with the New York Yankees, and was fired (and banished from the “major” leagues) by manager Miller Huggins.  The New York Times dubbed Marsans “the temperamental Cuban center fielder.”

  The book tells the tales of such giants as Adolfo Luque (194-179 with an ERA of 3.24 in 20 major league seasons); el Inmortal Martín Dihigo, and Hiram Bithorn, for whom the stadium in San Juan is named and who died in 1951 at the age of 35, shot by police in Mexico. At the inquest Corporal Ambrosio Cano claimed that “Mr. Bithorn had had in his dying breath that he was a member of the Communist Party” (149). Like another of our favorites, Abraham Polonsky, another victim of the Cold War…

Our second review this week – and we’re sorry it’s dry – is of “Remedies in International Human Rights Law,” by Dinah Shelton (Oxford U. Press 2005, 2d Edition). Flying in the face of the old saws of reviewing, we’ll first note that like the first edition, this one has a cover of dark blue and red, very classy. Our (paperback) copy of the first edition is breaking down, so this one’s just in time. Listed among the new (well, 2003) treaties and other international documents is the UN’s “Norms on the Responsibility of Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights” (UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/12/Rev.2),  Paragraph 18 of which states:

“Transnational corporations and other business enterprises shall provide prompt, effective and adequate reparations to those persons, entities and communities that have been adversely affected by failures to comply with these Norms through, inter alia, reparations, restitution, compensation and rehabilitation for any damage done or property taken.”

  Ms. Shelton then notes that “one reason for the focus on direct responsibility of companies is that the obligation of states to control the activities of their registered companies abroad is unclear.”  Well that needs to be cleared us, and remedies established. To start Chapter 8, “Non-Monetary Remedies,” Ms. Shelton quotes in Latin from Blackstone, “Ubi jus, ibi remedium” (Where there’s a right, there’s a remedy). Père Ubi?

  A propos of nothing (except the law, and the Supreme Court nominations saga ongoing in Washington), we’re reminded that at the end of the movie version of American Psycho, TV news as ambient sound describes Reagan nominating Bork. Yes, American Psycho…

October 31, 2005

            Our review this week is of “UN Voices: The Struggle for Development and Social Justice,” (Indiana U. Press 2005), part of the United Nations Intellectual History Project Series. In a sense it’s an oral history. For example, both John Ruggie and Richard Gardner reflect on the formation (and location) of the United Nations Environment Programme. Gardner narrates: “The [G-]77… took the position that UNEP had to be in Nairobi, which was a terrible mistake from which we are still suffering to this day. Their attitude was, ‘Well,you have the headquarters of the NY in New York and in Geneva’ (and by that time, they had put something in Vienna), ‘now it’s our turn.’ I thought, ‘That’s your idea of economic development? To set up another UN organization in Africa to create jobs? You’re not going to get the scientists down there.’ John Ruggie agreed for the most part,” complaining that UNEP “sort of sank into the morass of Nairobi, where it has been since” (220-221).

            Last week an Inner City Press representative attended the UNEP Financial Initiative’s annual conference at the UN headquarters in New York. To deal with bank, UNEP has a Geneva office. UNEP FI is chair by the chief operating officer of Australia’s Westpac bank.  Click here for ICP’s report on the conference, which included the participation of the UN’s Global Compact. Of the Compact, Ruggie elsewhere in the book is quoted that “Mary Robinson [high commissioner of human rights at the time]… wasn’t fully on board at the beginning. She was under enormous pressure from human rights NGOs to attack companies, not to work with them… UNEP was very excited because they had worked with companies in the energy and chemical industries in particular… The human rights organizations still don’t like the idea that Shell is a participant in the Global Compact, because of Nigeria. The environmental groups will say it doesn’t make any sense to have a Global Compact that seeks to have business promote environmental issues that doesn’t have Shell in it” (308-309).

