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Positive Force: More Than A Witness reviewed on Scanner Zine

Scanner Zine
November 10th, 2015

POSITIVE FORCE: MORE THAN A WITNESS {PM Press} Subtitled ‘30 Years of Punk Politics in Action, this 69 minute documentary recounts the story of Washington DC’s branch of the Positive Force collective. Directed by Robin Bell, it expertly mixes vintage footage amidst the story of the activist collective (which exists to aid, from a DIY Punk perspective, issues such as sexism, homophobia, homelessness, globalization and more), this is both an informative and inspiring documentary.

Opening with footage from an infamous homeless march to City Hall, DC in 1993, the documentary constantly fuses sharp, flashing graphics of flyers and pictures into the narrative. It’s a stunning way to start matters and soon we see Penny Rimbaud of CRASS being interviewed. The spectre of CRASS, in terms of politics and ethics, is certainly evident in the early days of the collective. The very ideal of Punk and what Positive Force aims to be is encapsulated in a couple of quotes recounted by one of the Collective’s most vocal founders, Mark Anderson. These are Karl Marx’s "Revolution has to begin in the ruthless criticism of everything existing," and Mikhail Bakunin’s "The destructive urge is also a creative urge."

From there, the film looks at the Revolution Summer movement, the Positive Force House, FBI harassment and the importance of FUGAZI to the continued progression of the collective. What is also apparent is the importance of Anderson throughout the collective’s early stages. It’s stated there were debates about the two polarising polemics of those in the collective - the organise side and the ‘fuck-shit-up’ train of thought. It seems both existed in relative harmony, but Anderson managed to galvanise those ideals into one movement.

Riot Grrrl is discussed in depth and when Punk hit the mainstream the ethical contradictions between corporate Punk and the DIY ethos becomes prevalent. Matters reached a crux in 2005 when some of the founding Anarcho-influenced Punks left and moved to a bookshop, while those remaining with the collective allied itself with ‘We Are Family’ - a group of primarily senior citizens working toward ensuing DC’s elderly are cared for.

Bell’s direction has crammed a lot into the film and his mix of live performances (from the likes of FUGAZI, 7 SECONDS, RITES OF SPRING, SCREAM, SOULSIDE, BIKINI KILL, ANTI-FLAG) and interviews with the Collective and more notable names (Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Danbert Nobacon, Ted Leo, Jeff Nelson) works incredibly well. Its narrative is concise and focused yet allows for a range of views from those directly involved, and often those views are contradictory from a personal perspective.

Besides the main film, there is a bounty of extras too. First up is another PF documentary but from 1991. It acts more like a prequel to the main film and lacks its continuity but it does accentuate the residents of the PF house at the time and includes an electrifying, intense FUGAZI performance. Then there is a documentary about the We Are Family group, followed by an outtake from the main film that discusses the debatable importance of Punk Voter that includes some footage of a riot that resulted from an ANTI FLAG gig. The final extra is some live performances from the likes of CHUMBAWAMBA, 7 SECONDS, FUGAZI, BEEFEATER and more.

The main documentary alone should inspire anyone who believes in the positivity of Punk and its power of personal and political change. For those who do not believe in that positivity - watch and be educated. Add on all those extras and you have a DVD that can be viewed many times with each viewing spawning new detail and successive inspiration.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page

Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology review - a diverse celebration

By Keith Brooke
The Guardian (UK)
October 9th, 2015

Editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have brought together a fine anthology featuring emerging authors such as Nnedi Okorafor and established voices including Angela Carter and Octavia Butler

As a selection of fiction with an explicit political slant, Sisters of the Revolution runs the risk of being straitjacketed by its agenda. Fortunately, the editors have searched far and wide for source material, turning a collection that might have been worthy but dull into a diverse celebration of speculative fiction. The stories here were written between the 1970s and the present day, with emerging authors such as Nnedi Okorafor side by side with established voices including Angela Carter and Octavia Butler. Highlights include Kelley Eskridge’s tale of an actor equally at home playing John the Baptist or Salome, a story of gender fluidity heavy with desire; James Tiptree Jr’s “The Screwfly Solution”, a chilling account of society falling apart as men’s sexual and violent impulses combine; and Carter’s masterful examination of the Lizzie Borden case, a vivid depiction of life in the 19th century, when three women could be owned by one man through marriage, birth or contract. This is a fine anthology, regardless of genre or politics.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Ann VanderMeer's homepage | Back to Jeff VanderMeer's homepage

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s a Punk History Reading List

By Susie Rodarme
August 11th, 2015

Even though it predates my existence by a few years, I’ve always been drawn to punk. (Are you surprised? Maybe, if you saw my country music reading list.) I’m clearly not the only one; punk has become pervasive in our culture but somehow manages to retain its edge in a day and age when you can see mostly-naked-people and zombies on TV. You can still read about Iggy Pop’s early performances and say, “Whoa, that guy was hardcore.”

I’ve been reading a lot about punk history in the past few years, since I missed experiencing it live (bummer). Here are some rocking good punk history reads:


Punk History

One of the things about punk is that, if you ask different people what “punk” is, they’re going to come up with totally different answers. There’s NYC punk, LA punk, London punk, Bay Area punk. There’s proto-punk and post-punk and a lot of genrepunks. Thus, there’s no real definitive history of punk tome that one can point to, but a lot of good ones that encompass different movements.

Please Kill Me: An Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain is a personal favorite of mine; it intertwines music with concurrent art and poetry, which were hard to separate in the beginning of the punk movement. It covers mainly the New York/Detroit scene, but dips into LA/London as well. Both Please Kill Me and Punk Rock: An Oral History by John Robb weave anecdotes from real punk rockers to tell a story that emerges out of the deep roots of punk rock.

