Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congratulations Senator Al Franken (D-MN)!!!

(Courtesy of Cassie Fetters)

Franken Wins Race after Supreme Court Ruling Leads to Coleman's Concession

Speaking of Faith: Darius Rejali - The Long Shadow of Torture

(Highly recommended!)

The Long Shadow of Torture
Speaking of Faith
Host: Krista Tippett

Darius Rejali, an Iranian-American political scientist, is one of the world's leading experts on torture, and on how democracies change torture and are changed by it. We'll explore how his knowledge might deepen public discourse about practices in U.S. military prisons in recent years — and inform our collective reckoning with consequences yet to unfold.

To Listen to the Conversation

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Matt Zoller Seitz: The Video Essay

(To learn more about these video essays check out Catherine Grant's Homage to Matt Zoller Seitz)

The Video Essay
by Matt Zoller Seitz
/Kunst der Vermittlung


A critic reviewing Ernest Hemingway’s »The Sun Also Rises« could, for example, assert that the author’s style favors direct, stripped down sentences largely bereft of adjectives, then present the following snippet by way of illustration: »It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.« That passage is not an approximation of what Hemingway wrote; it IS what Hemingway wrote – minus, of course, its larger context.

In contrast, a film reviewer trying to describe the style of Martin Scorsese would have to rely on approximations: descriptions of Scorsese’s dancelike camera moves, for example, or his voluptuous deployment of pop music, or his disruptive use of sound effects. Depending on the author and the requirements of his publication, such descriptions could be truncated or obsessively detailed, factually accurate or wildly off-base; they could concentrate on form, content or some combination; they could concern themselves with the filmmaker’s style or with his choice of subject matter and thematic preoccupations. But the one thing they couldn’t do was quote – really quote – the object of criticism, the better to examine, illuminate or vilify it. There were always exceptions here and there, naturally. The film history texts of David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson and other like-minded writers illustrated their assertions about shot composition and editing patterns with stills from the films being discussed – a major advance over texts that relied on studio-produced publicity photos that often bore little or no relation to what the spectator actually saw while watching the films in question. And there have always been documentary films about cinema history and style that used film clips to advance their arguments. Notable examples include the narrated, stand-alone pieces on particular movies, directors and actors that used to appear on Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s syndicated movie review programs Sneak Previews and At the Movies; A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies; Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinema; Mark Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies and From the Journals of Jean Seberg, and Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself.

But such heroic efforts were always complicated by two factors: the time, expense and complex production process once required create such works, and the necessity of seeking approval of copyright owners before quoting anything.

The first problem has been effectively obliterated thanks to technological advances. The combination of digital editing software and DVD ripping programs – I use a combination of Handbrake, Mac the Ripper and MPEG Streamclip for my own pieces – allows a critic to deconstruct a movie and recontextualize it with a degree of freedom comparable to that of a literary critic. The end result can be as drily analytical or as freewheeling as the filmmaker wishes – as expressive of individual sensibility as the work being examined.

The second problem is more vexing, thanks to media companies’ attempts to ignore, subvert and otherwise neutralize fair use provisions of copyright law – an exemption that permits selective quotation for purposes of criticism, commentary, education and parody. It’s strictly a bottom-line issue: companies wish to prevent anyone from quoting any part of a film or television program for any reason without official permission plus a fee, because looking the other way would (in their minds) condone a minor form of the piracy that saps so much revenue from their coffers.

Book, magazine and newspaper publishers have rarely gone to such lengths to control the quotation of written work. This is partly because anyone with eyes and a writing instrument could copy a written passage, and partly because written expression has always been intertwined with a common-sense approach to copyright law, with an awareness that culture is a living, breathing entity that must feed on itself in order to grow.

Now that the process isn’t hard anymore, copyright holders are adopting a zero-tolerance policy – embedding digital watermarks in their content, scouring the internet for any reproductions of that content, no matter how brief or recontextualized, and sending notices to video upload services (such as YouTube) demanding the removal of any videos containing that content. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) requires that service providers remove any content that the copyright holder deems infringing; the person who used that content can protest the takedown, and if the copyright holder doesn’t take further action after two weeks, the content has to be restored. The DCMA also warns that copyright holders who knowingly file or are a party to frivolous takedown notices can face legal and financial penalties – the flipside of holding copyright violators legally accountable for their actions.

This seems like a reasonable way of regulating a vast and perhaps unpoliceable new frontier – after all, with millions of new video uploads occurring each day, copyright holders (and video upload services) simply don’t have enough time or manpower to sift through all the videos individually and decide which are truly violating copyright and which are utilizing copyrighted material in a way that’s protected by the notion of Fair Use. Unfortunately, both the digital-watermark scanning software and the email programs that automatically send notice-and-takedown messages to service providers don’t distinguish between somebody who’s uploading the entirety of Battlestar Galactica (not protected speech) and someone who uses a minute and fifteen seconds of the series in a larger piece about the portrayal of women in science fiction (absolutely protected). As for the ideal of penalizing copyright holders who file frivolous takedown notices, there have been a few examples of this happening; but the system is still stacked against the video essayists, most of whom are independent artists who don’t have the time, money or knowhow to mount a legal attack against those who are interfering with their legally protected right to use Fair Use-exempted material online. And due to widespread ignorance of the law, people who use copyrighted material in online videos tend to recoil in fear at the first sign of a takedown notice, not realizing that they have some recourse, however limited.

However, technology’s forward march being what it is, one suspects that these problems will resolve themselves in due time. It seems inconceivable that takedown notice-abusers could eventually win out in this struggle; with so much of the world getting used to near-total freedom of expression online, the idea that one would have to seek someone’s permission before criticizing or commenting upon their work is not just anathema to reason, it’s faintly fascistic, and as such, cannot be sustained. On top of that, what we’re seeing on YouTube and other sites is the New Normal – the new way of thinking, communicating, interacting with the world. A new generation of critics and artists are comfortable with a collage-type approach to expression, one that appropriates bits and pieces of media and puts them in a new framework -- everything from so-called »mash-up« videos to humor pieces that utilize television news footage to more theoretical works like the ones created by such video essayists as Kevin Lee. And with each passing year, indeed each passing month, the means of expression becomes more supple, the language more expressive. It is already possible for video essayist to express themselves with the same fluidity and idiosyncratic energy that they might bring to written text; just as a dedicated cinephile can identify a particular paragraph as the work of Pauline Kael, Manny Farber or André Bazin, it is also possible (already!) to see a snippet of one of Kevin B. Lee’s videos from the other side of the room with the sound off and say, »That’s got to be Kevin.« Bottom line: despite the best efforts of copyright holders and media companies to fence off this new frontier, it remains not only open, but also ever-expansive. The frontier is wide open.

To Read the Entire Essay

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Bloom: Reanimating the Living Dead - Uncovering the Zombie Archetype in the Works of George A. Romero

Reanimating the Living Dead: Uncovering the Zombie Archetype in the Works of George A. Romero
by Michael Bloom

“And suddenly he thought, I’m the abnormal one now. Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man … Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle.” (I am Legend, Richard Matheson 159)

Even for those who have never seen a zombie horror film, the mere mention of the subgenre conjures distinct images of mindless cadavers preying upon the flesh of the living, vulnerable only to serious head trauma. Such an interpretation, while not necessarily absolute, has emerged in the collective consciousness of the modern world in the wake of countless films subscribing to such an ideal. Yet this definition is distinctly inconsistent with the cultural origins of the zombie mythos, standing in stark contrast to the subservient reanimated drones rooted in Voodoo folklore. In actuality, the zombie as we understand it today is the direct result of auteur George Romero’s reimagining of the zombie identity. Beginning with his seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968) and continuing through to his most recent installment, Diary of the Dead (2007), Romero has purged the zombie genre of its culturally phobic roots and redefined it as a means of reflexive social commentary, subverting conventions within the genre both preceding and following his immense influence.

This essay will endeavour to explore the evolution of the zombie conception from its religious genesis through to its modern reinterpretation. First to be examined are the roots of zombie mythology in Afro-Caribbean Voodoo and their (mis)translation to American/European society, particularly through the influence of the horror classic White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932). Proceeding onward, I intend to establish the cinematic and sociological context of Night of the Living Dead’s release within the dissolution of the zombie subgenre and the expansion of American consciousness to the graphic and senseless violence present both in Vietnam and on the home front. Night’s prolific sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), will then be addressed as a furtherance of Romero’s revision and the refinement of his social discourse. The direct influence of both his ontological restructuring of the zombie creature and emphasis on social reflection will then be noted in the preservation and progression of the undead archetype in modern reimaginings such as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004). Finally, Romero’s culmination of the Dead trilogy, Diary of the Dead, will be discussed as both a return to form and an alternative subversion of the 21st century zombie standard, defining the perennial quality of the auteur’s enduring vision and adaptability to transforming social currents.

Before addressing Romero’s work itself, it is necessary to understand that the zombie first originated in quite a different form than how it has been popularized in modern media, but that there still remain similarities in structure between the pre and post-Romero ghoul. Preceding the notion of the zombie as it was derived from voodoo demonology, the notion of the living dead is present in the very foundation of human psychology. Ghosts, vampires, and golems all find their roots in ancient folklore, and Bishop correlates this to Freud’s statement that “...to many people the acme of the uncanny is represented by anything to do with death, dead bodies, revenants, spirits and ghosts” (Bishop 200). Therefore the living dead, as with most fantastic archetypes of horror, is inevitably tied to the concept of the Uncanny, or the familiar rendered strange.