            But is that true, that “environmental groups” requested and desire the inclusion of Shell (for example) in this Global Compact? Which environmental groups? A problem with this book is that it takes no position; it allows Ruggie and the like to present their positions, without any analysis or counter-argument. The book does choose to make characterizations, invariably pro-UN and/or pro-Annan. For example: “today a temporary shadow hangs over the Secretariat as a result of the oil-for-food inquiry being led by Paul Volcker” (317). How can the author’s flatly state that a current shadow will be “temporary”? One half expected to find that the book was published by the UN itself. Somewhere between the hard-right’s anti-UN ranting and this hagiography, the truth must lie…

October 24, 2005

Our review this week concerns the updated 2005 English version of the French book, "La bourse ou la vie: La finance contre les peoples," by Eric Toussaint. The title gets rendered as "Your Money [or] Your Life: The Tyranny of Global Finance," a not entirely satisfactory transaction. More literal would be: "The Market or Life: Finance Versus the People." Apparently, only if a book has the word "Global" in the title are North Americans assumed to recognize that a book touches on globalization. Anyway, the book uses Rwanda pre- and post-genocide as a case study, from a very Western Europe perspective. Toussaint writes that "Once the Rwandan capital Kigali had bee overrun by the opposition RPF. Rwandan leaders-in-exile set up the head office of the Banque Nationale du Rwanda in Goma, with the help of the French army. Until August 1994, the bank disbursed funds to repay debts for previous arms purchases and to buy new arms. Private banks (Belgolaise, Générale de Banque, BNP, and Dresdner Bank, among others) accepted payment orders from those responsible for the genocide and repair those who financed the genocide." (342).  Among the elided-over "others" was none other than Citigroup. In general, as with many such books, Toussaint is so directed at the troika of the WTO, IMF and World Bank that (more) powerful private capital is not focused on enough. But the book comes with an informative glossary and a "political and environmental chronology from 1944 to the present day" - focused, it turns out, on the World Bank, the IMF and the Third World.  Even this last term is getting outmoded. Another world is possible - and so is another style of such books.

October 17, 2005

            Our micro review this week is of a chapter, not a book. It’s “Resolving Identities: Successive Crises in a Trading Room After 9/11,” by Daniel Beunza and David Stark. It describes its subject:

"(Pseudonymous) International Securities is a global, non-American investment bank with 128 offices in 26 countries across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Its American headquarters occupied. the World Financial Center. The bank did have another available facility, a bank office in (pseudonymous) Escapaway, a small suburban town in New Jersey."

   As recounted by Beunza and Stark, the traders proceed to make fun of Escapaway and its residents: "The grim suburban reality of Escapaway had no amenities for the traders to escape the pressures of their trading room.' You could drive to Wal-Mart, you could drive to Home Depot... The people in Escapaway can eat  from McDonald's every day and not get sick.'" (page 310 in "Wounded City: The Social Impact of 9/11," edited by CUNY sociology professor Nancy Foner, Russell Sage Foundation 2005).

            Nowhere do the authors explore or consider the morality of arbitraging anything, from the debt of Ecuador to trading in bonds backed by predatory mortgages... For news of chicanery by another “non-U.S. investment bank” (UBS, which cannot be International Securities because its trading floor left NYC before 9/11/01, to Stamford, Connecticut), see this week’s ICP Finance Watch Report.

October 10, 2005

            Our review this week concerns money laundering. Nick Kochan is a British business journalist; his book The Washing Machine (Texere Thomson, 2005) walks through recent scandals from Bank of New York through Casablanca to Citigroup. Of this last, Kochan writes: “One Citibank private bank official in Africa stated that he does ‘not have problems with the large deposits held in New York by [Gabonese] President Bongo, providing information concerning them is kept completely confidential.’” Citigroup’s regulators do not comes off much better. An examiner from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency noted: “Based on our review of the information in all related files... we conclude that this relationship and related transactions do more meet the level of suspicion expected for filing a Suspicious Transaction Report because... the transactions conducted through Citibank NA are the sort of transactions that the customer has historically been making and are normal for the Head of State of an African country.”  Cultural relativism, anyone? The book’s worth reading.