Another history, From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock by Clinton Heylin, has a more scholarly (and some say, snobby . . . YMMV) tone but is jam-packed with information about bands and delves more deeply into the Detroit and Cleveland punk scenes.


For local flavor, We Got the Neutron Bomb : The Untold Story of L.A. Punk by Marc Spitz and Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor both focus on west coast punk. England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage is considered one of the best tomes out there on the London punk scene.


Punk memoirs

The great thing about the literacy overlap of the punk movement is that we have great writers who also made great music. Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids was a critical success when it dropped in 2010; her ex-boyfriend Jim Carroll’s second memoir Forced Entries is less famous than its predecessor, The Basketball Diaries, but is probably my favorite punk era memoir. (Then again, I’ve had a Jim Carroll obsession since middle school and I may be biased.) D.H. Peligro wrote about his experiences in The Dead Kennedys in Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk (bonus: he also played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Richard Hell mused on the nature of rock and roll in I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon wrote about being a Girl in a Band and Viv Albertine’s raw look at male-dominated punk in Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. lays the foundation of the Riot Grrl movement to come.

Media, Interviews, and Ephemera

Punk ephemera

The era of punk was also the era of DIY culture (no, not the stuff you see on HGTV–not that I don’t love me some HGTV), and that meant DIY media and zines. The Best of Punk Magazine highlights some of the great interviews, photos, and art put out by the publication that helped popularize the term “punk.” MOJO Magazine put out their own collection, Punk: The Whole Story, and Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson collected 22 issues of their zine in Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-’83. If you’re into post-punk (Joy Division, Talking Heads, The Specials), Simon Reynolds’ compilation of interviews in Totally Wired will be well-thumbed in a hurry.

If you’re into pictures (and who isn’t?), Punk Press: Rebel Rock in the Underground Press 1968-1980 and CBGB & OMFUG: Thirty Years from the Home of Underground Rock will provide hours of pleasure. (CBGB was Hilly Kristal’s attempt at a country and western music venue that accidentally birthed punk rock instead. Whoops!) Once you get through those, Jon Savage’s collections Punk 45: Original Punk Rock Singles Cover Art and Punk: An Aesthetic will help fill the punk void.

If you’re not completely punked out at this point, A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, 1974-1982 by Nicholas Rombes is an “obsessive[ly], exhaustively researched” yet subjective and personal dictionary of punk that people hail as being absolutely brilliant.

These are my go-to titles for people who want to immerse themselves in punk or venture into the punk realm for the first time, but they’re by no means exhaustive. If you have favorite punk titles, let me know in the comments!

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Stealing All Transmissions: A Review

By Dave Jennings
Louder Than War
February 19th, 2015

Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash is a brilliant account of the rise of The Clash and their impact on America, with a foreword from Barry ‘The Baker’ Auguste. Louder Than War’s Dave Jennings reviews.

Randal Doane has produced a superb account from an American viewpoint of the development of one of the iconic punk bands and placed their career and legacy firmly in context, not just of their time, but in the wider picture of the history of Rock.

First up is a brilliant foreword from Clash roadie and confidante, Barry ‘The Baker’ Auguste. The Baker weaves an intriguing narrative of life with the band, from their early London roots to US sports stadiums. The reality of touring at the time is brought starkly into focus, none more so than when he describes the daily chore of scraping the previous night’s gob off amps and drums. ‘The Baker’ is ideally placed to recount the massive highs of Clash live shows and the mundane life between the shows. However, maybe his most perceptive comments emphasise the importance of this book in not just  chronicling the meteoric rise of The Clash in America, but also the importance of those who paved the way for this to happen.

Throughout this riveting narrative, we learn not just about the rise of The Clash from the cradle of UK Punk, but also the development and relevance of the phenomenon of ‘free-form radio’. This is essentially the rise of FM radio in 1960’s America which developed as a reaction to the DJ’s on AM radio who were simply pulling playlists from a small pool of well-known hit songs. DJ’s like Meg Griffin and Jane Hamburger emerge as unsung heroes for their determination to push an alternative to the celebrity-obsessed mainstream agenda. New York regional radio started increasingly playing the likes of Television, Talking Heads, Ramones and The Clash which was integral to paving the way for the success of The Clash in America. In fact, when free-form radio began to struggle New York’s WNEW effectively contrasted their playlist of over ten thousand records with that of WPLJ, their main rival, which consisted of a playlist of around thirty LP’s.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, the rise of The Clash is examined in the wider context. Doane identifies The Ramones as the single most important band that changed Punk Rock as after their debut album came out, all English bands tripled their speed overnight. The Clash were at  the forefront of the UK punk explosion, influenced by Bernie Rhodes mantra that they should not write love songs, but what was affecting them. Joe Strummer, who said that he realised his former band, The 101’ers, were dead the first time he saw The Sex Pistols, was the lyrical powerhouse assisted by what he called “the genius arrangements” of Mick Jones. The author states that the songs on the first Clash album are exactly what Punk should be, full on tracks that end at full volume and don’t fade out.

As big an impact as the band were having in the UK, their supporters across the pond were vigorously championing the band. Robert Christagu, Music Editor for New York magazine The Village Voice, called the debut Clash album “notoriously under-produced” and it was only released in the UK as CBS deemed the sound quality too low for US radio. Christagu, however, advised his readers to snap up import copies of this classic while they could which exemplifies the growing interest in the band in America.

While a certain view in the UK was that “Punk died the day The Clash Signed for CBS”, the band saw the move as a way to reach wider audiences in America. Maybe the widening gap between how the band were viewed in America, compared to their home country is best illustrated by reaction to Give ‘em Enough Rope. Described in the US as having “more guitars per square inch than anything in the history of Western civilisation”, the record was slammed in the UK with NME describing them as “a dying myth” and Melody Maker stating ”so do they squander their greatness”.  Lester Bangs writing in New York’s Village Voice however, described them as “the greatest Rock and Roll band left standing”. We are left to question whether America actually “got” The Clash more than their home country did after the initial surge of punk subsided.

