Saturday, October 27, 2007



Someone once said in order to tell the poetic truth
sometimes you had to stretch it a little to get to the deeper truth.
My beautiful and tragically flawed mother was a poetic soul
and when her sister Toddy couldn't have children
she got right down to the heart of things.
She was a woman way ahead of her time.
She created a small bundle of poetic truth and gave it to her sister.

When I was young, my mother often dragged me into churches,
not on Sunday, but in the middle of the week to pray to St. Jude.
Her only wrongdoing was sharing the genetic coil
that unwrapped in Sean the addiction and the burden of California's third strike
that led to this premature shedding of his own mortal coil.
Sean's middle name was Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

Sure Sean was a teenage terror, and a troubled young man.
His actions put strain on the family and occasionally the law.
But my mother loved Sean with a fierce mother love
that transcended and forgave his flaws.
For Sean also inherited her talents and good qualities.

Sean was a carpenter. After the Loma Prieta earthquake
he restored fallen landmark buildings of Santa Cruz,
and he built showcase homes for myriad families
though he could never build a home within his own soul.
When my mother died, Sean stepped up to the plate to share the burden.
He was there to sing praises to the crazy hallelujah that was his mother.

But from that tragically flawed miracle called Sean Jude Ritter
other miraculous lives were formed.
I give my mother thanks to Sean
for his brothers, Barney, Myles and for Katie.
And from that miracle, I give thanks for
my nieces Tiffany, and little Emma Rose,
for Brittany, brand new Sean Logan, and of course, for Taryn.

Before he was awarded the Nobel Prize, Irish poet Seamus Heaney
once said to me that as a tribe, we are a genius of poets.
Genius runs in the family but the flip side of the coin,
is that the piper has been well paid for his time.

When my mother died, she had a tape of Leonard Cohen's songs,
it was set to the song Broken Hallelujah—which became the Shrek theme.
I kept on playing that song all through the night
and when I got the news of Sean, that song played through my head
wouldn't let me sleep, so I downloaded three versions of it
and when I peeled away the onionskin layers of language
I realized the music was telling me that Sean was a broken hallelujah
and that I should praise him.

We are all connected by the deeper truth of family
bonds that cannot be broken by death alone.
Sean was a broken hallelujah. I will remember his strengths.
I hope that he will find a great scaffolding project in the mansions of God
within the folds of giving up of the individual self to the greater self
and to that vast ocean of love.


Sean Jude Ritter was my half-brother, but, because my aunt thought that she couldn't have kids, my mother, who was in no condition to raise a child, gave him to her to raise, and so he was raised as a cousin.

Being his half-sister, I wrote this piece, expecting to read it at his memorial, but my cousins and nieces completely ignored me, and didn't even acknowledge that Sean was my half-brother. I was polite, as I realized it wasn't about me, but, their grief. No need to feel snubbed—we were all grieving. So, I let it be. I lost this writing and, while cleaning out old files, I only now found it Jan 2/2014. It's lain fallow long enough. Time to let it go.  

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Buena Vista Social Club on AmieStreet Music

“Talk about finding solid gold on Amie Street Music! The Cuban All Star Band aka the Buena Vista Social Club, has gotta be the motherlode of Cuban music. The all stars of Cuban BC Big Band (Before Castro) era had a huge American following in Hot & Hip Havana from the Prohobition to the 1950s.

have a listen here

On the track, "Chan Chan," the late, great godfather of the son-bolero style, Compay Segundo, performs his own world famous composition with lead singer, Eliades Ochoa. That unmistakable four-chord opening "son" is Buena Vista Social Club's calling card!

Some of you might recall Wim Wenders' amazing 1997 award-winning documentary entitled "The Buena Vista Social Club," that showcased Old Havana's golden age of big band music during the 1940s.

In those days there were fraternal social clubs for all kinds of interests: cigar clubs, literary clubs, music clubs. Think mens' clubs, like the Bohemian Club. There was one Afro-Cuban music club, the Buena Vista Social Club which was abolished, the music nearly lost forever when socialism "abolished" racism. But hey, it gave us a communist-sanctioned version of mambo called salsa.

These world-class Cuban musicians who invented the mambo, lost their livelihood under the throes of communism, the king of mambo Perez Prado fled to Mexico and Ibriham Ferrer, the veritable honey-voiced Nat King Cole of Cuba, was reduced to shining shoes on the streets of Havana for pocket money.

