Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Adrian Martin: Poetic Realism and a Few Drinks -- Finnish Director Aki Kaurismäki

(Courtesy of David Hudson)

Poetic Realism and a Few Drinks
by Adrian Martin
Aki Kaurismäki website

One of the quiet but essential moments of modern cinema history occurred in 1964 when Jean-Luc Godard made Bande à part, which he described it as "a French film with a pre-war atmosphere". What this meant was that his story of three lovely young things flirting with death and danger would take place in the present day — Godard has never made a period film — but that everything would be rendered in the style, the feeling of another era. The markers of that era come from popular memory and myth, from music and literature, and mainly, of course, from cinema. In Godard's case his reference point was the famous 'poetic realist' French films of the 1930s and ‘40s, notably the movies of Marcel Carné that mixed romance and fantasy with a particularly poignant sense of everyday struggles and failures. Carné's famous classic, Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis, 1945) marks the high point of that poetic realism.

What Godard did in Bande à part defines a particular effect we also find in many contemporary filmmakers, such as Olivier Assayas and Atom Egoyan. They stick steadfastly to the present day for their characters, stories and settings, but will allow themselves this minimal degree of nostalgia: they sometimes allow the ghostly images of past times and past periods of cinema, certain moods and character types and stylistic effects, to drift into their cinema world.

It is often a very modest effect, just an echo or allusion, and it gives these films a slightly unanchored, fantastic air. Watching them, we are occasionally uncertain whether they are set in the present day, or in some more distant historical period. We float in a kind of fanciful dimension where many different historical periods and places — and the subsequent renderings of those periods and places in cinema — co-exist in a dream-like simultaneity. Jacques Demy did this comically in Donkey Skin (1970) and Jacques Rivette achieved it radically in his avant-garde pirate fantasy Noroît (1976) — where the pirates carry machine-guns! Even more conventional, commercial movies, like John Huston's memorable Prizzi's Honor (1985), occasionally attempt something like this.

There is no contemporary filmmaker more engaged in this subtle, dreamlike effect of mixing times, places and sensibilities than the Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki. His films are truly odd, and — as I have come to appreciate over recent years — truly beautiful and affecting, combining a modesty of material means with a tenacity of artistic vision. He is one of those filmmakers, like Godard or Assayas or Edward Yang, who makes cinema in order to capture some ephemeral, complex, crystalline feeling of jumbled-up joy and melancholy, triumph and oblivion — a mood which he senses is in the air these days.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Speaking of Faith: The Soul in Depression

The Soul in Depression
Guests: Andrew Solomon, Parker Palmer and Anita Barrows
Speaking of Faith (American Public Media)
Host: Krista Tippet

As a society, we're increasingly aware of the many faces of depression, and we've become conversant in the language of psychological analysis of depression and medical treatment for it. But there is a growing body of literature by people who have struggled with depression and found it to be a lesson in the nature of the human soul. In this program you'll hear intimate conversations with author Andrew Solomon, Quaker activist and educator Parker Palmer, and poet and psychologist Anita Barrows on their lived and spiritually edifying experiences with depression.

To Listen to the Episode

Monday, March 30, 2009

Leo Goldsmith: Review of We Live in Public

Review of We Live in Public
by Leo Goldsmith
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Ondi Timoner’s last documentary, Join Us, picked over the perversions of an abusive church cult in South Carolina; her first major film DIG!, about The Brian Jonestown Massacre, documented as much sex, drugs, and idiocy (especially the latter two) that one can reasonably expect from a rock band with a renowned proclivity for heroin. We Live in Public, her new film about forgotten internet pioneer, New Media mogul, and sometime “cyber kid” Josh Harris, is kind of a hybrid of the two, equally a documentary about group-think control and unbridled, child-like idiocy. And curiously, it finds that these two seeming opposites are not quite so contradictory, after all.

Indeed, Josh Harris and BJM’s Anton Newcombe are both overgrown children and precocious geniuses (or “geniuses”) in very ways, but each doggedly, even pathologically pursues his ends with a nearly superhuman extravagance and degree of hubris. Of course, the primary difference between the two is that Harris became massively wealthy in doing so—before he imploded and became massively in depth. Gradually building an internet media empire while the world was still dialing-up and buffering, Harris soon aspired to be what one interviewee describes as “the Andy Warhol of the Internet,” attracting diverse, off-the-wall talent to host shows at his trailblazing Web TV-station Pseudo.com, wooing wealthy, bubble-minded investors, and openly menacing Viacom during his 60 Minutes profile.

In many ways, Harris’s achievement was the result of an astonishing prescience—in the future, he augured, people would watch TV, communicate with one another, and essentially live their lives on the internet, and although there did not yet exist the technology to do all this, Harris and his empire forged ahead anyway. (An early digitally animated video piece by Harris entitled “Launder My Head” shows a group of people with monitors for heads chanting things like “Come form with us” as they dance in digital lockstep, à la Ally McBeal’s atrocious dancing baby, in an austere, blocky landscape that uncannily resembles “Second Life.”) But of course, Harris was also lucky (or, arguably, unlucky), a recalcitrant, socially stunted kid with a bit of vision, a lot of computer-savvy, and an odd predilection for Gilligan’s Island, who simply found himself in the right place at the right time.

To Read the Rest of the Review

Saul Hansell: The Economics of Snooping on Internet Traffic

The Economics of Snooping on Internet Traffic
By Saul Hansell
The New York Times (Technology)

Details of the Cox and Comcast approaches modified.

Kurt Dobbins, the chief technical officer of Arbor Networks, has what he sees as a very good reason to use a machine — which his company makes — that can see every word and every picture people send and receive over their Internet service provider: Internet service providers could offer a complex menu of price plans, as cellphone companies do. He predicts you will soon see many plans that impose usage caps in peak times, but unlimited use off peak.

That thought may well be red meat to the many people who think the Internet should always be unfettered by any limits.

Mr. Dobbins invited himself over for coffee recently, not to talk about Internet pricing exactly, but to defend the honor of this technology called deep packet inspection.

There are a lot of other things deep packet inspection can do that are perceived as rather creepy. It is great for spies and secret police, who want to know when people read or write about certain topics. It can identify people who send copyrighted files and block people from using certain programs, like BitTorrent. Advertisements can be shown based on what sites Internet users visit. And it can help Internet providers degrade the service of rival offerings, such as voice calling or video over the Internet.

Tim Berners-Lee, one of the creators of the World Wide Web, recently said in a speech to the British House of Lords that deep packet inspection is the equivalent of opening people’s mail.
The Free Press, an advocacy group, published a report on the subject last week, warning that the adoption of deep packet inspection “will open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences that could spell disaster for the free market online.”

Mr. Dobbins said that he wished the technology had a different name. “Deep packet inspection conjures up all kinds of evil images,” he said, frustrated that what he helped invent 10 years ago has earned such a bad reputation.

Arbor isn’t in the Big Brother business, he insisted. Its technology doesn’t read the content of what people send and receive, he said; it just analyzes how much bandwidth they use and the type of information they are sending — e-mail, video, Web pages or whatever.

It is like looking at the stamp and addresses on the outside of mail, not opening the envelopes, he said.

It’s not quite so simple, however. Mr. Dobbins explained that Arbor’s machines don’t scan for copyrighted songs, for example. But they do identify packets being sent by peer-to-peer file trading programs, and they can send them to machines made by other companies meant to identify copyrighted content.

I’m not sure this is going to reassure Mr. Berners-Lee and other critics of deep packet inspection. Arbor, to continue the postal imagery, is like a person who sorts through the mail looking for suspicious packages, handing them to another person to open.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Speaking of Faith: Repossessing Virtue -- Wise Voices from Religion, Science, Industry and the Arts on the Economic Crisis

Repossessing Virtue: Wise Voices from Religion, Science, Industry and the Arts
Speaking of Faith (American Public Media)
Host: Krista Tippet

As the global economic crisis began to unfold last fall, we wanted to respond immediately, in our way. We began to conduct an online conversation parallel to but distinct from our culture's more sustained focus on economic scenarios. For in each of our lives, whoever we are, very personal scenarios are unfolding that confront us with core questions of what matters to us and what sustains us. We made a list of our guests across the years who we thought might speak to this in fresh and compelling ways.

To Listen to the Episode

Altcountry #68: Cherryholmes; Amer Diab & Loan Sharks; The Weight; Bruce Robinson; Dixie Chicks; Ann McCue; Frontier Folk Nebraska; Scott Miller; etc.

