Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rare Condors Seen Nesting in Northern California

(Courtesy of my fellow Californian Abby Normal)

Rare condors seen nesting in Northern California: Discovery follows efforts to protect endangered species

BIG SUR, Calif. - For the first time in more than 100 years, California condors were spotted nesting in the northern part of the state, scientists said.

The condor couple was found Monday displaying typical nesting behavior inside a hollowed-out redwood tree in Big Sur, a mountainous coastal region south of Monterey, the Ventana Wildlife Society announced.

"For the past 10 years when this sort of thing came up, it turned out to be just in my dreams," Kelly Sorenson, the group's executive director. "Now it is a reality."

To Read the Rest of the Story

Bernardine Dohrn: Four Myths of the 60s

I just read Bernardine Dohrn's introduction to the book Letters from Young Activists and she outlines four myths of the 60s (I got this online from an adaptation republished in Monthly Review Zine--thanks):


It is clear that the Sixties, which was never really The Sixties, is being wielded as a bludgeon against today's young risktakers; a barrier, a legendary era which can never be equaled today. In fact, the Sixties was annually declared "dead" by the pundits of Time magazine and Newsweek beginning in 1963 and throughout the mid-seventies. During the subsequent three and a half decades, there has been a relentless campaign to promote four myths about those radical social upheavals. These legends about the so-called Sixties must be on the table to be scrutinized by today's young activists.

First, the '60s is enshrined as a heroic time of huge demonstrations, militancy and organizing. It was never all that.

Sixties activism was almost always small, isolated, surrounded by hostile, angry crowds. The groundbreaking actions of the students who joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the women who stood for an end to patriarchy, and the veterans, draft resisters and deserters who defied the military machine are legendary now because they were right about history and morality. Overwhelmingly, their courage was the quiet kind, the inventive sort, often unrecognized, not showy. Millions took a step away from the path well traveled, left the career track, lived on subsistence pay, learned to talk to strangers about politics, went to the point of production, invented communes, built schools, dug into communities, revived midwifery, seized and exposed the universities, were arrested, broke with family expectations and tradition. Black Panthers, GI organizers, environmentalists, Young Lords, gays and lesbians -- the anarchy, the imagination, the gravity, the invisibility to the media, especially the failures are familiar to today’s young activists. So is the sense of isolation, the inadequacy to the task, the frustration with not being heard, the drowning in the American la la machine. The inability to stop the relentless escalation of war and occupation each and every day for a decade. The enormity of the hold of white supremacy on American life, North and South, inside and out. Divisions among ourselves, worst of all.

At the height of 1968's upheaval, activists at Michigan State felt dismayed that they were not strong and powerful, like those in Ann Arbor. Militants in Ann Arbor measured themselves unfavorably against the struggle at Columbia in New York. And at Columbia or Cornell or Berkeley, organizers were unhappy that they were not meeting the high bar set by the May Day events in France, where workers and students brought the government to the brink. The challenge now, as then, is living as a radical organizer in your own time, your own place. The difficulty then and now is working away during what the great educator and founder of Highlander Myles Horton called Valley Times. It involves simultaneously acting and doubting.

Today’s episodic massive organizing achievements can similarly be followed by eerie calm, business-as-usual, invisibility, the sense of never having been. Global solidarity and inventive militancy among AIDS activists, followed by . . . Labor rights and global justice shutting down the World Trade Organization in Seattle, but. . . . Brilliant unity and tactical zaniness at the '04 Republican National Convention building toward. . . . The devastating deflation of electoral defeats and setbacks to independent organizing. . . . GLBTQ direct action and exuberant breakthroughs followed by counter-reaction and withdrawals, momentarily washed up on the shore. . . . This was true also for all but a few seconds of the roughly fifteen years that constituted The Sixties. The consciousness of today is both ahead of and behind the peaks of the past. That was prelude. Now is where we stand.

Second, and paradoxically in counterpoint to romanticization, there has been a relentless thirty-year campaign to demonize and criminalize the Sixties. Militant resistance is portrayed as criminal, mass rebellion transformed into mob action, courageous choices derided as self-serving, moderately outrageous comments in the heat of the moment seized upon and repeated ad naseum as if they were the whole story or true. Fine leaders are degraded and their contributions dismissed due to personal limitations and all-too-real flaws. This is the organized, contemporary, and legal companion to the illegal, secret Counter-Intelligence Program ("COINTELPRO") of the FBI which used disinformation, harassment, and "dirty tricks" against the predominately white movement while using assassination, infiltration and imprisonment against people of color. This demonization of activists was the pretext for physical assassination and character assassination. It finds us still with scores of political prisoners unjustly incarcerated from that time. The Sixties was, in short, neither that good nor that bad.

Third, the struggle has been commodified, sold back to us as clothing, music, drugs, and film. It is trivialized, sucked of content, leaving only the husks of oldies, tattoos and faded murals. What remains invisible is surviving for decades on $20/week, living communally, doing what had to be done without funding from foundations or the approval of program grants, stepping off the career track, risking exile or courts martial, turning Left off the interstate. These were and still are choices made by both the privileged as well as the modest -- first-generation college students, working-class youth, and immigrants who comprised the movement.

Fourth is the lethal, deceptive telling of Sixties' history as if it were predictable and known, smoothing out the turmoil, the turbulence, the anarchy, and the ethical choices. The pat illusions that "we" all opposed the Vietnam War, "we" all were relieved that civil rights were granted to African Americans, and the "media" helped end the Vietnam war

But history is seized, not given, change wrenched as a result of struggles from below. The women who challenged the mangling of our bodies -- the sisters did not know how it was going to turn out. The youth on the freedom rides, the lunch counters, the voter registration drives, urban insurrections, demonstrations against police brutality, struggles for Puerto Rican independence, Chicano liberation, Native American land, resources and dignity -- no one knew how it would turn out. The young men who resisted the draft, who deserted the military, who fought in Vietnam and returned to join the anti-war movement and threw their medals back at the White House, the veterans who today warn and educate about the dread of real war -- they did not know how it would turn out. Dr. King himself was an angry, developing radical -- a constant work in progress, not an airbrushed saint.

When we think about historical moments, of course, we each read ourselves into it in heroic ways. It's so obvious now. We all imagine that if we had lived during slavery, we would have been a catalyst for emancipation, we know what we would risk. Similarly, in our hearts we believe that had we been alive in Europe at the time of Nazi Germany, we would have been part of the Resistance, we would have hidden refugees, we would surely have stepped up to the historic challenge.

What are today's crises of human rights and how will we be remembered? For what we did and for what we failed to do? How do we narrate and act in this historical moment? Let me begin then with those home truths about the Sixties.

Source Link

To the Best of Our Knowledge: Between Belief and Unbelief


To The Best of Our Knowledge
from Wisconsin Public Radio

Steve Paulson with E.O. Wilson on Science and Religion

E.O. Wilson is one of the world's most eminent scientists. His theory of sociobiology laid the groundwork for a new branch of science, but also created plenty of enemies. Now, he's taking aim at a new target: religion. In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge we'll talk with E.O. Wilson about the growing rift between science and religion; why he calls himself a "provisional deist," and what he dislikes about the whole idea of an eternal afterlife in heaven. We'll also get a very different take on religious belief from historian Garry Wills, author of "What Jesus Meant."


Garry Wills is one of America's leading historians and a devout Catholic. His new book is "What Jesus Meant." Wills tells Jim Fleming that we know very little about the historical Jesus and that it doesn't matter because faith does not depend on historical facts.


Karen King is a historian at the Harvard Divinity School. Her books include "The Secret Revelation of John" and "What is Gnosticism?" Kind tells Anne Strainchamps that there are many early Christian texts that didn't make it into the Bible and that they give us a much fuller understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Also, the Reduced Shakespeare Company (Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor) perform an even further abridged version of their theatrical show "The Bible: The Complete Word of God" - abridged.


click on picture to see larger image Renowned biologist E.O. Wilson talks with Steve Paulson about the difficulty of reconciling science and religion. Wilson calls himself a provisional deist but is a vocal critic of Intelligent Design. Wilson's books include "Sociobiology" and "Consilience" and he's just edited a collection of Charles Darwin's books called "From So Simple a Beginning."

To Listen to the Program

Howard Zinn: Lessons of Iraq War Start with US History

Lessons of Iraq War Start With US History
By Howard Zinn
The Progressive

Tuesday 14 March 2006

On the third anniversary of President Bush's Iraq debacle, it's important to consider why the administration so easily fooled so many people into supporting the war.

I believe there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture.

One is an absence of historical perspective. The other is an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism.

If we don't know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. But if we know some history, if we know how many times presidents have lied to us, we will not be fooled again.

President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn't that Mexico "shed American blood upon the American soil" but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that he really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to "civilize" the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Wilson lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to "make the world safe for democracy," when it was really a war to make the world safe for the rising American power.

President Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was "a military target."

And everyone lied about Vietnam - President Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, President Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin and President Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia. They all claimed the war was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanted to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

President Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country. And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991 - hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait, rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

There is an even bigger lie: the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

If our starting point for evaluating the world around us is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then we are not likely to question the president when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values - democracy, liberty, and let's not forget free enterprise - to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world.

But we must face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which the U.S. government drove millions of Indians off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations.

We must face our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation and racism.

And we must face the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted the belief in the minds of many people that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have embraced this notion.

But what is the idea of our moral superiority based on?

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world.

It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join people around the world in the common cause of peace and justice.


Howard Zinn, who served as a bombardier in the Air Force in World War II, is the author of "A People's History of the United States" (HarperCollins, 1995). He is also the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of "Voices of a People's History of the United States" (Seven Stories Press, 2004).

