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Friday, October 30, 2009

Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party

i'm currently reading a compelling book about how the christian right and the modern-day republican party have become one in the same (so much for separation of church + state, right?). the book also provides a window into about a million other themes--freedom, authority, racism, religion, resentment, demagoguery, american history, party politics, etc.

above all else, the author's command of language is both humbling and deeply enchanting.

NOTE: listen to a wonderful interview with the author, max blumenthal here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

everything that happens will be from now on

my life has always felt yanked by different impulses: on the one hand, i believe humans are here to explore a higher purpose--namely, something i'll call creativity and the authentic experience. and, thus, i've tried to devote my life toward this aim.

but there is another side, another impulse that draws me into its orbit. for lack of a better term, i'll call this my "social justice" impulse. this is the side that leaves me buried in documentaries, political podcasts, pbs specials, magazines subscriptions, newspapers and blogs, public radio, and (most virulent of all) piles and piles of non-fiction books on everything from environmental sustainability to world poverty to biographies on john stewart mill. i feel compelled to consume as much content as possible because, well, i want to better understand the forces that work to keep power in the hands of the few while denying opportunity to the many. my hope is that the better i understand these forces and their various manifestations, the better i can mobilize my life (and the few people i may have a modicum of influence with) to resist the crushing machine.

over the past few years, though, my social justice side has come to dominate more and more of my life. happily, i do feel as though i better understand why injustices continues to grow, even as we (ostensibly) become a more modernized, industrialized nation (if not world). but, here's the thing: i've never felt more creatively impotent as i do now. novels and music and movies make up less than five percent of the content i consume. (it used to take up, no joke, 100 percent.) yet, i can't seem to break out of my social justice streak and tip the scales back in favor of my creative pursuits--painting, writing, producing audio documentary. i do try, but always end up feeling compelled to put in just one more hour to fighting oppression and the oppressor. and then another hour. and then another.

yesterday, however, i took a long walk through a canyon in the hollywood hills. it was dusk and the clouds heralded a storm pushing its way down from the bay area. here and there, light slashed across the sky in messy ribbons. i could see clear across LA, all the way to the water. and farther still, i could see the horizon--a shelf of azure against a wall painted gold.

and i thought: maybe life is not about opposing hate, but rather about spreading love. (feel free to vomit at such a hackneyed pseudo-epiphany.) as i stood at the canyon's promontory, just sort of taking in the sweep of the land below, i felt i understood something (at least for me) profound: love begets love. and, therefore, any peaceful act in its name increases its amount in the world. it was all so obvious now. i'd been spending too much time fighting vader and not enough time communing with yoda and my inner yogi. in my effort to fight hate and greed and violence, i hadn't paused to realize that any and every act of love (which can be anything from playing guitar in the park to ten minutes of meditation to sharing a genuine smile with your local librarian) is a repudiation of evil and an endorsement of compassion. as i made my way back down the trail, i began thinking how to best boil my "aha" moment into a bite-sized, bumper sticker. then i realized such a slogan already exists: make love, not war.


we're all on this earth to fight the forces most ruinous for our survival. that is something i continue to believe. it's just that now i believe every step taken in peace promotes the very idea of peace. every act of love--no matter how small or seemingly obscure--begets another. instead of fighting an enemy, make a friend. instead of bringing something down, build something up. it's not that simple, of course, but a war on anything (even on evil) is never as effective as a party for peace.

the game can never be won, but it's the only way to win.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

notes on camp

we were somewhere in the bay area hills, tucked away from all the traffic and bridges and parents. I'd just turned 10 and was on my first overnight summer camp. i remember drinking endless cups of soda, soccer games on fields huge and green, and i remember making a kite and tying it with red yarn to my finger and i remember voices around a small fire, the smell of burning wood, the rawness of dawn, playing paddle ball with a girl with short blond hair, silver dust caught in clothes, a pool with two intertubes drifting along a corrugated surface.

but it's the last night i remember most. we'd begged our counselors to let us sleep outside the cabin, to let us take our sleeping bags out to a clearing just above camp. impossibly, they agreed. and so i lay on my back, in a field full of bodies, all of us silent and awake, the night air cool against our cheeks, clouds low and thickening in grey tufts, wandering overhead, backlit by stars too many to count.