Kudus to Ry Cooder who was instrumental in resurrecting these neglected stars of the golden Cuban musical tradition that languished some 40 years. Cooder's three resulting CDs, by "Los Super abuelos" (super grandaddies) of Cuban music, The (Afro) & the Cuban Allstars, and The Buena Vista Social Club, took off like wildfire—almost entirely by word of mouth.

The most famous CD, the Grammy award-winning album, the Buena Vista Social Club (1997), recorded in six days in Havana's vintage RCA-EGREM studio, went on to sell over 6 million copies, worldwide. Not bad for word of mouth.

Cooder was later prosecuted and fined for breaking the US trade embargo Trading with the Enemy Act.

These old Havana musicians really are super abuelos. Imagine this: Compay Segundo (1907-2003), who invented a seven-stringed musical instrument similar to an Andean charango, called the armónico, came to world fame at the age of 93 and in 2003, he recorded his final album, "Las Flores de la Vida" at the tender age of 96.

Ry Cooder said of his passing:
"The last of the best,
the oracle,
the source,
the one who represents where it all flows from"
is gone from us.

Horsemen, pass by.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Arby's Dancing Chimps Ad is Offensive & Racist

When I saw the Arby's dancing chimp ad, at first it made me laugh. I thought, Oh, Riverdance, oh how funny. Michael Flatley and all that.

But it also made me uncomfortable. So I began to explore the basis for my gut reaction: The pseudo-scientific theories of race eugenics and social Darwinism raised its ugly Medusine head.

A sampling of social Darwinism in action— a la Dr. Beddoe's "index of nigrescence"—reads like a string of redneck blason populaire jokes: ...The Irish are an inferior race, genetically prone to violence, incapable of higher mental feats associated with human intelligence. Teaching algebra to an Irishman is like teaching a cat to churn butter. Study of Irish DNA proves they are closer to a weasel or an ape than an Englishman...

However, in my objection to the Arby's jigging apes ad, I find I am in a very small company. Everyone seems to love the Arby's ad— they find it funny. Intellectually I understand that they see the ad as a current pop cultural icon (I should be flattered. Have we arrived yet?) What disturbs me is that people don't get that it is a reference back to a deeper cultural icon based on centuries of racism.

The missing stereotype that begs to be added to the Arby's ad is a minstrel chorus of whiteface jigging chimps.

In Salon, Bob Callahan, a writer whose laser sharp intellect and keen wit I admire, writes:

"As scholars will tell us, the history of American popular culture begins in the violence of the old minstrel stage, where immigrant Irishmen, their faces blackened by the smudge of burnt cork, created new dance forms out of the old Irish step dancing they'd learned back in Ireland. In America the patterns of the step dance were combined with the versions of African-American field dances that these blackface Irish performers were being paid to ape. To accompany these dances, the melodies of Irish fiddle music were blended with the rhythms of ritual African chanting." Salon, P. 2

Certainly romanticism and primitivism became a refuge for "neo-colonialists" including the Celts. as a mode of countering the threat of racial discrimination from the "other" and the emergence of cultural nationalism has played itself out in myriad stereotypes in popular culture, but when popular culture refers back to the origins of Irish racial discrimination in an ad such as Arby's dancing chimps, then it is a racist act, whether intentional or not.

I did write to Arby's but have not had a response. Snooping around on blogsites, I discovered that a few souls have also written to Arby's, but according to their reports, Arby's is taking the Nativist "Know-nothing" stance, and denies allegations that the ad could be considered by some to be racist. They are clearly in need of a course on media literacy. It is important to expose hidden assumptions of those who view themselves as unprejudiced.

I also wrote to the Omnicom Group ad agency (I have not heard back from them), and to the contract media agency, a Simi Valley anamatronics company that created the ad, The Character Shop. I wrote a brief feedback note: "Chimps dancing an Irish jig is based on a racial slur with a long, hateful history in England and America. If you knew your history you'd be aware that this might be considered offensive."

For my efforts, I received two major flamemails from Rick Lazzarini, animatronics creator (Nightmare on Elm Street, etc), calling me, among other things, a nutcase in need of a life—lacking in reasoning skills— (thus comparing me to a chimp?), my references, full of crap. There's gotta be a cosmic pun in all of this because he's from the staunchly Republican enclave, Simi Valley. The correspondence is as follows:

MH Suggesting chimps can dance the Irish jig is based on an old racial slur...

RL No, it isn't. It's based on the idea that riverdancing is silly and if chimps did it it's even funnier.

MH ....and has a long and hateful history both in England and in America. If you knew anything about history you'd be aware that this could be construed as racist....