This idea is the direct result of the universal consciousness of human mortality and the fear involved in seeing those who were once alive (familiar) as an intersection of matter and spirit converted to death (unfamiliar), or pure matter devoid of what the ancient Greeks best described as Nous, roughly translated into “mind” or “soul,” but ultimately referring to that which animates objects. The uncanny nature of death stirs our fear of mortality, but when related to the living dead the uncanny matures into collective terror. Death, while frightening, is inevitable and can be accepted and thus made familiar. But the idea of an inanimate corpse revived into a form alien to its prior living state furthers the process of the unfamiliar into that which cannot be reconciled with natural laws. Hence, as seen in virtually any zombie film where a character must confront the reanimated corpse of a former friend or relative, the moment is often reserved for the climax or a significant plot point to magnify the relationship between the living and the undead. This is why Barbara finally succumbs to the ghoulish horde in Night when she sees her own zombified brother (1:25:45 – 1:26:05), or why “Helen Cooper does little more than allow herself to be butchered” (Bishop 203) when she finds her own daughter undead (1:24:30 – 1:25:25). Both women are unable to fight back because they are literally incapacitated by fear.

The function of the uncanny as the natural cause of fear toward the undead is universally human, but is not explicit to the zombie genre itself. In fact, the historical heritage of the proto-zombie stems from more social and ethnic anxieties revolving around the Afro-Caribbean community in the West Indies at the turn of the 20th century. Brought to the new world from Africa, stigmas of the primitiveness and primordial spirituality of the “dark” continent were transposed upon the same communities in the primarily African island of Haiti (Rhodes 70). With Haiti’s independence in 1804, the predominantly black nation ruled by Afro-Haitians became a source of anxiety for the American Southern Confederacy, who became increasingly fearful of their own slaves (Rhodes 70). Thus, the grounds for suspicion and fear of the Afro-Caribbean “Other” was set to erupt into misappropriation of Voodoo ritual through pejorative reports on Voodoo practice and William Seabrook’s (mis)anthropological book The Magic Island (1929), with its accusations of infanticide and cannibalism (Rhodes 72).

Due to the mélange of fact and fiction in reports on Voodoo practice, it is easy to see why there is no clear origin of the zombie concept. Rhodes states that the term had various spellings and various meanings throughout history, referring to the snake god “Zombi,” revenant spirits, and a pharmacological ingredient used in potions (75). Indeed, the etymology of the term is most likely found in the Kimbundu word nzúmbe, which coincides with the revenant definition (Bishop 197), but it was Seabrook’s defamatory book which first connected the term to the living dead in American culture (Rhodes 81). Whether Seabrook fabricated this connection or if it was prior terminology, adapting the word for a returned spirit to describe a returned corpse, is contentious, but the importance of his writing is that, like any good lie, it indeed contains an element of truth. Zombification was not invented by Seabrook, but he did exploit its mystical and occult premises. In reality, there are actual pharmacological practices within the Vodoun religion (for which voodoo is a Westernized misnomer) which are carried out by a very esoteric minority of bokors, or witch doctors. These practices are capable of simulating a temporarily death-like state (Bishop 198), interestingly similar to the potion given to Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Subjects of such a drug could be buried alive and return from the grave, undoubtedly triggering the uncanny fear of living death. Widespread publication of this misinterpreted phenomenon certainly laid the foundation for what would become the first zombie movie, Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932), which would capitalize on the American interest in and fear of Voodoo.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Bill Moyers Journal: American Dissenters

(An archive of profiles of American dissenters)

American Dissenters
Bill Moyers Journal

"Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." --Dwight D. Eisenhower

To Access the Archive

Bill Moyers Journal: James Thindwa of Jobs with Justice

Bill Moyers Journal
James Thindwa of Jobs with Justice:

I'm a community organizer because I believe that people need a voice. They need to have institutions that speak for them — institutions through which their own concerns, their grievances, their interests, can be represented. Your average person is getting up every day to go to work and to care for a family — doesn't have a lobbyist in Washington. They don't have a lobbyist in the city council. They don't have a lobbyist at the state legislature.

James Thindwa heads Chicago Jobs with Justice — one of over 40 coalitions nationwide dedicated to worker's issues like the living wage and the right to organize. The Chicago group made headlines recently as it took on the case of Republic Windows and Doors, a potent symbol of the economic downturn's drastic effect on working Americans.

Republic Windows and Doors

Workers at the Chicago company staged a sit-in in December 2008, when the company suddenly announced it was closing up shop and leaving town. By law, Republic's unionized employees were entitled to 60 days notice and some parting benefits. Instead, the owners gave them three days notice and cut off their health insurance. When Republic declared itself insolvent the organizers turned their attention to the company's bank — Bank of America — which had just received 25 billion dollars in federal bailout money. After five days in the spotlight, Bank of America came up with a cash loan to pay the workers what they were owed. But the story doesn't end there. In late February 2009 the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES announced that a new green-oriented windows maker would be taking over Republic's assets and that they planned to re-open the plant with labor from Republic's former staff.


Thindwa's Jobs with Justice was also in the forefront of a living wage battle against Wal-Mart. When the corporation announced plans to open a store in Chicago, Jobs for Justice and other groups decided to forestall Wal-Mart's well-known low wage-floor with a local living wage law, putting the starting salary at $10 per hour — the salary being paid at another big box store in Chicago, COSTCO. The campaign went on for three years until 2006 when the city council passed the living wage ordinance. Victory was brief. Chicago's six-term Mayor Democrat Richard M. Daley lobbied enough council members to change their vote to enable a mayoral veto. Wal-Mart did arrive in Chicago but not initially as a Supercenter which would compete with local grocers.

However, Chicago's Wal-Mart wars are not over. In March 2009, a city alderman announced a plan to allow Wal-Mart to build a second store in Chicago. In the meantime, Citigroup downgraded Wal-Mart's rating because of worries that unionization might cut into Wal-Mart's profits.


James Thindwa was born and raised in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. His family took part in Rhodesia's fight against British colonial rule. There he learned the power of organized labor and organized protest. "Unions to us, growing up, performed more functions than just negotiating for better wages for workers. They really were seen in society as a legitimate vehicle for transforming society." Thindwa won a scholarship to Kentucky's Berea College and went on to a masters degree at Miami University of Ohio. As a student he protested against the Ku Klux Klan and apartheid in South Africa. He moved to Chicago, where he advocated for senior citizens before joining Jobs with Justice.

To Watch the Episode

Padraig O' Malley: How to Get Sworn Enemies to Negotiate; David Makovskey: An Israeli's Perspective on Gaza


Today, Jerome speaks with Padraig O’Malley, who was a peace negotiator in Northern Ireland, South Africa and post-invasion Iraq. He says seemingly hopeless conflicts between sworn enemies can be solved with dialogue, even the Middle East. Also, we'll get an Israeli perspective on Gaza from the former editor of the Jerusalem Post.

Padraig O’Malley — Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts-Boston; Peace Negotiator in the conflicts in South Africa, Northern Ireland and Iraq

David Makovsky — Director, Project on Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post.

To Listen to the Episode

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shooting Down Pictures: The Pillow Book (1996, Peter Greenaway)

The Pillow Book (1996, Peter Greenaway)
Shooting Down Pictures

Largely received with diffidence upon its initial release, Peter Greenaway’s tour de force can now be respected as a bold vision of movie art in the multimedia age. Taking inspiration from Japanese courtesan Sei Shonagon’s 17th century novel of the same title, Greenaway tells a story of a Japanese-Chinese woman’s efforts to transform her childhood fixation on bodily calligraphy into a career as a writer, while avenging her father’s sexual humiliation at the hands of his publisher. These themes of the artist’s struggle to express herself while taking revenge against the abuses of the older establishment are nothing new to Greenaway’s filmography (see The Draughtsman’s Contract, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover). What is new is a distinctly feminine narrative voice that enhances the innate sensuality of the project; an unabashed mixing of languages and cultures in a stew of chic global mongrelism; and a hypnotic flow of screens within screens and texts used as creative adornment. (The film toys with foreign film viewing conventions, foregoing subtitles for some scenes in Japanese while deploying them elsewhere in ways so artistic you wonder why no one else bothers).

To Browse and Read the Archive

Worldview: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Created in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was intended to prevent atrocities and genocide perpetrated during World War II. ... we'll talk about this powerful idea on a local level. Also, In our ongoing Global Activism series, we hear from a Chicagoan who helps AIDS orphans in Africa find gainful employment.

Universal Human Rights for the U.S.

Jamie Kalven — Writer and a human rights activist in Chicago; Member of the NGO The Invisible Institute

Dorothy Roberts — Professor at Northwestern University School of Law; Author of
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Vintage, 1998)

Global Activism: Local Organization Helps AIDS Orphans in Africa

Tom Derdak — Founder and Executive Director of Global Alliance for Africa

To Listen to the Episode and Access More Resources

Bill Moyers Journal: William K. Black - CSI Bailout

William K. Black: CSI Bailout
Bill Moyers Journal

William K. Black suspects that it was more than greed and incompetence that brought down the U.S. financial sector and plunged the economy in recession — it was fraud. And he would know. When it comes to financial shenanigans, William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, has seen pretty much everything.