There is a compelling description of The Clash’s two night stint at the New York Palladium in 1979 which vividly describes the opening of the show and reminds us what this book is essentially about, the music. An intro tape of Frank Sinatra’s High Hopes gave way to Simonon’s driving bass and Jones’s feedback drenched guitar as an opening salvo of Safe European Homes, I’m So Bored With the USA and Complete Control rang round the venue. Critics enthused about the tightness and overall quality of the live performance alongside the band’s attempts to involve the audience. However, it may have been the reluctance of the audience to engage that led to the iconic shot of Simonon’s bass smashing that adorns the cover of London Calling and this book.

By 1980, The Clash were embarking on a three week residency on Times Square and, in the words of Don Letts “practically ran New York for the time they were there. They graduated to playing stadiums and claimed America as their own, also paving the way for the likes of The Police, U2 and other ‘New Wave’ acts who would go on to play to large US audiences. The effect The Clash had on American music fans was undoubtedly massive, a fact underlined to me when talking to Patterson Hood of The Drive By Truckers and he explained how big an impact they had had on him and his approach to song-writing,

However, maybe the most poignant aspect of this absorbing account is the posing of the question, have we lost the likes of The Clash for ever? Could a band follow a similar career path with a similar philosophy today? The world and how we access music has undoubtedly changed beyond recognition from the time of The Clash, but we can still hope to see a band hurtling through full-on performances, singing songs that matter so much to them and their audience, can’t we? Maybe then the reality of who The Clash were, and the scope of what they achieved, which is captured brilliantly by Randal Doane in these pages, will be brought home vividly to a new generation.


You can purchase Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash here. Randall can also be found on Twitter as @stealingclash.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page

One Chord Wonders on Louder than War

By Adrian Bloxham
Louder than War

October 2nd, 2015

One Chord Wonders was first published in 1985, in a new preface Dave Laing states that he has had many requests for copies from both scholars and fans who could not find the out of print edition. It is essentially unchanged from the former publication. Dave also says that he would be thrilled if hos book finds a place alongside other excellent chronicles of punk. Louder Than War’s Adrian Bloxham has been reading it, read what he thinks below.

One Chord Wonders was originally published nine years after the initial explosion of the cultural movement that we know and love as Punk. This means that it isn’t looking back to far to understand those heady days, we aren’t looking at a view from thirty years on crusted over and half forgotten, we a looking at a viewpoint from a decent amount of time to give a fair perspective on the times.
It has an introduction by TV Smith who states that ‘There are many books that describe what happened during the Punk era. A few even dare to ask questions about it. Here at last is one that provides some answers.’

It’s a dry read, very factual and informative. This puts it in a class of its own really. I’ve read lots of books about music and Punk in general but most of those are emotionally charged and visceral. This is a reasoned and well researched history of those times, it explains where the movement came from and how it fitted into the social patterns of the times.

There’s a very informative section on how the music industry worked at the time and how Punk moved away from that and the independent sector was created. It talks about where the names for the bands came from, their image and the wider influences of Punk. One section that intrigued me was when the author compared the subjects tackled in the songs on the first few punk records with the subjects sung about in the top 40 of the time.

It makes you think about where it all came from and what it meant at the time and that I feel is the reason for the book. Well worth reading if you are interested and intrigued by those days of anarchic one chord wonders.


You can buy a copy of the book from the PM Press website.

All words by Adrian Bloxham. More writing by Adrian can be found at his author’s archive.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dave Laing's Author Page

New book ‘Jewish Noir’ serves up tales of crime and other dark deeds

By lyn davidson
October 8th, 2015

Jews and the noir genre have a lot in common, says Kenneth Wishnia, editor of the new book “Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds.”

The dark themes of the noir genre — alienation, outsider status, fighting against an unjust or hostile society — resonate throughout Jewish history, says the Long Island-based editor. “We have this history of angry prophets telling the leaders, ‘You’re not doing your job,’ ” Wishnia says.

Look at Moses, the quintessential Jewish leader who did God’s bidding all his life and then was barred from entering Canaan for what might be considered a minor offense — striking a rock instead of just speaking to it.

“He sees the Promised Land and God says, ‘By the way, you’re not going.’ … Talk about noir,” says Wishnia. “In Judaism,” as in noir, “you can follow the right path and still get screwed.”

“Jewish Noir,” published this month by PM Press, is an anthology of 32 stories on Jewish themes including ethnic identity and the challenges of assimilation, the Jewish presence in the civil rights movement, and echoes of pogroms and the Holocaust. The characters are tough Jewish cops and gangsters, stereotypically predatory Jewish businessmen, the corrupt, the obsessed, the downtrodden, the tarnished heroines and the anti-heroes.

“Many Jews were drawn to film noir because of the theme of being hunted to death,” says Wishnia, a novelist and writing instructor at a New York community college.

Many of the stories were solicited by Wishnia specifically for this anthology. Others are reprints of sparkling noir tales from the past, including a Yiddish-influenced story from World War I New York and a tale by famed sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison. Four of the writers are based in Northern California.

By the 20th century, Wishnia says, both Jews and the noir genre had developed an identity centered in “not being at home anywhere in the world, feeling persecuted irrationally, having this sense of not being sane and settled, but that any day they could turn on you, like in [the 1903 pogroms of] Kishinev.”

Or, as a Yiddish proverb says, “A Jew’s joy is not without fright.”