Pod 68: devilish fine tunes by...
Altcountry (Netherlands)
Host: Hugo Vogel

Cherryholmes, Amer Diab and the Loan Sharks, The Weight, Bruce Robison, the Dixie Chicks, Anne McCue, Frontier Folk Nebraska, Scott Miller, Greg Copeland, Dao Strom, Graham Lindsey and The Gaslight Anthem.

To Listen to the Episode

Worldview: Rob Hopkins -- Irish Transition Town Movement; Bill Wilson -- Midwesterner Brings Transition Towns to Illinois

Worldview (Chicago/WBEZ)
Host: Jerome McDonell

Imagine a world in which your neighbor owns livestock and sells it to you using currency only accepted in your township. This is not a vision of a bygone era. ... you'll hear about modern-day "Transition Towns". Also, We'll hear from the co-founder of a company that offers classes on permaculture and sustainable living.

Transition Towns
Rob Hopkins — a pioneer of the "Transition Town" movement, based in Ireland.

Midwesterner Brings Transition Towns to Illinois
Bill Wilson — Co-founder of Midwestern Permaculture, a company offering classes on permaculture and sustainable living, based in Stelle, Illinois.

To Listen to the Episode

Worldview: Arvind Ganesan--Social Responsibility of Multinational Corporations; Fernando Coronil--Hugo Chavez in the Era of Obama

Worldview (WBEZ/Chicago)
Host: Jerome McDonnell

[In February] Venezuelans voted 55-45 percent to allow Hugo Chavez another run for president in 2012. ... CUNY professor, Fernando Coronil [discusses] Chavez in the era of Obama. Also, we look at the social responsibility of multinational corporations with Arvind Ganesan.

Social Responsibility of Multinational Corporations
Arvind Ganesan — Director of the Business and Human Rights Program for Human Rights Watch

Venezuela: Hugo Chavez in the Era of Obama
Fernando Coronil — Visiting Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York (CUNY); Author of The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela

To Listen to the Episode

Brian Dillon: Chris Marker's La Jetée, a half-hour futuristic film that explores time and memory

Fade away: Chris Marker's La Jetée, a half-hour futuristic film that explores time and memory, seems to conjure an entire century's romance with the moving image.
by Brian Dillon

Viewers emerge from Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962), a film made almost entirely of still photographs, marked for ever by its imagery yet somehow unsure exactly what they have seen. It is a film that mines deep seams of memory, but whose surface, though hardly forgettable, remains enigmatic in retrospect. After almost half a century, it is still hard to say what Marker achieved in his masterpiece.

La Jetée (The Jetty)
Release: 1962
Country: France
Runtime: 29 mins
Directors: Chris Marker
Cast: Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain

On the face of it, the half-hour film ought to be easy to précis, because its futuristic plot is familiar to the point of banality. (In Twelve Monkeys, Terry Gilliam's hyperactive "remake" of La Jetée, it's only the clichés that remain.) In the aftermath of a nuclear war that has destroyed his native Paris, a prisoner is dispatched across time to secure the resources that the present lacks. Chosen for his attachment to a childhood memory - the image of a man shot dead on the observation pier at Orly airport - he spirals inevitably back to that moment, which is revealed as the scene of his own death.

But the recursive narrative of the film is just the pretext for a more involuted essay on time, memory and the lure of images. Marker's protagonist recalls the shocked face of a woman on the jetty, and as he is thrown back in time he finds her again, becoming (as the film's calm voiceover informs us) "her ghost". It's here, before the prisoner is abruptly recalled to the future, that La Jetée conjures its most haunting images. The man and woman perform a heartbreaking choreography of discovery and loss, becoming sci-fi avatars of the petrified figures on Keats's "Grecian Urn". He leans immobile over her face in sunlight, they stroll among static children in the Jardin des Plantes and halt suddenly before the "wall" of their impossible future. In the work's most extraordinary moment - at screenings, the critic Janet Harbord says in her recent book on the film, there is always "a collective bodily intake of breath" - the sleeping woman opens her eyes and the film moves for the first time, before a sudden jump-cut to the frozen and desolate time to come.

La Jetée, as Harbord notes, is littered with ruins. Paris - and, one presumes, much of the world - has been "blown up". In a sequence depicting the wake of the third world war, we see a city - or cities, because the photographs clearly derive from the second world war, and might show Dresden or Hiroshima - bombed almost flat, and what appears to be a mock-up of the amputated Arc de Triomphe. In the tunnels to which civilisation has retreated, there are hunks of broken statuary at which the hero stares aghast. In his journey into the past, he catches sight of more statues, headless or defaced; at his last meeting with the woman, they wander among the stuffed relics of a natural history museum, and Marker's camera frames them as if they were themselves dusty specimens trapped in its vitrines.

La Jetée is a complex and poetic reflection on the destructive and redemptive powers of memory. (Film itself, we might say, is an art of forgetting: how much do you actually recall of your favourite movie?) But none of the above should imply that it's a work of pure aestheticism or merely psychological insight. Among the merits of Harbord's concise study is her insistence that La Jetée is a film about the politics of memory, a point confirmed when one considers the films that its director worked on in the preceding decade. There are stray images, easily overlooked in light of the film's more exquisite moments, that clearly recall certain shots in Alain Resnais's devastating Holocaust documentary of 1955, Night and Fog, on which Marker was assistant director. (The tunnels rhyme with Resnais's images of the inmates' quarters in the death camps; the mysterious German-speaking scientists in La Jetée resemble stills of Nazi doctors.) In 1953, Marker and Resnais made Les Statues meurent aussi, a short film on African sculpture that is also an obvious polemic against colonialism and the museum artefact as effacement of history.

To read the rest of the essay

BCTC Environmental & Green Building Speaker Series: March 30 and April 1

(Courtesy of Rebecca Glasscock)

Bluegrass Community and Technical College

In the first of several environmental lectures upcoming this semester, Dr. Richard Shore will “become” John Muir on Monday, March 30 from 11-11:50 a.m. in the Oswald Building Auditorium. And mark your calendar for Wednesday’s discussion on designing buildings with the environment in mind.

What: Panel discussion focused on green building principles and design. Each panelist will speak for 15-20 minutes. Q & A will follow.

When: Wednesday, April 1 from 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Where: Oswald Building Auditorium (OB 230), BCTC Cooper Campus, 470 Cooper Drive
[Note: Specifically for this event, UK parking enforcement will end at 6:00 p.m. You may park in the C-6 lot.]

Who: We are very pleased that the following individuals have agreed to participate in this discussion.

• Lee Bagley, of Barnette Bagley Architects. Mr. Bagley designed Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest’s Visitors’ Center, which received the highest LEED certification – platinum.

• Jocelyn Hinshaw, of M2D Design Group. For more information about this Landscape Architecture and Planning group.

• Casey Mather, of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Sustainable Cities.

• The panel will be moderated by Larry Porter, member of BCTC’s Sustainability Committee.

Worldview: Effects of Bee Colony Collapse Disorder; The Secret Life of New York's Bees; Climate Change’s Drastic Impact on Marine Ecosystems

Worldview (WBEZ/Chicago)
Host: Jerome McDonell

80% of the world’s crop plants depend on pollination. Pollinators, such as bees, produce one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat. The mass disappearance of bees is referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD). ... an expert tells us how the spread of colony collapse could spell disaster for bees and for our food supply.

Effects of Bee Colony Collapse Disorder
Dr. Gabriela Chavarria — Science Center Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

The Secret Life of New York's Bees
Kate Hines — WNYC Producer/Reporter

Report Predicts Climate Change’s Drastic Impact on Marine Ecosystems
William Cheung — Marine ecosystems lecturer at the University of East Anglia; Author of the new report Projecting Global Marine Biodiversity Impacts Under Climate Change Scenarios

To Listen to the Episode

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ryan Alessi: Four Kentucky Nursing Programs Facing Nursing Board Review

(Courtesy of JF who reminded me that Gateway college, with the lowest scores of the four problem programs, has no tenured faculty. I found the comments of Jan Gordon, the Spencerian College executive director, in regards to their program graduates poor scores to be a good illustration of an institutional passing-of-the-buck.)

Programs facing nursing board review
By Ryan Alessi
Kentucky Herald-Leader

Four nursing school programs in Kentucky have fallen out of state compliance by failing for the third straight year to have at least 85 percent of their graduates pass the national exam.