October 3, 2005

    Our reviews this week are triggered by a recent Inner City Press venture to San Diego, dubbed "America's Finest City" (by then-mayor Pete Wilson in the early 1970s) but increasingly subject to gentrification, disparate lending and stratification.  Arriving late at night, one's forced to take a van; one company is called Cloud-9 and its signs announced "franchise opportunities" as well as "Go Padres." The driver, if asked, expresses concern about having to take her daughter to the dentist. Where does she live? In Clairemont, which if one takes the 50 bus through it, consists of relatively down-at-heels low-rise houses, and chain restaurants like Chili's and Denny's. It ain't La Jolla, in short. And what is La Jolla? A fancy-pants enclave built around an undeniably beautiful cove, complete with undersea park, sea lions and birds who're not to be fed. There is body surfing, yes, on small strips of beach where the waves break directly on the shore. There's a manicured lawn and a free bathroom and changing place. Otherwise, there's no much inviting of homeless or even lower income. There use to be a trolley coming here from San Diego, but the locals got it closed. There's sprawl out by University Town Center - a mall and a bunch of financial services sweatshops, from Smith Barney to New York Life - and some housing for students at UCSD (which still has a Ché Café along with the Gregory Peck-founded La Jolla Playhouse). It's time to venture back to San Diego, and even Tijuana. But how?

    The 50 bus leaves from the mall, blasts through nowhere zones where poorer retirees wait for hours at bus stops. After Clairemont it gets on Interstate 5, into downtown San Diego. There's the Pickwick Hotel, the courthouses, and Lucy's (fine) Tacos. On the street the talk is of escalated rents. Even the cops can't afford to live here; they commute two hours for example from Temecula. Someone says the salary's higher to join the force in Chula Vista. Imperial Beach down by San Ysidro is lower income.

    Next to the Gaslamp Quarter, which used to be skid row, a new stadium has risen. The Moores Padres got a boondoggle, ten square blocks into their own faux Camden Yards. There's $5 general admission, and you can sneak into seats behind home plate. There's not-bad barbeque named for ex-Padres Randy Jones. The Padres clinch the division, despite a .500 record.  There's much greater injustice, however, south in Tijuana.

   But now the books. From two years ago, from the New Press, there's a Mike Davis production called "Under the Perfect Sun." It's history from a lefty point of view, with anecdotes about "Red" Tijuana in 1911, and restaurant workers' strike against the Hotel Del Coronado in 1997. You'll learn that J. Edgar Hoover spent every August in La Jolla from 1938, and that washed-up Raymond Chandler spent his last decade in 6005 Camino de la Costa. It's all very interesting, but lacked the focus of "City of Quartz."

   From 2005 from U Penn, there's Larry Ford's "Metropolitan San Diego: How Geography and Lifestyle Shape a New Urban Environment." This is drier but more comprehensive, contrasting Ocean Beach to downtown and noting that given its location, San Diego is not the center of any wider area (and therefore, among other things, couldn't support a basketball team). Together, these two books give a view. But you've still got to go there.

September 26, 2005

   Our review this week is a medley, the common denominator being Chicago.   With the Southside site of the now-demolished Robert Taylor Homes now primed for gentrification, in a way that some have in mind for the lower-income evacuated parts of New Orleans, our eye was caught by a just-published glossy book, "Chicago Architecture: Histories, Revision, Alternatives" (University of Chicago, 2005). While the book focuses heavily on the Loop, and Mies' high rises more generally, there's a section on the literal ups-and-downs of public housing, including Cabrini-Green and Stateway Gardens. The diagnosis given is that the high percentage of children in the projects' population doomed them to failure and demolition. Gentrification is hardly covered.  But for that, we turn to the Chicago chapter of another recent book, "The Puerto Rican Diaspora" (Temple University, 2005).  There's a photo of the Puerto Rican Gates over Division Street, and discussion of displacement (including of fritoleros -- those who cook cuchifritos -- from Humboldt Park and Logan Square. Last stand on Division Street, then, where the 1966 riot started after the police shooting of Arcelis Cruz. Cuchi insurection!

   To study and present these trends, we make our final Chicago-related suggestion of the week.  Here the leap is longer: it's a how-to guide entitled "The Chicago Guide to Writing about Multivariate Analysis," edited by Jane E. Miller. Ordinary least squares, anyone?