Berkeley resident and contributor Summer Brenner knows about persecution, and her fury propels her writing. “I knew the world was divided into black and white,” she says of her childhood in the well-to-do Buckhead district of Atlanta. Her family attended the city’s famed Temple (Hebrew Benevolent Congregation), which was bombed in 1958 by white supremacists. “I grew up really aware at a young age of the apartheid world I grew up in,” she says.

Kenneth Wishnia and companion at work  photo/leah wishnia
Kenneth Wishnia and companion at work photo/leah wishnia

“I want to cut open the belly of the beast and cut out the organs and throw them in your face,” Brenner says in the elegant, soft-spoken tones of her Southern upbringing. Writing is “almost like a surgical procedure.”

Brenner’s just-completed novel, “Devil for a Witch,” is the basis for her story of the same name in this collection. Set in the 1960s civil rights era, it concerns a corrupt Atlanta Jewish business owner who fakes his suicide in an FBI pact and assumes a new identity as a bigot to infiltrate a violent hate group. The “devil for a witch,” says Brenner, is “when circumstances present themselves where you can make a change.”

Wishnia picked Brenner to lead off “Jewish Noir” for a reason. “She’s really able to create guys you want to strangle.”

Now a grandmother, Brenner channels her passion for social justice into young adult novels about the African American and Latino communities of Richmond and Oakland. Those books are on Common Core reading lists in local schools. Her 2009 novel “I-5,” for adults, came from her reading of heartrending news stories about sex trafficking.

“A good crime book is a great social critique,” says Brenner. Noir adds “an element of discomfort. It can hit you in the head, it can sock you in the mouth, it can kick your ass down the street. There’s something about noir that has some kind of assault.”

Berkeley writer Michael Cooper, whose work also appears in the new anthology, sees noir as paradox — hope hidden in darkness.

“Jewish noir obviously speaks very loudly and clearly to us as a people, given our trauma,” he says. Noir is “what we’re experiencing looking at the world.”

Cooper’s story, “Good Morning, Jerusalem 1948,” posits 20-something Palmach commander Yitzhak Rabin as a noir hero trying to keep a book of archaeological diagrams from falling into the hands of a postwar Nazi conspiracy. The story reworks part of Cooper’s recent novel “Foxes in the Vineyard.”

In many ways, says Cooper, Rabin was a noir hero. The former Israeli prime minister, assassinated by a right-wing Israeli Jew at a peace rally in 1995, “appeared in the ’90s to really be coming back into his own, not just in war, but also in peace … His ultimate end was poetically sad.”

A Berkeley native, Cooper — born in 1948, the same year as Israel — grew up Zionist and moved to Israel in 1966, attending Hebrew University and earning his medical degree at Tel Aviv University. He returned to Berkeley in 1977 and worked as a pediatric cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente and UCSF for decades, and still works part-time with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Cooper volunteers for medical missions in Israel and the West Bank, where he does diagnostic triage for Palestinian children.

Rabin’s assassination, and the peace process leading up to it, propelled Cooper’s writing and his worldview. “There hasn’t arisen a figure with the bravery and the credentials that Rabin possessed to bring us back to that tactic in an ultimately successful way,” he says. Out of that sense of despair, Cooper says, “the writing came almost naturally.”

Wishnia’s own story in “Jewish Noir” is based on the experience of his politically progressive parents when they were  part of the Jewish minority at Ivy League colleges in 1948. His father, victimized by hazing for refusing to wear his college’s freshman beanie, still finds it hard to discuss the incident, which is fictionalized in Wishnia’s story.

Wishnia, 55, sees two branches of noir. “Classic noir is often very much just the ‘Double Indemnity’ sort of thing … A couple get on this subway car going straight to hell and ignore all the screaming red signs saying, ‘Turn back!’ They keep on going straight to the end.”

The other kind of noir involves “the ordinary guy who just by some complete accident of fate ends up in trouble. Destroyed by, perhaps, a femme fatale or the system.” In the 1950s, Wishnia says, that scenario was “a metaphor for McCarthyism,” the anti-communist witch hunt that targeted a fair number of Jewish Americans.

“It’s no coincidence that a lot of the blacklisted filmmakers and directors were making film noir,” says Eddie Muller, a San Francisco native behind the city’s Noir City Film Festival and founder of the Film Noir Foundation.

“When these films were originally made, they caused a big uproar because they were saying things about society that were previously off limits,” says Muller, who contributed the short story “Doc’s Oscar” to the new anthology. “They were saying there was corruption at the core of the culture.” 

The model for his story’s hero is Frank King, one of three larger-than-life brothers, movie producers all, whom Muller wrote about in his nonfiction book “Gun Crazy.” Even as much of Hollywood shied away from hiring blacklisted artists and writers, King gave work to screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (nicknamed “Doc”) after Trumbo refused to “name names” in a McCarthy-era hearing. 

Noir, Muller says, involves “the keeping of secrets, the stepping over the line into the dark … The most un-noir thing a person can do in a story is call the police.”

Like several of the writers in the anthology, Muller isn’t Jewish; his two Irish grandmothers made sure the kids were raised Catholic. Muller’s “sliver” of Jewishness comes from his maternal grandfather. His father was a legendary sports writer at the San Francisco Examiner who changed his name from Vojkovich when he was told no one would run stories under such a byline — an immigrant experience shared by many Jews.

To Muller, film noir “looked like my dad’s home movies.” Growing up, Muller was fascinated by his father’s cronies, “guys from another time. I don’t want to say they were gangsters, but tough guys in a tough racket.”

Only 23 when his father died, Muller says that as a young writer he felt “I [had] to keep the past alive for people.” His novels “The Distance” and “The Shadow Boxer” put boxing center-ring. 

The immigrant experience features largely in “The Legacy,” a short story by historian and Edgar Allen Poe Award-winning author Wendy Hornsby, who relocated to the Sierra foothills two years ago after teaching at Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach.

