Chronicles of the Malediction [two podcasts]

On left, Marc Eliot Stein, Ted Shulman and friends with Regina Opera. On right, portrait of Jamelah Vincent.

I spent the final days of 2023 desperately scrambling to complete two episodes for the two podcasts that represent the clashing sides of my brain.

I was possessed by a superstitious idea that I needed to launch both episodes before 2024 began – a superstition I probably manufactured as a motivational device, since I hadn’t managed to produce a new episode of my opera podcast in seven months. The podcaster version of writer’s block. Now I was building up to New Years Eve by transforming myself into a whirling frenzy, putting the final touches on a new “Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera” episode featuring Ted Shulman, my new pal and fellow amateur chorus member at Regina Opera in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Ted sings bass and knows a lot about classic opera. I sing baritone/tenor and don’t know nearly as much about classic opera as Ted, though that never stops me from saying what I want to say about it. In this episode, we chat about our recent “Rigoletto” in Brooklyn, count down our all-time top 3 favorite chorus moments, and reminisce about our mutually favorite nearly forgotten 1970s New York punk band “The Mumps” and their lead singer Lance Loud, who I hope is never forgotten. It’s a hectic and eclectic interview, and Ted has a lot of smart things to say, even though I seem to be over-caffeinated and can’t stop interrupting him. If you haven’t checked out this podcast yet, please try it – simply find a free streaming app for your phone or tablet, or listen in a web browser.

Just as I finally managed to his “send” on this long-awaited resurrection of my dormant and silly opera show, I was scheduled for a different kind of ordeal on the World BEYOND War podcast. This is a show I work harder on than “Lost Music” – for one reason, because I’ve actually been employed by WBW, a very worthy small-donor nonprofit organization, for six years now. The other reason I work harder on my peace podcast is that opera is fun, but we really need to end all wars if we’re going to save our planet from the suicide it seems to be hurtling towards, and I hope we do save it.

I was about to interview my friend Jamelah Vincent, who had been a key part of Literary Kicks volunteer staff 20 years ago when we ran some hyperactive and joyful poetry and literary discussion message boards right here on this very site (that was Litkicks 2.0, sort of, in the days when Litkicks was a bunch of message boards. Now Litkicks is a blog.)

I’d invited Jamelah to speak on this podcast mainly because I admired her sharp social media posts about the horrifying, unbelievable genocide going on in Gaza since the latest Israel/Palestine disaster began on October 7. Jamelah lives in Michigan and is Yemeni-American on her father’s side, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know much about her background beyond that, so I planned to ask her about the war between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, and I was sure we’d talk about our continuing hopes for the peaceful release of Judih Weinstein Haggai, a poet, grandmother and pacifist who is also, like Jamelah, a longtime friend of Literary Kicks from back in our Action Poetry and Utterances message board days. Judih and her husband Gad Haggai were shot at their kibbutz near Gaza on the morning of October 7, and we’d been waiting and hoping for their return since then. We talked a lot about Judih in the episode 2 months ago.

It brought my whirling frenzy to a standstill on the morning of December 28, just a couple of hours before my interview with Jamelah was scheduled to begin, when I suddenly saw Judih Haggai’s name on the news. It was a short, sad update: Judih had apparently been dead since October 7, and was no longer considered a living hostage.

This wasn’t a complete surprise because we’d just heard the same news about her husband Gad a couple of days before. So, along with the usual panic-attack state I tend to be in as the minutes tick down to a podcast interview, I now had to rethink the plan for this episode. Luckily, with Jamelah I didn’t really need a plan. She spoke about the murderous injustices going on in Gaza and the West Bank, and explained why she often tried to feature Arab men in her social media posts – because they have to deal with the crisis in Gaza while also suffering many common prejudices against Arab men as violent and angry.

Every podcast interview I do turns out to be surprising. I suppose that’s why I keep doing them. I was surprised that Jamelah had so much to say about the kinds of petty and vicious prejudice that Arabs and Muslims face in many western countries. I learned a few things from her words, and they seemed to trigger something unexpected in me. I now realized I wanted to talk about the kinds of petty and vicious prejudice that Jews face in many western countries. Luckily we have all the time we want on these podcasts, because it turned out that Jamelah and I both had a whole lot to say on behalf of our own ethnic groups, and on behalf of all commonly attacked ethnic or identity groups.