September 19, 2005 -- Courtroom 302 and Roberts (Moses and the Judge)

            For the past week, the nominee to be Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has steadfastly declined to comment on even the cases that he has decided, since they might be appealed. Clearly that’s not the standard lower down the judicial food change. In Steve Bogira’s 380-page tome “Courtroom 302,” the main character (at least, the character most quoted) is Chicago judge Daniel Locallo. The book drills deep into the cases heard in 1998 in Locallo’s courtroom (yes, Number 302). By interviewing, in the six years since, as many of the participants as possible, Bogira shows how defense lawyers didn’t get the full story, prosecutors didn’t care for the full story, judges deferred to each other despite the real story, and journalists hardly covered the cases or reported the stories. It’s an assembly line, a soulless slaughterhouse with little to no rehabilitation, where few even show up for the trials. Locallo is presented as a hero, caring more than other judges, going out to crime scenes, giving defendants second and third chances.  Whether Locallo’s grant of access to Bogira had anything to do with the positive portrayal is a question of non-fiction technique. The book’s been praised by Robert Caro (he of) The Powerbroker; one wonders if even Robert Moses might come off as well-meaning, if he was an author’s main source... -ML

Sept. 11, 2005 -- "Windows on the World" -- Andre Malraux turns Toby Keith

    This week we review a book called "Windows on the World," a morphing of fiction and non-fiction by the French author Frédéric Beigbeder.  The book inter-spices the present-tense narrative of a father who takes his two sons to the World Trade Towers restaurant back on that fateful day with the ruminations of a pro-American French writer, eating bad croissants at the top of the tallest building in Paris, the Tour de Montparnasse. As always, there is a Bronx connection: the author lists among his favorite writers Jerome Charyn "who lives in Montparnasse," and who's written a number of strange novels of The Bronx. Also on this writers list is John Fante.  Ask the Dust, indeed - this review is being written as the radio broadcasts the memorial service from Ground Zero, the alphabetic reading of the names of the dead. Some are mispronounced; some are supplemented by phrases like "no te olvidaremos" or "God bless the troops." One relative courageously says, "A world of peace." In the other litany, the sentiment's out of place.

    Beigbeder, too, as if to show his alliance with America, takes pot-shots at Islam. So does Michel Houellebecq, but he trashes France and the U.S. as well.  Beigbeder's voicer makes plain: "I'm writing this book because I'm sick of bigoted anti-Americanism." He praises Burt Bacharach, and quotes Bacharach's 1967 anti-war song "Windows on the World" - then can't resist throwing in "I wonder if the owner of Windows on the World was familiar with the song." It's not just that Beigbeder loves America, you see - he also knows more about it than you or me. He puts into the mouths of adultering stockbrokers stilted dialogue about Enron and "leave your wife" (this leads to "God, I want to launch a hostile takeover bid on you"). The father of two says of his sons: "they have something on their mother. At least I still love them."

    It's a bold book, entering the minds of imagined Nine Eleven victims. It was a cowardly book, to translate if not to write, in that it fetishes America and clearly wants to be liked, Andre Malraux turned Toby Keith. Let there be more books on this topic (you'll hear from Inner City Press).  This was from Miramax / Hyperion - 'nuf said.

September 5, 2005: A recent book we at Inner City Press must note is "Frames of Protest: Social Movements and the Framing Perspective," edited by Hank Johnston and John A. Nokes (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005). We note it because of its discussion of the Young Lords and other groups in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx - and an entire chapter on the exploits of Superbarrio in Mexico City, by Jorge Candena-Roa.  Of Mott Haven, Cathy Schneider, author previously of "Shantytown Protest in Pinochet's Chile" (Temple University Press, 1995), writes:

"in the 1950s Mott Haven became predominantly Puerto Rican and black. It also became one of the poorest communities in the country. In 1969, the Young Lords challenged the machine, using an antisystem frame. On July 14, 1970, for instance, the Young Lords occupied Lincoln Hospital by driving a truck up an emergency ramp. For twenty-four hours they occupied the hospital, demanding a new hospital, a raise in the minimum wage of health care workers, and working control.. But this radical coality of activists in hospitals, drug clinics, and the local church was unable to pose a viable alternative."