RL You have no idea how much I know about history, and for you to base my knowledge of it from one tv commercial shows that your reasoning skills need a lot of polishing up.

MH ...Please check out some of these sites and you'll see why it might offend anyone of Irish descent.

RL *I* am of Irish descent, on my Mother's side. And I'm not offended. Neither is my friend Shane Mahan. So, you're wrong. BTW, you're pulling up this old crap from the EIGHTEEN -SIXTIES, lady! HELLO!? Can you say ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY YEARS AGO? What a nutcase. Why do some people feel the need to be offended? It's like you can't wait to be offended just so you can complain about how offended you are. Well, now, looky. Someone paid attention to you. What a waste of energy. I don't get it. Lighten up.

Lazzarini insisted that because some of my anti-Irish references dated back 150 years, they were invalid and obsolete. But racism never goes out of style. That kind of sentiment was rampant in British tabloids in the 1970s and 80s as well. Today, the British tabloids merely update the Irish political cartoons with Muslim trappings.

I replied to Lazzarini: Racism is racism, the date as to when it was first recorded is irrelevant. It still remains as an act of racism. And this particular brand of racism was still being played out in the 20th century. How soon we forget.

Lazzarini went ballistic, "There is not a SINGLE PERSON ALIVE who even REMEMBERS what people called Irish people back in the 1860's! Depicting a chimp an Irish Dance is not the same as saying that the chimp IS irish, you dolt! Now, quit emailing me, you fool, and go be crazy with someone else."

As if history only dated back to 1960, when Lazzarini was born...

Me, I'm aghast when I see the Arby's ad. For one thing, I began to remember my cultural history. "No Irish Need Apply." The only good ______is a dead _______. You fill in the blanks.

How about this one: "An Irishman is a simian turned inside out or a white Negro." The derogatory racial slur, "White Nigger" was used in 19th-century America to describe the Irish. "Smoked Irish" was another term for Blacks (intended to insult both Blacks and Irish).

I remembered how my Irish born grandmother (b. 1893) told me of the British and American presses condemning the Irish as being sub-human and the constant prejudice she faced when she came to America in 1912.

I remember seeing images of all the hateful anti-Irish political cartoons dating back to Oliver Cromwell's time. Cromwell, who in 1559, in a fit of ethnic cleansing, wiped out some 3,000 souls in the village of Drogheda and 2,000 more were slain in Wexford. Cromwell was instrumental in the British policy of kidnapping Irish children—especially girls— shipping them to the Barbados.

In "To Hell or Connaught," Peter Berresford Ellis claims that Cromwell's son, Henry, seized a thousand "Irish wenches" to sell to Barbados. "Planters married white women servants to Blacks in order to transform servants and their children into slaves." Nebraska Dept, of Education

Massive racism and anti-Irish propaganda was so common during the Irish Potato Famine (1845-52) and throughout the early 20th century, that it was considered the norm.

Richard Godfrey writes in "English Caricature, 1620 to the Present," that caricature and the cartoon is "a blunt instrument for the expression of prejudice." Historical Society of Pennsylvania archives

A caption beneath one Irish Potato Famine cartoon read: "The Celts are going, the Celts are going at last. Hurrah! Soon a Celt on the streets of Dublin will be as rare as seeing an Indian on the streets of Manhattan." —British Government, ca. 1847.

In 1860, the first gorilla was brought to the London Zoo. Punch published "The Missing Link," stating that "A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro... comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate; it belongs in fact to a tribe of Irish savages: the lowest species of Irish Yahoo."

There is a backlog of at least two century's worth of anti-Irish racism in the news, comparing us to apes and chimpanzees. It's bad enough that we're still culturally portrayed as quick-tempered, maudlin, drunkards and blaggards in films and ads.

What was Arby's thinking? Did Arby's mean to offer up such an overt racist slur upon both those us of of Irish and and of African American descent? If they knew their history, surely they'd be aware that this ad might be offensive to Irish Americans. Don't they know Boycott is an Irish invention?

Please check the Nebraska Dept, of Education site on the Irish famine and racism lesson plan to see why the ad might offend those of Irish or African American descent.


When a powerful group begins to see another people as apes, a disaster is in the making. Any study of racist stereotyping should consider what the dominant group stands to gain. Racism usually begins with economics.

... a cartoon shows the Irish as obese, wasteful, violent, drug abusing monkeys. John Bull (Britain) shows Uncle Sam that he will take care of the troublemaker.

