Defend Atlantis: Confronting climate change with J.R.R. Tolkien & the Flobots

19 05 2010
Sauron Defeated. 2002 Edition. HarperCollins. Cover illustration by John Howe.

Depiction of the drowning of Numenor. Art by John Howe. Paperback cover of Sauron Defeated, published by Harper Collins.

“Then suddenly… there came a mighty wind and a tumult of the earth, and the sky reeled, and the hills slid, and Númenor went down into the sea…”from The Akallabêth by J.R.R. Tolkien

“And survival hinged on the ascent by the humble… We let the altars die to keep our pulse alive.” – from “Defend Atlantis” by the Flobots

As I watch the suspiciously opaque “climate bill” flounder in the Senate, I find that my mind keeps drifting to the legend of Atlantis.

No, seriously.

The story of Atlantis has been retold scores of times by different artists since the days of  Plato. But my favorite by far has long been J.R.R. Tolkien’s version, as recounted in The Silmarillion, a collection of the histories that form the back story of The Lord of the Rings.

I’m also a big fan of hip-hop/rock band the Flobots. As I wrote in SPIN Earth a while back, their latest album, Survival Story,  has a lot to do with environmental justice, especially global warming. And they retell the story of Atlantis in their own way in their music.

The other day I had an epiphany about an important insight these Atlantis stories share. And you don’t have to be a fan of either to appreciate it.

Both the Flobots and Tolkien suggest that our environmental issues are about far more than politics or economics. In a very real sense, they say, the root of these problems is actually about idolatry — what some might call free-market fundamentalism.

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The Progressive »» Returning the Banjo to Its Black Roots : The Carolina Chocolate Drops

5 05 2010

Check out my article about all-black folk band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, featured in the May issue of The Progressive! The article hits shelves and mailboxes nationwide this month.

Here’s a tiny sneak peek:

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Erykah Badu and the Definition of “Art”

8 04 2010
Photo, Erykah Badu at the North Sea Jazz Festival 2009

CC Image courtesy of tnarik on Flickr

By now you probably know Erykah Badu‘s “Window Seat”  music video stirred a little controversy recently. In it, she strips down to nothing at the site of JFK’s assassination in front of a bunch of tourists who weren’t told it would go down. And if you don’t expect some of us to get worked up over naked bodies, you don’t know Americans very well.

Badu says she was making an artistic statement. Some of her defenders are pretty persuasive. But critics like Bill O’Reilly say the video isn’t real “art.”

The argument actually reveals the weaknesses in our use of the word “art” itself.  The appropriate question is not “Is it art?” The real question is,  “Is it good art?”

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Easter & King’s Assassination: The Political Utility of Resurrection

4 04 2010

“There is a war going on for your mind… We are the insurgents.”

As I sat in church this morning, I found myself singing U2 in my head.

“Early evening April 4, shot rings out in the Memphis sky… Free at last they took your life but they could not take your pride… In the name of love, one more in the name of love…”

I was contemplating an interesting coincidence – Easter falling on the same day as the 42nd anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking King was walking in Jesus’ footsteps. He too was assassinated while opposing imperialism. And because of the non-violent nature of his movement, I think we fail to consider a simple idea that even the occasional military history magazine can express quite clearly — that King’s movement should be thought of as an insurgency.

And maybe Jesus’s movement was, too.

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“Hailing frequencies open”

17 05 2009
Zoe Saldana as Uhura

Production still of Zoe Saldana as Uhura in director J. J. Abrams' 2009 film, Star Trek. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Property of Spyglass Entertainment, Bad Robot Productions and Paramount Pictures.

So I finally saw the latest Star Trek film — the one directed by J.J. Abrams — and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was solid, the visuals were nothing to sneeze at, and the acting was superb. Zachary Quinto‘s portrayal of Spock would make it worth seeing all by itself.
And yet, I walked out of Cincinnati’s Esquire theater tonight feeling like a guy with a Vulcan father and a human mother — conflicted.




A Little Journalistic Advice From Bruce Lee

7 04 2009

Originally published by the UC Association of Black Journalists.

A statue of Bruce Lee displayed on Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars.

A statue of Bruce Lee displayed on Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars. CC image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bruce Lee? What’s he got to do with journalism? It’ll make sense. I promise.

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