i must have stayed up nearly the entire night. just watching the black dome above me, a single satellite hurtling somewhere, stars suggesting some faint form, some silhouette i recognized but couldn't quite name.

i heard everyone around me breathing in slow, even tones, asleep now against pillows damp and aglow under the moon. i turned on my flashlight and beamed it overhead. trying to add one more star to the sky. hours passed, entire universes appeared and scattered and appeared. my light somewhere among the riot.

and now, two decades later, i so badly want that night to be with me still.

because there are moments when i want to know what i was saying. my light caught something up there. i don't know what, but something. i need to know what it heard, what message i'd blown across stars, what story i tried to share.

whatever it was i knew then, i've lost. the only mark i've ever made was streaked into the sky that night.

while it stays alive, i'm alive.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

everything that happens will happen today (or, an open letter to jeremy bates)

a few years ago, i agreed to coach my local YMCA's youth flag football team. we were undersized, undermanned, and underskilled. our only hope was to out-think and out-strategize our opponent. (note: i dont mean to suggest that i introduced "trick" or "gimmick" plays. no, i simply mean that our offense would function as a highly creative unit--less houdini, more macgyver.) the playbook i designed made the opposition think we were doing one thing, when were really doing something else. i would have us line up in these esoteric formations (with tons of motion before the snap), only to run a jazz standard for our tight end (five yard button hook). it was short throws, simple sweeps. the key to our strategy was keeping the opposition off balance. and it worked. our efficacy was borne out of nothing more recondite than creativity and deception. in the two years i coached the greenpoint YMCA rebels, we won back-to-back championships. i still have the trophies.

..."so what?" you're asking.

well...last saturday my world ended. the usc trojans, my raison d'etre, wildly succeeded in their mission to lose to the washington huskies--perhaps the aught's most inept college football program. how you ask? by committing what i call the "conservative fallacy" (formerly called "the reason why bill callahan is an idiot"). the conservative fallacy suggests that the way david beats goliath is by (a) doing nothing and (b) praying the giant finds a way to self-immolate. i find such an approach (literally) self-defeating and anti-intellectual. (IQ is decidedly NOT a prerequisite for playing sports--mel hall, jose canseco, anyone?--but erudition is key for managerial success--larussa, dungy, phil jackson, et. al.)

all of which leads me to this: against the huskies, the trojans were forced to rely on a quarterback (aaron corp) who last started a football game when he was a 17-year-old teenager at Orange Lutheran High School. and instead of building a creative and intellectually superior offensive around him, they handed corp the most vanilla, most "callahan-ian," most conservative, most "risk averse" game plan possible. as i watched usc run its offense last weekend, i had the sneaking suspicion that one of the jonas brothers was on the loose and posing as jeremy bates--our offensive coordinator. note: i am a raging atheist, but i love gurus--not the spiritual kind, but the bill walsh kind, the "gurus of the game" kind. and, well, jeremy bates, you are no guru. you doubled down on a "play not to lose" strategy (less is more) where even a simple roll out play (on 3rd and six from the seven yard line) was beyond your ken. your staid playcalling showed a contempt for your players and product. is aaron corp so bad that the word "offensive" is both logical and ironic? yes. but thats why we have coaches: to find a way to do more with less, not less with more. and so as i hope my (admittedly lame) anecdote about coaching a talent-deficient flag football team reveals: when you have an inferior product (aaron corp as starting qb), you dont hunker down and draw in your horns. no, you summon your inner bill walsh and discover how to succeed using your mentality, your creativity, and your ingenuity. more than anything else, usc's 13-16 loss to the huskies was a failure of imagination.
beg to diifer? we were 0-10 on third down conversions.
have a nice day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

(slush) puppy love

what were the things that animated your childhood?

...danielle connor gives us a glimpse.

listen here.

photo credit: markbarkaway

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

when you are engulfed in traffic

we spend a lot of time in our cars. alone. sometimes the landscape blurs by in smeared streaks.
...and at other times, everything stands still.

listen here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

explosions in the sky

to celebrate america's birthday, i headed down to the familiar outskirts of my alma mater in los angeles for a free community concert & fireworks extravaganza.

the event was hosted by, among others, A Better LA--founded by USC football head coach Pete Carroll.

listen here.

photo credit: Lewisha Jones

Monday, June 29, 2009

he's what you call an epiphany

hours after michael jackson's death, fans celebrate the singer at his walk of fame star in hollywood.

listen here.