Irish were compared to dancing apes and called "white Negroes'

"The Day We Celebrate" American cartoonist Thomas Nast shows Irish on St. Patrick’s Day as violent, drunken apes.

"Scientific Racism" from Harper’s Weekly, shows the Irish similar to Negroes, and should be extinct.

The British denigrated the Africans in terms similar to those they used about the Irish...

Note Bene:The above are quotes, so is the offensive use of the word Negro instead of African American.

I'm finding very little by way of protest on the internet and that too shocks me. I believe that it is important to stand up against racism and stereotypes as they demean and diminish all of us.

But I did find this blog:
Arby's and racism

John O'Keefe of GINKWORLD writes: in this day and age i am amazed at the lack of respect there is for racial groups - the latest is the new arby's tv ad [created by merkley and partners, which is owned by the "omnicom group"] - the one where monkeys preform an irish step dance to traditional irish music.

the irish had been viewed as being closer to monkeys then to humans; they were called a "simian race" or a "simian people" - throughout recent history cartoonists would portray the irish as having "monkey features" - at one time they were thought to be "hairless monkeys"

i am amazed that an ad agency would think such a display of racism would be funny. a tv commercial where monkeys step dance to irish music, seems a bit over the top - would they have thought about turning the station to a "traditional mexican" music station and have the monkey's dance a traditional mexican dance? how about with doing the same thing with hip-hop? to open old wounds and do something as insulting as showing "monkey's acting irish" seems all right in their eyes.

when i contacted arby's about it - they were sorry, but they could not see what i was talking about. the response was one of "surprise" that any irish person would have contacted them and thought it insulting - the assumption was that the irish are a "humorous group" and "good natured" so they were confused that i would even take the time to call.


eaamon said...
I thought I was the only one who noticed this ad.

I said to my husband. "That's so horribly racist! But who else will know (other than the ad execs) that's how they portrayed the Irish."

You'll find this kind of slur and attacks disguised as "cutesy" editorials and cartoons when America's great cities such as Boston, Chicago and New York were being built on the backs of immigrants such as the Irish.

Many people don't get the fact that because most Irish people "look white", that they were treated horribly by other whites. The Irish were persecuted, killed, left to starve and a myriad of other atrocities because of their racial heritage.

Racial heritage and racism is not always about color is more about cultural roots.

I did a documentary on black and white women focusing on racial discussion and views-

In one taping we asked the women to look at drawings and artwork from magazines such as Harpers Bazaar and newspapers from the 1800s. Not one white or black women knew what they were looking at.

When they found out they were cartoons of the Irish made to look like simple minded, lurching apes, these women were shocked to find out this sort of racism existed.

One article even referred to the Irish as "N---ers turned inside out".

This commercial is offensive.


There was some three pages of dialogue about the Arby's ad on the Chiff & Flipple forum, where some of the offensive cartoons were posted. Check it out.

For what it's worth, I contacted Arby's three times. They responded to my second email only after I'd submitted a customer dissatisfaction survey. Fifteen days later, I got this generic email form Arby's. Hopefully they will be a little more culturally aware during their future ad campaigns.

Dear Arby’s Friend,

We’re sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with our current advertising.

Many times we choose to use tongue-in-cheek humor and satire in our commercials in an effort to communicate information about the Arby’s menu in an engaging and entertaining manner.

Your opinion is very important to us, and we thank you for taking the time to provide feedback. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone. We have shared your comments with our marketing and advertising teams so they can be considered in the development of future advertising.

Very truly yours,

Arby’s Customer Relations

What I found most profoundly disturbing about this whole Arby's fiasco, is that the animatronics ad creator, Rick Lazzarini not only resorted to time present name calling, but he stated that if a historic series of racist events occurred 150 years ago, it was no longer historically valid. In the world of advertising, Lazzarini's dialogue suggests that one should eradicate and whitewash the past as well as render negative opinions as bogus. What if it had been a Nazi reference, then what?

How soon we forget.


Arby's take note:

Irish Ambassador slams use of ‘belittling Irish stereotypes’ in Australian media The homepage of The Age headlined the piece with “Drunk Paddy in A$500k flood of tears”, but has changed this on its website. White likened this to “the caricature of the fighting, drinking, dissolute Irish, notoriously promulgated in the pages of Punch in the 19th century”.

“The headline succeeds in simultaneously demeaning an individual and taking a swipe at an entire national group,” White said. Incidents such as this cause hurt. That hurt is all the greater when it happens in a country where Irish people feel at home.