To the Best of Our Knowledge: Class Lessons

To The Best of Our Knowledge


Michael Zweig is an economist at SUNY-Stony Brook. He tells Steve Paulson that a lot of Americans who think they're middle class are actually working class and that Americans need to squarely face up to class issues and what they mean for things like health care. Also, Michelle Kennedy tells Anne Strainchamps how she ended up homeless and how she managed to support herself and her three children. Kennedy is the author of "Without A Net."


Music historian Michael Streissguth talks with Jim Fleming about Johnny Cash and the remarkable recording he made in 1968 at Folsom prison. And we hear several musical examples. Streissguth is the author of "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison."


Tom Wolfe's latest novel is called "I Am Charlotte Simmons." He talks about it with Steve Paulson, and explains why he's so fascinated by the connection between sex and social status. Excerpts from the book are read by Dylan Baker.

Class Lessons

Carrie Taylor: Horticulture Coordinator

Carrie Taylor, Horticulture Coordinator
Maysville Ledger Independent

As the teacher and coordinator of the Horticulture Program at Maysville Community and Technical College, I am continuously interested in why students choose to study this area of specialization. Generally, one of the common interests that most of these people share is the love of plants and gardening; but choosing horticulture as a career is much different than one who is a hobbyist. Students who enter this program receive training in design, science or botany concepts and business management techniques, which enables them to make money while practicing the art and science of growing and cultivating plants. There is a bond between humans and the land which is attracting and often addicting to those of us who appreciate and respect this.

Within the industry there are numerous areas of specialization and diverse opportunities students may pursue. Some of these include: landscape and floral design, lawn and landscape maintenance, hardscape construction including sidewalks, retaining walls and pond installations and greenhouse and nursery growing. These professions share some common elements, the relationships between the land and humans. People within the horticulture industry utilize natural resources to create aesthetically pleasing and functional gardening products.

Humans have always been interconnected with the land and earth; this is more evident within the agriculture vocation which is closely related to horticulture. Soils, plants and nutrients are some of the most common natural elements that are mined, processed and formed into products for consumers. Since the relationship has always existed between people and nature, it is our responsibility to respect nature and its finite reserves. If business owners and employees respect these relationships, it is more likely that the resources, such as soils, mulches and plants will continue to be harvested and mined with less fear of endangerment to plant and animal species.

Most people who enter the horticulture vocation have an appreciation of their physical surroundings and have the desire to learn how to improve these. By working outside in the physical elements that are often less than ideal, including cold, rain and snow, I believe there is a heightened sense of respect and appreciation of the earth.

Practices that growers and designers use have a great impact on our immediate surroundings and the future of how land will be used. This is one of the many theories that a student in the horticulture program would study.

It is the responsibility of employees within the horticulture industry to become knowledgeable and to increase the knowledge of customers about cultural practices relating to gardening products, services and practices.

If you have an interest in growing and caring for plants, learning about their physiological components and if you have the desire to be creative with designing environmental elements, you may be a candidate for the Horticulture Program!

For more information about the program I can be reached at 606-759-7141 ext. 66232 or send me an e-mail:

Lexington, KY: 4th Annual "We Are Women" Conference

Contact: Lynn Madison, Bluegrass Community and Technical College

(859) 246-6647

4th Annual We Are Women Conference

(Lexington, KY) – The Bluegrass Chapter of the American Association of Women in Community Colleges will hold its 4th annual We are Women Conference on Friday, April 7, 2006 at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Leestown Campus, 164 Opportunity Way, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

This year’s theme, Our Balancing Act, will focus on how to balance your professional and personal life – how to bridge the gap between professional growth, professional development, women’s issues in higher education, personal growth, and issues facing women in society.

The keynote address will be given by Janey Moores, Owner and President of BJM Staffing and Job Guidance of Kentucky. Janey has owned her employment business in the Lexington and Central Kentucky area for nearly 35 years. During that time, she has placed thousands of people in thriving careers. Janey began working in the company she now owns as the receptionist in 1971. Her life has definitely veered off the beaten path as she has grown her business into one of the “Top 500 Woman-Owned Businesses in the U.S.” according to Working Woman magazine. Janey is the recipient of various business awards including the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Woman Business Owner of the Year Award, National NAWBO Trailblazer Award and U.S. Chamber of Commerce “Blue Chip Enterprise Award.” In addition, Janey is the current Legislative Director for Kentucky Staffing Association (KSA) and is the current Chair of the Professional Women’s Forum Dreambuilder’s Committee.

Registration begins at 9:00 a.m. in Building A. Presentations begin at 10:00 a.m. also in Building A and will include the following topics: Domestic History, Women in History, Tips for Buying a Home, Sewing and Crafting, Sun Protection and Dermascans, Container Gardening, Overcoming Grief, and American Sign Language. Vendor’s booths and exhibitions will open at 9:00 a.m. in the Student Center. Admission is free and the public is invited.

Cheryl Rogers: Response to V is For Vendetta

This past weekend I went to see V for Vendetta. It wasn’t something I had planned on seeing immediately, I was planning on waiting for the DVD. My husband really wanted to see it so I went as well. I thought it would be just another comic book inspired Hollywood blockbuster with no real message or agenda. I was wrong. Even though the movie was based on a comic book created about 25 years ago, the movie presented ideas that are relevant not only to affairs in the world today, some would say that the filmmakers were offering their commentary on the policies of Bush Administration and terrorism. However, they also resemble affairs that took place in the 1700’s.

The movie is set in a not too distant future Great Britain where in the name of security a totalitarian style government has evolved in the wake of war, poverty and disease. The Government is similar to the government in Great Britain during the 1700’s. The Chancellor, Sutler, and his regime reminded me of King George and the English Parliament which had become too controlling and too powerful leading up to the American Revolution. In the movie there are government finger-men who are the equivalent of King George’s standing army. It is through these men that we are introduced to an average young woman named Evey. She encounters them while out after curfew one evening, by “coincidence” a masked man, known only as V, comes to her aid and fends off her would be attackers. This accomplishes a couple of things right off the bat. Number one, it introduces the audience to the idea that we will be following Evey throughout the film, we will see things as she sees them we will become aware of things as she does. Secondly, it introduces V as an admirable protagonist; our vigilante hero. Or is he?

Shortly after he rescues her from the finger-men the very eccentric V invites Evey to accompany him to a concert that he is conducting that evening, to which she agrees. As he begins to conduct an invisible orchestra on the roof tops of London, as music begins to play from the government sound system that lines the street the entire neighborhood awakens, V begins the climax of the piece and the church across the street explodes in numerous bomb blasts, fireworks are set off and the music continues to play. It’s at this moment that the film changes and we realize at this point that this is not going to be your average comic book movie.

We follow V as he begins to unravel Sutler’s government as he plans to unite the citizens challenging them to join him on November 5th of the following year as his plan culminates in the violent act of blowing up Parliament, much like the Catholic’s plot to overthrow the English parliament that had failed in the 1700’s. It would appear that V is a valiant freedom fighter. However, it is slowly revealed that V is not only trying to remove an oppressive government, but he is also out for revenge against the people who had held him prisoner and destroyed his life. V had been held captive and almost killed by the government and everyone who played a part in his torture, and imprisonment are now in high government positions. Taking his personal revenge, V murders each of them. Not exactly the acts of a typical hero.

As one of the best comic book movies ever, V for Vendetta definitely delivers everything you would expect from a big budget Hollywood blockbuster; it has great action, a wonderfully unique story, and fully developed, interesting characters. But this movie offers much more than that. The filmmakers also use this movie to offer their commentary on the Bush Administration’s policies and to ignite debate by its audience, debate over issues like, terrorism, violence, domestic spying, and government. When is it acceptable to use violence to overthrow an oppressive government? The biggest issue that the movie deals with is the relationship between governments and their people. The title character, V, is a terrorist or freedom fighter, depending on your point of view, who is striving to unite the people to rise up against an oppressive totalitarian government. He is fighting for the good of the people. Throughout the movie the filmmakers challenge us to reevaluate the way we think about violence, terrorism, revolution, and vengeance. The hero is a freedom fighter using terrorist tactics, but he is not attacking a foreign country and murdering innocent people. He goes against a government that has taken total control of the people forcing them to live their lives in fear. I feel that the heart of this movie can be summed up by one of its own lines, V tells Evey that, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Joseph Cirincione: Fool Me Twice

Fool Me Twice
By Joseph Cirincione
Foreign Policy

I used to think that the Bush administration wasn’t seriously considering a military strike on Iran, because it would only accelerate Iran’s nuclear program. But what we're seeing and hearing on Iran today seems awfully familiar. That may be because some U.S. officials have already decided they want to hit Iran hard.

Does this story line sound familiar? The vice president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. The U.S. secretary of state tells congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The secretary of defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism. The president blames it for attacks on U.S. troops. The intelligence agencies say the nuclear threat from this nation is 10 years away, but the director of intelligence paints a more ominous picture. A new U.S. national security strategy trumpets preemptive attacks and highlights the country as a major threat. And neoconservatives beat the war drums, as the cable media banner their stories with words like “countdown” and “showdown.”

The nation making headlines today, of course, is Iran, not Iraq. But the parallels are striking. Three years after senior administration officials systematically misled the nation into a disastrous war, they could well be trying to do it again.

Nothing is clear, yet. For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran.

I argued with my friends. I pointed out that a military strike would be disastrous for the United States. It would rally the Iranian public around an otherwise unpopular regime, inflame anti-American anger around the Muslim world, and jeopardize the already fragile U.S. position in Iraq. And it would accelerate, not delay, the Iranian nuclear program. Hard-liners in Tehran would be proven right in their claim that the only thing that can deter the United States is a nuclear bomb. Iranian leaders could respond with a crash nuclear program that could produce a bomb in a few years.