Hornsby’s tale features a young Jewish American woman fighting her way out of the Soviet Union in 1952 with a secret cache of czarist treasure.

“Think of the great events of the 20th century,” Hornsby says. “Huge upheavals, horrible disruption of two world wars and the profound Depression, this diaspora of people in the late 1800s and continuing into the 20th century.”

Hornsby found the germ of her story in her own garden. “People are still around here panning for gold, and some are finding gold. We moved into a house where a family with children used to live, and they left things behind: plastic beads and Hot Wheels cars, toy soldiers with one arm. I was thinking about treasure hunting — when you have something of great value, where do you put that when no institutions are secure?”

The author, who grew up Methodist in the San Gabriel Valley, says that in noir, “there is an assumption that there is an outsider class and that the officials, the insiders, are corrupt, not to be depended upon. So the way that one finds a way in the world, justice in the world, protects themselves and their family, is by finding a way around that corrupt officialdom.”

To Hornsby, 68, “Noir is a dark time. I saw a photo not long ago of the refugees from Europe into North Africa, into Israel, just after World War II. … The parallels [to our own time] are stark — the resistance, the fighting, the xenophobia.

 “I like the tone of the noir genre,” she says, “the structure, the assumption that you don’t know anything about anybody, and you can’t really trust anybody.”

Bay Area book talks

Writers featured in “Jewish Noir” will hold readings at several Bay Area venues this month.

  • Summer Brenner, Melanie Dante and Stephen Jay Schwartz will read from “Jewish Noir” and discuss crime and Jewish fiction from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.
  • Kenneth Wishnia, local writers Michael Cooper, Eddie Muller, Brenner and L.A.-based Schwartz will read from their stories at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
  • Wishnia, Brenner, Cooper, Muller, Wendy Hornsby and others will appear at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Green Apple Books, 506 Clement St., S.F.
  • Wishnia will discuss “Jewish Noir” at 7 p.m. Oct. 31 at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, and a talk and book signing will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 1 at Congregation B’nai Shalom, 74 Eckley Lane, Walnut Creek.

For additional readings:

Buy Jewish Noir | Buy the e-Book of Jewish Noir | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page

New Book 'Jewish Noir' Serves Up a Unique Collection of Crime Stories

New York, NY -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/15/2015 -- Jewish Noir edited by Kenneth Wishnia (PM Press, October 2015, Trade Paperback Original, 448 pages, $17.95, 978-1-62693-111-0) is an anthology of new stories by some of today's best-known crime writers examining the re-emergence of noir in our culture. This unique collection has stories by Jewish literary and genre writers including award-winning authors such as Marge Piercy, Harlan Ellison, S.J. Rozan, Nancy Richler, Moe Prager (Reed Farrel Coleman), Wendy Hornsby, Charles Ardai and Kenneth Wishnia. There are also a few stories by non-Jewish writers, illustrating that perhaps you don't need to be Jewish to write Jewish Noir!

The collection also features two vintage reprints, A Simkhe (A Celebration), a story first published in Yiddish in the Forverts in 1912 by one of the great-unsung writers of that era, Yente Serdatsky, who has recently been rediscovered. This will be the story's first appearance in English. The second story, Final Shtick, was originally published in 1960 and is by the great short story writer Harlan Ellison, who has provided his current comments.

Why Jewish Noir? Because nobody's done it yet! We live in an age which parallels many of the conditions that gave rise to the first generation of noir writers--economic insecurity, corruption at all levels of government, disillusionment with the American dream, while those responsible for it all make their millions and get away with murder. The stories in this collection explore the question of how Jewish identity produces a particular tendency toward the cynical voice of noir. They range from noirish literary to pulpier crime stories and examine a myriad of issues including:

- The Holocaust and its long-term effects on subsequent generations,

- The contradictions of ethnic identity and assimilation into American society,

- Child sexual abuse in an insular ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn,

- The disaffection and alienation from modern religious Judaism that may result from traditional sexual attitudes and gender roles,

- The violent struggle to found the State of Israel,

- Jewish support of the Civil Rights movement,

- Greedy Jewish businessmen who reinforce a negative ethnic stereotype,

- The appeal of "tough" Jewish cops and gangsters,

- How real estate fortunes are made, and the consequences of political corruption on the working poor,

- How obsession can lead "good" people to do "bad" things.

Kenneth Wishnia's novels include 23 Shades of Black, which was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel and an Anthony Award for Best Paperback. His most recent book, The Fifth Servant, was an Indie Notable selection, a Best Jewish Book of the Year according to the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Jewish Press.

About Kenneth Wishnia
Kenneth Wishnia's novels include 23 Shades of Black, which was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel and an Anthony for Best Paperback Original; Soft Money, a Library Journal Best Mystery of the Year; and Red House, a Washington Post Book World "Rave" Book of the Year. His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Queens Noir, Long Island Noir, Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. His latest novel, The Fifth Servant, was an Indie Notable selection, a Best Jewish Book of the Year according to the Association of Jewish Libraries, won a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO (the Italian chapter of the Women's International Zionist Organization), and was a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award, a category of the Macavity Awards. He teaches writing, literature, and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College on Long Island.

Scheduled events for Kenneth Wishnia:
Tuesday, Oct. 20: Temple Isaiah, 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook, 7:30 PM

Sunday, Nov. 8: Am Hasefer Book Club, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun
125 East 85th Street, bet. Park & Lexington Ave. Bring books.

Tuesday, November 10: Barnes & Noble, 7PM
Broadway at West 84th Street.

Sunday, November 15: KGB Sunday Reading Series
85 East 4th St, bet. Bowery & 2nd Ave., NYC
Arrival 6:30-6:45pm Event: 7:00pm - 9:00pm Bring books.