What comes through like the braying of a thousand trumpets in this conversation, I think, is that both islamophobia and antisemitism are constantly exploited by war profiteers, and by pro-war media.

We know about this exploitation all too painfully in my sick country, the so-called United States of America, though we try to forget the state we were in 20 years ago when cable news and print news soaked us up to our foreheads in anti-Arab hatred and Islamophobia. These were the years after September 11, 2001 when Dick Cheney and his golf partners saw a huge business opportunity in a war in Iraq. We the people had to be soaked in Islamophobia in order to make our brains soft and stupid enough to wave our red white and blue flags and cheer on George W. Bush’s – USA’s – insane military crusade.

That war ended up killing millions, and also planted seeds for many new wars including the ones we are choking on today. Today, as far as I can tell, USA has been leading the world towards World War Three since February 2022 when we began stumbling into a commitment to inspire regime change in Russia by sacrificing the lives of Ukranians who we compensated by turning into international TV stars. This regime change never happened, of course, and now Putin’s military machine is stronger than ever. Even so, the Russia/Ukraine war has been considered so successful by General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman, McDonnell Douglas, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, Microsoft, Amazon and Oracle that they’ve been hard at work planning a new spinoff in Taiwan. October 7 took these war profiteers by surprise, but they have no problem adjusting their spreadsheets to make room for an unexpected war. A new violent cataclysm in the Middle East fits their business plans just as well as endless tragedy in Europe and Asia.

These creepy pro-war corporate profiteers are part of the amorphous blob that generates consensus for genocidal policies through lobbying organizations like AIPAC and countless influential foreign policy “think tanks” funded by fossil fuel and weapons companies. These corrupt policies are then carried forward by our completely bought-and-sold government, which keeps busy committing to new wars and new fossil fuel projects. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, the pompous Biden Administration or the crazed Trump putsch – both sides have lost touch with voters and are only capable of continuing the nightmare of fortress capitalism, dividing and militarizing the world in order to expedite weapons proliferation, economic devastation and fossil fuel extraction.

This fraud is being carried out on the wings of islamophobia and antisemitism. These petty hatreds serve to distract the people as the profiteers cash in. By turning up the heat on ethnic hatred between Muslims, Christians and Jews, the long-suffering people of USA can be kept so busy ripping each other to shreds that nobody will notice what our so-called government is doing to all of us, and to the human race. Unfortunately, turning up the heat on ethnic hatred is a really easy game, and it’s easy to get a lot of people to start playing it.

I’m glad I was able to give Jamelah a forum to speak to her own Arab-American community through the World BEYOND War podcast, and I guess I turned this interview into an opportunity to speak to my own very troubled Jewish-American community as well. Here’s my message in two sentences: don’t fall for the hatred and the lies. Have the courage to stand strong with Jewish antiwar groups who are now urgently speaking up against Israel’s horrible collapse into the worst depths of apartheid and collective punishment.

Courage is a word I keep coming back to lately. I’ve been struggling to understand the confused policies of Joe Biden, who I voted for in 2020 with great hope for a reversal of USA’s own collapse into the lowest depths. But it quickly became clear that Biden had no plan to undo the damage four years of Trump had left behind. The best thing the previous Obama/Biden administration had achieved from 2008 to 2016 was a crucial, planet-saving peace deal with Iran, which Trump scuttled. Restoring peace with Iran could have been Biden’s crowning glory – but his cowardly administration did not consider it a priority once he took office in 2021.

Biden’s administration also doesn’t consider it a priority to confront the fast-creeping tyranny of Trump’s blatantly illegitimate so-called Supreme Court, which is now allowing the political murder of women by forced birth laws. It seems to me the Biden administration lacks courage and conviction on every urgent issue, and seems ready to collapse to the worst instincts of America First fascism by capitulating to inhuman practices on the USA/Mexico border – one of the more visible fault lines surrounding Fortress America as we continue our national decline.