My friends reminded me that I had said the same about Iraq—that I was the last remaining person in Washington who believed President George W. Bush when he said that he was committed to a diplomatic solution. But this time, it is the administration’s own statements that have convinced me. What I previously dismissed as posturing, I now believe may be a coordinated campaign to prepare for a military strike on Iran.

The unfolding administration strategy appears to be an effort to repeat its successful campaign for the Iraq war. It is now trying to link Iran to the 9/11 attacks by repeatedly claiming that Iran is the main state sponsor of terrorism in the world (though this suggestion is highly questionable). It is also attempting to make the threat urgent by arguing that Iran might soon pass a “point of no return” if it can perfect the technology of enriching uranium, even though many other nations have gone far beyond Iran’s capabilities and stopped their programs short of weapons. And, of course, it is now publicly linking Iran to the Iraqi insurgency and the improvised explosive devices used to kill and maim U.S. troops in Iraq, though Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace admitted there is no evidence to support this claim.

If diplomacy fails, the administration might be able to convince leading Democrats to back a resolution for the use of force against Iran. Many Democrats have been trying to burnish a hawkish image and place themselves to the right of the president on this issue. They may find themselves trapped by their own rhetoric, particularly those with presidential ambitions.

The factual debate during the next six months will revolve around the threat assessment. How close is Iran to developing the ability to enrich uranium for fuel or bombs? Is there a secret weapons program? Are there secret underground facilities? What would it mean if small-scale enrichment experiments succeed?

Fortunately, we know more about Iran’s nuclear program now than we ever knew about Iraq’s (or, for that matter, those of India, Israel, and Pakistan). International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have been in Iran for more than 3 years investigating all claims of weapons-related work. The United States has satellite reconnaissance, covert programs, and Iranian dissidents providing further information. The key now is to get all this information on the table for an open debate.

The administration should now declassify the information it used to estimate how long it will be until Iran has the capability to make a bomb. The Washington Post reported last August that this national intelligence estimate says Iran is a decade away. We need to see the basis for this judgment and all, if any, dissenting opinions. The congressional intelligence committees should be conducting their own reviews of the assessments, including open hearings with independent experts and IAEA officials. Influential groups, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, should conduct their own sessions and studies.

An accurate and fully understood assessment of the status and potential of Iran’s nuclear program is the essential basis for any policy. We cannot let the political or ideological agenda of a small group determine a national security decision that could create havoc in a critical area of the globe. Not again.

Joseph Cirincione is director for non-proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Article Link

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

David Cromwell: Curiosities of Utopian Thinking

(I highly recommend the book and documentary The Corporation--Cromwell sets up one of the big problems regarding corporate advertising's affect upon the channels of information, or, as some call it, news.)

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media


Forbidden Links: Media, Advertising, Corporate Power And Climate Chaos

Sean O’Grady wrote recently in the ad-filled motoring supplement of The Independent: “in answer to the many letters we get criticising some of our coverage, we don't make cars. We just write about them. [...] We try to concentrate on telling our readers about the many many ways you can enjoy motoring without costing the earth (in any sense).” (O’Grady, ‘Sport Utility Vehicles: Don't shoot the messenger. The people who buy SUVs are the problem, not the industry that makes them, or even the motoring press’, The Independent, March 7, 2006)

O’Grady went on:

“Why so defensive? Because so much of the criticism so dangerously [sic] misses the point. Almost every one of us wants to help to save the planet and almost every one of us wants personal transport.”

So who, according to the Independent motoring journalist, is to blame?

“The enemies of the planet, the hypocrites if you will, are not the oil companies that refine the petrol or the car companies that make the vehicles, or the journalists who write about them or the advertising industry that markets them or the bankers who lend us money to buy them. The people to blame are the people who buy cars in the first place, without whom none of the vast industry would exist. Now you know who to write letters to.”

This is a facile argument on many levels. For instance, consider that corporations spend billions annually to promote their products and to create new markets around the globe. As philosopher Mark Kingwell notes:

"From the point of view of the corporation, the ideal citizen is a kind of insanely rapacious consumer [driven by a] kind of psychopathic version of self-interest." (Quoted in Joel Bakan, ‘The Corporation’, Constable, London, 2004, p. 135)

Corporations also ‘externalise’ the environmental and other costs of their products, minimising or avoiding regulation with government connivance - so that society as a whole, and the planet itself, bears the burden.

However, O’Grady’s article is quite a significant piece of journalism in that, until very recently, any discussion linking advertising, the media, corporations and environmental collapse was simply off the media’s agenda. It is a promising sign that the public recognises that those issues are linked +and+ that the media had better take note.

Another example of forbidden connections being made was on BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week programme... before swiftly being given the boot. Jacky Law, author of ‘Big Pharma’ said:

“... the real issues don’t get covered [by the media] and I try to show in my book that when you have a parliamentary committee making decisions it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re adopted by government because the corporate power is just so strong and we need the corporate money”.

Andrew Marr, presenter of the BBC programme, responded:

“But we don’t talk about that. And, of course, they’re very often the people [i.e. the corporations] advertising in the press and in the newspapers in the first place. It’s very interesting, the kind of lack of debate at a time, for instance, about the car industry and the future of the car industry. Then you look at the number of car adverts and you begin to wonder, is there a connection? I shouldn’t say that, probably.” (‘Start The Week’, BBC Radio 4, January 16, 2006)

Indeed, in a well-rewarded media career – including prestigious stints as BBC political editor and editor of the Independent - Marr has learnt not to dwell on such topics.

A similar spark of sanity was quickly snuffed out in the editorial pages of the Independent on Sunday (see our media alert, Climate Change -‘Welcome to Mars (or North Korea!)’, January 31, 2006.

We sent a follow-up email on February 12, 2006 to Michael Williams, the deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday (IoS). The subject line of the email was “IoS silence on the news filters that protect power.” We wrote:

“You recently maligned readers protesting your paper's fossil fuel-related adverts as ‘a curmudgeonly lot of puritans, miseries, killjoys, Stalinists and glooms.’ ('A bottle of bubbly for the best way to fly', Independent on Sunday, January 22, 2006)

“And, in your column today: ‘I thought I'd laid this idea to rest a couple of columns ago‘, referring to your strawman argument that rejecting advertising ‘would almost certainly drive us out of business.’ ('On any measure, let's stick to common sense', February 12, 2006).

“You dismiss too readily certain uncomfortable facts that have not escaped your readers' attention: the heavy reliance of your newspaper - indeed all the 'quality' press - on advertising revenue [around 75%]. Such dependence is only one of a series of news filters protecting the public from unpalatable truths about state-corporate power in society. This propaganda model of mainstream media, presented by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in 'Manufacturing Consent' (1988), has never been mentioned, far less discussed seriously, in the IoS. Why not?

“I look forward to hearing from you.

best wishes,
David Cromwell
Co-editor, Media Lens”

Williams did not respond and has since steered well clear of such uncomfortable topics in his weekly column. In the meantime, full-page colour ads from ‘green giant’ BP continue to fill the pages of the Independent. Coincidentally, or otherwise, Jeremy Warner, the Independent’s business editor, staunchly defended BP when it announced huge £11 billion profits last month:

“From a moral perspective, some would see it as indefensible to be propping up our pensions by polluting the planet. Yet from where I sit, this seems a rather better use of the money than that suggested by the NEF [New Economics Foundation], which proposes a massive windfall tax with the proceeds to be applied first and foremost to developing renewable sources of energy and if there's anything left after that, the monies to go to the special global fund set up to help poor countries adapt to climate change.”

Warner spelled out what he thought from the vantage point of his plush corporate-funded seat:

"It is a continued curiosity of utopian thinking of this type that it hasn't yet grasped that the market provides the best possible hope of eventually achieving these ends. More money is already being thrown at renewables and energy efficient technologies than the system can possibly cope with or is ever likely to produce a return, a state of affairs that will only be accentuated by President George Bush's State of the Union commitment to end America's addiction to oil." (Jeremy Warner, ‘Don't condemn BP's oil gusher. Polluter or not, this is a company for Britain to be proud of’, The Independent, February 8, 2006)

Taking the statements of political leaders at face value is a defining characteristic of the corporate media. So too are the bizarre notions that corporations and ‘free’ markets, heavily skewed to serve the corporate interest, will ‘save humanity’.

Law professor Joel Bakan interjects a note of rationality:

“The ‘best interests of the corporation’ principle, now a fixture in the corporate laws of most countries [compels] corporate decision makers always to act in the best interests of the corporation, and hence its owners. The law forbids any other motivation for their actions, whether to assist workers, improve the environment, or help consumers save money.” (Bakan, op. cit., p.37)

The last despairing hope of blinkered media is that shifting a few chairs around at the top of the establishment will save the planet. Thus, the Independent on Sunday hails ‘green Chancellor’ Gordon Brown’s recent Budget as “moving in the right direction”, indicating that “he is becoming increasingly engaged with climate change.”

The IoS editorial continues in the same vein:

“He [Brown] realises that the period when he hopes to be prime minister - running up to about 2013 - will be the last chance for tackling it, if it is not to run out of control. As his record on world poverty shows, he is tenacious and imaginative when he becomes committed to a cause.”(Editorial, ‘Gordon and the green giant’, Independent on Sunday, March 26, 2006)

We doubt whether any Independent journalist would publicly brand such a deluded flight of fancy from their own editors as “utopian thinking”.