Tuesday, November 17: Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook, 7 PM

Bouchercon Oct. 8-11: Panel: "Jewish Noir," Friday 10/9, 10 AM

BOOK SOUP in LA on Thursday, October 22nd, 7pm.

Brentwood Public Library on Saturday, October 24th at 2pm

The Book Frog on Saturday, October 24th at 5pm

BOOK CARNIVAL in Orange County on Sunday October 25th at 10:30am

Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego for Sunday, Oct 25th, 2pm or 3pm

Thursday, October 15th - Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, 7 PM

Wednesday, October 28th - Books Inc in Berkeley, 7 PM

Thursday, October 29t: Janet Rudolph Salon in Berkeley, 7 PM

Friday, October 30: Green Apple Books in San Francisco, 7 PM

Saturday, October 31: Book Passage in Corte Madera, 1 PM

Sunday, November 1: 3 – 4:30 PM plus book signing
Venue: Congregation B'nai Shalom, 74 Eckley Lane, Walnut Creek

Wednesday, Dec. 9: City Lights Bookstore, SF, 7 PM

Thursday, November 5: Brookline Booksmith in Boston, MA, 7 PM

Thurs. Nov. 12 at Houston JCC, 7 PM

Wednesday, February 24, 2016: Poisoned Pen Books, 6 PM

Feb. 25-28, 2016: Left Coast Crime. Panel TBA

Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc.
255 West 108th Street, Suite 9D1
New York, New York 10025
Office landline: 917-493-3601

For more information on this press release visit:

Buy Jewish Noir | Buy the e-Book of Jewish Noir | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page

Reverberations of Underground Activism: Clandestine Occupations reviewed on Truthout

(Photo: Glen DeWitt)The underground is an elaborate metaphor for the many subterranean ways of living, thinking and feeling that percolate our movements. (Photo: Glen DeWitt)

By Dan Berger
October 14th, 2015

Clandestine Occupations: An Imaginary History, Diana Block, PM Press, 2015

Changing the world is hard. Activism contains so many unknowns, and so many difficult decisions with impacts we might guess but can only know in retrospect. The combination of urgency and despair, strategy and principle, has fueled many efforts at radical transformation. Ultimately, we give it our best shot and hope that it makes a difference. One of the hardest things, then, is learning to live with loss. How do we keep fighting after something - an approach, an organization - we poured our hearts into has fallen apart? How do we act reflexively and across political generations or perspectives?

These are difficult questions. But in the absence of the dramatic social change we pursue, grappling with such problems trumps giving in to apathy or rejecting the need for change. It is, in fact, an opportunity to live a political life committed enough to grapple with these issues. Radicals of all stripes ought to confront and reflect upon these issues. But they continue to circulate around those who have gone underground.

The underground is an elaborate metaphor for the many subterranean ways of living, thinking and feeling that percolate our movements.

Of all such strategies, perhaps no decision is as fraught - as controversial and yet, as I have explored elsewhere, misunderstood - as the one to go underground. It has been taken up in novels, memoirs, history books, plays, documentaries and Hollywood cinema. Part of the fascination may lie in the fact that an underground is hard to imagine in these days of permanent surveillance and social media overexposure. Yet the best of these cultural texts show that the underground is an elaborate metaphor for the many subterranean ways of living, thinking and feeling that percolate our movements.

Certainly that is how writer and activist Diana Block conceptualizes the underground in her new novel. Clandestine Occupations is a nuanced and intimate portrayal of radical activism's far-reaching consequences. The book takes place across four decades and six narrators, each one relating to a revolutionary named Luba Gold. Each chapter is told through a different narrator. We meet Luba in 1986 through the eyes of Belinda, her coworker. We follow her through Joan, a friend who ultimately betrays her to the FBI; Sage, a former friend distanced by the intensity of their radical group; Maggie, who meets Luba in 2007 when they both support the parole attempt of someone in prison; and Anise, the daughter of Sage and a budding young activist. Luba herself has the last word as she narrates the last chapter, set in 2020 when a new underground is on the rise.

Clandestine Occupations is in some ways a sequel to Block's beautiful 2009 memoir, Arm the Spirit. More accurately, it is a retelling. Both books find the protagonist plotting to free a Puerto Rican political prisoner, fleeing an FBI sting in Los Angeles with an infant in tow, living underground for 10 years in Pittsburgh and returning to public activism in San Francisco. After returning from living underground Gold, like Block, cofounds an organization focused on supporting and freeing women in prison (Unshackled Women in the book, California Coalition for Women Prisoners in real life).

Other characters mirror real people as well. Cassandra, a political prisoner caught up in the sting Luba narrowly escaped and who was unexpectedly placed in isolation after the 9/11 attacks, bears many resemblances to Marilyn Buck, a white ally to the Black Liberation Army who spent more than 25 years in prison - including being held incommunicado after 9/11 - and who died three weeks after being granted compassionate release. (The same fate befalls Cassandra, too.)

Another political prisoner central to the book's story arc is Rahim, a former Black Panther who is reconnected with many of his California comrades when he is sent across the country to stand trial on a specious 30-year-old case. He resembles Jalil Muntaqim, also a former Black Panther who has served more than 40 years in prison and was one of eight Black Panthers charged in 2007 with the 1971 death of a San Francisco police officer. One suspects that other characters in the book are also drawn from people in Block's experience. The book's subtitle rings true when it proclaims itself "an imaginary history." A series of real-life events, from the 1970 Venceremos Brigade trips to Cuba to today's Black Lives Matter movement, propel the book's story arc.

Block casts parenthood and revolutionary commitment in a global context rare for many American discussions of child-raising.