Now officials from those schools — Northern Kentucky University, two community colleges and Spencerian College — must go before the Kentucky Board of Nursing this spring and explain how they plan to improve their instruction for one of the few burgeoning careers during this rough economy.

Officials at the four schools under review are pledging that they will bolster their nursing education to avoid the Board of Nursing taking drastic action, such as revoking its approval of the program.

"It will not be tolerated either by the college leadership or by the faculty," said Keith Bird, chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Two community colleges, Gateway in Northern Kentucky and the Lees Campus of Hazard Community and Technical College, have had three years in which less than 85 percent of their students passed National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

Bird said the college system has replaced the administrators in charge of the nursing programs at both campuses. They are taking other steps, such as providing better training for nursing instructors to help students in test preparation, Bird said.

Spencerian College, which offers nursing at its Louisville campus but not its Lexington school, has failed to meet the 85 percent pass rate on the national test for the last six years.

Jan M. Gordon, executive director of Spencerian College, said in a statement that the Kentucky Board of Nursing's expectations might be too stringent. Only two state boards require the 85 percent success rate for first-time exam takers, she said.

"We feel that while well-intentioned, the KBN is exceeding its authority in disciplining schools for the first attempt test-taking abilities of its graduates," Gordon said. "There are many factors which can influence a person's ability to pass a standardized test that have nothing to do with the educational institution they attended."

Gordon said it would be a mistake for the Kentucky Board of Nursing to move to close down any program that is out of compliance.

"It could result in the loss of potentially over 500 registered nurses annually in the commonwealth, at a time when our hospitals and nursing homes are facing a historic shortage of nurses," Gordon said. "We support high standards for nursing, but punishing the institution does nothing to improve patient care."

To Read the Rest of the Report

Weekly Signals: Will Bunch author of Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future

An interview with Will Bunch author of Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future.
Weekly Signals (KUCI/Orange County, CA)
Hosts: Nathan Callahan and Mike Kaspar

Bunch unravels the story of how a right-wing cabal hijacked the mixed legacy of Ronald Reagan, a personally popular but hugely divisive 1980s president, and turned him into a bronze icon to revive their fading ideology. They succeeded to the point where all the GOP candidates for president in 2008 scurried to claim his mantle, no matter how preposterous the fit.

With clear eyes and an ever-present wit, Bunch reveals the truth about the Ronald Reagan legacy, including the following:

• Despite the idolatry of the last fifteen years, Reagan's average popularity as president was only, well, average, lower than that of a half-dozen modern presidents. More important, while he was in office, a majority of Americans opposed most of his policies and by 1988 felt strongly that the nation was on the wrong track. Reagan's 1981 tax cut, weighted heavily toward the rich, did not cause the economic recovery of the 1980s. It was fueled instead by dropping oil prices, the normal business cycle, and the tight fiscal policies of the chairman of the Federal Reserve appointed by Jimmy Carter. Reagan's tax cut did, however, help usher in the deregulated modern era of CEO and Wall Street greed.

• Most historians agree that Reagan's waste-ridden military buildup didn't actually "win the Cold War." And Reagan mythmakers ignore his real contributions — his willingness to talk to his Soviet adversaries, his genuine desire to eliminate nuclear weapons, and the surprising role of a "liberal" Hollywood-produced TV movie.

• George H. W. Bush's and Bill Clinton's rolling back of Reaganomics during the 1990s spurred a decade of peace and prosperity as well as the reactionary campaign to pump up the myth of Ronald Reagan and restore right-wing hegemony over Washington. This effort has led to war, bankrupt energy policies, and coming generations of debt.

Bunch is the senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and its former political writer. He has been covering presidential campaigns and conventions all the way back to Jesse Jackson's historic 1984 bid.

To Listen to the Interview

Weekly Signals: Rose George author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

An interview with Rose George author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters.
Weekly Signals (KUCI/Orange County, CA)
Hosts: Mike Kaspar and Nathan Callahan

Produced behind closed doors, disposed of discreetly, and hidden by euphemism, bodily waste is something common to all and as natural as breathing, yet we prefer not to talk about it. But we should — those of us who take care of our business in pristine, sanitary conditions. For it’s not only in developing countries that human waste is a major public health threat: population growth is taxing even the most advanced sewage systems, and the disease spread by waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death. Even in America, 1.95 million people have no access to an indoor toilet. Yet the subject remains unmentionable.

George takes aim at the taboo, revealing everything that matters about how people do — and don’t — deal with their own waste. Moving from the deep underground sewers of Paris, London, and New York — an infrastructure disaster waiting to happen — to an Indian slum where ten toilets are shared by 60,000 people, Rose George stops along the way to explore the potential saviors: China’s five million biogas digesters, which produce energy from waste; the heroes of third world sanitation movements; the inventor of the humble Car Loo; and the U.S. Army’s personal lasers used by soldiers to zap their feces in the field.

With razor-sharp wit and crusading urgency, mixing levity with gravity, Rose George has turned the subject we like to avoid into a cause with the most serious of consequences.

Rose George is a freelance writer and journalist who regularly contributes to Slate, The Guardian, The Independent, and the Financial Times.

To Listen to the Interview

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jonathan Raban: Metronatural America

Metronatural America
By Jonathan Raban
The New York Times Book Review

Wendy and Lucy
a film by Kelly Reichardt, adapted from a story by Jon Raymond

Livability: Stories
by Jon Raymond
Bloomsbury, 260 pp.

In the imaginary America of books and movies, where every state and region has acquired a rich cluster of meanings and associations over time, the Pacific Northwest is a fairly recent arrival. Nineteenth-century painters like Albert Bierstadt visited Oregon and Washington in search of fresh landscapes to add to their stock of images of the sublime, and the explicitly social vocabulary of late Romantic sublimity ("noble," "regal," "grand," "majestic," and all the rest) still gets attached to the region's extravagant volcanic geography, its mountain ranges, evergreen forests, and superabundance of water in every form. In the second half of the twentieth century, that geography came to serve as backdrop to the unmajestic, ignoble life in the valleys and foothills, where low-rise, makeshift, ad hoc settlements stand in plain view of the snowcaps and forest, mockingly diminished by their spectacular surrounding nature.

Bernard Malamud—who taught at Oregon State College, now Oregon State University, in Corvallis, from 1949 to 1961—conveyed this beautifully in A New Life (1961), a novel in which the college town of Easchester in the state of Cascadia is a scale model of McCarthy-era, small-minded social, academic, and political conformity, set in a landscape whose mountains, tumbled clouds, and vast sky hold out the promise of exhilarating escape and freedom to S. Levin, "formerly a drunkard," of New York City. Since then, in the stories of Raymond Carver, the films of Gus Van Sant, and the novels of Ken Kesey and David Guterson, among others, the Pacific Northwest has become familiar as the place in America where lives of grimly straitened circumstances play out within sight of the now-ironic sublime. The old-growth Douglas firs, the mountains and cascades are there to tease from a distance: it's in the trailer homes and bungalows below, in insufficient, straggling towns, their single highways lined with the parking lots of big-box stores, that most Northwest fiction happens.

These drab lowlands, mostly shot under a wan, overcast sky, are the setting for Wendy and Lucy, directed by the Florida-born, New York–based independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt. Like her last movie, Old Joy (2006), Wendy and Lucy is adapted from a short story by the Portland, Oregon, writer Jon Raymond, whose intently observant and unillusioned take on his home territory has been adopted by Reichardt as her own. In their latest collaboration, Raymond and Reichardt have turned the Great Pacific Northwest, as its boosters call it, into an allegorical landscape of economic and emotional recession; a world starved of credit, jobs, futures, sunlight, words, and social bonds. The December 2008 release of Wendy and Lucy, after a successful season on the festival circuit, was eerily well-timed: it would be hard to find a more powerful illustration of Obama's talk of the danger of financial crisis turning into catastrophe than this spare and haunting film.

To Read the Rest of the Review Essay

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Meaning (keyword)

Michael Wesch: Two Types of Meaningful Connection

Slavoj Zizek: The Enchainments of Meaning

Michael Wesch: Two Types of Meaningful Connection

Two Types of Meaningful Connection
(two meanings of “meaning”)

• Semantic: A word, concept, or idea is not just meaningful for what it is, but for how it relates, connects, and contrasts with other words, concepts and ideas.

