Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

New Terrible Things on the BP Front

Carmen Garcia was working at the Hopedale Command Center in Louisiana, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement visited in May. (Photo: Annie Correal)

Can things get any worse for the gulf coast?

We recently marked the 50th day since the British Petroleum disaster. A tragic birthday. Worse, however, are small, probably underreported things like these items:

  • BP is buying ad space on Google for its own propoganda. Go ahead, try it. Type “oil spill” or “BP disaster” into Google and witness how your favorite corporation is spending millions of dollars in advertising instead of clean-up efforts. How much exactly? ABC News has an estimate:

Scott Slatin, an analyst who runs search engine marketing company Rivington in New York, estimates the company is paying upwards of $10,000 per day to maintain the various search terms.

ICE, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, visited two command centers, one in Venice and the other in Hopedale, twice in May. ICE agents arrived at the staging areas without prior notice, rounded up workers, and asked for documentation of their legal status.

Looking for unbiased information on this disaster? Don’t click on the search engine results that read “Ways BP is Trying to Help.” God forbid, actually trying to help the clean-up effort in person? Remember to bring your ID.

Filed under: environmentalism, government, immigration, , , , , , , ,

NYT Profiles M.I.A., to Her Displeasure

The New York Times published a long profile of rapper/musician/provocateur M.I.A. in today’s Magazine. Last week, Maya vehemently expressed her displeasure with reporter Lynn Hirschberg’s profile, tweeting Hirschberg’s phone number to her thousands of followers.

It’s an interesting piece, criticizing M.I.A.’s Tamil sympathies with her penchant for agitprop. Among other tidbits, Hirschberg discloses M.I.A.’s interview for film school admission (“If you don’t admit me, I’ll become a prostitute.”), her posh five-bedroom home in the affluent L.A. neighborhood of Brentwood, and the reporter’s understanding of hypocrisy within M.I.A.’s persona (as when M.I.A. claimed to want to give birth in water, though in reality birthing in a private hospital room). The profile creates a portrait of M.I.A. as mysterious as Lady Gaga.

How exactly does Maya meld art and fashion, the personal with the political?

“They have a jumpsuit that I like,” Maya said. “But instead of using their fabric, I want them to use a fabric that’s made from a document I found.” She took out her laptop and clicked on an official-looking typed letter that had been censored. Black bars erased certain words. “I’d like to turn this page into fabric,” she said. “I know someone who can do that. And then I want to take that fabric and make it into a jumpsuit. I’d like to turn censorship into fashion.”

I’ve embedded Maya’s video for “Galang,” one of the catchy, underground beats that launched her career in 2003. It’s obvious from the video how talented M.I.A. was, and how her artistry transcends music to include fashion and politics. No matter what the NYT reports, M.I.A. is in a league of her own.

Filed under: music, politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

M.I.A.: Agent Provocateur

Vodpod videos no longer available.

M.I.A. is not one to skirt controversy.

Or politics, for that matter. I’ve blogged in the past about her unwillingness to make bubble-gum pop and her interest in melding the personal with the political. An artist of Tamil Sri Lankan descent–who was once prevented from entering the U.S. because she was wrongly labeled a terrorist–M.I.A. tackles the horrors of martial regimes and genocide in her new art film for “Born Free” (warning: the video is extremely graphic and has been pulled from YouTube and other Internet outlets). Why this unrelenting realism?

I believe her aim in depicting this extreme violence is to upend our complacency with Hollywood gore like The Matrix or Kill Bill. Ordinarily, we as audience members are complicit in the violence. “Born Free” never allows us to comply. And instead of brown people as victims (what we’re used to viewing), it’s shocking to see white, male, red-headed boys and men being hunted and killed.

M.I.A.’s “Born Free” removes the entertainment from this violence, leaving only our discomfort with violence as violence.

Last night, I watched a PBS documentary on the My Lai massacre; it provoked the same feelings of shock and disgust as this video. One documented reality; the other fictionalized it. M.I.A.’s great accomplishment is in refusing to let viewers hum idly to her music, oblivious to the daily terrors in Iraq, Sudan, and elsewhere.

Though she’s received lots of criticism for this video, I agree with M.I.A.’s convictions. Art can not be merely for consumption; it should challenge us, it should unsettle us, it should force us out of the complacency of our everyday lives.

Filed under: art, government, military, music, , , , , ,

Maddow to Scott Brown: Stop Lying. Stop It. Stop Lying.

By now, we’ve all read the full-page ad by Rachel Maddow in The Boston Globe this past week. We know that Senator Scott Brown created the rumor that Maddow was planning to run against him. We know that Brown has stirred the pot, repeating the fictional story to conservative talk shows, campaign stops, newspapers like The Boston Herald, and his most important audience: potential donors.

He’s lying. He continues to lie.

“You dragged me into this,” Maddow reports. “You made up something that’s not true. You have such a lack of respect for your conservative donor base around the country that you don’t care if what you say is true or not.”

It’s troubling to witness this news story (can it even be called news? perhaps just a rumor turned into publicity–and sensationalist publicity at that?). Even more troubling is the perpetuation by Senator Brown and his staff of the rumor, after Maddow has told the truth over and over (and over) again.

For seven minutes, Maddow adeptly calls out Brown’s falsehood:

  • “You shouldn’t get to flat out lie in the conduct of your business as U.S. Senator and get away with it.”
  • “Politics is more than just about politicians. Politics is about our country.”
  • “I don’t concede that the only thing we can expect from politics is for them to lie to us, and for us to not care, because we don’t expect anything better.”

What’s admirable in Maddow’s report is her rhetorical skills. Her words may fall on the deaf ears of the Brown campaign, but the acute journalist repeats the words “lie,” “lying,” “liar,” dozens of time in this clip to hit home her critique of the senator. Calls to mind the great speeches of MLK and President Obama, persuasive orators who utilize carefully-chosen rhetoric to convey meaning.

Filed under: media, politics, , , , , , ,

Why was that cab ride so damn expensive?

Ever feel like that was a really, really expensive cab ride you just took?

The NYT reports on a troubling trend in cab rides in New York City. On average, passengers were charged an extra $4 to $5 for trips around the city. I, for one, remember when you could get across town for five bucks flat. So the report from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission justified my concerns.

This was not a grand scheme affecting the entire system, however (the Times‘ headline chooses “gouged,” which has a more pejorative connotation than a factual one). The overcharges were tallied on about 2 million (out of 360 million) trips in the period studied. Taken as a whole, the charges affected less than 1% of all cab rides. Still, the 8.3 million overcharged to New Yorkers and visitors is nothing to scoff at.

Filed under: transportation, , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
February 2017
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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