Market ‘sovereignty’, an unhealthy fixation on economic ‘growth’, and the benign intent of corporate and political leaders are unshakeable articles of faith for profit-led media editors and journalists. It is little wonder that such media professionals will forever dispel any critical discussion of present policies, and possible sane alternatives, to the realm of “utopian thinking”.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Sean O’Grady of the Independent:

Write to Jeremy Warner, business editor of the Independent:

Write to Michael Williams, deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday:

Write to Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of the Independent & Independent on

Write to Andrew Marr, BBC presenter:

Please also send copies of all emails to Media Lens:

The first Media Lens book has now been published: 'Guardians of Power: The Myth Of The Liberal Media' by David Edwards and David Cromwell (Pluto Books, London, 2006). At time of writing (March 27), there have been zero mentions or reviews in any mainstream newspaper. For further details, including reviews, interviews and extracts, please click here:

Guardians of Power

This is a free service. However, financial support is vital. Please consider donating to Media Lens

Visit the Media Lens website

Monday, March 27, 2006

Fayette County, KY: League of Women Voters Reminder

League of Women Voters Reminder:

Under-18s can vote in upcoming primary

When 18th birthday is November 6, 2006 or earlier

The League of Women Voters wants to be sure that all parents and students know that anyone who turns 18 years of age on or before Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, 2006, is eligible to vote in the upcoming primary election (Tuesday, May 16, 2006).

Those wishing to register to vote or for further information may call their county Board of Elections office at the following numbers.

Fayette County - 255-VOTE (255-7563)

Scott County - 873-7875

Jessamine County - 885-4161

Woodford County - 873-3421

Fayette County residents can also download and print out the voter registration form by going to Fayette County Clerk and return it by mail to the Board of Elections.

Voter registration cards are also available at the following Fayette County offices: County Clerk, Driver's License, Social Services, Armed Forces Recruitment Centers and the Health Department.

The deadline for voter registration is Monday, April 17, 2006, so register now if you will be 18 on or before Election Day, learn as much as you can about the candidates and be sure to vote in the primary and general elections.

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization of women and men dedicated to the informed participation of citizens in government. The organization does not endorse or oppose political candidates or parties.

Thomas Paine: Global Citizenship

"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good"

Thomas Paine

Friday, March 24, 2006

Nel Noddings: Global Citizenship

(This is a major concern of mine these days. My students are reading this introduction this week, I'm currently at the CCCC's conference in Chicago and will be presenting about this subject, expecially in relation to a duel concern with public spheres and public spaces. Anyways--what does it mean to be a citizen, such an important and misunderstood word? Can we move past our provincial obsessions? Can we remember though that it starts with us understanding who we are and where we come from--in knowing the places we live and work--in developing a concern with local politics--ever branching outward ... local<------>global.... still working it out...)


…from Nel Noddings’ "Introduction: Global Citizenship: Promises and Problems" from the book Educating Citizens for Global Awareness

What is Global Citizenship?

The words citizenship and citizen usually refer to a national or regional identity. One who is recognized as a citizen of a particular nation has the special rights and duties prescribed by the government of that nation. Global citizenship cannot yet be described in this way. There is no global government to which we as individuals owe allegiance, and there are no international laws that bind us unless our national government accepts them. Thus, we can’t look to the familiar, technical definition of citizenship to help us in describing global citizenship.

Sometimes citizen is used synonymously with inhabitant, as in “the deer is a citizen of the forest.” Although this statement is charming, most of us think that citizenship involves more than a reference to where we live and even more than the technical description of our national (or regional) rights and responsibilities. Educators have been trying for years to describe citizenship more fully and to figure out ways to promote it. For example, some social studies educators believe that the study of American history promotes American citizenship. Does it? (Thornton 2001) To answer this question, we have to say much more about what is meant by citizenship. In her chapter in this volume, Gloria Ladson-Billings points out that, even within a nation, some of those who qualify formally for citizenship do not feel as though they share fully in that citizenship.

Perhaps we can agree that a citizen of a place X has (or should have) an interest in, or concern about, the welfare of X and its people. Such a citizen cares about X and wants to protect its interests and way of life. This is a description with which Americans are familiar, and it is used often to arouse national pride and commitment. It would take us too far afield to explore all the ways in which people have described “American interests” and the “American way of life.” But we know that attempts at such description exhibit complexity and conflict. It is not an easy job to say exactly what is meant by “the” American way of life. We fall easily into slogans and clichés.

Consider, then, how much harder it will be to define global citizenship. Is there, for example, a global way of life? Some think that there could be—even that there should be—a global way of life, and it usually looks suspiciously like their own way. Advocates of globalization—“the removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies” (Stiglitz 2002, ix)—come close to defining global citizenship solely in terms of economics. A global citizen, from this perspective is one who can live and work effectively anywhere in the world, and a global way of life would both describe and support the functioning of global citizens.

Many careful thinkers are critical of this approach, and international meetings of world financial organizations have been marked by riotous protests. What sparks the protests? What are the objections to globalization? First, there is evidence that present efforts at globalization have aggravated existing economic injustice. Good global citizens should be concerned about this, just as good national citizens are concerned about injustice within their own boundaries. This observation prompts us to think more about the idea of interest. It may be better for present purposes to use concern instead of interest. Interest too often conveys the notion of self-interest or concentration on the benefits to one’s own group. Indeed, when citizens of one nation speak of their interests, people of other nations are understandably wary. When our interests are truly global, this worry should be relieved. But for now, to avoid this problem, let’s speak of concern. When we are concerned with the welfare of X--our nation, region, or globe--we are concerned with the well-being of all its inhabitants.

Second, globalization’s emphasis on economic growth has led to practices that threaten the physical environment—the life of the Earth itself. The problems in this area are so complex that even scientists are unsure about the harms and benefits resulting from certain practices. It seems clear that global warming is a reality and that the reduction of carbon emissions is imperative. However, other practices—the genetic engineering of plants, for example—need much more study. Closely related to problems concerning the global environment are those that affect people in particular locations. What may be good for people in a large region (say, a huge dam designed to provide electricity) may be a disaster for those in the particular locality. Some global citizens may be willing to live anywhere, but others want to live in a particular place that they love. Is love of place compatible with global citizenship? At the very least, we’ve added another factor to the concerns of global citizens—the well-being of particular physical places.

Third, critics object to construing global interest entirely in economic terms. Even if it were possible and just to establish one world economic order, other aspects of life must be considered. If global citizens appreciate cultural diversity, they will speak of ways of life, not one way, and they will ask how a valued diversity can be maintained. But what sorts of diversity should we appreciate? If a culture wants to maintain the inequality of women or the slavery of children, should we accept these practices as tolerable facets of cultural diversity—as simply “their way”? When cultural diversity pushes us toward moral relativism, we must back away. And so we have to think carefully about the merits of diversity and those of unity or universality and how to achieve an optimal balance between the two. We should be interested in social as well as economic justice.

Fourth, because globalization points to a global economy, we have to ask whose economic vision will be adopted. As noted earlier, the powerful nations are likely to impose their own vision. At the present time, the most powerful view is that of the huge international corporations. Even if it could be argued that their vision is benign and requires only tinkering to be just, many of the world’s people harbor doubts and, while the disparity between rich and poor grows, it is predictable that groups (even nations) will protest violently. Moreover, nations of the First World often associate corporate capitalism with their own overall way of life, and this association adds a strong ideological component to the problem. Citizens of wealthy nations may feel it a patriotic duty to defend economic practices that seem inseparable from their way of life. These citizens then try to persuade or even force others to accept their own way of life “for their own good.”

We must ask, also, whether global citizenship--defined in part as the activation of the concerns so far identified--is compatible with national citizenship. Should we put the concerns of globe or nation first, or is this a bad question? Should our choice depend on the particular concern under consideration? Is there an inherent conflict between patriotism and global citizenship? Can patriotism be redefined in a way that removes the conflict?

It would seem that peace is a pre-condition of global citizenship. I cannot be a global citizen if my country is at war with others, any more than a loyal citizen of Virginia could be an U.S. citizen during the Civil War. One could argue, of course, that a progressive orientation toward global citizenship will promote world peace. This is a chicken-and-egg argument. However we arrange the priorities, peace education must play a vital role in the promotion of global citizenship. A global citizen must see war as contrary to all of the concerns we have identified—to world-wide economic and social justice, to the health of our physical world, to the preservation of well-loved places, to the balance of diversity and unity, and to the well-being of all of earth’s inhabitants. Yet, if war comes, the vast majority of us will stand—sadly, perhaps even angrily—with our own nation. Even our enemies, educated as badly as we are, would think less of us if we did not. This underscores our earlier claim that war cannot be reconciled with global concerns, and so peace education must play a vital role in supporting global citizenship.

Before exploring some of these issues in greater depth, we should return briefly to the question of what can be learned from our experience in educating for national citizenship. I mentioned earlier that some educators believe that the teaching of American history promotes American citizenship. As Thornton (2001) has shown, there is little evidence to support this belief. Perhaps we need a blend of history, geography, civics, and other studies to encourage good citizenship. Perhaps no amount of knowledge will accomplish that goal. We may need forms of practice and participation that we rarely offer in schools. Still, it seems clear that knowledge must inform practice. As we look at the issues involved in global citizenship, we must try to identify the knowledge and skills students will need to achieve this new form of citizenship.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ashland Daily Independent Editorial: Another increase - Each double-digit hike in tuition makes college less affordable

Editorial: Another increase - Each double-digit hike in tuition makes college less affordable
3/17/2006 Ashland Daily Independent

And the trend continues: As state funding for higher education continues to fall far short of what is requested by the state's universities and community and technical colleges, the responsibility for paying for college continues to shift from taxpayers to students and their families.

And as the trend toward annual double-digit increases in tuition continues, a college education becomes less and less affordable for young people from families of modest means.

In a state where the percentage of residents with a college education is among the lowest in the nation, state government should be encouraging young people to go to college, instead of discouraging them with soaring increases in tuition.

The board of regents of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System - which, of course, includes Ashland Community and Technical College - recommended an 11 percent hike in tuition for the coming year. That means full-time Kentucky students will be paying $109 more in tuition next fall than they did last fall. Earlier, the University of Kentucky - the state's flagship university - announced a 12 percent increase in tuition for next fall.