Now an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, William K. Black tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL that the tool at the very center of mortgage collapse, creating triple-A rated bonds out of "liars' loans" — loans issued without verifying income, assets or employment — was a fraud, and the banks knew it.

And while there is no law against liars' loans, Black points out that there are, "many laws against fraud, and liars' loans are fraudulent. [...] They involve deceit, which is the essence of fraud."

Only the scale of the scandal is new. A single bank, IndyMac, lost more money than the entire Savings and Loan Crisis. The difference between now and then, explains Black, is a drastic reduction in regulation and oversight, "We now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80."

To Listen to the Episode

Leo Goldsmith: The Action Movie

The Action Movie
by Leo Goldsmith
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Summer, for many, affords the opportunity for every kind of outdoor venture possible, from kitesurfing to bocce, camping to badminton. For others, it is a time for action—that is, the type of action best experienced while seated in a plush seat with a quart of sugary soda to hand, the orange glow of an artificial explosion the only thing to brighten the dark frigidity of an excessively air-conditioned movie theater.

Depending on your point of view, the action movie is either (or both) the zenith or the nadir of cinema. To many, it exemplifies the spectacular excesses of the movies in general, presenting the most bloated, corruptive, and superficial of films, cynically designed for the delectation of that preeminent demographic: the teenage boy. But at the same time, it is a genre that pushes the margins of what is possible with the cinematic apparatus, even as it reaches back to the very basis of the movies: movement.

After all, what is cinema – any cinema – if not the mere record of kinetics on a two-dimensional surface? In this light, any movie is basically an action movie, and those few films that seek to flout the conventions of the movie as a parade of moving pictures (see La Jetée, among others) are exceptions that prove the rule. Etymologically and practically, action is the very basis of a medium that exists primarily to document movement. But what’s more, the action movie employs every conceivable aspect of the cinematic apparatus tocreate illusions of motion, as well: blocking, framing, editing, sound design, special effects, and the elastic, inimitable grace of the human body.

From Aristotle (or maybe even a little earlier) to praxeology and cognitive science, thinkers have explored theories of human action that seek to divine the processes by which people do things. Cinema, with a quasi-scientific lineage of its own, seems uniquely suited to contribute to these debates, or at least serve as an aesthetic analogue. After all, the cinema’s roots lie in the photo-empiricism of Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, which settled his supposed wager with Governor Leland Stanford about whether a horse lifts all four of its hooves off the ground while galloping. In the actualities of the Lumière brothers and Edison, before narrative took hold of the movies, cinema was most useful and fascinating as a popular means of studying every kind of movement in time to be found in contemporary life. And along with dance and sexuality, violence was among the very first preoccupations of the movies.

As it relates to the film or literary genre, the word “action” seems mainly to derive from the military, in the sense of deploying combat maneuvers or deploying action against a country or force. (The source of the related sexual slang of “getting some action” is itself almost certainly military.) Quite significantly, the Oxford English Dictionary reports a cluster of new usages for the word “action” arising in the 1950s, including “action committee” (describing a communist force deployed to purge a society of non-communist elements), “action painting” (describing the method used by artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline)1, and of course, from the realm of film criticism, “action-packed.”2

That the phrase “action-packed” continues to be a handy descriptor for the filmmaker demonstrates the unquenchable desire for film to offer motion – human, vehicular, cinematographic – at its most extreme, spectacular, and implausible. It is then something of a linguistic error to refer to an action film with anything but strings of capital letters, punctuated with exclamation marks. It is a genre full of movies that entertain scenarios of utmost exoticness and offer conflicts that pivot around fatalistic dilemmas, populated with characters – both good and bad, male and female – that exist at the antipodes of human physicality and ethics. They are FAST! BOMBASTIC! THRILLING! LOUD! and EXCLAMATORY! Action movies are also brazenly unrealistic entertainments, and in their evolution have become increasingly colorful and excited to the point of abstraction. They contain scenarios and emotions many of us will never experience, liberally exploiting the spectrum of human emotion.

To Read the Rest of the Introduction and the Collection of Essays

Sinfest: Lawn Into Ganja

(Courtesy of Laura Webb)


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Steven Q. Fletcher: The Dreamers - Revolution as a Gala Dinner and a Game

The Dreamers: Revolution as a Gala Dinner and a Game
A close, detailed viewing and extended discussion of the context, plot, and themes of Bertolucci’s controversial masterwork.
by Steven Q. Fletcher

Part 1. A few things to consider before watching the film (no spoilers):

Perhaps it is best to begin our reading of The Dreamers (2003) with a brief history lesson, although the film, as will be repeated later for emphasis, is not essentially about history, or politics, or anything else quite so academic, but is instead a coming-of-age story about three youths. However, The Dreamers is set in Paris in the year 1968—a significant moment in history, for it was a time when many in the western world believed that protest, particularly student protest, held the power to force major changes in the way societies’ governing institutions operated.

Revolution of all sorts was in the air: in America, the 1967 Summer of Love’s flower children had shown themselves to be the spiritual inheritors of the alienated bohemians and beatniks who had come before, and in Britain and France—and much of the rest of Europe as well—counterculture musicians, writers, and political activists were calling for an end to the war in Vietnam. But the charges of imperial aggression—warranted or not—were not the only rallying points for the youthful reformers. Denouncing the prevailing culture as corrupt and immoral, they heaped scorn on what they contemptuously labeled “the Establishment,” and turned against the values of the middle class, envisioning instead a “New Republic” based on a more open sexuality, new styles of art such as rock and roll, a revamped cinema, and the use of consciousness-altering drugs.

Preceding the more physical protests to come in 1968, students in certain overcrowded Parisian universities quarreled with school administrators over the right to receive members of the opposite sex in their dormitories—for political and scholastic reasons as well as the more traditional ones. Because of this and other problems, an overflow university was established outside Paris in the working class suburb of Nanterre. Eventually nineteen thousand students were crammed into inadequate facilities, and the school and its neighboring cafés became a fermentation tank for political unrest, fueled by the writings of such idolized figures as Che Guevara and Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (the highly influential la Nouvelle Vague director Jean-Luc Godard even filmed a movie in 1967 entitled La Chinoise—The Chinese—showing a group of French students infatuated with Mao, who eventually translate their new ideas into terrorist activities).

In March of 1968 the students of Nanterre revolted against the administration, and baton-wielding police and rock-throwing students clashed. Afterwards, students and workers alike rallied around an arrested student leader (Daniel Cohn-Bendit) and the wave of protesters spilled out of Nanterre and into Paris. The protests became all-inclusive in nature, railing against all the authority figures the students and young workers considered oppressive, against the consumer-driven lifestyle of the bourgeoisie, and of course against the military policies of various governments—not just that of France.

On May 3rd, the ranks of the protestors swelled as the government reacted harshly to quell the unrest; in a major skirmish more than a hundred protesters were hurt and more than six hundred were carted away by French riot police. You’ll see these policeman reenacted in the movie and shown in archival footage; they are terrifying in their black uniforms and faceless masks, hurling tear gas canisters and striking savagely with their batons from behind a wall of shields held before them like those of the Spartan warriors at Thermopylae.

On May 6th, an even larger demonstration again turned violent, with hundreds more injured and arrested. Classes were suspended at Nanterre and the Sorbonne in Paris, and many workers unions called for general strikes. By mid-May, millions of workers were on strike, and many of the major industries were shut down. Paris became a barricaded city, and travel throughout the country became problematic, if not impossible. The Cannes film festival of 1968 was cancelled. On May 30th, close to half a million protestors marched through Paris chanting “Adieu, de Gaulle!” But the president stood his ground, and, backed by the military, somehow managed to pull the country back from the brink of collapse, and even succeeded in banning several of the left-wing student organizations that had precipitated the crisis.

Very little of these events are present in The Dreamers. But all this pervasive history is there as a living backdrop—one can almost peer around the edges of the screen and see the men in riot gear, hear the students marching in the streets, even catch a whiff of the tear gas. At the beginning of the movie there is a protest happening because Henri Langlois, the founder and director of the Cinémathèque Française (the Paris-based film theater and museum which is the Holy of Holies to our three main characters, cinephiles all) has been removed from office by the government, and the theater barricaded. The actual protest happened on the 14th of February; three thousand people showed up including many famous directors and actors. The police attacked after the protest turned violent; eventually the horrific event shamed the government into reinstating Langlois. In the movie these events make the actions of the authorities personally oppressive to our protagonists, and set into motion the plot of The Dreamers.

* * *

However, the movie, let me now repeat, is not about the revolution of 1968. It is instead about the intense relationships that evolve between three teenagers on the cusp of adulthood in a time of revolution: Matthew, the naïve American visiting France by himself for the first time, and Theo and Isabelle, the sophisticated yet immature twins who have grown up in Paris under the overly permissive care of their father, a famous but increasingly irrelevant French poet.

As mentioned, all three friends are cinephiles—mad for films—and Paris in the sixties was the perfect place to exist for such creatures. It is within the culture of incessant movie-going that they meet, and it is about movies that they ponder, dream, and spend their hours discussing. During The Dreamers many clips of other films are shown to illustrate the inner thoughts of the characters. You can usually understand what is meant by these cinematic quotations: many times the characters themselves identify and explain them. However, I will address some of the more important filmic allusions in my analysis of the film.

