December 14-15, 2014

Sunday was Sunday. Monday was D’Angelo. All day. I left XDU on Sunday with a huge list of links to download most of what Relapse put out this year, and I haven’t touched any of them, because D’Angelo.

Sunday was for reading tweets in the aftermath of Saturday’s protest & the police crackdown. I made you a Storify of them.

I emailed Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield & asked him when the DPD got their LRAD. To his credit, his response was quick & complete:

The LRAD system was purchased earlier this year at a complete package cost of $17,355.  The LRAD device purchased was the small model and to describe it as a sonic weapon would be inaccurate.  The equipment was purchased to allow the police department to communicate audible orders to large crowds that are yelling or using music, drums, etc to drown out directives.  I approved the purchase under my contracting/purchasing authority which did not require City Council approval. Funds to purchase this equipment came from the Police Department Asses Forfeiture Fund. Let me know if this response does not answer your question.

I asked around & got a few responses from folks about the DPD’s use of their LRAD against protesters.

Based on those tweets & what other people have told me, it sounds like the DPD does use the LRAD for PA purposes, as Tom claimed in his email – I’ve been told that people heard orders to disperse coming from it. But it’s also very clear that they like to pipe ear-splitting high-pitched tones through it to disrupt protests & coerce protesters into dispersing.

Monday night we went to the Carolina Theatre to see The Night Porter, as part of this weird new “Film Acoustic” series, which is curated by this irritating self-aggrandizing film nerd/host guy, and which features musicians introducing movies that they find significant or influential in some way.

The Night Porter was selected and introduced by Wayne Coyne. I can’t imagine that the $20 tickets purchased by the ~100 people who attended were sufficient to pay Wayne to show up, but oh well. I hope the [taxpayer-owned] Carolina didn’t foot the bill for that one.

We went because neither of us had seen The Night Porter, and this seemed like a reasonably convenient way to correct that.

To be honest, we shouldn’t have bothered.

I didn’t have a visceral reaction to it – it’s fairly tame, by modern standards. I found it entertaining to sit there & speculate about the mindset of everyone involved when it was made. What did Italians think about Nazism in 1973? What did any of them think about exploitation, about dominance & submission, about misogyny? 

But that entertainment only sustained me for about 45 minutes of its 2-hour runtime. 

I came home & read Pauline Kael’s review (collected in Reeling; couldn’t find the full version online). She ripped it to shreds for being kind of lousy (it is), and for using concentration camp settings as backdrop/window dressing. She had nothing much nice to say about Dirk Bogarde or Charlotte Rampling. 

My problems with it were less aesthetic and more political; I went back and forth with myself trying to reason out whether it was an obscene patriarchal fantasy or a potentially legitimate depiction of how PTSD might play itself out within the framework that the plot sets up. Never really resolved that question.

Next month Lucinda Williams will be here to introduce Wise Blood, John Huston’s kind of wretched 1979 adaptation of the Flannery O’Connor novella. Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright, Ned Beatty; a kind of silly bluegrass soundtrack. It’s quite a piece of work, and has long been one of my favorite movies, despite the fact that in many ways it’s awful.

So I’ll be there. I hope the place is crammed with Lucinda Williams fans & I hope they all leave bewildered.

December 14-15, 2014

December 12-13, 2014

As I noted Friday on Twitter, I’ve had to buy an unusually large number of tickets via Ticketmaster this month. 90% of the time, the shows we attend are at local rockclubs, or via Duke Performances, so at worst I wind up paying a couple of bucks in fees to Etix or TicketFly, or having to navigate Duke’s Byzantine online ticketing system.

But if you want to attend anything at the Carolina Theatre, or DPAC, or now at the newly LiveNation-managed Ritz in Raleigh, it’s Ticketmaster. So this month, having bought tickets to Sleater-Kinney, Erykah Badu, and two of the Carolina’s Film Acoustic screenings, I’m literally out something like $70 in fees to Ticketmaster.

In the case of the Carolina, this is partly because I was too lazy to walk the 5 blocks to the box office and buy them there, so there is a significant self- component to the loathing I’m feeling.

Friday was pretty brutal at work for both M and myself, so I walked over to Toast for takeout, and then we wound up watching Ravenous, which had been recommended earlier in the week by johndarnielle

It’s an odd one. I had seen it before (though M hadn’t), but I had forgotten just how odd the tone was. It’s bloody & deadpan and kind of unsatisfying, but in an interesting way. Plus it features Jeremy Davies lurking in a small, amusing role as a highly-religious private.