In approving the tuition increase, the KCTCS regents released a report by the Kentucky Council on Higher Education that ranked Kentucky 18th out of 20 "benchmark" states in funding for community and technical colleges. The report concluded that an additional $79 million in state funding was needed to close the Kentucky's gap in state funding relative to other states.

Despite the increase, the state's two-year community and technical colleges remain a bargain compared to the four-year universities. Currently, tuition rates at the four-year schools are between 84 percent and 147 percent higher than at the community and technical colleges. Still, "bargain" is a relative term if one can't afford to pay even the lower tuition rates at community and technical colleges.

Members of the Kentucky General Assembly know exactly what they are doing: By not providing more state funding for higher education, they are shifting the burden to students and their families. In essence, each increase in tuition is a "hidden tax" for families of college students - one that makes going to college more difficult to afford for many.

And without more college graduates, Kentucky simply is not going to compete with other states for the good-paying jobs of the future. We all lose when a talented young person is discouraged by the cost from seeking a college degree.

Hate Crimes Research Network: Bibliography

Hate Crimes Research Network has an extensive bibliography of works studying current hate group research:

Hate Crimes Research Bibliography

Lexington, KY: Observe the 3rd Anniversary of the Iraq War

(Courtesy of Rebecca Glasscock and Justicelist)

3/20 Observe the 3rd Anniversary of the Iraq War


Observe, mourn, protest
- the Third Anniversary of the Iraq War


4:30 - 6:00 p.m. Monday
March 20


Triangle Park
Corner of Main & Broadway
Bring a sign and a flower.


Honor the dead. Heal the Wounded. End the War.

The first anniversary of the war was observed in 319 U.S. cities. The second anniversary of the war was observed by over double that number of cities, 765 U.S. cities. Lexington and central Kentucky peace activists rallied on each of the first two anniversaries. We expect this year to be joined by many more cities. Maybe the politicians will finally get the word: the people want this war to end.

We must not abandon Iraq - they need neutral peacekeepers and billions of dollars in reconstruction aid. We must not abandon our troops - they need to be safe and out of harm's way. Their blood must not be spilt in an endless war that we cannot win - a war that a continued occupation can only exacerbate.

Join us as we observe, mourn, and protest on the 3rd anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We want to go beyond statistics. The statistics are numbing: 2,307 U.S. dead, 16,653 U.S. wounded, over 30,000 Iraqi civilians dead, and an unknown number of Iraqi insurgents dead.

From 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. peace activists will be reading the names of U.S. and Iraqis who have died in the award. After the activist reads the name, he or she will place a flower at the foot of a coffin covered with both U.S. and Iraqi flags. While the names are being read, other activists, holding signs and banners, will line the curbs on both sides of the streets that border Triangle Park.

At 5:30 p.m. the group will rally for a brief program. Anita Dennis and Missy Comley Beattie will speak. Dennis is the mother of Darryl Anderson, wounded Iraq veteran who has gone to Canada rather than accept a second tour of duty in Iraq. Beattie is the Aunt of Marine Lance Corporal Chase Comley who died in Iraq on August 6, 2005. Beattie, Chase's father Mark Comley, and several other families are members of Gold Star Families for Peace. On March 6, 2006, Beatty, Cindy Sheehan, also of Gold Star Mothers for Peace, Media Benjamin of Code Pink, and Rev. Patricia Ackerman were arrested at the UN after the U.S. delegation refused to accept a petition containing 100,000 signature calling for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. New York police arrested the women. They were treated very roughly. Sheehan's arm was bruised. The petition can be found at:

Women Say No To War

Women can still sign this petition.

Now is the time to come out. We need to show our political leaders that majorities oppose the war. We need to let them know that if they (finally) oppose the war, the people will back them.

Peace Action Task Group
Central Kentucky Council for Peace & Justice

Richard Mitchell
(859) 327-6277

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bluegrass Film Society, Feb 21st: Whale Rider (Niki Caro: New Zealand, 2002)

On Tuesday, Feb 21st, we will be showing Whale Rider (Niki Caro: New Zealand, 2002)

On March 28th, at UK, there will be a free showing of the documentary Girl Wrestler

Lexington Central Library is holding a free group study (March 21-April 18th) of The Great Gatsby

The 1st Annual Lexington Peace Fair has been announced and we are looking for participants/volunteers

Peace Expressions/Futures Contest

Also Rob Sica continues his Eastern Kentucky International Film Series with upcoming showings of The Woodsman (March 21st); New World (March 22); The Swamp (March 29th); Distant (April 5th) and Hukkle (April 12th):

2006 Eastern Kentucky International Film Series

and more announcements/articles available on Bluegrass Film Society

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Alan Whyte: Hunger in America 2006

Hunger in America: 25 Million Depend on Emergency Food Aid
by Alan Whyte
World Socialist Web Site

The brutal impact of social polarization and the protracted assault on the living standards of broad masses of working people was reflected in two recent reports documenting the deepening crisis of hunger in America.

According to the February 23 report, “Hunger in America 2006,” a study commissioned by America’s Second Harvest Network, an organization representing some 200 food banks and food rescue groups, more than 25 million people, or about 9 percent of all Americans, receive food assistance on an emergency basis. This growing army of poor and hungry includes nearly 9 million children and 3 million seniors The overall number of those seeking help at food banks and soup lines has swelled by 8 percent since 2001, and 18 percent since 1997. The study was based on 52,000 interviews with people requiring emergency food and on a survey of 30,000 local emergency hunger-relief agencies.

The report found that about 66 percent of those needing food are living below the official poverty line—$15,670 per year for a family of three. The average annual household income of those individuals and families seeking food assistance is only $10,320. However, 10 percent of all adults had no income at all, which is a 37 percent increase in this category since 2001.

Another large share of those seeking assistance is drawn from what is commonly referred to as the working poor. About one third of the adults between the ages of 18 and 65 needing emergency food aid are employed. Thirty-six percent of all families seeking assistance reported that at least one family member was working. One fourth of all households reported that a job was their primary source of income, followed by 20 percent who reported that Social Security was their primary source of income. Half of all the households reported annual incomes of less than $10,000.

The report examined the lack of resources for those seeking emergency food. Twelve percent are homeless, which is a 28 percent increase over 2001. Almost one half do not have access to a car, and about one third obtain food stamps, which on average last only 2.5 weeks per month.

Seventy percent of those seeking assistance are classified as food insecure—that is, not knowing when they will get their next meal—while 30 percent are experiencing hunger because they have no way of obtaining food. The individuals who seek emergency food are constantly making choices between buying food or paying for utilities or heat (41 percent), buying food and paying their rent or mortgage (35 percent), or buying food and paying medical bills (32 percent).

Children and seniors are the two most vulnerable groups among those facing hunger. Many studies have demonstrated that children suffering from malnutrition experience stunted physical growth and brain development. There are 13 million children, or almost 18 percent of all Americans, who are poor. The elderly, who are less mobile, are also vulnerable to serious health problems stemming from hunger. With fixed and low incomes, 3.4 million seniors, or about 10 percent of that population, are poor. In addition, 46 percent of all the adults interviewed described their health as fair to poor.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Friday, March 17, 2006

Stephen Greenblatt: On Culture

A Critical Summary of

Greenblatt, Stephen. "Culture." Critical Terms for Literature Study. Ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995. 225-32. Rpt. in Contexts for Criticism. Ed. Donald Keesey. 3rd ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1998. 477-92.

The term "culture" commonly refers to a society's beliefs, customs, morals, art, and laws. However, according to Stephen Greenblatt, because the term is used so frequently, it often doesn't mean much, pointing only vaguely to a variety of "capabilities and habits" adopted by human beings (478). However, the concept can still be useful to students of literature if defined and applied more carefully. In his essay "Culture," Greenblatt redefines the concept of culture in a fashion he believes can do more work for the literary scholar. This refined understanding of the concept, he believes, must begin with the acknowledgement that culture ironically "gestures toward what appear to be opposite things: constraint and mobility (478).

In asserting that culture signifies or indicates social forces of constraint, Greenblatt points out that every culture is formed by an "ensemble of beliefs and practices" (478). These beliefs and practices set up standards that "function as a pervasive technology of control" to structure and delimit the behavior the members of a society. For example, such standards may articulate certain ideals of appearance or behaviors in public. If people do something unacceptable, something counter to these ideals, then they suffer the consequences: everything from stares, sarcasm, contempt, or laughter to legal sanctions like imprisonment. The beliefs and values of a culture discourage people from going outside what is "appropriate" for that society; they are constrained by what society's expectations. At the same time, "a culture's boundaries are enforced more positively as well" (478). People are rewarded for conforming to the constraints of culture with praise from others, an admiring look, a pat on the back, a promotion, etc.

Refining a consciousness of culture on these forces of constraint can assist in understanding the cultural significance of a piece of literature. Greenblatt notes two genres of literature, satire and panegyric, as obvious examples demonstrating the constraints of a culture. A satire shows explicitly the reaction to someone who does not conform, while a panegyric praises someone who does. However, satires or panegyrics written years ago do not have the same power or emphasis today because the cultural customs, values, and beliefs upon which they were based are no longer in force for modern readers. As a result, the only way to fully appreciate these works is to examine the culture that they reflect and are embedded in. An important task of literary criticism, then, is "to reconstruct the boundaries upon whose existence the works were predicated" (478).

