Sunday, December 21, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The final Progressive Reading Series of 2008 (and maybe ever) gave all it had and nobody walked away unsatisfied even though it was definitely the least organized of them all. Lisa Margonelli told us how she went to Saddam Hussein's birthday party in 2001, with pink hair no less! Bucky Sinister read a classic, Michelle Tea was the Progressive Darling, Ishmael Reed owned it! Nobody could see what Zuniga was doing, (but we love you, Todd.) Justin Chin:stellar as always. Will Durst and Nato Green cracked us up. Ellen Sussman made us love and respect her (even more than before.) Chris Cook made us not want to lose our hands. The All Star Minstrels played their swan song. And Stephen, the real Maverick, Elliott told us, "Everything belongs to us except for Texas and that's because it belongs to Mexico."
And that’s it for 2008. Thanks to the Makeout Room for being such gracious hosts; Ellen Gould, our fabulous poster designer; Liz Worthy; Sonya Worthy; the kind folks of Dublit; the authors, many of whom traveled far to read and their publishers who donated books to sell; everyone who came clapped, cheered, drank and tipped well. And while this was the last Progressive read for a while (and maybe ever), this site won’t go totally dark, so stay tuned). Next all we have to do is go forth and vote. Here’s hoping for a progressive 2009.
Posted by Sona Avakian at 10:15 AM
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Wednesday (Yes! Wednesday!) October 8, 7pm
At The Makeout Room- 3225 22nd Street 415 647 2888
$10-20 sliding scale
This event is being co-sponsored with Litquake. Get your advance tickets here.
If you were at the last reading you know getting advance tickets is a good idea. And don't forget to bring your own small folding chair or a pillow for sitting on the floor
The Politics of Poetry with Ishmael Reed author of Reckless Eyeballing
The Politics of Prison with Joe Loya author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell
The Politics of Oil with Lisa Margonelli author of Oil on the Brain
The Politics of Food with Chris Cook author of Diet For a Dead Planet
The Politics of Sex with Ellen Sussman editor of Dirty Words
with political comedy by Will Durst
and the final performance of The Progressive Reading Series All-Star Minstrels
Hosted by Stephen Elliott
Posted by Sona Avakian at 1:41 PM
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Lisa Margonelli is the author of Oil on the Brain, the product of “3.5 years of furious travel and writing.” In her book she interviews oil industry folks the world over, uncovering oil’s journey from the ground to the gas pump. She reads next Wednesday, October 8, at the Makeout Room, which may be the last Progressive Reading ever. Ms. Margonelli is currently an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation. We met in her office, a stylish sliver in an old downtown Oakland office building. I made myself at home in a comfy thrift-store variety green upholstered slipper chair. While admiring the maps and books that adorned the walls, she surprised me with a glass of super cold water served in a fancy yard-sale-score emerald green goblet. Our conversation touched on her book as well as termites, Thoreau, There Will Be Blood, and who she might be for Halloween.- Liz Worthy
LW: Oil on the Brain begins with a great fiery scene of you observing an oil clean up experiment in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. What in the greater scheme of things got you to Alaska?
LM: If you tell me I can’t get in somewhere, I really want to get in there. What happened with oil was once I looked into the Prudhoe Bay oil facility I said ‘Oh my God, I want to get in there. Getting access is a powerful emotional drive for me. It’s also what got me into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
I’ve also been really interested in cultural and economic history and how big things affect people’s individual choices and how we are a product of our time and the empires that we’re born into.
And then there’s another little thread and that is that my parents were hippies and moved to Dover-Foxcroft, Maine an hour north of Bangor, to go back to the land. The energy crisis hit in 1973 and we in addition to going back to the land also stopped using oil to heat our house. So we were heating this old farm house with just wood from the woods and we actually had a horse to pull it out. Thoreau said that wood warms you twice – once when you cut it and once when you burn it. But my Dad was like wood warms you thrice. So he had to do Thoreau one better. It’s once when you cut it from the trees, once when you cut it and stack it for the house and then once when you burn it. So we spent an enormous amount of time stacking wood and carrying it into the house . . .. When my parents left the house sometimes my sister and I would actually turn on the oil heat because it was so fun. We’d stand over the heat grates and let our clothes puff up [hearty laugh]. So for me oil had a visceral aspect that it might not for other people where it was more ubiquitous.
LW: In writing the book you wanted to hear stories from the people who oversee oil’s journey to our cars. Who was the most remarkable person you talked to?
LM: I love hanging out with people and watching them do their work and absorbing their world view so I can’t actually choose one person. There were just a lot of different people who were just really compelling. C.D. Roper the Texan is just one obvious person. But there were a lot of other people. . . .As far as bizarre oil characters, definitely Ali Rodriguez Araque from Venezuela, the former guerilla who lives in the woods plotting how to blow up oil facilities and then becomes head of one the world’s largest oil companies and then goes on to start this new oil diplomacy under Chavez as the Foreign Minister. Definitely, that’s the sort of crazy transformation that is afforded by oil.
