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Socialist Worker's holiday gift list

December 15, 2006 | Page 13

Socialist Worker columnists and contributors offer up give their book, movie and music choices of holiday gifts.

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Lance Selfa
MY FIRST pick is a young adult novel I got a chance to read during last year's holiday season, Elizabeth Laird's A Little Piece of Ground.

Appropriate to its genre, its preteen and teenage characters dream of being soccer stars, have spats with their siblings and exhibit teenage gawkiness with members of the opposite sex. The difference is that its characters live in Ramallah, Palestine, under Israeli occupation.

The descriptions of that reality, as seen through the eyes of three Palestinian boys, are unflinching and honest. So honest, in fact, that no U.S. publisher would touch the book--acclaimed when it was published in England in 2002--until Haymarket Books published it this year. This is an important book that will benefit readers of any age.

My second pick is another novel originally published outside the U.S. and now making its first appearance in English. Edmundo Paz Soldán's Turing's Delirium, set in Bolivia, combines the genres of the police thriller and cyberpunk to shed light inside the country's main spy agency.

All of the action takes place while thousands struggle to prevent the privatization of the country's electric utility--in a scenario obviously inspired by the 2000 "water war" in Paz Soldán's native Cochabamba.

And finally, if you just want a few hours of political pyrotechnics on DVD, rent V for Vendetta, an anarchist fantasy set in a not-so-distant future with more than a few parallels to today.

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Sharon Smith
TAKING THE Long Way, the Dixie Chicks' newest CD, is perfect for every rebel on your gift list. The music is melodic but the lyrics are defiant in songs such as "Lubbock or Leave it" and "Not Ready to Make Nice" that describe their forced exile from country radio since 2003--for publicly rebuking Bush and the Iraq war.

"It's too late to make it right," Natalie Maines sings, adding, "I probably wouldn't if I could." But revenge has been sweet for the Dixie Chicks. This album, more rock than country western, earned the Chicks six Grammy nominations and is undoubtedly their best.

With a new 25th anniversary release of Warren Beatty's epic film Reds, this is a great time to introduce the history of the Russian Revolution to a new generation. The film is centered on the life--and early death--of left-wing journalist John Reed (Warren Beatty), who wrote the eyewitness account of the 1917 revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World.

Reed's turbulent relationship with writer Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), author Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson) and anarchist Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton) also take center stage. The screenplay, which Beatty co-wrote with British socialist Trevor Griffiths, is historically accurate (unlike typical Hollywood films) and shows Reed's political evolution from a supporter of Democrat Woodrow Wilson to a revolutionary socialist.

Perhaps most importantly, this film captures like no other the mass, democratic character of the Russian Revolution--a reminder that workers can indeed run society.

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Paul D'Amato
FOR THIS holiday season, I recommend the first (and only) season (14 episodes in all) of the 2002 TV science fiction sleeper, Firefly, producer Joss Whedon's follow-up to his hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

To quote an internet movie database user comment, "The series is anti-corporate, anti-government and, while it takes the stand that some things are worth fighting for, it is largely antiwar." And if that isn't recommendation enough, its well-acted, funny, and quite entertaining--even moving at times.

You get the impression that for Whedon and the actors it was a labor of love. It's the story of the adventures of a group of ex-independence fighters-turned-galactic junk-dealers and thieves as they wend their way through space from one adventure to the next, trying to avoid the imperial "alliance" bad guys.

If you hate westerns and science fiction, please don't let that put you off. For some reason, the combination of the two works very well, and I personally know people who would never be caught dead watching one or the other who thoroughly enjoyed Firefly.

While you're at it, pick up the DVD of the film, Serenity, a 2005 film directed by Whedon that is really just a good film-length companion episode that helps fill out the original series.

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Anthony Arnove
TWO FILMS that should be in everyone's personal library came out on DVD in 2006: David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! and Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein's The Take.

Sir! No Sir! tells the story of the GI rebellion during the Vietnam war and serves as the perfect companion to David Cortright's essential book Soldiers in Revolt, which Haymarket Books published in an expanded and update edition, with a foreword by Howard Zinn, in 2005. The movie shows the power of ordinary troops to challenge war, and has invaluable lessons for antiwar organizing today.

The Take brings us inside the worker-occupied factories of Argentina. The beautifully filmed documentary serves as another reminder of the power of ordinary people to take control of their own lives, and ultimately to run society democratically and in the interests of people not profit.

Someone else who constantly explores the lives and aspirations of working people is oral historian Studs Terkel. In 2006, The New Press published the paperback edition of his excellent book And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey. The book includes wonderful conversations with a very young Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin, Louis Armstrong and many other artists, combining musical, historical, and political concerns as only Terkel does.

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Todd Chretien
IF THERE'S someone on your list who loves music, but feels intimidated by classical, get them Classical Music for Dummies, by David Pogue and Scott Speck. Then buy them a used box set of Beethoven's nine symphonies.

Beethoven was a rebel and you can hear it in his music. Born in 1770, he was raised on the hopes of the American Revolution, the drama of the French Revolution and the frustration of their limits.

Beethoven made a big splash in Vienna (the Nashville of its time) by his skill as an improvisational pianist. His Third Symphony shattered conventions. Originally written as a tribute to Napoleon, Beethoven scratched out his name after he crowned himself emperor, and instead dedicated the work to the Heroic in all of us.

By the time of his Fifth Symphony, he was almost totally deaf and contemplated suicide, but he was also a superstar in Vienna. The Seventh Symphony was performed as a fundraiser for soldiers injured fighting Napoleon, which might lead you to believe that he had sold out, yet the relationship between art and politics is complex.

A trail-blazing work, the Ninth Symphony introduced a chorus into the symphony for the first time--a big, noisy, exuberant sing-along that rescued the orchestra from the salons of the elite. The words are a poem called "Ode to Joy" by Frederich Schiller, written in 1875, when Beethoven was 15 years old and believed a better world was possible.

The fact that his last great musical work brought the poetry of his youth to life demonstrates how hard it is to kill hope. "Be embraced, Millions! This kiss for all the world!"

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Alan Maass
I HAD the pleasure of reading Vive La Revolution: A Stand-Up History of the French Revolution by Mark Steel recently. This new U.S. edition is an accessible--and hilarious--introduction to one of the most important events in world history.

What's more, Steel--unlike boring writers of academic histories or conservatives with an ax to grind--is sympathetic to the goals and aspirations of the revolution, and makes it obvious why the revolution still has meaning today.

2006 was a good one for political music, especially anti-Bush rants (I mean that in the best way), but the most radical album of the past year may be a collection of songs that all date back at least 50 years. Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions is a tribute to socialist folksinger Pete Seeger, and the decades- and centuries-old songs sound as fresh and meaningful as ever--not to mention full of life, thanks to the inspired performances of a crack band.

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