• Personal: A person finds their own meaning and significance (their identity) not just in “who they are” but in how they relate, connect, and contrast with other people.

--Michael Wesch in A Portal to Media Literacy

“To learn is to create meaningful connections. To learn is to create significance”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Radio West: The New Victory Garden

The New Victory Garden
Radio West (KUER/Public Radio International/The University of Utah)
Guests: Sharon Astyk, Paul Gardener and Stephen Rosenberg
Host: Doug Fabrizio

During World War II, a grass-roots response to rationing took hold across the country. People began planting "victory" gardens, and this experiment in back yard farming would eventually produce almost half of the nation's food needs. Today, there's a movement to bring back the home garden to address modern day problems like climate change, the cost of energy and health issues. Thursday, we're talking about what new victory gardens could mean for individuals and for the country.

To Listen to the Conversation

Media Matters with Bob McChesney: Matt Taibbi, journalist and political writer at Rolling Stone

Matt Taibbi, journalist and political writer at Rolling Stone
Media Matters with Bob McChesney

... Matt Taibbi [is a] journalist and political writer. Taibbi currently works at Rolling Stone where he authors a column called "Road Rage" for the print version, and an additional weekly online-only column called "The Low Post". He is best known for his coverage of the 2004 US presidential election, and for his former editorial positions at newspapers the eXile, the New York Press, and the Beast. Recently, Taibbi has been a regular contributor to Real Time with Bill Maher.

To Listen to the Conversation

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Media Matters with Bob McChesney: Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine

(The Progressive is celebrating their 100th year--congratulations!)

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine
Media Matters with Bob McChesney (WILL/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine, which is one of the leading voices for peace and social justice in this country. Rothschild has appeared on Nightline, C-SPAN, The O'Reilly Factor, and NPR, and his newspaper commentaries have run in the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times, the Miami Herald, and a host of other newspapers.

To Listen to the Conversation

A.O. Scott: Neo-Neo Realism; Richard Brody: About "Neo-Neo Realism"

(I thoroughly enjoyed reading these two different perspectives, first a current film trend outlined and mapped by Scott, and, his original perspective is then critiqued by Browdy. We may ask which perspective is right, instead, I think they both have good insights that do not necessarily negate the other's perspective. They both gave me something to think about and films to watch. Courtesy of David Hudson. Update 3/23/09: below, A.O. Scott responds to Brody's critique...)

Neo-Neo Realism
by A.O. Scott
New York Times


WHAT KIND OF MOVIES do we need now? It’s a question that seems to arise almost automatically in times of crisis. It was repeatedly posed in the swirl of post-9/11 anxiety and confusion, and the consensus answer, at least among studio executives and the entertainment journalists who transcribe their insights, was that, in the wake of such unimaginable horror, we needed fantasy, comedy, heroism. In practice, the response turned out to be a little more complicated — some angry political documentaries and earnest wartime melodramas made it into movie theaters during the Bush years, and a lot of commercial spectacles arrived somber in mood and heavy with subtext— but such exceptions did little to dent the conventional wisdom.

And as a new set of worries and fears has crystallized in recent months — lost jobs and homes, corroded values and vanished credit — the dominant cultural oracles have come to pretty much the same conclusions. Remember the ’30s, when we danced through the Depression with Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley and giggled amid the gloom with Lubitsch and the Marx Brothers? (Not many of us do, of course, which makes this kind of selective memory easier to promote.) Then as now, what we wanted most was to forget our troubles. In recession, as in war — and also, conveniently, in times of peace or prosperity — the movies we evidently need are the ones that offer us the possibility, however fanciful or temporary, of escape.

Maybe so. But what if, at least some of the time, we feel an urge to escape from escapism? For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Here is Richard Brody's New Yorker response to Scott's essay:

About “Neo-Neo Realism”

Here is A.O. Scott's response to Brody's critique:

A.O. Scott Responds to New Yorker Blog on the Value and Definition of Neo-Realism

Dreaming now...

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Talkin About the Blues

Because I have been digging in the dirt for days and embracing new friends... springtime :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flight of the Conchords: Business Time

I was researching business/economic issues and this Flight of the Conchords video came up. Enjoy :)

Media Matters with Bob McChesney: Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research
Media Matters with Bob McChesney

... Dean Baker [is] co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University. His blog, Beat the Press, features commentary on economic reporting. He received his Ph.D in economics from the University of Michigan.

He has written numerous books and articles, including Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy (2009), The United States Since 1980 (2007) and The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer.

To Listen to the Conversation

Friday, March 20, 2009

Media Matters with Bob McChesney: Susan Douglas, Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan

Susan Douglas, Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan
Media Matters with Bob McChesney (WILL/College of Media at University of Illinois)

...Susan Douglas, [is the] Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Her two broad areas of interest are the history of broadcasting, especially radio, and the representation of gender in the media.

Professor Douglas has written many books including The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it has Undermined Women (with Meredith Michaels); Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media; Inventing American Broadcasting; and Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, which won the 2000 Sally Hacker Popular Book Prize from the Society for the History of Technology. Her column "Back Talk" appears in In These Times every month.

To Listen to the Conversation

Jenny Turner: The Beautiful Undead

The Beautiful Undead
Jenny Turner
London Review of Books

* Twilight directed by Catherine Hardwick (2008)
* Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer


Since Polidori, vampires have been at least in part expressions of middle-class fear and envy of a decadent but mysteriously powerful European aristocracy. How, then, does this work in a New World high school, and with vampires who are trying to be good? ‘There’s a lot of people who . . . aren’t having the Prada lifestyle,’ Meyer has said, ‘and going to a special school in New York where everyone’s rich and fabulous’ – which is both true, and a little disingenuous. The whole point of the books is that the non-Prada-lifestyle Bella stumbles into a fawning and banal fantasy of life as lived by rich (they’d probably say ‘wealthy’), highly educated (Carlisle, remember, is a doctor, and since they’re immortal, there’s been plenty of time for everyone to get lots of Ivy League degrees) and ever so slightly boho white Americans, made to seem ethereal because seen with the soft-focus vagueness of outsider envy. Their house (or ‘home’, as in ‘You have a very beautiful home’) is ‘timeless, graceful and probably a hundred years old’, and it’s ‘painted a soft, faded white’ and has a ‘massive curving staircase’. The Cullens dress ‘exceptionally well – simply, but in clothes that subtly hinted at designer origins’. The only things given any specificity are the cars: Meyer’s brothers, she says, are ‘obsessed – and I mean that in the literal, clinical sense – with automotive vehicles’ and have supplied specs for all the ‘Cullen cars’, including Edward’s silver S60R Volvo and Rosalie’s red BMW M3.

And so the pabulum slips down, spoonful by spoonful, with every now and then a neat idea, an unspoken hint of untold perversity, an almost subliminal flash of something nasty: a torn-off head, a gang rape, a bunch of tourists rounded up, they think, for a visit to the medieval prison, but really about to be descended on and blood-sucked en masse. ‘What are we afraid of? Everything,’ Ariel Levy wrote in Female Chauvinist Pigs, her 2005 study of the way the US media seemed increasingly dependent on pornographic imagery, even as federal funding for sex education programmes ‘except for those advocating abstinence until marriage’ was withdrawn. Repression and titillation don’t work in opposition: the two of them like to hang together, thieving from your pockets while you’re still figuring out these arousing, bewildering images, what exactly they are for, and what, exactly, they are telling you to do.


To Read the Rest of the Review

Philosophy Bites: Mary Warnock on Sartre's Existentialism

Mary Warnock on Sartre's Existentialism
Philosophy Bites
Host: Nigel Warburton

What is existentialism? Is it still relevant to us? Are we free to choose what we become or are we bound by human nature, by our history, by conventions? Sartre believed that we are free to choose what we make of our lives. Was he right?

To Listen to the Conversation

BBC World Service: Global snapshots of the worldwide recession

Global snapshots of the worldwide recession: As the global recession continues, BBC correspondents around the world give a snapshot of how it has affected their region.
BBC World Service

Auction websites are thriving in France as people sell off goods. In France, people are selling unwanted Christmas presents and other sundry items over the internet in order to make ends meet.

Alasdair Sandford in Paris (58 secs)

Many Poles are having difficulty paying their mortgages after taking them out in foreign currencies.