(for all the people who shared their stories, i am so thankful for your candor, warmth, and touching memories. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU...and as long as we remember the music, the man lives on.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

things that are left

We know that we cant grasp everything about life, so we choose…everyday…what to learn and what to leave behind. What’s fascinating about this, though, is how each person does this differently.
I share the whole story here.

xoxo ari.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

away from him

as a young child, i experienced loss for the first time. i tell the story in a piece called "away from him."

listen here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

i just want to say one thing

in this episode of SONGS I STILL LIKE i explore music from the Rocky oeuvre.

this show is not to be missed.

listen here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

as you were leaving

SONGS I STILL LIKE is a weekly show about music--not the sonic ambrosia of the gods, but the Top 40 cheese of our "gym workout mix."

this week: (mariah carey) SONGS I STILL LIKE.

listen here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

trains go by

...SONGS I STILL LIKE is a show about music--the kind of music most of us would sooner die than admit we secretly like. each episode, i cop affinity for three more songs sure to get me banned from anywhere Cool and Taste are required. in other words, this show should be called, NOTES ON BECOMING A PARIAH.

listen here

Saturday, January 31, 2009

secrets i held inside

...notes on autotune:

artists are now recording whole albums in that "computerized voice" style (lil' wayne, t-pain, kanye west, et al.). in this episode of SONGS I STILL LIKE, i look at some of the early (and winning) expressions of the idiom.

click here to listen.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

we have no past, we won't reach back

here's the third episode of SONGS I STILL LIKE, my weekly tour through the top 40 songs that populate our life.

listen here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

obama’s inauguration

i just finished the last edit on my audio postcard for Obama’s inauguration. i hope you can find time to take a listen.

i put my all into this.

click here to listen.

(for context, the "classical" music heard in this piece is taken from "Air and Simple Gifts" performed live just prior to Obama's swearing-in.)


in a very real way, i feel as though i've been privately "making" this piece since i read a Frederick Douglass Golden Legacy Comic Book in the third grade.

Monday, January 19, 2009

guitar hero

i finally made time to watch the ramones documentary End of Century. here are my notes...

The Ramones had but one gear, but few groups ever produced so much from so little. The sound was raw and repetitive, and their look fell somewhere between the Hells Angels and the Fonz gone goth. The group’s rise from the mid-70s East Village sleaze scene is chronicled in End of The Century, a decidedly unselfconscious bandography that hands over the narrative to the social actors who lived it. It’s Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy who unpack what heretofore was concealed behind the leather and the hair and the overwhelming surge of sound.

In the wrong hands, End of the Century could have been one of those bloated rock docs that toggle between music critics overexplaining the band’s historical legacy and an omniscient narrator who repeatedly shows up to snuff out any threat of ambiguity. Instead, End of the Century operates as a winning template for expository
documentary. The film weaves the band’s iconic songs over gritty photographs, underscores certain quotes by inserting them as written captions, and delivers just enough vintage footage to leave the viewer aroused rather than exhausted. Nothing, however, is more fun than watching the film build out a story through crosscut interviews that find the individual members finishing each other’s sentences.

The Ramones were a messy gang, and their candid reflections on their younger selves reveal an unalloyed portrait of self-destruction, freak genius, and everlasting bravado that has yet to succumb.

--Ari Zeiger

Image credit.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

let me know if it can't be me

here is the latest episode of Songs I Still Like, a weekly show where i discuss the relative import of three radio-friendly pop songs.

click here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

songs i still like

i've been thinking about pop songs lately. the big, super catchy type. the songs we loved as kids or in college, but now secretly get smuggled into a playlist named "gym workout."

i want to pull out those songs, and look at them...and talk about what they mean and why they're important.

so I am producing a weekly podcast called SONGS I STILL LIKE.

each show will unpack three (lightweight) pop songs--i'll play snippets, talk about what works for me, etc...and maybe even make the case for why these songs might not just be pure pop drivel, but actually something substantive and real and human.

here's the maiden episode.

maybe give a listen.