While both books share the same scaffolding, they are different texts. Arm the Spirit traced Block's evolution as an activist into anti-imperialist feminism, her work against state repression and sexual violence, her decision to go underground in support of the Puerto Rican independence movement while parenting a newborn and her rebuilding of a public activist life upon returning from the underground. It is a tender and vivid book, simultaneously chronicling a previously unexplored aspect of recent left-wing history and voicing the complexity of finding oneself doing two very difficult things at the same time, living underground and raising a child (ultimately, two children). In Arm the Spirit, Block renders her decision to be a parent alongside her decision to go underground in a compelling, humane fashion. She noted that revolutionaries around the world become parents in difficult circumstances, including more difficult ones than hers. She casts both parenthood and revolutionary commitment in a global context rare for many American discussions of child-raising.

Clandestine Occupations incorporates parenthood into clandestinity - Luba also decides to have a child around the time of going underground. But the book's greatest success is in its powerful rendering of the commitments and fragilities of this interconnected group of radicals and associates. In fact, many of the most sensitive portraits are of people leaving the radical left, at least in terms of everyday activism: Joan betrays the underground at the suggestion of her creepy boyfriend, who later turns out to be an FBI informant. Sage chooses her personal relationships over her political activism, especially after the rigidity of the "Uprising" organization (modeled loosely after the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, of which Block was a member in the late 1970s) leaves her few options.

The book beautifully, painfully illustrates the dangers of dogma and ego. It also shows the severity of clandestine politics. Whereas Arm the Spirit chronicled Block's journey underground, Clandestine Occupations takes up subterranean politics from the perspectives of those left behind. It is a powerful way to tell the story of the underground, depicting the pain of not being able to account for one's comrades and loved ones. It puts the emphasis on social relationships rather than spy-movie tricks. And the resulting picture is complicated. Belinda is Luba's coworker, a fairly apolitical and lesbian (largely closeted - her own clandestine operation) nurse, who the FBI tries to pressure into cooperation once Luba flees. She resists the FBI and finds a bit of political independence in her courage. Sage, meanwhile, is isolated from her work after she decides not to go underground and has told her daughter little about her past. Sage's reluctance to share information about her past distances her from her daughter, who has to find her own way in the world. Anise's search for discovery and political purpose leads her to visit political prisoners, participate in Occupy Wall Street and take part in an underground adventure of her own.

Telling the story of the underground through other people's experience of it - including Luba, who meditates on the rise of a new, more tech-based underground in the year 2020 - is a compelling approach. It gets at what is compellingly vexing about clandestinity: It is elliptical, unknown, simultaneously enticing and elusive. That holds equally true for the clandestine space that some radicals find themselves in: prison. Block captures the emotional range of visiting or corresponding with prisoners, the running dialogue between hope and despair, as well as the pathos of supporting people through decades of confinement. "This much I remembered - prison visits cooked emotions until they threatened to boil over in a sizzling, uncontrollable mess," Sage confides of her experience visiting Rahim in prison after more than two decades of silence.

Clandestine Occupations has its own elusions. It is not clear, for instance, why Luba's group wanted to break that specific (unnamed) woman out of prison, or what she would do once freed. The purpose of going underground and its possible connection to aboveground activism is not well explored here. Block also utilizes some jargon of the far left - for instance, she refers to politically motivated bank robberies as "expropriations" - and does not provide much background of the social movements involved. The uninitiated reader may stumble over some of the references or miss the nuances at times assumed here.

Still, Clandestine Occupations provides a powerful, deliberately fragmented glimpse into political commitment and accountability. There are some lovely passages here about retaining commitment while aging. There are the small-scale recognitions of the struggle continuing, such as when Luba and Sage run into each other at a 2003 demonstration against the Iraq war, "glad ... to be on the streets together again, now with our children, bracing for the slaughter to come."

The most powerful examples concern deep personal and political reckoning. Joan, who betrays Luba at the behest of her FBI-informant boyfriend, is a sympathetic figure troubled by her decision from decades earlier. She writes a letter to apologize for her betrayals, which seems to provide a shaky comfort to some of the book's characters. One wishes that Block, a strong and evocative writer, had included the text of Joan's letter, not only because of its impact on the characters but to see Block's imagination of how - especially in the context of growing state surveillance - fractured political bonds could be rebuilt through honest, vulnerable dialogue.

Betrayed by Joan, Luba and Cassandra also need to reckon with their own egotism in the context of intergenerational activism. Each woman grapples with Anise's youthful intemperance and sense of urgency. Luba finds herself shocked at Anise's decision to go underground as part of a hacker-led effort to stifle electronic surveillance in Palestine and the United States, in an effort that sparks the "Urban Maroon" movement to shield formerly incarcerated people from state violence. It is a satisfying end, to show that state violence will continue to generate clandestine forms of organization, even as they shift from one generation to the next.

Ultimately, Clandestine Occupations is a poignant reminder of the reverberations of radical activism. In a revealing passage, Luba writes of the collective responsibility all must bear in social movements. "We had been so full of our righteous rage, our correct political convictions, our determination to push ourselves and others to the limits of militancy that we excluded those who wanted a different role," she writes. "We failed to see how our harshness, our superior standards, our cliquishness could drive people into the arms of our enemies." Luba's self-reflection comes in 2020, after decades of organizing and intense political commitment. It is a warning borne of experience, from the future as much as the past, to build movements that are uncompromising in their vision but capacious in their empathy.

Buy Clandestine Occupations | Buy Clandestine Occupations e-Book | Back to Diana Block's Author Page

Waging Peace in Peace News

By Henrietta Cullinan
Peace News
October 2015- November 2015

The front cover of this book – a portrait of the author holding an iris in both hands whilst hemmed in by riot police – shows a kind, thoughtful-looking man, who one can well imagine meeting on a peaceful protest here in Britain. However, this image belies the book’s central message: if I believe that my life is no more important than anyone else’s, then I need to be prepared to put my own life in danger.