Adam Easton reporting from Warsaw (1 min 29 secs)

Last year, Australian wine exports slumped by 18% in value, with the markets in America and the United Kingdom particularly badly hit. Wine exports have slumped despite a good harvest this year. The industry had hoped that China would become a key new export market, but the orders have failed to materialise.

Nick Bryant reporting from Australia (1 min 12 secs)

Car manufacturers have been some of the hardest hit, especially in the US. However, there is one car-making country where vehicle sales are booming.

Steve Rosenberg in Germany (1 min 59 secs)

In Ukraine, industrial production has plummeted and the government has had to go to the IMF for support.

Gabriel Gatehouse reporting from Kiev (1 min 22 secs)

Cheaper food options are being chosen as budgets shrink. In the US, fast food outlets have been thriving, as people try to eat the maximum calories on the minimum budget.

Matthew Price reporting from New York (1 min 20 secs)

Even the Mafia have had to adjust to the new global economic climate: they are going green.

Mark Duff in Italy (59 secs)

While the plastic surgery industry has suffered from the downturn in many countries, Brazil has bucked the trend.

Gary Duffy in Sao Paulo (1 min 16 secs)

... After a long period of growth it seems that the British boom in organic produce may have come to an end.

Greg Morsbach reporting from London (1 min 16 secs)

Many people from the Philippines travel abroad to work and send money home. However, these workers are often the first in their host countries to be made unemployed and sent home.

Jill McGivering in Manila (1 min 42 secs)

To Listen to the Reports

Philosophy Bites: David Papineau on Scientific Realism

David Papineau on Scientific Realism
Philosophy Bites
Hosts: David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton

Do subatomic particles really exist? Or are they convenient fictions that explain observable phenomena? David Papineau discusses arguments for and against scientific realism...

To Listen to the Conversation

Poetics of Relation (notes)

Now, more than ever, the graduates of our schools and colleges will live in worlds different from those in which they were born and went to school. A discipline called English must help them prepare for unknown conditions. The best preparation we can give our students will be the highest level of competence as readers and writers, producers and consumers of the various texts they will encounter. (154)

Scholes, Robert. The Rise and Fall of English: Reconstructing English as a Discipline. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1998.

The disease of modern culture is specialization. (19)

Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. NY: Avon Books, 1977.

We must … reject the concept of specialization. We need the contrary, a diversified economy, for only such an economy will allow for populations to participate fully in our society. Specialization inevitably leads to chronic unemployment and to lower wages. (179)

Goldsmith, James. “The Winners and the Losers.” The Case Against the Global Economy. eds. J. Mander and E. Goldsmith. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1996.

… for some years now the activity of the artist in our society has been trending more toward the function of the ecologist: one who deals with environmental relationships. Ecology is defined as the totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their environment. Thus the act of creation for the new artist is not so much the invention of new objects as the revelation of previously unrecognized relationships between existing phenomena, both physical and metaphysical. So we find that ecology is art in the most fundamental and pragmatic sense, expanding our apprehension of reality. (346)

Youngblood, Eugene. Expanded Cinema. NY: Dutton, 1970.

The great ecological issues of our time have to do in one way or another with our failure to see things in their entirety. That failure occurs when minds are taught to think in boxes and not taught how to transcend those boxes or to question overly much how they fit with other boxes. We educate lots of in-the-box thinkers who perform within their various specialties rather like a dog kept in the yard by an electronic barrier. And there is a connection between knowledge organized in boxes, minds that stay in those boxes, and degraded ecologies and global imbalances. (94-95)

Orr, David. Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Washington D.C.: Island, 1994.

“Glossary: for readers from elsewhere, who don’t deal very well with unknown words or who want to understand everything. But, perhaps to establish for ourselves, ourselves as well, the long list of words within us whose sense escapes or, taking this farther, to fix the syntax of this language we are babbling. The readers of here are future.”
—Édouard Glissant, Malemort, 231
(Quoted in Glissant, xxi)


Thinking thought usually amounts to withdrawing into a dimensionless place in which the idea of thought alone persists. But thought in reality spaces itself out into the world. It informs the imaginary of the peoples, their varied poetics, which it then transforms, meaning, in them its risk becomes realized.

Culture is the precaution of those who claim to think thought but who steer clear of its chaotic journey. Evolving cultures infer Relation, the overstepping that grounds their unity-diversity.

Thought draws the imaginary of the past: a knowledge becoming. One cannot stop it to assess it nor isolate it to transmit it. It is sharing one can never not retain, nor ever, in standing still, boast about. (Glissant, 1) {MB—“For Glissant the imaginary is all the ways a culture has of perceiving and conceiving of the world. Hence every human culture will have its own particular imaginary” Wing, Betsy. “Glossary.” quoted in Glissant, xxii)

Not just a specific knowledge, appetite, suffering, and delight of one particular people, not only that, but knowledge of the Whole, greater from having been at the abyss and freeing knowledge of Relation within the Whole.

Just as the first uprooting was not marked by any defiance, in the same way the prescience and actual experience of Relation have nothing to do with vanity. Peoples who have been to the abyss do not brag of being chosen. They do not believe they are giving birth to any modern force. They live Relation and clear the way for it, to the extent that the oblivion of the abyss comes to them and that, consequently, their memory intensifies.

For though this experience made you, original victim floating toward the sea’s abysses, an exception, it became something shared and made us, the descendants, one people among others. Peoples do not live on exception. Relation is not made up of things that are foreign but of shared knowledge. This experience of the abyss can now be said to be the best element of exchange. (Glissant, 8)

Glissant, Édouard. Poetics of Relation. trans. Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997.

G. Wesley Houp: "Speedballer"

(A message from one of my favorite singer-songwriters. He is also a published poet and a master of multiple blues guitar styles.)

Dear friends, acquaintances and strangers all,

You're cordially invited to check out the latest musical offering, "Speedballer," by Murfreeboro's most revered compiler of American Tragi-musical crots! The one in question is yet another installment of the Jeannie serial about that bad-eyed, loveless, and karmically depleted composite-girl, who parts the world before her like a Titanic and leaves a tragic wake of chewed-up iceberg innards behind her but miraculously manages to keep on plowing forward, seemingly oblivious but intrinsically aware of the mess (and at times using feigned ignorance as a tool--don't we all?). I haven't let you down. This one has a helping of pot-smoking no-good-doers, a tender touch of sex-for-drugs miscreants, and an ever-so-light basting of honey-smoked regrets. For those of you unfamiliar with the nuances of narco-semiology, "speedballing" refers to a lethal combination of oxycotin (or methadone) and xanax. Not at all a good way to "get your buzz-coat on." I recommend forgoing the narcs and reposing with a Pinot Noir, preferably on your backporch in the spring while your rosy-faced, toe-headed children dig for tiny treasures with tiny spades in your herb garden. Ahh...humans are tragic, but life is good.

Yours truly,

G. Wesley Houp

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On the 6th Anniversary of The Iraq War

(Courtesy of Free Speech Radio and their report Winter Soldier Europe brings vets together to discuss PTSD and more)

In commemoration of the 6th Anniversary of the start of the Bush Administration's Iraq War, I would like to recommend that you, no matter your perspective, take the time to listen to the reasons why soldiers are speaking out against the ongoing war:

Iraq Veterans Against the War: Why We're Against the War

Michael Benton's Peace/Conflict Studies Archive (2009) designed for teaching a course on the subject.

More from Free Speech Radio:

Army Dealing with Rising Soldier Suicides

Two Million Iraqi Refugees Struggle to Survive

and from Bill Moyers Journal:

Buying the War: How Did the Mainstream Press Get it So Wrong?

A Question About the (Non)Politics of Teaching

My question: is it possible to teach history, art, literature, philosophy, science, business, economics, etc... without a political agenda? Is pretending that you have no political position and teaching the materials as the dominant society constructs a subject a political agenda? Is it possible to "profess" or hold an "opinion" or construct a history or create art that is free of "bias" or "political agendas"?

Just curious ... ;)

Double-Tongued Dictionary; Dean Wright: Watching our language -- Writing about the financial crisis

I really enjoy the proliferation of websites helping us to make sense of the proliferation of buzzwords:

Double-Tongued Dictionary

I found this website in Dean Wright's fascinating article on Reuters Blogs:

Watching our language: Writing about the financial crisis

Response to a Critique of My Dismissal of the Movie Version of Watchmen

(Charles lengthy critique of my dismissal of Watchmen is in the comment section of this post)


First off, lets agree that responses to films are subjective in the sense that we filter the film through our own experiences and ideologies.