    This last is not well-enough explained. Schneider jumps to 1992, writing that at an Episcopal church (which she leaves unnamed, but is clearly St. Ann's) a "gang leader was show by another gang member and buried at the church he had served. Shortly after, the diocese removed the priest and despite weeks of parishioner protest, the priest and his supporters were unable to win the support of established social service agencies or politicians."

    Schneider concludes with the "sentiment of cynicism and distrust, during the focus group [she] conducted: 'Everyone sells out here.'"

  We beg to disagree -- click here for Inner City Press' Bronx Report. -ML For four different ways to contact us, click here.

Coda to Selby's Dream

   Hubert Selby Jr. died in May 2004, of lung disease. This is not an obituary. Nor is it a review of the novels Last Exit to Brooklyn or Requiem for a Dream, nor of the movies subsequently made from them. We'll merely note a small detail, and see where it leads.

  Requiem for a Dream, published in 1978, is set in The Bronx. Those who try to pull Selby out of his time and place -- for example, European critics who call Selby's stories "timelessly" American, or the decision to transpose the filmed version of Requiem from Bronx 1978 to Coney Island 2000 -- make his work more of a fable, and less of the indictment Selby intended and carried off. Here's a representative sentence from Selby's 1978 novel:

"The deserted buildings that stretched for miles and made the city look like a battleground of WWII, that gave it the pathetic and devastated look that froze on the faces of the people that inhabited them, were spotted with tiny fires as shivering bodies tried to keep warm and survive long enough to get some dope, one way or another, and make it through one more day so they could start the same routine again." (Pg. 189).

  In the 2000 filmed version, this is turned into science fiction, an imaginary city where the government through benign neglect allows drug dealing to flourish. But it's not science fiction -- it actually happened. The Bronx, from the mid-70s to the mid- to late-80s had sections as described, for example all of Boston Road from 163rd Street to Claremont Parkway. Junkies stripped buildings for copper wiring, pipes, even the fire escapes. To de-historicize this, to shift to the easy funhouse mirror analogy of Coney Island, is to devalue what happened, what people lived through, and the accuracy of (some of) Selby's critique.

  In later years, Selby couldn't get his work published in the United States; he worked for a time as a clerk in the gift shop of a Los Angeles hotel. The 1989 filming of Last Exit to Brooklyn, and the 2000 adaptation of Requiem, brought Selby both some money and renewed recognition. In a 2002 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Selby said it was the filmmaker's decision to shift Requiem from The Bronx to Brooklyn." Of the shift, director Aronofsky told the Washington Times, "The culture was exactly the same, and Selby didn't seem to mind." But was the culture of The Bronx in the mid-70s was exactly the same as Coney Island in the late-90s? No. Selby didn't mind because, well, Selby was just happy to see it filmed. An important American writer -- and writer about The Bronx-- has passed away; he'll remain presente, here and elsewhere...

Selby's Missed Exit (A Second Bite at the Apple)

  "Harry locked his mother in the closet" -- that was Hubert Selby's opening line to Requiem for a Dream, on a topic that's not often touched in mainstream American literature. The limited point above, that Selby's novel Requiem was set in The Bronx while the 2000 movie wasn't, made us think to take a second look and bite at the apple, with Selby's death still fresh. Most critics have noted that Selby never again reached the heights (or depths) of Last Exit to Brooklyn after its publication in 1964. If descent is the measure, his second book The Room was even bleaker, involving the sadistic revenge fantasy of an anonymous -- yes, Kafkaesque -- inmate. The Room has not been, and perhaps could not be, filmed. But Last Exit was, by German director Uli Edel.

  It was filmed in twelve weeks in Red Hook in the summer of 1988, nearly always at night. While many had called Selby's portrayal of New York's inner cities unfair and skewed, artificially negative because inconsistent with The Honeymooners or paeans to the Dodgers, lords of Flatbush, it couldn't be missed that Red Hook and its residents by 1988 were in worse shape than in the novel. While race plays little part in the novel -- reflecting a blindness of Selby's, one of the exits he missed -- by 1988 large parts of Brooklyn and The Bronx were like products of apartheid. There weren't even any jobs to go on strike from; brass knuckles, booze and bennies had been replaced by Uzis and crack.