The three friends find themselves thrown together more and more in a special time of self-discovery and revolution, and eventually find themselves living in a kind of dream world that is at once beautiful, perilous, and unique—and as fleeting as all days of youth and love’s first dawning.

In the film’s “making of” documentary, director Bernardo Bertolucci has this to say about the time period which he himself lived through and has re-imagined in The Dreamers:

I don’t want to say that 1968 was a magic moment . . . but almost. The fact is that we were, let’s use the word “dreaming” together cinema, politics, music, jazz, rock and roll—and sex—and the discovery of how these things could be conjugated together and how they could interact between each other, how they could really be mixed up in a kind of harmony that I don’t see today.

This film, then, is an attempt to portray a very special kind of dreaming—a kind of dreaming that is only possible when the world seems balanced on a knife’s edge of change, when one is young and all things are new, all things are possible, and every moment’s now is all that there is—a time when one doesn’t have a lifetime of painful experience to tell one that certain things simply cannot—or should not—be done.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Let's Dream of a Day When California...

(Courtesy of Laura Webb)

Reverse Shot: Matt Zoller Seitz on Carlito's Way

Matt Zoller Seitz on Carlito’s Way
Reverse Shot

Everything about Carlito’s Way (1993) is improbable, starting with the fact that it’s a masterpiece. On paper, it sounds like a glossy Nineties Hollywood version of a cheapo B-picture that, 50 years earlier, would have been labeled “a programmer,” and for that reason, its initial reviews tended to be negative or somewhat dismissively positive (variations on “You’ve seen it all before, but it’s still fun”). My own Dallas Observer review—written by a young man who had a lot more living to do—hewed to this superficial reading; thirteen years and many viewings later, it’s high on the list of verdicts I wish I could take back. (The older you get, the wiser, it seems.) Sure enough, though—as invariably happens with Brian De Palma’s movies—audiences grew to admire and ultimately adore Carlito’s Way. They looked past the film’s surfaces and got lost in its depths; within seven years of its release, Cahiers du Cinema named it the best film of the Nineties.

There’s no denying that the story is primordially familiar: Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino), a notorious heroin dealer sprung from prison on a technicality, re-enters society determined to build a new, law-abiding identity with his girlfriend but gets pulled back into street life and pays the ultimate price. Yet Carlito’s Way is complex, resilient, and uncannily moving. Its power originates not just in director De Palma’s command of technique—a given, even in his films that don’t work—but in his determination to take his hero at his word and demand that audiences do the same. It treats cliches not as storytelling shortcuts, but as metaphors for personal struggle.

The film’s intent announces itself in its bracketing scenes, which shows his ruthless young rival, Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo), assassinating him on a train platform— mere seconds, we later learn, before he can escape to the tropics with his pregnant girlfriend, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller). By showing us exactly how and when Carlito died, and giving us a lingering three-quarters view of Benny’s face so we know who killed him, then segueing into the hero’s ruminative, at times bemused, deathbed narration, which will continue for two-plus hours, De Palma clarifies the film’s intent: its primary action is internal, psychological. The opening tells us, definitively, that this movie is not about what happens to Carlito, but what happens within Carlito.

This description makes the film sound like a tragedy (De Palma’s specialty). But it doesn’t play that way. For a director who specializes in operatic portraits of impotence, violation, and dashed dreams, Carlito’s Way is radically optimistic—as foursquare and impassioned as its closing song, Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.” With the possible exception of Mission to Mars (De Palma’s own E.T.), no other De Palma film is so unapologetically bullish on free will—on peoples’ capacity to alter, or at least redirect, their supposed destiny and even remake their personalities from the ground up. As adapted by screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park) from two novels by Edwin Torres, Carlito’s Way is—no kidding—a story of spiritual rebirth: a mythic western in Seventies crime thriller drag about a man who realizes, deep into his forties, that the thug life he’d killed to create is in fact an imitation of life—not just immoral and shallow, but silly and boring.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Kathryn Joyce: Christian Soldiers - The growing controversy over military chaplains using the armed forces to spread the Word

Christian Soldiers: The growing controversy over military chaplains using the armed forces to spread the Word.
By Kathryn Joyce


In the aftermath of that report, the Pentagon responded that it had confiscated and destroyed the Bibles and said there was no effort to convert Afghans. But while the military dismissed the Bagram Bibles as an isolated incident, a civil-rights watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), says this is not the case. According to the group's president, Mikey Weinstein, a cadre of 40 U.S. chaplains took part in a 2003 project to distribute 2.4 million Arabic-language Bibles in Iraq. This would be a serious violation of U.S. military Central Command's General Order Number One forbidding active-duty troops from trying to convert people to any religion. A Defense Department spokeswoman, in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK, denies any knowledge of this project.

The Bible initiative was handled by former Army chaplain Jim Ammerman, the 83-year-old founder of the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC), an organization in charge of endorsing 270 chaplains and chaplain candidates for the armed services. Ammerman worked with an evangelical group based in Arkansas, the International Missions Network Center, to distribute the Bibles through the efforts of his 40 active-duty chaplains in Iraq. A 2003 newsletter for the group said of the effort, "The goal is to establish a wedge for the kingdom of God in the Middle East, directly affecting the Islamic world."


Among the "endorsing agencies" is CFGC, which represents a conglomeration of independent Pentecostal churches outside established denominations. The group was accepted as a chaplain-endorsing agency by the Department of Defense in 1984, two years after it first applied. Since 1984, MRFF charges, Ammerman's agency has violated numerous codes that govern chaplaincies, including a constant denigration of other religions, particularly Islam, Judaism, mainline Protestantism and Catholicism, but also non-Pentecostal evangelical churches. In a 2008 sermon, Ammerman described a CFGC chaplain at Fort Riley, Kans., who demanded the 42 chaplains below him "speak up for Jesus" or leave his outfit. In a video for an organization called the Prophesy Club, CFGC chaplain Maj. James Linzey called mainstream Protestant churches "demonic, dastardly creatures from the pit of hell," that should be "[stomped] out." But the primary target of CFGC's ire is Islam. A 2001 CFGC newsletter asserted that the real enemy of the U.S. wasn't Osama bin Laden, but Allah, whom the newsletter called "Lucifer." A 2006 issue argued that all Muslim-Americans should be treated with suspicion, as they "obviously can't be good Americans." In a 2008 sermon, Ammerman called Islam "a killer religion" and Muslims "the devil."

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says it's "counterproductive to the interests of our military to have officers or servicepeople proselytizing. It should be addressed at the highest levels of the military." Hooper says that while he can't say whether events such as these constitute a systematic problem in the military, "we've certainly seen enough incidents for it to be a concern."

Weinstein, an Air Force veteran who founded MRFF in 2005 after both he and his sons say they encountered anti-Semitic harassment and proselytizing in the service, has waged legal battles against what he sees as an improper mingling of church and state in the military, including a current lawsuit against the Department of Defense alleging service members' compulsory attendance at military functions that include sectarian Christian prayers and a broader "pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense and the United States Army." Weinstein says MRFF hears from 400 to 500 service members monthly—including Jews, atheists and religious minorities, but mostly nonevangelical Christians—who claim religious discrimination in the military, often from chaplains or officers implying that they aren't Christian enough. "The vast majority of chaplains now see the military as a mission field with a lot of low-hanging fruit," says Weinstein.

Art Schulcz, a lawyer representing CFGC in a lawsuit against the Navy, says that evangelicals are the real victims, at least in that branch of the service. (As of 2008, all three chiefs of chaplains were evangelicals.) Numerous evangelical Navy chaplains, Schulcz says, have been discriminated against, denied promotions and subjected to denominational preferences by a Catholic- and mainline Protestant-dominated chaplaincy that is intolerant of how evangelicals worship. Many, he says, have fled to the more evangelical-friendly Army.

"Mikey Weinstein says they're shipping Bibles there," Schulcz says. "I want to say, 'So what?' The Constitution protects that kind of activity." He contends that General Order Number One's prohibition on religion, which has been in effect since 2000, is overly vague and a violation of religious freedom, and that, in any case, chaplains should be exempt since, he argues, they are not military representatives but representatives of their faith groups: "The Constitution prohibits absolutely the government from proselytizing, but it protects the proselytizer to do so, unless they're harming the public good."

Department of Defense policy says that chaplain-endorsing agencies should "express willingness" for their chaplains to cooperate with other religious traditions. But Schulcz claims that Ammerman, who is not a paid government official, and his chaplains, who are, are entitled to say whatever they want unless they're advocating insurrection.

On this point, MRFF charges they come close. Ammerman and chaplain Linzey have espoused conspiracy theories about "Satanic forces" at work in the U.S. government facilitating a military takeover by foreign troops; Ammerman even appears in a video favored by militia groups titled The Imminent Military Takeover of the USA. In 2008, Ammerman implied that four presidential candidates should be "arrested, quickly tried and hanged" for not voting to designate English America's official language, and speculated that Barack Obama would be assassinated as a secret Muslim.


To Read the Entire Article

Peter Amato: Clowntime is Over

(Online text for his critical reasoning course.)