Thus we have different reactions to the film. I read the graphic novel when it first came out and was powerfully moved by its critique of fetishized super hero worship (and its subtextual relation to the unreflective real-world worship of powerful "leaders" who are going to save the day and their destructive controlling ideologies) during Reagan's second term in which the dominant narrative was of the holy super America versus the evil destructive Soviet forces (Reagan's "evil empire"). The controlling American narrative at that time was that whatever we did in the interest of our holy mission against the evil empire was acceptable and just. This, for me, is what made Moore's/Gibbons' graphic novel so powerful (much like the graphic novel V)

The current movie (term used purposely) version is facile in the sense that it relies more on the spectacle of action super hero tropes as opposed to the deconstructive critique of the comic book super hero genre.

You state:

"This should be the main focus of a criticism of a film."

Is there only one way to read a film? Could you outline in more detail what that one way should be?

You cite Alan Moore's comments about his graphic novel to support your celebration of the film, while ignoring that he has disowned the film as a superficial exercise. He even refused any money from the film and gave all proceeds to the illustrator Dave Gibbons. How does that reverse/divert your application of Moore's critique to the film version?

Thus, it seems problematic that you seek to conflate the graphic novel and film versions as if they were one text. Is it not obvious that they are separate texts and that they should be treated/critiqued as such?

While you still are conflating the two texts you mention:

"From this in my opinion these superheroes of Watchmen are reactionary victims to the society they live in, and therefore exhibit the ability to inspire some sort of sympathy even in their most hellish and barbaric moments."

I never stated that I felt no sympathy for the characters, but I find it hard to reconcile anyone's empathy with the psychopathic Comedian. This is a man who murders on command, slaughters those who depend on him, and rapes at will (in all of its implications). Can you identify for me when and where you feel sympathy for this character? Is it because in his final moments he is horrified by the onrushing apocalyptic events he has helped to usher in? Does his drunken tears move you? What do we see as his ultimate response to this threat to the world of the movie's narrative? Is it worthy of our sympathy/empathy/respect?

Rorshach, on the other hand, deserves our pity, for he is the product of a horrible upbringing and it has made him into a psychopathic super hero. He is not commendable though, unless you celebrate vigilantes' hunting down people in the streets. Was Moore critiquing the Dark Knight mythos before he did it proper? Rorshach's death at the end of both versions is tragic and wrong, but it does not remove the fact that he is a psychopath with a mask (clearly outlined in the graphic novel, defused in the film).

You state:

"They each therefore exhibit extreme views and reflect certain unsavory ideologies that reflect the human condition .This translates verbatim into the film. I would go as far as to say that 90% of the dialogue present in the film is from the comic directly albeit with lines switched for different characters at many times."

What ideologies do these characters represent for you and how do these ideologies represent for you the human condition? Could you explain? Is nihilism an acceptable response even from those who suffer from tragic circumstances and/or "unsavory ideologies?" I would reject nihilism as a valid response, but then perhaps I am idealistic in my humanistic outlook?

I never said the movie did not try to "imitate" the comic, in fact, it seems the filmmakers try to do this as much as possible. Instead, the problem is while imitating the book they switch the emphasis to sensationalized visual spectacles over the more multitextual technique of the graphic novel. This, for me, robs the movie of the graphic novel's critical power.

I disagree that any of the Watchmen should be considered victims, except perhaps a bit of empathy for Rorshach, considering his background.

You state:

"Further there are many things in the aesthetics and style that are meant to be subversive I think. One of these would be how the characters enjoy the violence they are committing. Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II both get aroused from brutally assaulting a gang of knot heads, as they do in the comic. Only in the film they go as far as to kill them. In the comic they merely brutally beat the men, but they do not murder them. In the film as well, two of Rorschach’s extreme acts of violence are altered as well. These alterations change the character quite a bit. In the comic when Rorschach comes upon the child killer, he does not murder him. He handcuffs him to the oven and set the place on fire and leaves a handsaw for him to cut through his arm should he want to live. This reflects Rorschach’s view that the man is an animal and as such can escape if he desires like an animal would gnaw its paw off to escape a trap. In the film, Rorschach comes face to face with the man and can’t conceive of how to simply punish the man in a world that is completely and utterly cold and hopeless. As such he butchers the man .The second is burning the man with grease in the prison. In the comic Rorschach reaches for the closest thing and burns the man with the shiv with the grease, out of self defense and to make appoint. In the film, Rorschach defends himself with his metal tray and knocks the man down defenseless. He then reaches over to grab the grease and burns the man, only this time not out of self defense, but merely an act of subversive spectacle. These two acts in my opinion alter the character and make him possibly more psychopathic in the film version. Another subversive moment in the film for me would be the sex scene with Dan and Laurie. In this scene there is focus on the costumes being torn away, and even more focus on the leather boots she is wearing. This coupled with the absurd use of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah , seems to turn what would have been a simple love scene , into a ironic and laughable marathon exercise into the sexual fetishism of their superhero identities."

I agree with your analysis of the changes, but I am completely befuddled by your claim that these are subversive moves? These two scenes, for me, are symptomatic of the movie's defusion of the deconstructive power of the original graphic novel ... people were loudly cheering Rorshach's violence as if he was a simplistic action hero and the Nite Owl II/Silk Spectre II violence/sex scene was beyond ridiculous (although I did enjoy my girlfriend's howl of mocking laughter when they acted out the fanboy fantasy scene). Once again though the scenes lack a clear sense of critiquing the dramas being laid out for consumption as if the filmmakers were hoping that they might be able to appease both the critical fans and the straight-forward action audience. I disagree finally with your insistence that the film presents the super heroes in an unsympathetic light as the audience I watched the film with cheered many scenes like they would a typical action film.

I do agree that the film is a technical wonder, much like 300, which I also had problems with ... I find aesthetics to be political in the sense that the aesthetics of Triumph of the Will and Birth of a Nation or Maid in Manhattan and Pretty Woman cannot be separated from their political messages. I am not associating Watchmen with the first pair of films, instead, I am critiquing the aesthetic spectacle of Watchmen as a distraction from serious consideration of the political message of the film. I would make the same claim for the latest Dark Knight film in which, surprisingly, I found myself at one point cheering on the chaos of the Joker, because the Dark Knight becomes a symbol of unchecked (super) power in the service of a (supposed) noble cause--it would seem obvious who we are suppose to identify with in the film (much as Bush's administration thought it was obvious we should always cheer their means in the service of their self-proclaimed noble ends) but anyone vaguely aware of the cultural/political context of the film could not but help to reject the ultimate message of the Dark Knight.

Last, as this is running long, I find nothing admirable about "moral ambiguity" in films or people. Are you celebrating it? Can you explain why?

I appreciate your lengthy, thoughtful critique. I hope you take my words in the spirit of dialogue. If the movie version of Watchmen inspires people this much, perhaps it has more value than I originally thought. I still stand by my critique of the movie version.

Sarah DiGregorio: Is Foie Gras Torture?

Is Foie Gras Torture?
By Sarah DiGregorio
Village Voice

It's very hard to watch the video about foie gras from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and not conclude that you should lay off fatty liver.

You're shown a disheveled duck squeezed into a cage so small that the bird can't open its wings. Disturbingly, it rocks back and forth. You then see an enormous barn full of birds, all of them immobilized in tiny cages. There are graphic shots of birds' festering open sores with rats nibbling at them, some that are dying slowly, and some with holes punched through their necks. We learn that foie gras production has been banned in the United Kingdom, Israel, and Switzerland.

The Humane Society and the ASPCA have also joined PETA to oppose foie gras. They object to the force-feeding process, called "gavage," which entails putting a metal tube down a duck's throat to deliver a large amount of corn-based food that causes the liver to enlarge. The process, animal rights groups say, causes trauma to the duck's esophagus and beak. Also, they say, the enlargement of the liver—from six to 10 times the normal size—causes the ducks to become deathly ill, struggle to walk and breathe, and vomit up undigested food. At the website of the humane group Farm Sanctuary, a photograph of a healthy, fluffy white duck rescued from a foie gras farm is contrasted with a shot of two ducks in tiny cages, both covered with their own yellow vomit.