Several examples are provided by the ‘spiritual giants’ the author has met during his life as a committed peace worker. Thus Hartsough recalls a summer of organising with Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran who, during protests in California, lay on the railway line in front of a train carrying munitions bound for Central America. Horrifically, the train did not stop and rolled over his body, inflicting life-threatening injuries. Willson had stated: ‘We are not worth more. They are not worth less’.

In another example, this time from Mexico, Hartsough accompanies a priest back to his village which has been occupied by the military. Padre Joel says: ‘My life is life only if I am willing to hand it over.’

Hartsough voices the hope that he too can show this courage, later quoting an even harsher judgement by Daniel Berrigan: ‘We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price.’

During the course of the book, we learn about the author’s own part in daring protests, such as the 1972 ‘People’s Blockade’ that attempted to obstruct the passage of the Vietnam-bound USS Nitro with a fleet of canoes. There are also powerful first-hand accounts of nonviolent direct action taken by groups under threat in places including Central America and the Philippines. And Hartsough also records being present at a number of remarkable historical events. For example, in Russia, when the people encircled the ‘White House’ to protect their democratically-elected government from a military coup.

I greatly appreciated reading the author’s accounts of the peace delegations he has led to conflict zones all over the world. The delegates were not always welcomed, and sometimes their lives, and the lives of the groups they visited, were threatened. But I also found encouraging the importance he gives to the smaller kinds of actions that one might think make hardly any difference.

For example, Hartsough stresses the importance of enabling the old and frail to protest, and recalls accompanying his own parents, even to the point of being arrested with them. These well-told stories will help motivate contemporary peace activists – especially since even now, at 74, Hartsough himself keeps up the pace, protesting at drone bases.

Incorporating some of the author’s own sentencing statements, some practical methods for action planning, and his ‘Ten Lessons’ of peacemaking, this book is a valuable resource as well as a radical and powerful testament to the effectiveness of committed nonviolent peace work.

Buy Waging Peace | Buy Waging Peace e-Book | Back to David Hartsough's Author Page

Mango & Mint in Cubesville 18: Roots and Influences

Cubesville 18: Roots and Influences
Fall 2015
Page 28-29


Roots and Influences: Convergent Evolution

Nicky Garratt was the original guitarist with the UK Subs, playing on their first five albums in their most successful period. Long before I was vegan, the UK Subs were a great influence on my musical taste, and those albums still strike a chord with me. How fitting then that some years later Nicky should produce a vegan cookbook that got me poring over the shelves of the local Asian superstores for new ingredients and really stoked my passion for food.

With a heart full of inspiration, we caught up with him to get his philosophy on why he chose traditional Arab, Indian and North African cuisine for a collection of animal-free cooking. “I do respect regional cuisines,” he says. “I don’t think you should just throw out hundreds of years of tastes and appearance; you shouldn’t eat just tofu!”

Mango & Mint is a totally diverse range of recipes, which Nicky intersperses with ancedotes and reminiscences, sometimes drawing from his experiences with punk; featuring articles such as “Thanks for Giving me What I didn’t Want”, “eaters Without Borders” and “Jersey Krishna”.

But Nicky’s vegetariansims began well before his involvement with punk. “For people who know me through bands, I’ve included a lot of other sugg in the book,” he says. “It makes me less anonymous. Punk came along, and I got really interested in it, but I had a life before that - I’d been in bands since 1970 and I didn’t throw out my records. When people interviewed me about what bands I liked, they expected the Sex Pistols or Clash, but I was saying Magma and Soft Machine.”

Nicky says his inspiration for documenting these recipes was the substandard food he received as a vegetarian touring different countries with the UK Subs. When the best you can hope for is steamed vegetables or tofus, food becomes an obsession on the road. And the UK Subs were the first western punk band to tour Poland- early 1980s Eastern Bloc wasn’t a haven for vegetarians. Neither was the UK.

Mango & Mint contains hundreds of recipes, which Nicky confesses he has made individually, and with a breath-taking attention to detail - a staple like hummus, for example, involves retaining nine chickpeas for garnish on the intersections of a 3x3 grind of paprika. Wow.

And Mango & Mint is certainly not short of breadth - choose from desserts such as coconut halva, orange sesame candy or a smile nut brittle. Pickles and chutneys feature 21 recipes made from scratch, while main course range from chana masala to North African pasta, taking in the virus of Egyptian broad beans on the way. Nicky even gives a master class on how to make your own pita breads and pooris- something those of us who live in cosmopolitan areas with goof grocers wouldn’t have high on our priorities.

Nicky says the key to compassionate diet is to eat a broad range of different food, which usurps the traditional British focus on meat. “ In my book I wrote about the kill being at the centre of the table,” he says. “A buffet allows the most compassionate way of eating.”

He adds that he wouldn’t class himself as “vegan”, in the same way he wouldn’t class a person skeptical of god as an atheist. He does, however, maintain honesty and compassion. “The dark secret in humanity can be seen as one of betrayal,” he says. “Free range is seen as compassionate, but it’s a dreadful thing to do- to pretend to be an advocate for an animal and betray it. In a way it almost seems better to have a factory farm - it’s less of a betrayal. Of course I don’t agree with factory farms, but it is a more honest approach.”

In #15 we interviewed Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who came from the Brooklyn punk scene and revolutionized vegan cooking with recipes and techniques that completely surpassed non-vegan contemporaries. Nicky’s book has a similar strength; it is unapologetically vegan, neither trying to mimic non-vegan ingredients, nor draw non-vegans into the folks. And why should it? With a passion for excellence and a culinary philosophy inspired by diversity, Mango & Mint draws from traditional Eastern and North African recipes to open new doors in vegan cooking.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to the Author's page


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