But for Greenblatt understanding "culture as a complex whole" and illuminating the cultural significance of literature involves more than reconstructing these boundaries. Culture may be a web of constraint, but at the same time it "functions as the regulator and guarantor of movement" (480). Although limitations must be present in a culture, these must also have enough elasticity to allow movement and adaptation. This elasticity allows a culture to change over a period of time. Furthermore, cultures survive only because of the experimentation and improvisation of societies. A society must tolerate and even encourage mobility to determine what attitudes, activities and aspirations fulfill its needs and foster its success. For instance, a culture may need to experiment with tyranny to realize it needs democracy. A culture may need to improvise and mediate or modify its constraints to accommodate the diversity of people needed for its work.

The cultural mobility Greenblatt speaks of is not random, nor is it a conscious exploration and pursuit of a social destiny. Rather it is an expression of a crucial social process that Greenblatt terms "exchange" (480). Culture acts as a "network of negotiations" for the exchange of goods, ideas, attitudes, and even people (480-81). In the negotiations of this exchange, the direction and destiny of a society emerges -- its conflicts and its goals. Cultural exchange also permits concepts to be traded and shared by different societies. From this, one society can adopt and apply ideas from other societies. Through its cultural forces of constraint, a society seeks to preserve itself, but through the cultural mobility of exchange, a society moves to modify itself.

Just as literature reflects cultural forces of constraint, so it reflects the cultural exchange that fosters mobility. For Greenblatt, "a culture's narratives . . . are crucial indices of the prevailing codes governing human mobility and constraint" (481). Great writers in fact are "masters of these codes"; consciously or unconsciously they are "specialists in cultural exchange" (481). Their writing captures not just one aspect of a particular culture or one over-riding system of constraint; rather it captures the many divisions within a society that contributes to its cultural exchange. A society is both articulated and transformed by literary texts. The study of literature, then, should focus on discovering in the text "structures for the accumulation, transformation, representation, and communication of social energies and practices" (481). Thus, the cultural exchange of literature is not limited to the record of exchanges that have taken place in the represented culture, for there is also an exchange that takes place between the reader and the text. This exchange between the reader and the text can invoke an even deeper level to culture.

Greenblatt offers a set of cultural questions about a piece of literature that can nurture this critical exchange of culture:

What kinds of behavior, what models of practice does this work seem to enforce?

Why might readers at a particular time and place find this work compelling?

Are there differences between my values and the values implicit in the work I am reading?

Upon what social understandings does the work depend?

Whose freedom of thought or movement might be constrained implicity or explicitly by this work?

What are the larger social structures with which these particular acts of praise or blame might be connected? (478-79)

By exploring literature through such questions, the reader may discover how the texts have absorbed so many components comprising a culture. If these components are brought together and their relationships with one another are understood, then literature can be a strong representation of a society's "'cultivation'" (479). The reader can examine the varying components, and determine how each contributes to the growth and alterations of a culture. This insight can only be achieved, though, by focusing critical discourse on a reconstruction of a complex culture.

More Viewpoints on "What is Culture?"

The Bat Segundo Show: William T. Vollman

Author: William T. Vollmann

Condition of Bat Segundo: A bit over his head and not particularly uncentered.

Subjects Discussed: Copernicus, the relationship between religion and science, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ptolemy, Intelligent Design and contemporary parallels, Iraq, life lived according to the “cash nexus” versus life in other countries, the Bush Administration as muse, politics in fiction, Shostakovich, on writing Rising Up and Rising Down and revealing individual human identities, research and Europe Central’s historical inventions, how Vollmann creates vernacular, repeating phrases, Madison Smartt Bell, the use of narrators in Vollmann’s fiction, Lautréamont, Vollmann charms his escort, the two narrators of Europe Central, and Vollmann the entrepreneur.

Check Out Episode #26

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bombing for Peace is Like...

(Courtesy of Informed Dissent)

Picture of the day:

Leslie Heywood, Pioneer in Study of Women and Sports: Events Surrounding Her Visit to UK (March 27-31)

Leslie Heywood, Pioneer in Women and Sports, to be College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Visiting Professor, March 27-31st at University of Kentucky

The Women’s Studies Program at the University of Kentucky is pleased to announce a weeklong series of events with Leslie Heywood, Professor of English and Creative Writing at SUNY Binghamton, and pioneer in the field of women and sports. Professor Heywood’s brilliant and moving memoir Pretty Good for A Girl, based on her years as a star runner in high school, has been an inspiration for girls dealing with body image and health issues of all kinds. In addition to her acclaimed memoir, Heywood’s groundbreaking books on women, sport, and health include Bodymakers: A Cultural Anatomy of Women’s Bodybuilding (Rutgers, 1998), and Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon (Minnesota, 2003). She has been a consultant on film projects related to women and sport, including Girl Wrestler, The Battle of the Sexes, and Synch or Swim, and is a nationally respected activist/consultant in the area of women and sports, who has worked alongside figures such as Billy Jean King. Professor Heywood is also a distinguished and innovative feminist scholar who has just edited The Women’s Movement Today: An Encyclopedia of Third Wave Feminism, a monumental 1200 page, 2-volume set devoted to presenting third wave feminism in comprehensive form for the first time, and a published poet, with two recent books of poetry, The Proving Grounds and Natural Selection.

Events that will be held in conjunction with Leslie Heywood’s visit:

“Immanence, Transcendence, and Immersive Practices: Female Athletes in U.S. Neoliberalism”

Monday, March 27, 2006
7:00 pm
Center Theatre, Old Student Center
Reception to follow in Rm. 214

“Karyotypes: The Myths and Mutations of Third Wave Feminism”

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
4:00 pm
Young Library Auditorium

Commentary and discussion leader for the WS Film Series film, Girl Wrestler(Diane Zander; 2004; 53 minutes)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
7:00 p.m.
Gaines Center’s Bingham-Davis House, 218 E. Maxwell Street

Professor Heywood served as a consultant for this documentary.

Poetry Reading

Friday, March 31, 2006
7:30 pm
230 New Student Center
Book signing and reception to follow
All events are free and open to the public. For information, please call 257-1388

Six Week Study of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (Lexington Public Library)

Hello Everyone --
I am a part-timer in Developmental Studies, but I also work in Outreach Services at the Lexington Public Library, where a co-worker and I are hosting an ESL Book Discussion Group that might be of interest to your students, friends, neighbors :-)

The book we will discuss over a six-week period is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is part of the Library's 2006 "One Book/One Lexington" project.

We will provide all the materials (including t-shirts!), and the program is free of charge, of course. Meetings will be held at the Central Library, 140 East Main Street, in Conference Room B on the 3rd floor. Free parking is available in the garage attached to the library.

Here's the schedule:

Tuesday, March 21, 6-7:30 PM,

Tuesday, April 4, 6-7:30 PM

Tuesday, April 18, 6-7:30 PM

Please have anyone interested call

Ruthie Maslin 231-5594

or Jennifer Hubbard-Sanchez 231-5514

Thanks for all your help in letting folks know about this project!

-- Ruthie Maslin

1st Annual Lexington Peace Fair (May 20th) and Peace Expressions/Futures (A Contest)

(Current projects of the BCTC Peace and Justice Coalition--ask me if you need more info on helping out/joining)

Our Little World: The First Annual Lexington Peace Fair (May 20, 2006)

Peace Expressions and Peace Futures

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

David Howard: The 2006 Latino Peace Pilgrimage to End the Iraq War

(Courtesy of Rebecca Glasscock)

Gandhi in California: The 2006 Latino Peace Pilgrimage to End the Iraq War
By David Howard
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Saturday 11 March 2006

Seventy-six years ago, on March 12, 1930, Mohandas Gandhi began the Salt Satyagraha, a seemingly quixotic journey of nonviolent protest against omnipotent empire, a march to the sea powered by what Gandhi called his inner vision. Joined by thousands of ordinary Indians, Gandhi walked 400 kilometers (241 miles) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat.

The British then held a monopoly on salt, and Gandhi knew that the proceeds of the salt tax helped finance the forces of empire at the expense of the impoverished masses - the campesinos.

When he arrived at Dandi on the Arabian Sea, Gandhi picked up a grain of salt and spoke prophetic truth to arrogant power: "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire."

The truth and beauty of Gandhian nonviolence resonated around the world. Here in the United States, it inspired some of our greatest social justice heroes: Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, American untouchables from the cotton-picking Deep South; Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, children of campesinos from the strawberry and lettuce fields of the Mexicano Southwest. Their simple acts of civil disobedience - refusing to sit in the back of the bus, demanding service at whites-only lunch counters, boycotting grapes - changed our world.

On March 12, 2006, the seventy-sixth anniversary of the Salt March, as the world suffers the intended and unintended consequences of a hideous war of aggression against Iraq, Latino conscientious objectors and parents of fallen soldiers begin their own two-week march of nonviolent protest.

Like Gandhi in India, they will walk 241 California miles between Tijuana on the Mexican border and the Pacific Bay city of San Francisco. Each stop on the march for peace and justice is important to the history of the Latino movimiento: la frontera, the border between North and South, privilege and poverty; La Paz, the burial site of Caesar Chavez; Camp Pendleton, where generations of troops have trained for the killing fields of Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq. The march will end in San Francisco's Mission District on March 26-27, where participants will donate blood for both soldiers and civilians in Iraq.

The leaders of the march are Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose Marine Corps son was among the first US soldiers to die in the Iraq War; Pablo Paredes, the Navy seaman who was court-martialed for refusing to board an Iraq-bound ship; Camilo Mejiaa, who chose military prison over redeployment in Iraq; and Aidan Delgado, who was granted conscientious objector status while stationed at Abu Ghraib prison.

We in Ventura County, California, will honor these peace marchers in the spirit of Gandhi, King, Parks, Chavez and Huerta. On Monday, March 20, we will house them in the sanctuary of Oxnard's Congregation for Peace. We will walk with them to teach our children at Oxnard High School. We will join them in protest in front of Oxnard's military recruitment office, and we will arrive together at the County Government Center to call upon attorneys, judges and elected officials to help us end the war.