As Jamelah and I acknowledge in this interview, the absurdities of USA’s fascist status quo have been painfully felt by both Muslim and Jewish Americans since October 7, while many other Americans manage to remain blissfullly ignorant of world events.

But the new year that just began will be a presidential election year, here in Fortress America, and USA-ians are miserable about having to choose between a clownish Republican party openly committed to greed, violence and racism – and a banal, wealth-soaked Democratic party that barely even pretends to offer an alternative to the Republican vision. Both parties seem fully committed to endless and futile war, though they bicker about which wars are their favorites and which journalist-murdering dictators to cozy up to. Trump likes Putin, while Biden likes MBS despite that awkward thing about Saudi Arabia murdering a Washington Post journalist in plain sight to show off the country’s ability to murder Washington Post journalists anytime it wants with impunity. Hard to pick a winner between Trump and Biden when it comes to cozying up to dictators.

Nothing has made me more enraged at Biden’s epic failures of leadership than his clueless mutterings since October 7 about the alleged importance of Israel to American Jews. I’ve been disgusted and horrified to hear a politician I once earnestly voted for declare that American Jews must stand behind Netanyahu’s war crimes – for our own safety. I have never felt so insulted on behalf of all Jewish Americans as I was when Biden declared that American Jews should cower in fear while supporting a genocide. The worst anti-semitic statements of Mel Gibson or Kanye West don’t come close to this slap in the face from Biden, who has no idea how many American Jews would lay down their lives before supporting Netanyahu.

I guess it makes sense Joe Biden thinks so poorly of any Americans that he speaks of them cowering for safety behind a foreign dictator’s war crimes. The only Jews he meets are from AIPAC (or from US Congress, which is the same thing). I wish Biden could meet the kinds of brave people I meet every day in the antiwar movement.

When I listen back to the episode I recorded with Jamelah in the final days of 2023, I hear an alarming combination of sadness, weariness and craziness in my voice. It’s not my best podcast performance. Neither was my opera podcast. The months since October 7 have been rough.

Not surprisingly, Jamelah sounds calmer and more thoughtful than me, which reminds me of how we interacted when we used to work together on Litkicks Staff 20 years ago.

It’s a pretty intense episode. Please listen and tell me what you think.

“Rigoletto” hasn’t stopped ringing in my ears since we did our last show in November. The plot turns on a maledetto, a malediction – a curse placed upon the sinful and selfish Duke of Mantua and his enabler, his wingman, his court jester Rigoletto, in the middle of a raucous bacchanal. We are a chorus of courtiers, suck-ups and hangers-on in a royal palace. The curse is placed on Rigoletto and Il Duca, but it also seems to fall upon all of us, and we sing a mournful dirge as the mood of the room suddenly turns. “O tu che la festa …”

Scene from "Rigoletto" by Regina Opera, November 2023

Here’s the amazing thing about this maledetto, this malediction, this curse placed upon Rigoletto’s head by an angry former friend. In Verdi’s brilliant opera, we never find out whether or not this curse is supposed to actually have supernatural power or not. Is this an opera in which Rigoletto is actually destroyed by a maledetto? Or is it an opera in which Rigoletto feels so much guilt about his various human failings that he believes the curse to be real, and makes it come true?

This brilliant opera works both ways – maybe the curse is real, and maybe it’s a psychological symbol. Today, I have the same question about the various ethnic hatreds that have permeated our world cultures since the beginning of time. Islamophobia, antisemitism, slavery, anti-Asian prejudice. Misogyny, the desire to control women, and the various ways these issues are exploited by our worst politicians. Greedy economic policies that harm communities and turn people into refugees who are then mistreated for being refugees. A climate crisis that our alleged world leaders are absolutely shutting their eyes to avoid seeing.

These are our maledictions, as a new year called 2024 begins.

Let’s try to do better this coming year, friends.

6 Responses

  1. I agree with everything you said. Sometimes it feels like I just met you and other times like I’ve known you forever, for years, since 2003 online at least. I’m not a big student of history, but it seems to me that extremism in any form is never the answer.