Amato, Peter. Clowntime is Over. (PHIL 105, Spring 2009: Drexel University)

Monday, June 22, 2009

PR Watch: FedEx Campaign Delivers Controversy While Trying to Stop Unionization of Workers

FedEx Campaign Delivers Controversy (Source: New York Times, June 9, 2009)
PR Watch

FedEx's new "multimillion-dollar marketing campaign" doesn't tout the delivery company's service or speed. It accuses rival United Parcel Service (UPS) of receiving a government bailout. FedEx's website BrownBailout.com claims UPS is "quietly seeking a Congressional bailout designed to limit competition for overnight deliveries." One marketing executive said the campaign may backfire on FedEx, as "this is clearly not a bailout as most consumers and business people would define it, which is writing a check to a troubled business." At issue is "a provision in a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill" that would reclassify some FedEx employees under the National Labor Relations Act, making it easier for them to form unions. UPS, which is "heavily unionized," is already classified under the Act. UPS spokesman Malcolm Berkley said that FedEx "uses the fact of the labor law it is currently under inappropriately as a lever when talking to UPS customers, particularly when we're negotiating our contracts." UPS isn't responding to the FedEx campaign, but the Teamsters union, which represents 240,000 UPS workers, is. A Teamsters press release accuses FedEx CEO Fred Smith of spending "millions of dollars on misleading ad campaigns and high-priced lobbyists [rather] than allow[ing] workers a real chance to form a union."

To Acces the Article and More Resources

Charles Simic: Slavko Goldstein - He Understood Evil

[From a review of Goldstein's history of 1941 Croatia. ]

Revenge doesn't know how to choose between the guilty and the innocent.
--Slavko Goldstein

The victims turn into oppressors and the oppressors are victims again. Once more, the culprit was nationalism, that madness of identifying with a single ethnic group to a point where one recognizes no other duty than furthering its interests even if it means placing its actions beyond good and evil. Many the world over believe this is the only way; that the survival of their people justifies any crime they commit. They find the scruples of those who cringe at the shedding of innocent blood in pursuit of some noble cause naive and repugnant.

Simic, Charles. "He Understood Evil." The New York Review of Books (July 2, 2009)

Weekly Signals: Captain Charles Moore, discoverer and prime researcher of Great Pacific Garbage Patch and founder of Algalita Marine Research Foundati

An interview with Captain Charles Moore the discoverer and prime researcher of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.
Weekly Signals\
Host: Nathan Callahan and Mike Kaspar

In 1995 Captain Moore launched his purpose designed, aluminum hulled research vessel, Alguita, in Hobart, Tasmania, and organized the Australian Government's first "Coastcare" research voyage to document anthropogenic contamination of Australia's east coast. Upon his return to California, he became a coordinator of the State Water Resources Control Board's Volunteer Water Monitoring Steering Committee, and developed chemical and bacterial monitoring methods for the Surfrider Foundation's "Blue Water Task Force." As a member of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project's Bight '98 steering committee, he realized the need for and provided a research vessel so that Mexican researchers from Baja California could participate for the first time in assessing the entire Southern California Bight.

The Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita and its Captain found their true calling after a 1997 yacht race to Hawaii. On his return voyage, Captain Moore veered from the usual sea route and saw an ocean he had never known, "there were shampoo caps and soap bottles and plastic bags and fishing floats as far as I could see. Here I was in the middle of the ocean, and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic." Ever since, Captain Moore has dedicated his time and resources to understanding and remediating the ocean's plastic load. In this February 26 presentation for TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), Captain Moore demonstrates why it is imperative that plastic ends its life in a recycling plant, rather than in our waterways and oceans.

Captain Moore’s 1999 study shocked the scientific world when it found 6 times more plastic fragments by weight in the central Pacific than the associated zooplankton. His second paper found that plastic outweighs plankton by a factor of 2.5 in the surface waters of Southern California.

Captain Moore has now done ocean and coastal sampling for plastic fragments over twenty thousand miles of the north Pacific ocean, across 22 degrees of latitude and 50 degrees of longitude. His latest 7,500 mile voyage was featured in the November 4, 2008 issue of US News and World Report.

To Listen to the Interview

Thursday, June 18, 2009

XKCD: Side Effects of Internet Porn


Pearls Before Swine: Rat Prepares For the Mosh Pit

Pearls Before Swine

Weekly Signals: Andrei Codrescu author of The Posthuman Dada Guide -Tzara and Lenin Play Chess

An interview with Andrei Codrescu author of The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess
Weekly Signals
Hosts: Nathan Callahan and Mike Kaspar

The Posthuman Dada Guide is an impractical handbook for practical living in our posthuman world — all by way of examining the imagined 1916 chess game between Tristan Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. Lenin, the daddy of communism. This epic game at Zurich's Café de la Terrasse — a battle between radical visions of art and ideological revolution — lasted for a century and may still be going on, although communism appears dead and Dada stronger than ever. As the poet faces the future mass murderer over the chessboard, neither realizes that they are playing for the world.

Taking the match as metaphor for two poles of twentieth — and twenty-first-century thought, politics, and life, Codrescu has created his own brilliantly Dadaesque guide to Dada — and to what it can teach us about surviving our ultraconnected present and future. Here dadaists Duchamp, Ball, and von Freytag-Loringhoven and communists Trotsky, Radek, and Zinoviev appear live in company with later incarnations, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gilles Deleuze, and Newt Gingrich. The Posthuman Dada Guide is arranged alphabetically for quick reference and (some) nostalgia for order, with entries such as "eros (women)," "internet(s)," and "war." Throughout, it is written in the belief "that posthumans lining the road to the future (which looks as if it exists, after all, even though Dada is against it) need the solace offered by the primal raw energy of Dada and its inhuman sources."

Andrei Codrescu is an award-winning writer and National Public Radio commentator. His latest books are Jealous Witness: New Poems and New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing from the City. The author of many essay collections, including The Disappearance of the Outside, he is the MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English at Louisiana State University.

To Listen to the Interview

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Steve Dollar: Pigs, Pimps and Other Friends of Shohei Imamura

Pigs, Pimps and Other Friends of Shohei Imamura
by Steve Dollar
Green Cine Daily

Although he bowed out in 2006, at age 79, as a globally revered grand master of cinema—his nation's greatest living filmmaker—Shohei Imamura may have simply refined his touch over a 45-year career so that his gritty vision of Japanese society played more elegantly on the screen. He didn't stake his reputation on arthouse propriety. Not that you'd necessarily infer that from the somber, poetic tone of latter-day productions such as The Ballad of Narayama (1983). Over time, the director became so smoothly transgressive that his final feature, 2001's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, could employ female ejaculation as a metaphor and not raise any eyebrows.

Because so many of his films from the 1960s—the period when Imamura broke with convention and boldly defined himself as a fearless observer of the human condition, mapping the gamier precincts of postwar Japan—have been out of circulation or otherwise hard to see, contemporary audiences have missed out on most of the ripe, juicy stuff.

Criterion delivers the goods with its new triple-disc set, Pigs, Pimps & Prostitutes. Its an apt summary of some of the major players in these robust dramas, and also the title of a 2007 retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAMcinematek that saw rare revivals of Pigs and Battleships (1961), The Insect Woman (1963) and Intentions of Murder (1964), all included in the box, as well as the mad ethnography-on-crack epic The Profound Desire of the Gods (1968), and the decade-closing documentary, History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess. Those latter films would have made welcome additions to the package, which also serves as a fitting companion to Criterion's edition of The Pornographers (1966), the most commonly accessible of Imamura's '60s efforts.

Watched in sequence, the films show off the development of Imamura's unusual balance of objectivity and outrageousness. Every biographical note talks about the director's impulse to break away from the stately transcendence of Ozu, for whom he apprenticed, and surf the hurly-burly of the underclass. What makes his films so pleasurable, even when the camera seems to impose an almost clinical gaze, is that irrepressibly earthy sensibility. There's an often grimy, grindhouse candor that animates these social anatomies and their gallery of misfits. Pimps, prostitutes, and pigs were some of the director's best friends, not to mention serial killers, bar girls, rapists, conniving husbands, hapless pornographers, petty hoodlums and incestuous country bumpkins.

Those porkers are no mere symbol. Pigs and Battleships, which Nikkatsu's bosses despised on its release, is a broadly comic saga of occupied Japan. Its lowlife antics transpire in the port town of Yokosuka, whose black market thrives amid the influx of American servicemen. A series of unfortunate events turns a wannabe gangster's pork-vending scam into so much hogwash, as hundreds of pigs stampede, trampling the exploitative intents of the local crime syndicate and the Yankee arrivals alike. The film, in all its sordid vigor, represents Imamura at his most freewheeling. One memorable scene involves a yakuza version of the Three Stooges who, having whacked a rival and tossed him in the pigpen, later slaughter one of the swine for supper and discover... well, let's say they need a few extra toothpicks for this barbecue. Making splendid use of black-and-white Cinemascope shot in high contrast by Shinsaku Himeda, a restlessly mobile camera, a manufactured set of neon jazz dives and hive-like bordellos, and penumbral interior lighting that evokes noir-like intrigue even at the most mundane moments, Imamura enjoys a crackling pace. When the local punks leap into the air to dodge a round of accidental machine gun spray, it's as kinetic as a 15-second musical.