  The novel had been optioned by Kubrick and De Palma, but never made, until Uli Eden called Selby in late 1986. They spent $16 million making it, and released it first in Europe, with a launch party in Munich's Olympic Stadium. They paid for Selby and his mother to tour with the film. When it opened in the U.S., most American critics denounced it as, in essence, a foreign invasion. "Lance your own boil," one critic wrote. But often it does take an outsider to present and diagnose. A Bronx Tale, the Godfather, even the canonical Mean Streets: they're all infected by schmaltz, in retrospect. Eden's only concession, it seems, was to replace the prostitute Tralala's death with her placing a hand softly against the cheek of her goofy flap-capped suitor, while saying softly, "Don't cry." This is at the film's conclusion, as the striking workers return to their jobs in the plant. Forty years after Selby wrote the novel, the factories and shipping jobs are gone, there's incipient artists' gentrification, the poor are worse off than before. Selby has checked out, and from these ruins we salute him. -ML

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"Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in The Bronx"

    ...We managed to get the first copy to arrive at our local library of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's "Random Family," subtitled "Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in The Bronx." It sure is gritty, ya gotta give it that. Actually, it's reminiscent of the two novels of Abraham Rodriguez, "Spidertown" and the more recent "Buddha Book" (which was scarcely reviewed in the "mainstream" press). Full disclosure: we're fans of A. Rodriguez; we've published him, early on, in Inner City Press. But compare the reviews of his Buddha Book (we've only found four) with the gushing for Random Family. Both books focus on teens and young adults involved in the drug culture. Mr. Rodriguez -- we'll adopt that pompous Times-ism for now -- actually "came of age in The Bronx." Yet both of his books have been criticized from their gangsterism. Ms. LeBlanc, whose dust jacket pedigree includes Smith College, Yale Law School and Oxford -- very Clintonian -- appears to believe that all young women in The Bronx spend their time looking out their tenement windows at drug dealers. This is a portrayal of The Bronx which travels far. The problem is that it is an extremely selective account. Protagonist Coco has four children by the age of twenty, by three different men, two of whom are in jail. The "main man," Cesar, has shot his best friend in the back of the head in White Castle. It is all very poignant; it is all very well described. But is this (the totality) of The Bronx? No. It is a high-brow version of the Fox TV show "Cops." Here is some typical editorializing: during a jail visit, Cesar offers a candy to his daughter Mercedes, then pulls it away and chews it, then "smother[s] her hurt feelings with hugs." Of this, Ms. LeBlanc writes: "In the subtle tyranny of that moment beat the pulse of Cesar's neighborhood -- the bid for attention, the undercurrent of hostility for so many needs ignored and unmet, the pleasure of holding power, camouflaged in teasing, the rush of love." (Page 162).

    Let's review: would teasing with food among any other social class be subject to such a strained analogy to one's community? Ms. LeBlanc, we intuit, means well. But the impression given of The Bronx is that all the young girls are pregnant, all the young men are in jail, all of their parents are separated and dysfunctional (not that those are the same thing). This is not The Bronx that we know. Sure, you can -- and we have -- found such characters in The Bronx. But you have to reach for them, with blinders on to everything else. When, decades ago, sociologist Oscar Lewis did this, he was roundly denounced.  Why is this different? -ML

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Off-site:  "New Haven Savings Bank Changes Merit Students' Attention," by Matthew Lee, Yale Daily News, October 23, 2003

Off-site and stuffy: U.S. Banker, May 2001: Federal Reserve - Big Talk, Little Action, (incl. on predatory lending)

On a lighter note, click here to view  poem (doggerel) on Citigroup, "Song of Solomon [Brothers]," on the site...

Campaign Finance Reform in The Bronx (Gotham Gazette, April 3, 2000)

Community Reinvestment Act Weakened by Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (Shelterforce, Dec. 1999)

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