Life After The Fall of Hussein

Join novelist Sinan Antoon and journalist Leila Fadel as they discuss the documentary, Life after the Fall, directed by Kasim Abid, which follows the daily life of a family in modern day Iraq after the fall of Sadam Hussein.

As one family member says, “After the fall, we would sit on our balcony and talk about the future of Iraq. We had high hopes… But in the end everything failed. We didn’t benefit at all. The country didn’t get better or rebuilt, it just got destroyed some more.”

According to Sinan Antoon, there are very few documentaries like this one where Iraqis get to speak about their feelings and desires for more than 30 seconds in American media. “It’s so rare that you actually get to see Iraqis who are not terrorists or extremists.”

As a journalist, Leila Fadel wanted to document what it was like to live and survive invasion occupation. “I told the stories of grave-diggers… I told the stories of pregnant women trying to have their babies without getting shot on roads after curfew… I told the story through marriages and divorces…”

Key to documenting the Iraqi experience is living outside the protected “green zone” and interviewing as many Iraqi people as possible. Says Antoon: “Iraqi’s are like other humans on the planet… are a spectrum, come from different classes, different backgrounds. And they don’t all have one of two opinions – either Saddam lovers or US lovers. It’s more complicated.”

Fadel agrees. “Sometimes when you’re a journalist abroad, they’ll say things like ‘what are people saying on the Arab street?’ — which doesn’t exist and nobody has one opinion and I don’t know where that street is.”

“Without hearing these stories of real people,” says Antoon, “it’s sometimes difficult for people to imagine Iraqis living full lives. So their destruction is not really registered as a loss.”

Watch Life After The Fall – Storytelling from Iraq

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Moms Mabley – Women in Comedy

“If you don’t want your children to know the truth about life don’t send ’em to the theater to see Moms, ’cause I’m gonna tell them THE TRUTH, hear?”
— Moms Mabley

Comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley became a familiar figure to television audiences in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Born Loretta Mary Aiken in 1894, Mabley was a veteran of the segregated vaudeville “Chitlin’ Circuit” (aka Theater Owners Booking Association) who held a residency at Harlem’s Apollo Theater before breaking into the white mainstream in the early Sixties. She released more than a dozen albums, gave a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, and made numerous appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Tonight Show, Merv Griffin Show, and other popular programs of the day. Mabley developed her distinctive persona – a toothless, bedraggled woman in a faded house dress and rumpled hat – in the 1920’s and refined it throughout her career.

This sly persona was one of the factors that enabled Mabley to perform what we now call transgressive comedy – that is, comedy that addresses a range of taboo topics. In Mabley’s case these subjects included race, gender politics, and sexual orientation. It was risky enough for white comedians such as Lenny Bruce to feature such material; for a black woman and avowed lesbian to achieve mainstream success while doing so was nothing short of transformational. Like Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, and other cutting-edge African-American humorists of the time, Moms Mabley was less concerned with “translating” her material for the comfort of white audiences than with expressing essential truths. As she once told an audience, “I don’t know no jokes, but I do know some facts.”

Since her death in 1975 Moms Mabley has gradually receded in the cultural landscape, and her work is now all but forgotten by the general audience. In the episode of the “Women in Comedy” series devoted to Mabley, Bambi Haggins (Film & Media Studies, UC Irvine) makes the case for Mabley’s influence on her contemporaries and the generation of comedians that followed, while arguing that Mabley should not be forgotten though we’re three generations removed from her heyday. Haggins was a consultant for the HBO documentary “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley,” and she shares Whoopi’s view that Mabley helped to pave the way for Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes, Dave Chappelle, and others, including Whoopi herself. Further, Haggins maintains that many up and coming young comedians who perform socially-conscious material can trace their lineage back to Mabley, even though they may not be overtly aware of Mabley’s influence. In this role as a progenitor Mabley’s nickname, Moms, is an apt one.

Watch Moms Mabley with Bambi Haggins – Women in Comedy.