No one knows when the Iraq War will end. No one knows who among the children at Oxnard High School will heed Gandhi's message and who will fall prey to a multi-billion-dollar military propaganda program hell-bent on persuading them to fight.

But we do know that 75 years from now, our great grandchildren will remember our grain of salt. They will stand at our humble milestones and recall how we contributed our drop of blood, sweat and salt tears to help end an obscene war of immense cruelty and folly. They will remember not because our gestures are unique or grandiose, but because they reflect a perennial vision of peace transmitted across borders, cultures and religions. A vision worth a mere grain of salt; a vision that shakes the foundations of empire.


David Howard is co-chair of Ventura County Citizens for Peaceful Resolution/CPR.

For a Student Researching the Holocaust and Student Writing on the American War on Terror

Rubenstein, Richard L. The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future. NY: Harper Colophon, 1978.

{MB—pages 12-21 examine the judicial process that led to the development of the death camps and mass extermination. Important in this legalistic development was the designation of “apatrides or stateless persons” (12) at the end of WW1. These were people who had been denied any official standing in the nation and thus could be prosecuted or jailed at any time for no reason at all. Also the process of denaturalization or denationalization was increasingly used during and after the 1920s to deal with unwanted minority groups within the European states. This was an effective stripping of any rights whatsoever. Concentration camps first appeared across Europe to deal with apatrides (or refugees).}

The concentration camps for the apatrides served much the same purpose as did the original Nazi camps in 1933 and 1934. In the popular mind, the first Nazi camps conjure up images of wild sadism by brutal brown-shirted storm troopers. The images are, of course, well deserved, but they tend to hinder precise understanding of the development of the camps as a legal and political institution. (Rubenstein, 15)

Initially, the concentration camps were established to accommodate detainees who had been placed under “protective custody” (Schützhaft) by the Nazi regime. Those arrested were whom the regime wished to detain although there were no clear legal justification for so doing. Almost all of the original detainees were German communists, not Jews. Had the Nazis’ political prisoners been brought before a German court in the first year or two of Hitler’ regime, the judiciary would have been compelled to dismiss the case. This was not because the German judiciary was anti-Nazi, but because it was bureaucratic in structure. In the early stages of the Nazi regime, there was no formula in law to cover all the political prisoners the Nazis wanted to arrest. This problem was solved by holding them under “protective custody” and setting up camps outside of the regular prison system to receive them. Incidentally, the American government did something very similar when it interned Japanese-American citizens during World War II. They had committed no crime. No court would have convicted them. Prison was not the place to detain them. Happily, as bad as were the American concentration camps, they were infinitely better than the German counterparts. (15-16)

One of the least helpful ways of understanding the Holocaust is to regard the destruction process as the work of a small group of irresponsible criminals who were atypical of normal statesmen and who somehow gained control of the German people, forcing them by terror and the deliberate stimulation of religious and ethnic hatred to pursue a barbaric and retrograde policy that was thoroughly at odds with the great traditions of Western civilization.
On the contrary, we are more likely to understand the Holocaust if we regard it as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of Western civilization in the twentieth century. (Rubenstein, 21)

In order to understand more fully the connection between bureaucracy and mass death, it will be necessary to return to the apatrides. They were the first modern Europeans who had become politically and legally superfluous and for whom the most “rational” way of dealing with them was ultimately murder. A majority of the apatrides had lost their political status by a process of bureaucratic definition, denationalization. (Rubenstein, 31)

Men without political acts are superfluous men. They have lost all right to life and human dignity. Political rights are neither God-given, autonomous nor self-validating. The Germans understood that no person has any rights unless they are guaranteed by an organized community with the power to defend such rights. They were perfectly consistent in demanding that the deportees be made stateless before being transported to the camps. They also understood that by exterminating stateless men and women, they violated no law because such people were covered by no law. Even those who were committed by religious faith to belief in natural law, such as the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, did not see fit to challenge the Nazi actions publicly at the time. (Rubenstein, 33)

Finch, H.L. Wittgenstein. Rockport, MA: Element, 1995.

The notion that the power that has been discovered and released by modern science and technology is our power, as if it were at our disposal, is itself an example of philosophical naivete since, socially or “civilizationally” speaking, we have no independent life or identity apart from the whole complex which now contains both the powers and us. We are, as it were, inextricably at one with the scientific and technological powers and do not, as we imagine, merely “make use” of them. Socially speaking, apart from them, we have no reality, and this is why, as individuals, far from being in control of these powers, we feel ourselves to be completely at their mercy. The situation, in other words, moves as a whole, and we have no footing either within it or outside it from which to change it. That the whole moves of itself in a benign direction is the illusion of progress. That we are in control of where it is going is an even more pervasive and deadly illusion. (Finch, 17)

To speak of an epochal change is to suggest that the whole reality (ourselves and the world in which we live) is undergoing, or beginning to undergo, a transformation similar to what brought it into being in the first place from a previous epoch. (Finch, 17) {MB—a good historical look at an epochal change from a political/social standpoint is Hannah Arendt’s The Origins ofTotalitarianism. She examines the roots of the “Jewish Question” in Europe, the historical origins of anti-semitism, the Nazi “final solution,” the epochal changes from feudal monarchy to homogenous nation-state identity to expansionist imperialist empires, and the structures of fascist and totalitarian regimes.}

Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passion of War (1998)
Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1973)
Erich Fromm's The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1992)
Carolyn Marvin's and David Ingle's Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag (1999)
Alexander Laban Hinton's edited collection Annhilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide (2002)
Chris Hedges and the Mythology of War

Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without Ends: Notes on Politics. Trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Minneaplois: U of Minnesota P, 2000.

Here I will deliberately set out in the opposite direction. Rather than deducing the definition of camp from the events that took place there, I will ask instead: What is a camp? What is its political-juridical structure? How could such events have taken place there? This will lead us to look at the camp not as a historical fact and an anomaly that—though admittedly still with us—belongs nonetheless to the past, but rather in some sense as the hidden matrix and nomos of the political space in which we still live. (Agamben, “What is a Camp?”: 39)

The camps, in other words, were not born out of ordinary law, and even less were they the product—as one might have believed—of a transformation and a development of prison law; rather, they were born out of the state of exception and martial law. This is even more evident in the case of the Nazi Lager, whose origin and juridical regime is well documented. It is well known that the juridical foundation of internment was not ordinary law but rather the Schutzhaft (literally, protective custody), which was a juridical institution of Prussian derivation that Nazi jurists sometimes considered a measure of preventive policing inasmuch as it enabled the “taking into custody” of individuals regardless of any relevant criminal behavior and exclusively in order to avoid threats to the security of the state. (Agamben, “What is a Camp?”: 38)

Thus, what is being captured under the rule of law is first of all the very state of exception. In other words, if sovereign power is founded on the ability to decide on the state of exception, the camp is the structure in which the state of exception is permanently realized. (Agamben, “What is a Camp?”: 40)

If one does not understand this particular political-juridical structure of the camps, whose vocation is precisely to realize permanently the exception, the incredible events that took place in them remain entirely unintelligible. The people who entered the camp moved about in a zone of indistinction between the outside and the inside, the exception and the rule, the licit and the illicit, in which every juridical protection had disappeared; moreover, if they were Jews, they had already been deprived of citizenship rights by the Nuremberg Laws and were later completely denationalized at the moment of the “final solution.” Inasmuch as its inhabitants have been stripped of every political status and reduced completely to naked life, the camp is also the most absolutely biopolitical space that has ever been realized—a space in which power confronts nothing other than pure biological life without any mediation. The camp is the paradigm itself of political space at the point in which politics becomes biopolitics and the homo sacer becomes indistinguishable from the citizen. The correct question regarding the horrors committed in the camps, therefore, is not the question that asks hypocritically how it could have been possible to commit such atrocious horrors against other human beings; it would be more honest, and above all more useful, to investigate carefully how—that is, thanks to what juridical procedures and political devices—human beings could have been so completely deprived of their rights and prerogatives to the point that committing any act toward them would no longer appear as a crime (at this point, in fact, truly anything had become possible). (Agamben, “What is a Camp?”: 40-41)

If this is the case, if the essence of the camp consists in the materialization of the state of exception and in the consequent creation of a space for naked life as such, we will then have to admit to be facing a camp virtually every time that such a structure is created, regardless of the nature of the crimes committed in it and regardless of the denomination and specific topography it might have. (Agamben, “What is a Camp?”: 41-42)

In all these case, an apparently anodyne place ... delimits instead a space in which, for all intents and purposes, the normal rule of law is suspended and in which the fact that atrocities may or may not be committed does not depend on the law but rather on the civility and ethical sense of the police that act temporarily as sovereign. (Agamben, “What is a Camp?”: 42)

There is something that no longer functions in the traditional mechanisms that used to regulate this inscription, and the camp is the new hidden regulator of the inscription of life in the order—or, rather, it is the sign of the system’s inability to function without transforming itself into a lethal machine. It is important to note that the camps appeared at the same time that the new laws on citizenship and on the denationalization of citizens were issued (not only the Nuremberg Laws on citizenship in the Reich but also the laws on the denationalization of citizens that were issued by almost all the European states, including France, between 1915 and 1933). The state of exception, which used to be essentially a temporary suspension of the order, becomes now a new and stable spatial arrangement inhabited by that naked life that increasingly cannot be inscribed into the order. (Agamben, “What is a Camp?”: 43)