To Read the Rest of the Review Essay

Watching Theology: Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)

Mean Streets (1973)
by Joe Johnson
Watching Theology

God's Silence Series: no. 3. Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes he's shut out of the conversation. In Martin Scorsese's breakthrough film Mean Streets, Charlie is trying to find his own way to stay out of Hell. He is the saint of Little Italy, just not the kind of saint anyone would canonize. Although God offers him absolution, Charlie prefers real atonement. He is the savior of the dregs, but his first priority is to save himself without losing anything. Join us for this episode as WT discusses the problem with forming one's own religion.

To Listen to the Analysis

Sign On San Diego Forums: FBI Watch Bibliography

(Posted at Sign on San Diego)

A very extensive bibliography for those studying the FBI:


Pearls Before Swine: Pig's Paleontology Report

(Courtesy of Laura Webb)

Pearls Before Swine

Sourcewatch: Exporting U.S. PSYOP that Fools No One; Washington Post: A High-Priced Media Campaign That Iraqis Aren't Buying; SourceWatch: PSYOPS

Exporting U.S. PSYOP that Fools No One
PR Watch

U.S. military psychological operations (PSYOP) campaigns continue in Iraq, though many question their effectiveness. "They have a very crude tone and content, and the narrator sounds like Saddam's own propagandist," said political science professor As'ad AbuKhalil. "The Arabic used also is awkward, clearly translated from English texts most likely drafted in some office on K Street." An Iraqi lawyer criticized the money spent on PSYOP: "If those funds had been given to the poor and the widows, Iraq would have been a pioneer in social welfare. Millions of dollars go into the pockets of war profiteers who believe victory in Iraq can be won through the media using underground movies." The head of Iraq's Journalistic Freedom Observatory dismissed the PSYOP newspaper "Baghdad Now," which the U.S. military has published and distributed since at least 2004, saying, "Nobody reads this." Yet "Richard C. Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently told lawmakers that the administration is working on a strategic communications plan for that region that draws on the lessons of Iraq," reports the Washington Post. "Electronic media, telecom and radio" should be used "to counter the propaganda that is key to the insurgency's terror campaign," Holbrooke said.


Original report: Washington Post: A High-Priced Media Campaign That Iraqis Aren't Buying


SourceWatch: Psyops

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tapestry of the Timers #31 - "Pass the Bottle": Little Brother Montgomery; Warner Williams w/ Jay Summerour; Memphis Slim; Coley Jones; Lead Belly...

Episode 31 "Pass The Bottle"
Tapestry of the Times

In this musical pub-crawl, we explore the joys and perils of the drinking life; songs about beer, wine, whiskey and moonshine; sad drunks, mad drunks, mean drunks, and just plain stupid drunks; booze-soaked classics from Memphis Slim, Roscoe Holcomb, Lead Belly, Dock Boggs, and more. Tapestry of the Times: Real music, real people, and the stories behind the sounds...

Memphis Slim

Little Brother Montgomery
Album: Blues
Track #2, Vicksburg 44

Warner Williams with Jay Summerour
Album: Blues Highway
Track # 9, Hey Bartender, There’s a Big Bug in my Beer

Memphis Slim
Album: Memphis Slim: The Folkways Years, 1959-1973
Track: # 7, Beer-Drinking Woman

Coley Jones
Album: Anthology of American Folk Music: Volume One, Ballads
Disc #1, Track #4, Drunkard’s Special

Lead Belly
Album: Lead Belly’s Last Sessions
Disc #4, Track #15, Sugared the Beer
Disc #1, Track #28, I Ain’t Gonna Drink Anymore

Lonnie Johnson
Album: Lonnie Johnson: The Complete Folkways Recordings
Track: # #12, Juice Headed Baby

Victoria Spivey
Album: The Blues is Life
Track: # 8, My Head is Bad – An Alcohol Blues

J.D. Short
Album: Son House & J.D. Short
Track: # 1, So Much Wine

Laverne Smith
Album: His and Hers
Track: # 8, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer

Sonny Terry, J.C. Burris, Sticks McGhee
Album: On the Road
Track: # 9, Drink of Wine, Mop Mop

Roscoe Holcomb
Album: The High Lonesome Sound
Track: # 1, Moonshine

Snooks Eaglin
Album: Snooks Eaglin: New Orleans Street Singer
Track: # 7, Let Me Go Home, Whiskey

Dock Boggs
Album: Dock Boggs: His Folkways Years, 1963-1968
Track: # 12, Drunkard’s Lone Child

Dillard Chandler
Album: Dark Holler
Track: # 22, Drunken Driver

The New Lost City Ramblers
Album: American Moonshine & Prohibition
Track: # 8, Goodbye Old Booze

To Listen to the Music

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Videogum: College Will Turn Your Daughter Into A Pregnant Liberal Who Hates Cookies; College Weekend Workshop: Snakes With PhDs

First watch this marketing video (no, despite your instinct to think this, it is not a parody--they are serious) "The College Casualty":

The College Casualty from Mark Nauroth on Vimeo.

Then visit the College Weekend Workshop it advertises at the end of the video.

I recommend the course content section for a fun time... where they discuss "Snakes With a PhD!!!" where you can learn the "four signs that your professor has a forked tongue"

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Radio West: Andre Dubus III

Novelist Andre Dubus III
Radio West
Host: Doug Fabrizio

Hemingway said, "The job of the writer is not to judge, but to seek to understand." It's an idea that's important to author Andre Dubus III. His latest novel, The Garden of Last Days, is populated with characters that would be easy to look down on - a stripper and a 9/11 hijacker. But Dubus says if he brings his own opinion to bear while he writes, it kills the fiction.

To Listen to the Interview

Robert Barnes: Court Ties $3 Million Judicial Campaign Contribution to Judicial Bias

(Hmmm, I wonder which Justices opposed this decision? Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito, Jr.)

Court Ties Campaign Largess to Judicial Bias
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled for the first time that excessive campaign contributions to a judge create an unconstitutional threat to a fair trial, a decision that could have a nationwide impact on whether judges must recuse themselves in cases involving their political benefactors.

In a case that crystallized a growing national debate over how multimillion-dollar judicial campaigns are affecting the public's view of impartial justice, the court decided that in some "extreme" cases, the risk of bias violates the constitutional guarantee of due process.

A five-member majority of the court decided that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin erred in participating in a case overturning a $50 million verdict against a company headed by a man who spent $3 million on the justice's election.

"Not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a probability of bias that requires a judge's recusal, but this is an exceptional case," wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

The case -- similar in plot to a best-selling John Grisham novel -- has drawn a spotlight on the skyrocketing costs of judicial elections, especially state Supreme Court races. The Justice at Stake Campaign, an advocacy coalition, notes that state supreme court candidates -- 39 states, including Maryland, elect judges -- raised almost $168 million from 2000 to 2007, nearly double the amount raised during the 1990s.

Among the most prominent critics of the campaign spending is former justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was in the packed courtroom during oral arguments in the case in March.

The majority decision did not address the question of whether electing judges is a wise policy -- federal judges are appointed -- but groups who have criticized campaign contributions to judges welcomed the attention. "It's a big win and a signal that the U.S. Supreme Court is keeping an eye on how judicial elections are changing," said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.


The case was brought by Hugh Caperton, the owner of a small coal company who convinced a jury that the business tactics of A.T. Massey Coal and its chief executive, Don Blankenship, drove Caperton's company into bankruptcy. The jury awarded $50 million.

In the next statewide election, Blankenship spent $3 million to oppose a state Supreme Court justice he disliked and to elect newcomer Brent Benjamin. When Massey's appeal of the award came to the high court, Benjamin refused to recuse himself, and he twice cast the decisive vote in 3 to 2 decisions overturning the verdict.

Caperton asked the court to send the case back to the West Virginia high court for a hearing without Benjamin. The award at stake is now worth more than $80 million because of interest.

The majority did not question Benjamin's own findings of his impartiality or determine whether he fostered actual bias, saying that was not necessary.

Caperton said in an interview that he was gratified by the decision. "You can't be in this for 11 years without being an optimist," he said, adding that the decision is beneficial "not just for me but for a whole lot of people around the country who expect fairness" in the judiciary.

The case, Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., roiled West Virginia politics and the state's high court. One other justice was defeated for reelection when photos surfaced of him vacationing with Blankenship in Monaco.


To Read the Rest of the Report

Dion Dennis: Domestic Wars Redux - Obama, Digital Prohibition and the New 'Reefer Madness'

Domestic Wars Redux: Obama, Digital Prohibition and the New 'Reefer Madness'
by Dion Dennis

January 2009: In a reflexive public gesture, the U.S.'s first African-American President-elect, the ectomorphic Barack Obama, retraced Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural train route (1865) to the capitol, two hundred years after the birth of the similarly ectomorphic Lincoln. In another reflexive echo of a turbulent past, as the bloated and behemoth U.S. economy wobbled, cold-turkey, in withdrawal from its macro-economic drugs of choice, easy credit and unbridled consumption, Obama faced a dire economic and social configuration similar to that which confronted Franklin Roosevelt in March of 1933. Hemorrhaging jobs, personal and institutional debt while spewing endemic mortgages defaults, the U.S. faced its most severe legitimacy crisis since the late 1960s.