Saturday was bullshit errands, and then a matinee screening of Mockingjay. Which starts out pretty terrible – limp dialogue, lots of catch-up exposition, not much action – but then slowly morphs into a really interesting (and DARK) meditation on the role of propaganda in political and revolutionary conflict. 

It’s not as good at that as Starship Troopers, but there’s still a lot going on there. I probably wouldn’t watch it again for fun, but I could see myself teaching it in a class.

After the movie we had an invitation to attend the friends and family pre-opening at Juju, the new venture from Charlie Deal, chef/owner of Jujube in Chapel Hill and Dos Perros in Durham.

Juju is much closer in vibe and spirit to Jujube (as the name implies), although if anything the space is more beautiful. The website says “Asian Tapas” and when I was talking to Charlie about it a few months ago, he said that part of his vision was to have dim sum carts circling so that you could be offered something delicious within a few moments of being seated.

There was a little bit of that happening last night, along with a lengthy menu of moderately-priced small plates, including a whole section of vegetables. In fact, the lightly glazed roasted brussels sprouts with dried apricots were our favorite dish of the evening.

Some of the dishes – dumplings, the mushroom curry soup – will be familiar to anyone who has eaten at Jujube. Others are unique to Juju.

For a friends-and-family pre-opening, the kitchen was doing a remarkable job – we had several dishes that are as good as anything I’ve eaten in Durham in the past year or so.

They open for real on Tuesday. It’s a pretty big space – and there’s lots of room at the center bar, as well as a kitchen bar like the one at Jujube – but I still predict they’ll hit a Mateo level of crammed pretty quickly once word gets out.

After we got home from Juju, I started seeing tweets about a protest march from Walltown, down through Ninth Street, and in the direction of 147. A friend who was there said that the decision had been made early on NOT to try to take 147, but somehow the march still wound up on the Swift Avenue bridge over the freeway, where they were apparently met by riot police with their LRAD noise weapon.

[Aside: when did Durham buy that? How much did it cost? Or was it one of those federal government cast-off freebies?]

Here is video of a little bit of what happened next:

It’s pretty shaky and hard to make out, but this video and the protesters’ tweets seem to suggest that the police pursued the protesters back across the bridge and to the Main/Broad intersection, in several cases chasing and tackling fleeing protesters.

I haven’t seen or heard anything in the news about this, and it’s unclear to me what the protesters could have done to deserve being chased and tackled after they were already leaving the area that the cops had blocked off.

There was also this little detail:

Pretty classy, Ben & Jerry, you old capitalist faux-hippie farts.

December 12-13, 2014

Letter to City Council re: Friday arrests

Dear Council,

I’m writing to express my concern about the actions of the Durham Police at the end of the protest march on Foster Street on Friday night. 

According to most accounts, the police showed a greater than average degree of restraint during the early hours of the march. Some of my friends who were there might disagree, particularly with the use of the dangerous LRAD device on the protesters at the DPAC.

But compared to events in other cities (as well as previous events in Durham), during the first couple of hours of the march, it seems the police were at least trying to respect the people’s rights.

For some reason, though, as the march was winding down, things got ugly. According to the account of one local blogger, blame for this lies entirely at the feet of the police:

There were six or eight cars with their lights twirling and a line of cops blocking the street. As we got closer, we realized they were in full riot gear and carrying axe handle sized sticks. There were almost as many of them as there were protestors. About ten of us stood on the sidewalk and tried to tell them they were taking the wrong approach. There was no need for a power struggle. No need for a show of force. It was a protest, not combat. When the enemy didn’t show up, the makeshift army loaded onto a bus and went after them. Literally. They saw where the protestors were and blocked the street to create a confrontation. They arrested about forty people and then kept marching up the street even as the protestors went the other way. The only reason there was any sort of agitation was because the police made it happen.

Ginger called 911 three different times to report what was happening. The last time the operator asked if she would like to speak to an officer and one found her on the street. I walked up in the middle of their conversation. He said the protests had been going on for five hours and “you can’t let civil disobedience go on for five hours.” (Why not?) When she asked about the sticks, he said they were for pushing people back, not for hitting them. “They are better than guns,” he said.

There is video of a portion of the confrontations on Foster Street:

It’s worth nothing that this is Foster just south of Geer, a block that is completely deserted after dark. To obstruct citizens, prevent them from moving freely or dispersing, and then violently arrest them for obstructing traffic on a block that is deserted, verges on the Kafkaesque.

“Fitting,” then, that clearly visible in the background of the video is the Elna B. Spaulding Conflict Resolution Center. 