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Creating a World Resilient to Climate Change

Climate change is creating increasingly uncertain futures for people all over the globe. From melting ice caps, to rising sea levels, to wildfires and drought, every community is feeling the impact. We can react to disasters by providing aid and rebuilding, but how can we get out in front of them? Jacqueline McGlade has spent years studying climate change, worked with the United Nations Environment Programme, and is currently a Professor of Resilience and Sustainable Development at the University College London. She discusses how new technology and a growing understanding of the world’s ecosystems can help us adapt. She shares lessons she learned while studying the Inuit of Greenland and living with the Maasai in East Africa and explains how cultures focused on community can thrive in regions most-susceptible to climate change. McGlade argues there are at least seven principles, which if followed, can help build a resilient world.

Watch (Re)active Resilience: How to Thrive in a Changing Climate.

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The Bright Future for Video Gamers and Esports

Real competition.
Real professionals.
Real emotions.
Esports have come a long way from groups of friends playing video games in the living room. Digital sports now fill arenas and command huge TV ratings, with hundreds of thousands of people watching online. So, what does the future hold for the growing industry? Dave Stewart, the executive producer of Riot Games’ North American League of Legends Championship Series, predicts the audience is only going to get bigger. In a fascinating conversation, Stewart discusses what it takes to put on huge events, like the World Championships that drew thousands of fans to a stadium in China in 2017, and how he plans to keep breaking records. He looks at how producers are taking notes from traditional sports – following player storylines and focusing on the emotions of the competition.

Watch Esports and Gaming Futures

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Life-force

The title A Line Broken affirms the simple but profound truth that all things must eventually end, whether a piece of music, a concert, or a human life. One powerful expression of this reality is Courtney Bryan’s remarkable As Yet Unheard, a work for orchestra and chorus that commemorates Sandra Bland’s tragic death in police custody in 2013. Using the text of Sharan Strange’s poem, soprano Helga Davis speaks to us in Bland’s voice, prodding us to relive the circumstances of her death and to seek answers to painful questions too long unasked.

Bryan’s piece is perfectly complimented by Gabriel Faure’s luminous Requiem. The requiem has long been a popular form among composers, and celebrated practitioners of the genre include Mozart, Verdi, Brahms, Berlioz, and Britten. Unlike those of his fellow composers, Faure’s Requiem contains no Sturm und Drang, no thundering crescendos or rallying cries to the deceased. Rather, it’s a gentle, contemplative work, more of a meditation on transience than an exhortation. It contains most of the form’s familiar elements, including mixed chorus and soloists (in this instance baritone Jonathan Nussman and soprano Priti Gandhi), but they are employed in service of an effect that is uniquely Faure’s own. This piece has steadily gained in popularity and the final section, “In Paradisum,” is familiar to many from its use in several films, television programs, and commercials.

Asher Tobin Chodos’ adventurous arrangement of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman places a quartet of jazz soloists within a symphonic context. Just as innovator Coleman sought to reframe jazz conventions in an idiosyncratic style, so Chodos’ arrangement seeks to reposition this 1959 work in a modern idiom, one that embraces and even expands upon the challenges of a composition that, in Chodos’ words, “occupies a middle ground between specificity and discrepancy.” Most importantly, this new take on a classic preserve the beauty and immediacy of Coleman’s original.

Rounding out the program is Rand Steiger’s ingenious Template for Improvising Trumpeter & Orchestra. As noted by the title, this piece centers on the talents of virtuoso trumpeter Peter Evans in a performance that is largely (though not entirely) improvised in performance. Evans’ tones are manipulated at times by the composer through digital signal processing, in what amounts to another interdependent and improvised performance; indeed, the watchwords for the entire enterprise are exploration and collaboration.

In his program notes Conductor Steven Schick comments that “Music is the natural medium for life-force,” and in this concert’s seemingly disparate selections we hear that life-force in all of its manifestations.

Watch A Line Broken – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus.

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