As a marker that the past sins of slavery and segregation could be jettisoned in favor of meritocratic ascension, there could be no better legitimation symbol than Barack Obama. Articulate, attractive, with an understated ironic tone, and often frank in discussing personal failings, Obama simultaneously signified the ultimate success of a new African-American class of elites while buttressing faltering cross-ethnic, cross-racial and cross-generational allegiances to the tattered tenets of the American Dream. Exemplified by street artist Shepard Fairey's red, white and blue iconic poster of Obama's upturned visage, the human heart's desire for "Hope" (often embodied in ideological allegiances) became thoroughly conflated, through Fairey's composition, with Obama's message and image. [1] Fairey's widely reproduced icon was a masterful and thoroughly intentional gesture in the aesthetics of politics, praised both by the original Associated Press photographer, and by Obama, himself.

Yet what has happened to Fairey, in the wake of this representational triumph, may be instructive. Two weeks after the Obama inauguration, Fairey was simultaneously threatened with a lawsuit by the Associated Press (which claimed a violation of their Intellectual Property rights) over how he appropriated some elements of a 2006 AP photo, just as he was arrested on graffiti charges, in Boston, on the opening night of his first major formal exhibit ("Supply and Demand") at the Institute of Contemporary Art. [2] The AP's legal threat, Fairey's simultaneous arrest (combined with the non-starter drug-use revelations in Obama's autobiographical Dreams From My Father [3] and the likely and significant reduction in the U.S.'s broad and expensive incarceration of non-violent drug users) arguably signifies a transition in the objects of Prohibition, as the portion of the generation-long War on Drugs that has targeted recreational users ratchets down. [4] This downshift occurs just as the Baby Boomers retire, en masse, accessing expensive entitlements, and as state governments find that they can no longer afford to house, feed, clothe and provide Federally-mandated medical services for aging inmates, many who were given long prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses. However, if past is prologue, the U.S. will not be without a new form of Prohibition for long, with a new set of targets constructed by a dominant demographic slipping from power; a new domestic "War" against a rival demographic, under the discursive cover of a newly fashioned political correctness. (It's just what Americans "do.") For example, after the passage of the Twenty First Amendment in 1933, it was not long before Prohibitionist impulses settled on a new target population, and a new set of cultural practices. In the 1930s, these impulses were instantiated in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics anti-Marijuana campaign, a campaign that demonized Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and generated the perceptions that paved the way for the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. In the second decade of the Twenty First century, the demonization geist will fall hard on those who remix and mash up digitized cultural icons and images. This uptick in a global "War on Pirates" is the contested site of an emergent generational "war," the latest site in which post-Baby Boomer generations, already saddled with elephantine debt, crumbling infrastructure, and intensive responsibilization techniques that shift governmental functions onto their privatized collective backs (think "service learning" and "civic engagement" initiatives) [5] now face Boomer-based criminalization of their cultural practices of quotation and communication; [6] all in the service of indefinitely maintaining Boomer-era models of cultural production, circulation and profit, in a post-Boomer world. [7] It's the latest and onerous manifestation of "low intensity conflict," of a cultural guerrilla war that pits a subset of well-heeled and well-positioned Boomers against their children and grandchildren. The ramped up stakes are evident in recent high-level appointments in the Obama Administration's Department of Justice, and in the deeds of U.S. Vice President Biden and his Congressional allies. The conceptual coherence and persistence of these efforts point to a demographically-defined, and increasingly probable period of Digital Prohibition. The politics of Prohibition are alive and well; the population and objects have changed, but the general game resembles that of 1930s America. A brief look backwards, as prologue, is instructive.

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Pearls Before Swine: Rat's Editing Gig

(Courtesy of Laura Webb)

Stephen Pastis' Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

Monday, June 08, 2009

Radio West: Making Sense of North Korea

Making Sense of North Korea
Radio West
Host: Doug Fabrizio

It's believed that tension in the Korean Peninsula is at the highest level since the war there in the 1950s. The scholar BR Myers joins Doug to explore the context for the behavior of the country. This is about political culture. Myers describes the ideology of North Korea this way - race-based, paranoid nationalism.

To Listen to the Episode

Student Activists: Campus Hellraisers Award

Attention Student Activists: You Could be Featured in Mother Jones!

Students have long been involved in social change efforts, aligning themselves with diverse causes including the labor movement, anti-war movements, divestment campaigns, Fair Trade campaigns, climate change, access to education, and a lot more.

To celebrate such efforts, nominations are now being accepted for the first ever Campus Hellraisers award, honoring the year's "most noteworthy student campaigns and other creative feats of campus activism." The award is sponsored by Mother Jones, Campus Progress, and WireTap. Winning campaigns will be featured in the September/October issue of Mother Jones.

Note: Nominees are not limited to college students. Grad students, high school students, and kindergartners are all potential candidates.

Nominate a student activist here by June 10th.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Radio West: Richard Davidson - The Biology of Meditation and Joy

Richard Davidson - The Biology of Meditation and Joy
Radio West
Host: Doug Fabrizio

What would it take to make you truly happy? Love? Money? Success? If those are your answers, you may be looking in all the wrong places. Richard Davidson is among the world's leading brain researchers and he says that compassion and kindness and yes, happiness are all skills that can be enhanced with practice.

To Listen to the Conversation

Diaa Hadid: Love Connection - Hamas gets into matchmaking biz

Love Connection: Hamas gets into matchmaking biz
By Associated Press Writer Diaa Hadid

GAZA CITY , Gaza Strip – At 29, Tahani is considered a spinster by the standards of deeply conservative Gaza. So in her search for a husband, she turned for help to the best in the marriage business: the Islamic militant group Hamas.

"I gaze at all the men on the street and think, 'Oh God, isn't there just one for me?'" said the young woman with dark skin and honey-colored eyes, set off by a maroon headscarf.

Her application is among 287 from single women in the files of the Tayseer Association for Marriage and Development in Gaza. Photographs stapled to the files show Muslim women in headscarves, some wearing makeup, some smiling, others looking startled. They all want a husband, and the Hamas loyalists running the association are intent on finding a man for each.

Despite its fearsome reputation elsewhere, Hamas is known here for its cradle-to-grave welfare programs for the poor. It is a cornerstone of its political support in Gaza, where poverty is deepening as Israel and Egypt maintain an almost two-year blockade of the Hamas-run territory. Now, the group is branching out into matters of the heart.

"This is our vision of humanitarian work," said Wael Zard, director of the Tayseer association. "This makes people close to Hamas and makes Hamas close to the people."

While Tayseer's matchmaking service helps both men and women, it is particularly important for women since staying single is a cruel fate for them in Gaza. They are are often treated as unpaid maids by their extended families and, says Gaza sociologist Naser Mahdi, increasing economic hardship has made the marriage market even harsher.

The dwindling number of middle-class men with steady incomes can have their pick of the prettiest women, leaving others to work hard to find a suitable husband. Meanwhile, poor families are reluctant to marry off working daughters, hoping to keep their salaries.

About 40 marriages have been arranged since Tayseer opened its matchmaking department in 2007. Most women apply in secret because it's taboo for women in Gaza to seek husbands outside the traditional route. Most girls are married in matches set up by their mothers. Dating is nearly nonexistent and love marriages are a novelty.

Tahani, who spoke on condition that only her first name be used because she is using the service without her family knowing, said she turned to Tayseer a year ago. Her mother died when Tahani was young, and none of her relatives were helping her find a groom.

The young woman said she became more determined to find a husband after Israel 's three-week war on Hamas, which ended in January. Israel 's assault killed hundreds of civilians, and Gaza's residents hunkered down in homes and shelters during the shelling, not knowing where bombs would fall next.

"My brothers held their wives when they were scared. I felt lonely," said Tahani, a university graduate in social work.

Most women are shy when they first come in the door, said Tayseer matchmaker Nisrin Khalil, 21.

"I tell the girls, be like Khadija!" said Khalil, referring to the Prophet Muhammad's first wife.

Muslim tradition says Khadija proposed to Muhammad — and was years his senior. It's a powerful message to women: Islam's first lady bucked conservative Arab tradition more than 1,400 years ago and they can defy Gaza tradition now.

The applicants, who pay a fee of $10-$70, are divided into categories according to their eligibility. Women under 25 are easiest to marry off; more challenging are women over 30 and divorcees.

But in a nod to Gaza 's grinding poverty triumphing over its conservative culture, there is a special file for women with jobs. Bringing home a salary in Gaza can trump any other category, matchmakers say.

In the women's application, they describe their ideal man. Most ask for a devout Muslim with a job and his own apartment, a top find in crowded Gaza.

Women also must describe their appearance and answer a killer question: "Do you consider yourself pretty according to Gaza standards?"

The ideal of beauty in Gaza means tall and fair-skinned with blue or green eyes and light-colored hair — and that's what men usually ask for. But most Gaza women have dark hair and bronze skin.

"If we see a girl that appears to match (a man), but she's not physically what he wants, I'll call him and say, 'Well, she's pretty, but she's dark.' Or 'she's short, but she's white.' We encourage them to be a bit more realistic," Khalil said.

The one other matchmaking service in Gaza is little used. The Tayseer association was originally founded to fund and organize mass weddings, a service for poor or disabled Gazans who often can't afford the costs of a ceremony. Next month, a mass wedding is planned for more than a dozen blind Palestinians.