Just around the corner from the location pictured in the video is the corner of Geer and Rigsbee. On pretty much any weekend night, the block of Rigsbee between Geer and Corporation is clogged with cars backed up from the Pit valet stand, with food trucks parked on the sidewalk, and with pedestrians walking freely in the street back and forth between MotorCo and Fullsteam.

If “obstructing traffic” is such a priority in this neighborhood, then why aren’t there riot police down there every weekend throwing the valet parking guys into the bushes & onto the pavement?

From all indications, the size of the march had already dwindled, and given the lateness of the hour, it was likely to break up on its own accord. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the police saw this as their last opportunity to enact some kind of retribution on the protesters.

Perhaps even more concerning, I have just received word that the Durham police have been harassing the citizens who were arrested on Friday. They have reported that there have been police cars parked on the streets in front of their houses. And at a meeting for the protesters at the Pinhook over the weekend, a DPD officer in street clothes showed up uninvited and started videotaping the attendees. He then fled when he was recognized by some of the arrestees.

It would appear that Chief Lopez is continuing to try to bolster his fantasy narrative of “outside agitators.” He said as much in some of his quotes to the media over the weekend.

I only spent about 10 minutes in CCB Plaza at the start of the march, but just in that time I saw at least a half-dozen people that I know, and as the rest of the evening unfolded, I saw tweets from many other friends who were participating in the march. Two of my friends are among those who were arrested.

I can’t imagine what the Chief’s thought processes must be here. In some of his quotes over the weekend, he gave the impression that he thinks these current protests are still about the Durham police specifically, rather than institutional racism and white supremacy in general. 

Whatever the reason, his leadership of the DPD seems to be coming from a position of personal paranoia, rather than actual understanding of the facts on the ground. And that is an incredibly dangerous thing for our city.

Letter to City Council re: Friday arrests

Police, protestors clash during demonstration | The Herald-Sun

Police, protestors clash during demonstration | The Herald-Sun


December 4-5, 2014

Thursday was a long one at work, and afterwards I split my time between social media and catching up on a month’s worth of New Yorkers. Dinner was fried catfish from Saltbox, whose existence I thank my lucky stars for on the regular. I have eaten a lot of fried fish in my life, and none of the rest of it has ever been as good as what Ricky turns out on a daily basis. The man has some kind of sixth sense about exactly how long each piece of fish needs to spend in the fryer.

Which might make his eventual expansion plans kind of complicated. Right now he cooks every single piece of fish himself. Will he be able to convey that supernatural knowledge to anyone else?

Friday evening M & our friend E wanted to go to the tower lighting thing at American Tobacco. It was a full production, with an elementary school chorus, a high school choir, some kind of adult vocal ensemble, and 750 children in the audience flailing blinking/glowing cylinders like light sabers at each other.

And then at the appointed moment (a solid hour after the start of the event), someone flips a switch and the legs of the water tower light up with multicolored lights. It’s pretty anticlimactic.

Walking back uptown, we got to the Eric Garner protest at the CCB Plaza right when it was coalescing and getting underway. We talked to some friends for a bit, listened to a couple of speakers, and then headed out.

See, I’m an introvert. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings and opinions about things, but no matter how powerful they may be, none of them are strong enough to overcome my aversion to crowds for very long.

If we hadn’t just spent an hour at Ambacco I probably could have stood it for longer. But instead we followed along on Twitter & Instagram and listened to the helicopters circling over our apartment for hours.

I was heartened to see the size of the group, and to see them cause the disruption they caused downtown. I haven’t been out & about yet today, so I don’t know for sure whether there was any property damage, but I didn’t hear about any last night.

I’ve gotten more radicalized lately, to the point that I understand property damage in a political context as a necessary means to remind the holders of capital that they are fully culpable for the actions of police, since police exist solely to protect the holders of capital.

But too often around here, property damage during protests happens at the hands of privileged white “anarchists” who perennially co-opt other people’s (often people of color) otherwise peaceful protests.

So the current tactics of blocking streets & freeways, and holding die-ins, are a welcome shift, and seem to be hugely effective at reaching larger numbers of otherwise unpoliticized civilians.

I lay in bed last night thinking about guns, and about how different civilization and conflict were before their invention. It reminded me that last week I’d been thinking about Guns, Germs & Steel, and specifically about how I’d gotten distracted and put it down after one chapter & hadn’t ever picked it back up again. My copy is one of those archaic paper things, so it requires a lot more coordination to use it.

December 4-5, 2014