LW: In your article "Gut Reactions” in September’s Atlantic Monthly you talk about termites and how their digestive enzymes could be borrowed to turn wood, grasses, and paper products into fuel. Can you comment on the feasibility of this as well as how far into the future you think these things might be possible?
LM: In the under 10 year time span we really need to focus on energy efficiency, we need to make our cars and our transit system much much more efficient. It can start with things like eco-driving where you can reduce the amount of gas you use by 15% just by changing the way you drive. Then the next thing would be car pooling or van pooling or not driving your car, followed by much more efficient cars, not necessarily a Prius. In the '80s I had a Toyota Starlet that got 50 miles to the gallon and cars with mileage like that just aren’t for sale in the U.S. anymore and they could be. So we need to really work on reducing the amount of oil that we use. When we switch to another type of energy, say we go to bio-fuels or more into electric cars, we’ll need to be using a lot less fuel. . . .We could reduce the amount of gas we use by 1 or 2% simply by re-timing traffic lights.
Bio-fuels are somewhat promising but what we need are policies that reward the cleanest best bio-fuels, not the ones that pay the biggest political dividends. What we have now is a system of rewarding corn growers for this corn ethanol, but the greenhouse gas improvement is really minimal, like 13% and in some cases it’s equal to using gasoline. It’s not a good ratio. So what we need to do is figure out a pricing scheme for all of these different bio fuels and electric cars so we’re paying closer attention to the impact they have on the environment so that they can compete.
So in the movie There will be Blood what we all took away from it was the greed connected to oil but what you don’t think about is how important the greed was in the oil. It’s productive greed that got us a gas station on every corner and an oil well on every hill in Bakersfield. Because it’s one obsessed person or a couple of obsessed people who can say there’s oil there, I’m going to drill a hole and I’m going to build a pipeline and I’m going to ship it somewhere, and I’m going to sell it. It’s something you can suck out of the ground relatively easily and you could sell it for money. Right now it’s not clear how you make money on a lot of these fuels –if you produce solar power can you sell it to the grid for a fair price, for example, so we need to set things up. Often times when we talk about limiting greenhouse gases we talk about these complex systems, but basically we need to make greed pay off, just, in the place we need it to and then let the crazy smart people go to work. It’s not so much the question of punishing Daniel Day-Louis’s [character] because they’re greedy bastards, it’s a question of setting up a maze so that the Daniel Day-Louis types do what we want them to do.
LW: You recently presented a brief you wrote as part of your fellowship at the New America Foundation called "Energy Security for American Families" where you lay out policy that could help working families reduce their energy costs. Are any of the ideas in the brief represented by any propositions on the ballot this November?
LM: No, that’s an early stage proposal. We’ll work on it with other non-profits and politicians and anyone else who’s interested and then re-release it in something that’s closer to something that can become legislation.
But if I could just back up, the cool thing about working for a think tank, especially this think tank at New America that is non-partisan and interested in big different ideas, is that when you’re a reporter you spend a lot of time looking at bad policies and shrieking outside the system that’s a bad policy, that’s a bad policy, that’s bad, that’s bad! When I was asked to start thinking about what would be a good policy, I had to become a reporter on policy. I actually had to take my reporter skills and apply them to productive use. It’s definitely risky because as a reporter you say I don’t have dog in this fight and now you have to say I have a policy suggestion that has some good points, but inevitably someone else is going to criticize it. You have to stick your neck out because basically all policies have pluses and minuses. There is no perfect thing. . . . as far as the politics of energy go, we need to really push for big changes in policy and we can’t get those big changes done unless we let politicians know they aren’t going to get creamed for telling us the truth.
LW: If you had to be a political candidate for Halloween, who would you be and how would you spend your evening?
LM: [Laughs] Well, I guess I’d have to be Sarah Palin. I’ve actually gotten letters from friends saying I should be her. You know, the thing about Sarah Palin that just blows me away is if you’re a serious Christian and you really believe that your time praying is a red phone to God, why on earth would you spend that time asking for a gas pipeline? There are so many things that are of deeper concern to God and humanity and all of us than a gas pipeline. Commerce and capitalism will take care of a gas pipeline if it makes any sense at all, and even if it doesn’t (laugh). You don’t need God for a gas pipeline. So I guess that’s the thing that really blows me away about this. There’s something where oil just takes a turn right into some weird spiritual hole in American psyche. . . . somehow Sarah Palin praying for the gas pipeline is a little riddle I haven’t quite worked out. How is that okay? And it’s not that I’m anti-pipeline. We all live by pipeline, and pipelines screw up the Earth, there’s no question about it. This is our world. We are pipeline people. But asking God, it just freaks me out.
LW: So you’d spend Halloween dressed as Sarah Palin praying for a pipeline?
LM: Yes. I should do that. That would be fully scary.
LW: The poet Toni Mirosevich read her poem “Pinball” at last year’s Litquake, which grew out of something a friend told her: "I'm lonely when I pump gas." Would you care to comment on that?