We do not have, in fact, the slightest idea of what either a people or a language is. (It is well known that linguists can construct a grammar—that is, a unitary system with describable characteristics that could be called language—only by taking the factum loquendi for granted, that is, only by taking for granted the simple fact that human beings speak and understand each other, a fact that is still inaccessible to science.) Nevertheless, all of our political culture is based on the relation between these two notions. Romantic ideology—which consciously created this connection, thereby influencing extensively modern linguistic theory as well as the political theory that is still dominant nowadays—tried to clarify something that was already obscure (the concept of people) with the help of something even more obscure (the concept of language). Thanks to the symbiotic correspondence thus instituted, two contingent and indefinite cultural entities transform themselves into almost natural organisms endowed with their own necessary laws and characteristics. Political theory, in fact, must presuppose, without the ability to explain it, the factum pluralitatis—a term etymologically related to populus, with which I would like to indicate the simple fact that human beings form a community—whereas linguistics must presuppose, without questioning it, the factum loquendi. The simple correspondence between these two facts defines modern political discourse. (Agamben, “Languages and Peoples”: 65-66)

The relation between Gypsies and argot puts this correspondence radically into question in the very instant in which it parodically reenacts it. Gypsies are to a people what argot is to language. And although this analogy can last but for a brief moment, it nonetheless sheds light on that truth which the correspondence between languages and people was secretly intended to conceal: all peoples are gangs and coquilles, all languages are jargons and argot. (Agamben, “Languages and Peoples”: 66-67)

What is at stake here is not to evaluate the scientific accuracy of this thesis but rather not to let its liberating power slip out of our hands. Once our gaze is focused on this matter, the perverse and tenacious machines that govern our political imaginary suddenly lose their power. It should be evident to everybody, after all, that we are talking about an imaginary, especially nowadays when the idea of a people has long lost any substantial reality. Even if we admit that this idea never had any real content other than the insipid catalog of characteristics listed by the old philosophical anthropologies, it was already made meaningless, in any case, by the same modern that presented itself as its keeper and its expression. All well-meaning chatter notwithstanding, the idea of a people today is nothing other than the empty support of state identity and is recognized only as such. For those who might still nurture some doubt on the matter, it would be instructive to take a look at what is happening around us from this point of view: on the one hand, the world powers take up arms to defend a state without a people (Kuwait) and, on the other hand, the peoples without a state (Kurds, Armenians, Palestinians, Basques, Jews of the Diaspora) can be oppressed and exterminated with impunity, so as to make clear that the destiny of a people can only be a state identity and that the concept of a people makes sense only if recodified within the concept of citizenship. In this regard, it is also important to not the peculiar status of those languages that have no state dignity (Catalan, Basque, Gaelic, etc.), which linguists treat naturally as languages, but which practically operate rather as jargons or dialects and almost always assume an immediately political significance. (Agamben, “Languages and Peoples”: 67-68)

The thesis according to which all peoples are Gypsies and all languages are jargons untangles this knot and enables us to look in a new way at those linguistic experiences that have periodically emerged within our culture only to be misunderstood and led back to dominant conceptions. What else can Dante mean, in fact, when he says—while narrating the myth of Babel in De vulgari eloquentia—that every kind of tower-builder received its own language, which was incomprehensible to the others, and that the languages spoken in his time derived from these Babelic languages? He is presenting all the languages of the Earth as jargons (the language of a trade, in fact, is the figure of jargon par excellence). And against this intimate aptitude for jargon that every language possesses, he does not suggest the remedy of a national language and grammar (as a long-standing falsification of his thought would have it); he suggests, rather, a transformation of the very way of experiencing words, which he called volgare illustre. Such a transformation was to be something like a deliverance of the jargons themselves that would direct them toward the factum loquendi-—nd hence not a grammatical deliverance, but a poetical and a political one. (Agamben, “Languages and Peoples”: 68-69)

Languages are the jargons that hide the pure experience of language just as peoples are the more or less successful masks of the factum pluralitatis. This is why our task cannot possibly be either the construction of these jargons into grammars or the recodification of peoples into state identities. On the contrary, it is only by breaking at any point the nexus between the existence of language, grammar, people, and state that thought and praxis will be equal to the tasks at hand. The forms of this interruption—during which the factum of language and the factum of community come to light for an instant—are manifold and change according to times and circumstances: reactivation of a jargon, trobar clus, pure language, minoritarian practice of a grammatical language, and so on. In any case, it is clear that what is at stake here is not something simply linguistic or literary but, above all, political and philosophical. (Agamben, “Languages and Peoples”: 70)

Only those who will be able to carry it to completion—without allowing that which reveals to be veiled in the nothingness it reveals, but bringing language itself to language—will become the first citizens of a community with neither presuppositions nor a state. In this community, the nullifying and determining power of what is common will be pacified ... (Agamben, “Marginal Notes on Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle”: 85)

Exposition is the location of politics. If there is no animal politics, that is perhaps because animals are always already in the open and do not try to take possession of their own exposition; they simply live in it without caring about it. That is why they are not interested in mirrors, in the image as image. Human beings, on the other hand, separate images from things and give them a name precisely because they want to recognize themselves, that is, they want to take possession of their very own appearance. Human beings thus transform the open into a world, that is, into the battlefield of a political struggle without quarter. This struggle, whose object is truth, goes by the name of History. (Agamben, “The Face”: 93)

It is happening more and more often that in pornographic photographs the portrayed subjects, by a calculated stratagem, look into the camera, thereby exhibiting the awareness of being exposed to the gaze. This unexpected gesture violently belies the fiction that is implicit in the consumption of such images, according to which the one who looks surprises the actors while remaining unseen by them: the latter, rather, knowingly challenge the voyeur’s gaze and force him to look them in the eyes. In that precise moment, the insubstantial nature of the human face suddenly comes to light. The fact that the actors look into the camera means that they show that they are simulating; nevertheless, they paradoxically appear more real precisely to the extent to which they exhibit this falsification. The same procedure is used today in advertising: the image appears more convincing if it shows openly its own artifice. In both cases, the one who looks is confronted with something that concerns unequivocally the essence of the face, the very structure of truth. (Agamben, “The Face”: 93-94)

The face, truth, and exposition are today the objects of a global civil war, whose battlefield is social life in its entirety, whose storm troopers are the media, whose victims are all the peoples of the Earth. Politicians, the media establishment, and the advertising industry have understood the insubstantial character of the face and of the community it opens up, and thus they transform it into a miserable secret that they must make sure to control at all costs. State power today is no longer founded on the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence—a monopoly that states share increasingly willingly with other nonsoveriegn organizations; rather, it is founded above all on the control of appearance (of doxa). The fact that politics constitutes itself as an autonomous sphere goes hand in hand with the separation of the face in the world of spectacle—a world in which human communication is being separated from itself. Exposition thus transforms itself into a value that is accumulated in images and in the media, while a new class of bureaucrats jealously watches over its management. (Agamben, “The Face”: 94)

There are two words in Latin that derive from the Indo-European root meaning “one”: similis, which expresses resemblance, and simul, which means, “at the same time.” Thus, next to similitudo (resemblance) there is simultas, that is the fact of being together (which implies also rivalry, enmity); and next to similare (to be like) there is simulare (to copy, to imitate, which implies also to feign, to simulate). (Agamben, “The Face”: 99)

The face is not a simulacrum, in the sense that it is something dissimulating or hiding the truth: the face is the simultas, the being-together of the manifold visages constituting it, in which none of the visages is truer than any of the others. To grasp the face’s truth means to grasp not the resemblance but rather the simultaneity of the visages, that is, the restless power that keeps them together and constitutes their being-in-common. The face of God, thus, is the simultas of human faces: it is “our effigy” that Dante saw in the “living light” of paradise. (Agamben, “The Face”: 99)

In the same way in which the great transformation of the first industrial revolution destroyed the social and political structures as well as the legal categories of the ancien regime, terms such as sovereignty, right, nation, people, democracy, and general will by now refer to a reality that no longer has anything to do with what these concepts used to designate—and those who continue to use these concepts uncritically literally do not know what they are talking about. Consensus and public opinion have no more to do with the general will than the “international police” that today fight wars have to do with the sovereignty of the jus publicum Europaeum. Contemporary politics is the devastating experiment that disarticulates and empties institutions and beliefs, ideologies and religions, identities and communities all throughout the planet, so as then to rehash and reinstate their definitively nullified form. (Agamben, “Notes on Politics”: 109-110)

However, the problem that the new politics is facing is precisely this: is it possible to have a political community that is ordered exclusively for the full enjoyment of worldly life? ... Once again Walter Benjamin, in the “Theologico-Political Fragment,” leaves no doubt regarding the fact that “The order of the profane should be erected on the idea of happiness.” The definition of the concept of “happy life” remains one of the essential tasks of the coming thought (and this should be achieved in such a way that this concept is not kept separate from ontology, because: “being: we have no experience of it other than living itself”). (Agamben, “Notes on Politics”: 114)

The second consequence of the experimentum linguae is that, above and beyond the concepts of appropriation and expropriation, we need to think, rather, the possibility and the modalities of a free use. Praxis and political reflection are operating today exclusively within the dialectic of proper and improper—a dialectic in which either the improper extends its own rule everywhere, thanks to an unrestrainable will to falsification and consumption (as it happens in industrialized democracies), or the proper demands the exclusion of and impropriety (as it happens in integralist and totalitarian states). If instead we define the common (or, as others suggest, the same) as a point of indifference between the proper and the improper—that is, as something that can never be grasped in terms of either expropriation or appropriation but that can be grasped, rather, only as use—the essential political problem then becomes: “How does one use a common?” (Agamben, “Notes on Politics”: 117)

The new categories of political thought—inoperative community, compearance, equality, loyalty, mass intellectuality, the coming people, whatever singularity, or however else they might be called—will be able to express the political matter that is facing us only if they are able to articulate the location, the manners, and the meaning of this experience of the event of language intended as free use of the common and as sphere of pure means. (Agamben, “Notes on Politics”: 117-118)