To Read the Rest of the Report and To Watch a Slideshow

J. Hoberman: Zack Snyder Didn't Ruin Watchmen -- He just sapped it of its superpower

Zack Snyder Didn't Ruin Watchmen: He just sapped it of its superpower.
By J. Hoberman
Village Voice

The most eagerly anticipated (as well as the most beleaguered) movie of the year (if not the century), Watchmen is neither desecratory disaster nor total triumph. In filming David Hayter and Alex Tse's adaptation of the most ambitious superhero comic book ever written, director Zack Snyder has managed to address the cult while pandering to the masses.

Warner Bros., which battled Fox for possession of the property—from which author Alan Moore has, typically, removed his name—is marketing Snyder, who remade George Romero's Dawn of the Dead in 2004 and had a surprise mega-hit two years later with his adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book Thermopylae, 300, as a "visionary." That's a grateful studio's code word for "competent hack." The master of the vid-game aesthetic has successfully streamlined Moore's 12-part graphic novel and, even at a running time that tops two hours and 40 minutes, made it commercially viable.


Although the ending has been somewhat modified from the novel's, let it be said that Watchmen doesn't lack for self-confidence or even entertainment value. Its failure is one of imagination—although faithfully approximating Dave Gibbons's original drawings, the filmmakers are unable to teleport themselves to the level of the original concept. Perhaps no one could have, but it would have been fun to see what sort of mess Terry Gilliam (who hoped to make a movie version back in the '80s) or Richard Kelly (who surely took inspiration from Watchmen in conceptualizing his no less convoluted comic book saga Southland Tales) would have made of Moore's magnum opus. Snyder's movie is too literal and too linear. Social satire is pummeled into submission by the amplified pow-kick-thud of the sub-Matrix action sequences; not just metaphysics and narrative are simplified, but even character is ultimately eclipsed by the presumed need for violent spectacle.

The philosopher Iain Thomson (who valiantly brought Heidegger's Being and Time to bear on his reading of Watchmen) maintained that Moore not only deconstructed the idea of comic book super-heroism but pulverized the very notion of the hero—and the hero-worship that comics traditionally sell. For all its superficial fidelity, Snyder's movie stands Moore's novel on its head, trying to reconstruct a conventional blockbuster out of those empty capes and scattered shards.

To Read the Entire Review

J. Hoberman: The Excruciating Details of Death-by-Starvation in Hunger

The Excruciating Details of Death-by-Starvation in Hunger
By J. Hoberman
Village Voice

Hunger, too, is essentially contemplative. (It can be bracketed with such other "experiential," post-Gibson passions as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, United 93, and Day Night Day Night.) The takes are long; the camera is mainly static, moving only to map out some confined space. The emphasis is on the individual setup. The piss-drenched corridor is scrubbed in real-time, with a guard working his way toward the viewer. The mode is materially Christian. The prisoners may use their Bibles for stationery or cigarette paper and exploit mass as a meeting place, but Sands (Michael Fassbender), who only appears midway through the movie, is an explicitly religious martyr. Even the Brits are into self-mortification—one cop compulsively washes his hands in scalding water. One of the few scenes outside the Maze is a cold-blooded execution, resulting in a savage pietà, the victim face-down in his mother's blood-spattered lap.

The heart of the movie is an extraordinary 20-minute conversation between Sands and a tough, far from unsympathetic parish priest (Liam Cunningham), much of it shot in a single take. Sands has requested a meeting to inform the priest of his planned hunger strike. The hardboiled banter (playwright Enda Walsh's main chance to riff out) is suffused in bleak Irish humor. All argument is stymied, however, by the prisoner's stubborn determination to fast unto death; the priest's irate "then fookin' life must mean nothin' to you" cues a close-up in which Sands answers with a story—or rather a long story within the story. It's not quite "The Grand Inquisitor," but I can't recall a movie with a more powerful priest-prisoner dialogue.

Hunger's harrowing final movement is informed not only by scripture, but by a thousand years of religious art—with Thatcher, or at least her voice, brought back to play Pontius Pilate. The subject is now exclusively Sands—or rather the physical state of his emaciated body—as he lies on a prison-hospital cot covered with running sores and stigmata lesions. One can barely watch this living cadaver or the bedside food tray that is his constant temptation. I've seen Hunger three times, and with each screening, the spectacle of violence, suffering, and pain becomes more awful and more awe-inspiring.

To Read the Entire Review

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jacob Needleman: The American Soul -- Founding Ideals and the American Dream

The American Soul: Founding Ideals and the American Dream
Jacob Needleman
Live at Stanford University’s Aurora Forum
January 26, 2004 Stanford University’s Aurora Forum

Jacob Needleman joined Reverend Scotty McLennan in conversation about the visions and values which gave birth to the American dream.

To Listen to the Conversation

Philosophy Bites: Keith Ward on Idealism in Eastern and Western Philosophy

Keith Ward on Idealism in Eastern and Western Philosophy
Philosophy Bites
Hosts: David Edmunds and Nigel Warburton

Is the ultimate nature of reality non-physical? Keith Ward, who believes that it is, discusses the idealist traditions in Eastern and Western philosophy... .

To Listen to the Conversation

Philosophy Bites: Sebastian Gardner on Jean-Paul Sartre on Bad Faith

Sebastian Gardner on Jean-Paul Sartre on Bad Faith
Philosophy Bites
Hosts: David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton

Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness is sometimes described as the bible of existentialism. At its core is the notion of Bad Faith. Sebastian Gardner, author of a recent book about Being and Nothingness, explains what Sartre meant by Bad Faith.

To Listen to the Conversation

Tyler E. Boudreau: To Kill or Not to Kill

To Kill or Not to Kill
By Tyler E. Boudreau
The Progressive

U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl was an unlikely guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. One of the authors of the 2006 Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Nagl said: “If I could sum up the book in just a few words, it would be: Be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill.” In that single sentence, he put his finger on a crucial discrepancy. In Iraq, I witnessed this discrepancy. I felt it. I knew from the moment I picked up the Counterinsurgency Field Manual what was missing.

On April 11, 2004, I did something that I’d never before done. I shot a man . . . at least, I shot at him. (Amidst the chaos of the moment, it was difficult to say whether or not he was hit.) It was Iraq. I was a Marine. And we were under heavy attack. It seemed like the thing to do.

Though I’d been in the infantry for more than a decade, I would not exactly describe the moment as perfunctory—automatic perhaps, but not quite perfunctory. Exactly what does it take to level the sights of a weapon and fire it at another human being? Under the circumstances, you wouldn’t think it would take much. And honestly, for me it didn’t.

But it would be precarious to assume that it didn’t take much because of circumstances alone. For some people, circumstances weigh very little in the decision to shoot or not to shoot. In a counterinsurgency operation, military doctrine not only demands of its soldiers a willingness to kill, but a willingness not to kill as well. Training for the Iraq War has slighted the second part. So today, we have a different kind of force, a different kind of warrior. I know. I was one of them.

There was a well-known study—well known within the military, anyway—done directly after World War II by retired Colonel S. L. A. Marshall, author of Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War. He discovered that even in the thickest of fire fights, the vast majority of soldiers did not fire their weapons. (Based on interviews with the soldiers themselves, Marshall estimated that within the average unit under fire, only 15 percent of men actually pulled their triggers. Even within the most disciplined units, he found that average rose to not more than 25 percent.) Marshall discovered that it was not fear that prevented these men from engaging their enemies, but humanity. All of them reported a keen reluctance to kill.

You can just imagine the military’s dismay upon getting this news. Beneath all the rigid tomes on military tactics lies the fundamental principle of conventional battle: Those who fire the most bullets win. In the military, this principle is referred to as fire superiority. It’s not which side has more guns. Fire superiority is when one unit is discharging a heavier volume of fire than the other, keeping more of the latter’s heads down, thereby allowing the former to maneuver. That’s the key right there—maneuver. That’s how an infantry unit gains forward momentum and how it seizes the initiative. That’s how you win the battle. And that is precisely why Marshall’s findings were so disconcerting, and how a new emphasis on killing entered the military culture, where it has thrived ever since.

The killing culture prevails not simply by indoctrination. With soldiers, the effort is mutual. The military, no doubt, provides an environment in which violence can be looked upon with nonchalance. But that can only take a man so far. A soldier must engage this environment willingly. He must embrace it for it to have any meaningful effect. To be truly desensitized, he must desensitize himself.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Howard Zinn: Lessons of Iraq War Start With US History

(Published in 2006, even more important to consider on the 6th anniversary of the Iraq War)

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).