LM: The loneliness of pumping gas. That’s really sweet. It’s also really heartbreaking. It’s that weird reality of our lives that you go to the gas station and you stand there for two and a half minutes and you fill your tank and you’re in a little envelope by yourself. The weird thing about it is we try to be really numbers based. So if it’s four cents a gallon cheaper on the other side we do the four point turn, get over there, fill up. We’re really rational about gas but we’re really irrational and emotional while we’re standing at the pump. One researcher told me that apparently if they stick a picture of a croissant above the pump, croissant sales inside the gas station rise by 15%, which is pretty high. Alone at the pump we’re in this strange malleable space where we can be persuaded to buy a croissant. Not only that-- It’s a croissant in a gas station! A donut I can almost see or one of those stupid big strawberry cheesecake muffins or corn nuts of course . . .. filling your tank seems to be one of those moments that doesn’t matter in your life, but actually matters a lot. However much dolphin safe tuna you eat and whether you use corn recyclable implements when you get food to go, or buy local organic produce or whatever-- ultimately, who you are in the world is determined by your foot on the gas pedal. We really are what we pump.~
Lisa Margonelli with her Petro-Pet someone found for her at a yard sale.
Photos by Liz Worthy whose ceramics show about oil, Light Sweet Crude, opens the evening of November 22nd at Ruby’s Clay Studio. Thanks (again) to the Dublit.com folk for being so sweet and so generous.
Posted by Sona Avakian at 10:47 AM
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
It was a rough week in the worlds of politics and literature. We lost Peter Camejo and David Foster Wallace practically on the same day. Wallace’s death hit me particularly hard, it being so unnecessary. Andrew Foster Altschul led us in a cheer in Wallace's memory. Still it brought a lump to my throat. There will never be another like him. And then surprise guest Keith Knight kicked off the penultimate Progressive Reading Series by reading us his comics. Unfortunately miscommunication between him and Stephen resulted in no visual effects. No matter thought Keith still made us laugh, made us think and next times we’ll be better prepared.
Litquake co-founder Jane Ganahl read us two short pieces, one about how her mother once bit off the nose of Richard Nixon. Only a candle likeness of Tricky Dick, still I bet it didn’t taste very good. Her other piece was about dating a man who wore creased jeans and typed up a book report for her on some PoMo artist expecting her to study up. Can you believe that?
The next reader of the evening (on her birthday!) was Katie Crouch. First we sang, then she read us story whose topic is familiar to many: what it’s like to date Steve Elliott. Course Stephen denied every word of it. Typical. Write a story everyone wants to know if it’s true, write a non-fiction piece everyone accuses you of fabricating. Not that that hasn't happened, but still, what's a writer to do?
Dan Weiss, half of our All Start Minstrels was up next. Catch his other band The Yellow Dress at Dog Eared books Thursday, September 25, at 7:30p.m. as part of Dog Eared's Sweet Sixteen celebration. Next we had Glen David Gold who read from page 515 of his forthcoming novel which is set during the 1918 U.S democratization of Russia (in winter of course, is there any other season in Russia?) and didn’t surprisingly, didn’t need any set-up at all. Or did it? Thanks to Michelle Bronson for setting the record straight on that one.
Next Mariel a la Mode sang a naughty burlesque song. We’ve really been going too long without burlesque. More Mariel! The singular Aimee Bender was up next. Here’s a true confession: Sometimes I read a sentence of hers and think this: I wish I had written that. And tonight’s piece was no exception, it was chock full of superlatives and I was green with envy.
Daniel Handler read a short story “Why I’m Pro Life.” I’m pro-life too. Pro keeping food in everyone’s stomachs, that sustains life. Pro protection from the elements aka housing, that’s good, right? Keeps the species going. Pro literacy because let’s face it, a literate society is a healthy and productive one . . .see what I mean.
And that was it for September. Unfortunately for literature, some brass has come cracking down on our mad postering so you won’t see as many around town for our next (and final) reading of 2008, but it’s October 8th, that's a Wednesday night, as part of Litquake and features national treasure, Ishmael Reed; reformed bank robber, Joe Loya; the woman who knows everything about gasoline, Lisa Margonelli; Diet for a Dead Planet, author Chris Cook; self-proclaimed bad girl, Ellen Sussman and comic relief by Will Durst. There’s also going to be an interview with Lisa Margonelli by Liz Worthy on this very site. Stay tuned.
Posted by Sona Avakian at 12:43 PM
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Announcing The Ninth (Second To Last!) Progressive
Reading of 2008
Saturday, September 20
7pm At The Makeout Room
3225 22nd Street 415 647 2888
Daniel Handler, author of Adverbs
Aimee Bender, author of The Girl
In The Flammable Skirt
Glen David Gold, author of Carter
Beats The Devli
Katie Crouch, author of Girls In
Jane Ganahl, author of Naked On
with burlesque songstress Mariel a la
and music by The Progressive Reading Series
Hosted by Stephen Elliott
here for advance tickets
Posted by Stephen Elliott at 12:59 PM