Friday, September 19, 2008

Head To Head - Gétatchèw Mekurya & The Ex + Guests

It’s been nearly forty years since Ethiopia boiled over with the revolutionary politics that claimed thousands of innocent lives and nearly killed the proud East African nation’s sultry and horn-driven music. Thankfully, after the Dergue regime’s blood-soaked revolution came to an end in 1991, the producers of Éthiopiques took on the honorable task of distributing to a wide audience the musical epoch that began in the ’60s with auxiliary police bands in the capital, Addis Ababa. Continued at the Glow...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Limbo in the North - Will the war in Uganda ever end?

Eveline Alobo, a weary, rail-thin 50-year-old mother of five, turned in her chair to look at the man waving his arms in the air. In one hand, he clutched a cane; in the other, a bottle of home-brewed beer. Through the hot, hazy air of the dry season, the babbling man, in his torn shirt and hat, resembled a marionette.

“He is drunk,” Alobo said, frowning. An Association of Volunteers for International Service (AVSI) staff member hopped up and ran towards the man, clapping his hands in the air to scare him off.

Alobo, an ethnic Acholi, lives in the Acet Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, about 75 miles from the border of Sudan, one of hundreds of camps that dot Uganda’s northern region. Acet looks like most of the other camps: The fertile undergrowth typical of neighboring villages has been cleared away, making room for a few simple structures that serve as schoolhouses and a clinic, plus row after row of mud-brick huts with thatched-grass roofs, many of them furnished with little more than a pot for cooking. Every few yards, a latrine shaped like a porta-potty juts out of the ground. Using the latrines makes the camp more sanitary, but children fear them, so small rivers of human waste run down the mud pathways.

“The sanitation is just shit,” said Louisa Seferis, program director for AVSI’s Northern Uganda office, which monitors and manages camps in three of Uganda’s northern districts.

Alobo moved to Acet 20 years ago. She fled her home after the Lord’s Resistance Army—a rebel outfit that’s been terrorizing the region for more than two decades in an attempt to overthrow the government—raided her village in the middle of the night. She watched as rebels pulled her husband and daughter from their hut and hacked them to death with machetes, then made off with her son.

Now, like most of the displaced, she faces the filth and widespread alcoholism of the IDP camps.

Continue reading this article, which I co-wrote with Hannah Rappleye, at San Diego CityBeat...

Post-Surge Iraq - America's "House of Cards"

Last night, NY Times reporter Dexter Filkins read from his new book, The Forever War, and led a Q&A session that proved rather inconclusive. In his white dress shirt and blue blazer, he looked nothing like the haggard man pictured in his recent NY Times Magazine article "My Long War," but he had the classic nonchalant air and beaten-up face of a war journalist, and his diction was loaded with military lingo. He smiled and chuckled a lot. "I'm totally nervous," he said, about doing the night's event. "I'd rather be shot at with a 50 caliber machine gun."

Filkins is the "death wish" type of journalist who races through battle zones unfazed and wins the good graces of Marines and media critics alike for his down 'n' dirty reporting. His book looks O.K. – it’s a collection of stark and/or action-packed personal accounts of Afghanistan in the late ’90s, the Sept. 11th attacks, and the early years of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. I've only gotten through the first couple chapters (busy with other books), but already a vehicle, several buildings and a head have exploded into oblivion; a hand has gotten chopped off during a public execution at a soccer stadium; and the tragic fate of some child soldiers who worked for the Northern Alliance has been poetically alluded to. I can tell already that this isn't going to be another Taliban, Assassins' Gate, Night Draws Near, or No True Glory. Filkins doesn't have the sharpest intellect, but he can make sense of chaos and horror with a nearly photographic sense, and that's where his book is strong. "It's just stuff that I saw," he explained. "It's representative of my experience."

He just got back from Iraq last Friday. During the Q&A, he said that Iraq is really peaceful now. "The gains are real," he said. But he referred to the country aptly as a "kaleidoscope," and said that it's a "fool's game" to predict what might happen there in the future.

He shied away from opining on the situation, but he suggested that all of this success would amount to little if we withdrew from Iraq in a year. The most elucidating point came when an Iraqi man Filkins apparently knew pressed him on the rivalry between the "Sons of Iraq" - the Sunni fighters and tribal leaders allied against Al Qaida in Iraq, who are famous for bringing down the violence - and the Shi'i-led government. If Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to marginalize the Sunnis (Maliki recently said that he plans to incorporate only 20% of them into the Iraqi Army), won't Iraq eventually devolve into sectarian conflict again?

Filkins had an ominous retort. With the "Anbar Awakening," the United States built an immense "house of cards," he said. “And, you know, a house of cards is better than no house at all.”

“Is it gonna last? Who knows?” he added. “Stay tuned.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Trax - Abe Vigoda + Experimental Dental School

Abe Vigoda is often described as “tropical” or “calypso punk.” That might be accurate if jagged rock music drowning in reverb alluded to things tropical, or if Michael Vidal and Juan Velazquez’s howling and stabbing guitars actually brought to mind the up-beat, feel-good hits of Harry Belafonte. Read more at CMG...

Experimental Dental School’s charm lies as much in their agitated ravaging as in their name. Read more...