  2. To litkicks…

    I believe that peace on Earth is possible. It starts with peace on the inside. I have not done so well with peace on the inside. I am a part of a larger whole, a small part, a part none the less. My behavor on litkicks in my younger days was over the top. I am trying to do better for myself and my world. I was way too crazy when younger and though ive gotten smarter I really havent gotten all that much more wiser, though now is the season to be wise. Wisdom wants joy, deep deep joy not only for myself but for others. I start with my own broken lot and move out ward. Thank you for litkicks it gave me an outlite when younger didnt mean to be so high got caught up in things, I wanted you to know that though my behavor was over the top my heart was in the right place. And it still is as I believe in a better world. My youth was over the top and I am trying to be a better person one day at a time. Thanks for being there when I needed a place to express myself. in the five privileges or small part. What the **** is all that? What? I have a better human play. What the **** is all that? I am a better human Play 57 in that I have not done so well with people in five privileges or a small part, apart unless my behavior on the kicks in my younger days. So the time would do better for myself in my world. I was way too crazy when younger. And though I’ve got a smart, I haven’t gotten to work like that, seems to be like. wisdom wants to a deep, deep chewy. Not only. I’m very human. Play 57 in that I have not done so many people being because of litkicks and that is all I want to say. Hope all are well!!

    I don’t know what that I did not put that there. I did not put that there. We’ll take it out. We’ll then see what they’re doing. They’re having all kinds of fun with you now. Look at them now. Yep. Now you’re really into the animal soup of time. Damn it, man. Are they going to quit? Are they going to quit? because I have a mistake right now. It’s still a mistake. I couldn’t give me a break. I’m not gonna help it all. Gymnastics. Gymnastics. Gonna help a gymnastics with gymnastics like Tumblr. Tumblr can I get gymnastics tonight with Tumblr? Tumblr. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know why they they could carry on like that. im not sure why it does it or How much wet does?what is going on anymore. So what do you do? How do you, how do you fight that though? You know what I mean? You can’t fight. You gotta do it alone.p cant fight this it must be costantly dropped. i tryed to write and am still trying to do the next right thing a day at a time sometimes one memit at a time going to get well in the treatment center for ones such as me. We shall overcome. Michelle overcome. One day at a time sweet lord give me strength. well it sounded better in my head. they are messing with my head lord forgive them i think they are as cray as me. Alright let’s see that’s all I gotta say. When that was in, that was, that was my damn making it there. And that was out. That was damn. That was my big damn thing. That was my big makeup thing to be big fan of life and stuff. The life and everybody in the computer happiness life. There it was. There it was, and there was my damn bring it up and help out the world and be a part of. t And with my be a part of.his is this. my be a part of lif Is my be a part of life?e who knows No.who has my controls all i know is its not me.

  3. Doesn’t Netanyahu want genocide?
    The Christian US knuckleheads got the Reality-TV-Prez. To move the US Embassy to Jerusalem to expedite Jesus’s–peace be onto him–Generalship for the Battle Of Armageddon before the Muslim Day of Judgement.
    Ceasefire. Now.
    It kills me hearing Jerk-off-Kershner–curses upon his name–talking ’bout beachfront property in Gaza unless he was thinking about casinos for his father in law.
    I believe Hamas has successfully created their blood feud & US Right-wing-nuts in Congress are quoting Genesis 12:3 as their religious duty to fund the I.D.F.–after the Orthodox are conscripted–whose motto will become: $hoot every Palestinian & let God sort them out so condominium towers can be built surrounding Al-Aqsa Mosque.
    God help us all.

  4. Your podcast is playing again & when it stopped, I wrote my previous satirical response.
    Maybe I said this: the USA’S come a long way from being a nation of slave-holders, Indian-killers, & White-supremacist pseudo-Enlightenment wannabes. I’m real sad to hear about TickTok censorship.
    People who haven’t seen war have no problems being pro-war.

  5. I agree with your basic summary of the situation, Omar … good to hear from you again!

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What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!