Out of the Past: Episode 10# The Killers

Episode 10: The Killers
Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir
Hosts: Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards

While Robert Siodmak's noir triumph "Ernest Hemingway's 'The Killers'" flaunts its literary bloodlines, Hemingway's 1927 short story is little more than a pretext. The film actually investigates the fundamental post-WWII question: in a world where every man bears scars from the fight, how and why does he keep fighting? Siodmak's answer seems to be the very one given by Albert Camus in his famous essay "The Myth of Sisyphus." At the moment a man accepts the burden of his existence, bends to shoulder the stone of his being, he is greater than his destiny. Siodmak adds a caveat: if a man knowingly wrongs another he seals his own doom, and the killers descend on him like Fate itself.

To Listen to the Conversation

Democracy Now: Mark Danner -- Bush Lied About Torture of Prisoners

Mark Danner: Bush Lied About Torture of Prisoners
Democracy Now
Host: Amy Goodman

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report two years ago that the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners “constituted torture” in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The findings were based on interviews with prisoners once held in the CIA’s secret black sites. Author and journalist Mark Danner broke the story when he published extensive excerpts of the report in the New York Review of Books. The Red Cross said the fourteen prisoners held in the CIA prisons gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding.

To Listen to the Conversation

Democracy Now: Public Outcry Forces Lawmakers to Say They’ll Recoup Millions in AIG Bonuses, But Why Not the Billions in Taxpayer Bailout Funds?

Public Outcry Forces Lawmakers to Say They’ll Recoup Millions in AIG Bonuses, But Why Not the Billions in Taxpayer Bailout Funds?
Host: Amy Goodman
Democracy Now

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have responded to growing public outrage with a pledge to recoup million-dollar bonuses paid out by the bailed-out insurance giant AIG. But the hundreds of millions of dollars in bonus money pales to the billions used to bail out AIG a second time. We speak to consumer advocate Ralph Nader and economist Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect. Kuttner says, “I think [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner is probably gone within sixty days, because he has become a liability to the administration.”

To Listen to the Conversation

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

John Hartl: The Robe introduced a new Scope

“The Robe” introduced a new Scope
by John Hartl
Parallax View

Whatever you think of the biblical blockbuster, The Robe, there’s no question that its phenomenal popularity marked a turning point in movie history.

Twentieth Century-Fox, which previously treated it rather shabbily on DVD, tape and laser disc, is finally recognizing its significance with a Blu-ray Special Edition that’s loaded with extra features. Among them: a featurette about the history of CinemaScope, a discussion of the script’s political implications, and an enthusiastic introduction by Martin Scorsese, who vividly remembers the impact it had at the time.

Just weeks after The Robe’s much-ballyhooed debut as the first Scope release in the fall of 1953, the movie was challenging Gone With the Wind by setting new box-office records, and theater managers were widening their screens and beefing up their sound systems.

Before the year was over, Scope had won the battle over screen shape and size, and even movies designed to be “square,” like Shane, were stretched and distorted to suggest a panoramic effect. A few major-studio films, including the Judy Garland remake of A Star Is Born, were partially reshot to take advantage of the new process.

The Robe led the way in replacing small screens and transforming monophonic sound systems. Although some critics suggested that wide screens were suitable only for photographing snakes and funerals, and Charlie Chaplin and Frank Tashlin made fun of Scope in their late-1950s films, the system eventually had an artistic impact. Hollywood’s famous 1950s spectacles and musicals were affected, and so were such meticulously designed wide-screen classics as La Dolce Vita, The Innocents, Jules and Jim and most of Robert Altman’s movies.

But it wasn’t a first. Abel Gance had experimented with a Cinerama-like sequence in 1927’s Napoleon, and Raoul Walsh used an early 70mm process called “Grandeur” when he cast John Wayne in 1930’s The Big Trail. Disney had made imaginative use of stereo in 1940’s Fantasia. Box-office disappointments all, they failed to capture the public’s interest.

To Read the Rest of the Review

Monday, March 09, 2009

Watchmen (United States of Amnesia: Zach Snyder, 2009)

Watchmen, so far, is the worst film I have seen in the theaters this year. A huge disappointment. Nothing like turning a critique of the false worship of heroes (the original graphic novel obviously meant for us to link it to a critique of media/historic construction of real world leaders as super heroic, thus the graphic novels constant deconstruction of this process across many narrative forms) into a fetishized worship of super heroes as mindless entertainment. Even the psychopathic Rorshach and Comedian in the final scenes are designed to evoke sympathy. Simple movies for simple minds (yeah, I went to see it, I engaged in a nostalgic hope, yes, sometimes I fall for the hype).

Open Source: Errol Morris’ “Feel-Bad” Masterpiece -- Standard Operating Procedure

(Last semester only 2 out of over a hundred students knew what Abu Ghraib was until I showed them pictures. United States of Amnesia -- USA. In Kentucky the state leaders are currently debating whether to remove from all state testing the humanities/social sciences components and end the portfolio process/essay tests, effectively making all regulatory/assessment tests multiple choice. Even worse was my students' classroom discussions this semester of how ridiculously easy it was for them to use the Plato Testing system, not in the sense of ease of test-taking, but in the sense of passing the multiple choice questions. Probably why it is so popular? I had a handful of students discuss how their entire last two years of high school where completed through Plato Testing? The conversation between Errol Morris, Chris Lydon and the students is amazing and Morris' film is essential viewing. The documentary is, for me, a masterpiece because it does not "tell" us what happened, instead, for one of the few times, we are encouraged to listen, to watch, and to assess for ourselves, to use our brains, to figure out may or may not have happened. It is a powerful film that encourages active thinking/meaning-making rather than passive consumption.)

Errol Morris’ “Feel-Bad” Masterpiece
Open Source (Watson Institute for International Studies -- Brown University)
Host: Chris Lydon

Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure is a shocking, depressing work of art that might tell you almost nothing you didn’t know in your bones: that the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib were a perfect kernel of the war on Iraq. See the movie anyway, for confirmation or as penance. It is a blood sample of a gross policy of humiliation, emasculation, sophisticated mental cruelty and pitiless domination in the Arab Middle East. Errol Morris makes no bones about it. He says: we are looking at icons of American foreign policy.

To Listen to the Conversation

On the Media: Word Watch -- Bipartisan

Word Watch: Bipartisan
On the Media (NPR/WNYC)

Obama promised to bring a bipartisan spirit to Washington. But ... he signed the 787 billion dollar stimulus package with basically no Republican support and the media declared it a failure of bipartisanship. What's bipartisan really mean anyway? James Morone, a professor from Brown University, says the media might have a warped sense of the word.

To Listen to the Episode

On the Media: The Growing Cable Monopoly -- Comcast

The Die is Cast
On the Media (NPR: WNYC)
Host: Brooke Gladstone

Comcast is now the cable monopoly in 40 of the top 50 markets. It’s the third largest phone company in the US, and the largest provider of broadband internet to homes, with nearly 15 million customers, many of whom apparently hate Comcast. Wired Magazine senior writer Daniel Roth parses the troubled reputation of a media giant.

To Listen to the Episode

Live in Concert from All Songs Considered: Sleater-Kinney in Concert at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club (2006)

Sleater-Kinney in Concert at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club (2006)
Live in Concert from All Songs Considered (NPR)

More than a decade after the band first formed in Olympia, Wash., Sleater-Kinney continues to make passionate, punk-inspired rock with the release of its seventh CD, The Woods. But it may be the trio's last album, at least for some time: The group recently announced plans to go on indefinite hiatus after its current tour ends later this year. It performed an epic concert at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club August 3.

Sleater-Linney's current lineup features guitarists and singers Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, with drummer Janet Weiss. The band emerged from the so-called "riot grrl" movement in the early 1990s — a subculture of young feminist musicians who sought to change perceptions of women in rock. It played traditionally male-dominated instruments like guitars and drums, screamed vocals and thrashed on stage. Though Sleater-Kinney has since distanced itself from that movement, the band still identifies with the fierce drive for independence.

"I was definitely a part of riot grrl when it happened way, way back in the early '90s," Tucker says. "But that all kind of took place and came and went really before Sleater-Kinney started. But I think that our presentation probably carries over a lot of feminist notions about wanting to be seen as multidimensional humans and as musicians first and foremost, and not wanting to be sort of seen as these objectified ladies."

To Read the Rest of the Profile and to Listen to the Concert