While Hamas is considered a terrorist group in the West because of its attacks on Israel — including suicide bombings — it also provides Gaza's poor with food coupons, medical care and other services. Its social network helped make the group popular, gaining it victory over its Palestinian rival Fatah in 2006 parliament elections. The following year, Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in clashes with Fatah.

Around 40 men a month turn to Tayseer in search of a wife. When association employees think there's a match, they quietly organize a meeting, with employees acting as chaperones in compliance with Islamic law. If the couple like each other, Gaza's traditional courtship kicks in.

The man's relatives visit the woman's family, saying that a well-meaning stranger told them of a girl wanting to marry. The matchmakers are not mentioned, because their role is still taboo, said Khalil.

If the woman's family accepts, a wedding is planned. Often women bully their families into agreeing, Tayseer workers said.

Rania Hijazi, 29, applied to Tayseer in March 2008 and two months later married Ashraf Farahat, 36. She said she went to the service because she feared her family's matchmaking efforts were going nowhere.

"I felt embarrassed when I applied," said Hijazi, who has since become a mother. "But then I said, 'I won't find a man any other way' and I tried to be strong."

Plenty of other women are waiting.

"I want to have a man, a husband," said Tahani. "I don't think that's a selfish request."


Girl Talk: Feed the Animals

Pt. 1 0f 14 videos:

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Alexandra Sandel: The Circumventer

Introducing, "The Circumventer"
by Alexandra Sandels

A new software aiming to circumvent web censorship in the Middle East and beyond was recently launched at a summit on blogging in Cairo. The tool "Al-Kasir" - meaning "the circumventer" in Arabic, is now available for public use in its first test version. MENASSAT spoke to the brain behind Al-Kasir, Sweden-based Yemeni Internet pundit Walid Al-Saqaf.

To Read the Article


Esra'a: The Intention of alkasir, and why it is different

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Joel Whitney: The Genocide Myth - An interview with Mahmood Mamdani

The Genocide Myth: An interview with Mahmood Mamdani
by Joel Whitney

In his latest book, Mamdani attacks the Save Darfur Coalition as ahistorical and dishonest, and argues that the conflict in Darfur is more about land, power, and the environment than it is directly about race.

“The Save Darfur movement claims to have learned from Rwanda,” writes Mahmood Mamdani in his new book, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. “But what is the lesson of Rwanda? For many of those mobilized to save Darfur, the lesson is to rescue before it is too late, to act before seeking to understand.” His book is an argument “against those who substitute moral certainty for knowledge, and who feel virtuous even when acting on the basis of total ignorance.” Americans think Darfur is a tragic genocide. Mamdani thinks the reality is more complex. His ideas should be taken seriously for a number of reasons, especially because he provides a road map to a workable peace settlement.

Mamdani rewrites the crisis by putting it in context. He notes that violent deaths in Iraq during the U.S. invasion and occupation far surpass death rates in Darfur. If death rates are higher, why all the attention on Darfur, rather than Iraq? he wondered. Is the killing racially motivated? To answer that, he examines the history of Sudan.

The people of Darfur have long treated “racial” identities as fairly fluid, he writes, welcoming intermarriage as a means of transferring between groups. Why does this matter? The designation of “Arab” versus “African” upon which the genocide claim is based was given a particularly virulent, and unprecedented, authority under a land system set up by the colonial British—but never before that. After the British, land previously shared was now assigned a more rigid “native” group who oversaw its use, and non-native groups who had to pay tribute. This was one potential source of conflict; it will have to be dealt with to forge a lasting peace in Darfur, Mamdani insists.

Then a decades-long drought turned fertile lands in the north of Darfur into desert (in a process known as desertification). This made land use and land rights much more contentious. In his attempt to “contain” Libya during the Cold War, U.S. President Ronald Reagan armed rebel groups from Chad. This meant that, along with the Soviets and Libya on one side, and Israel and France on the other, Reagan helped arm a region already on the verge of erupting.

What resulted was a civil war; the first phase, in the late nineteen eighties, began with savvy opponents who accused each other of atrocities in a somewhat sophisticated PR war. Phase two began with a 2003 insurgency that met with a fierce response from the government. An ongoing massacre? Massacres occurred early in the conflict, admits Mamdani. But starting in 2005, death rates dropped drastically. Save Darfur had no interest in this decline in direct killings, having staked their campaign on the story of ongoing genocide. Arabs hoping to wipe out Africans? Not really. Rather, a land war amidst the throes of desertification. According to Mamdani, this is an ecological disaster amidst a land divided on paper by colonial rulers, and militarized by the Cold War, not a crisis directly about race. In fact, Mamdani argues, the language of genocide further exacerbates the conflict. It keeps key groups out of peace talks by demonizing them. This is exactly what happened during peace talks in Abuja in 2005, he says.

I spoke with Professor Mamdani in his office at Columbia University in New York City. Named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top one hundred public intellectuals, he wore a blazer, a bright red polo shirt with a Nehru collar, round-rimmed glasses, and a five-o’clock shadow; his eyes showed a tired face—from the end of a semester and the middle of a book tour. A handsome man born in Uganda to parents with roots in India, he spoke quietly, breaking his sentences with long pauses. Sitting atop his coffee table, incidentally, amidst a slew of other books and journals was The Crisis of Islamic Civilization by Ali Allawi (who made a similar charge against the U.S. acting before understanding, in The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace). In addition to teaching in the anthropology department at Columbia, Mamdani served for a year as consultant for the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation (DDDC) of the African Union. He is married to the filmmaker Mira Nair; they live in New York and Uganda and have a son, Zohran.

To Read the Interview

Thursday, June 04, 2009

D.E. Wittkower: Everybody Hates Rainbows

"Everybody Hates Rainbows"
by D.E. Wittkower
Popular Culture and Philosophy

What do the Culture Industry, John Rawls, and In Rainbows all have in common? A discussion of Rawl's theory of justice and Radiohead's pay what you want model.

To Listen to the Audio Podcast (MP3)

Jeff Sharlet: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues

The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues
by Jeff Sharlet
Killing the Buddha

(A version of this article first appeared in the May 28, 2009 Rolling Stone.)

Cornel West is a slender man, but he hugs like a sumo wrestler: crouch, grab, wrap and squeeze. “I want to love everybody,” West tells me not long after he greets me at his Princeton University office with a bear hug that is warm and wonderfully conspiratorial. ”Ah, yes, Brother Jeff!” he exclaims, like I’ve arrived just in time for a clandestine mission.

I’d feel special if it weren’t for the fact that there’s hardly a soul on Earth whom West won’t call “Brother” or “Sister.” As we walk around town, West embraces and is fully embraced by a maintenance man, a schoolteacher, a group of street missionaries and a class of fifth-graders visiting from Queens, who recognize him from the cover of his 1993 bestseller, Race Matters, still so popular that it’s sold on the street in some inner-city neighborhoods. West never holds back from anyone who wants a piece of him—whether it’s a blessing or banter, an argument with the great man or simply a hug that lasts too long—but he never gets pinned down, either. He locks eyes and holds hands, asks and answers real questions, and then pirouettes away.

West has been called “perhaps the preeminent black intellectual of our generation” by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., himself a candidate for that mantle. It might be more accurate to say that West is the preeminent intellectual of our generation, no qualifiers. No other scholar is as widely read, no other philosopher courted by presidential candidates, no other Ivy League professor referenced not just by other academics but by popular filmmakers (The Matrix trilogy, in which West played a bit role, was inspired in part by his work) and musicians (West has collaborated with Prince, Talib Kweli, and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others).

What makes West’s fame even more remarkable is the fact that he’s among the most radical figures in American public life. He stumped for Obama last year but only with the caveat that he would be Obama’s number-one critic the day after the inauguration. He started even sooner. In his book Hope on a Tightrope, published weeks before Obama’s election, West declares, “I’m not an optimist at all. Brother Barack Obama says he has the audacity to hope. I say, ‘Well, what price are you willing to pay?’“

There is a sense in which this may be West’s moment as much as it is Obama’s. It’s one thing to speak truth to power when the powers-that-be are as crassly reactionary as George Bush; it’s another when all the power is in the hands of the very man you campaigned for. Now is West’s chance to move beyond Democrats and Republicans to the real work of rebuilding the American left. Race, as always, matters—some liberals expected West to give his allegiance to Obama because they’re both black. In fact, West despised Obama’s widely-praised Philadelphia speech on race—“It was weak, man, weak”—in which the candidate described slavery as America’s original sin. “That’s not true,” West says; American democracy was born out of the dispossession and murder of the continent’s first peoples. To West, that fact doesn’t invalidate democracy, it makes it messy. He thinks it should be messy. At times, he sounds like a conservative: Freedom isn’t free, he says, and anyone who leads you to believe as much is lying. “Innocence itself is a crime in America,” he tells me. He laments what Henry James called our “hotel civilization”—“no darkness, no despair, no dread, no suffering, no grief.” No truth. “Where there is no death, there is no life,” he writes. That’s the Westian turn. He roots himself in what he calls “the night side of American democracy” so he’ll be ready for the dawn. He begins with anger so we can end with love.

“My dear Brother Barack,” he tells me one evening at the basement restaurant across from his office, “he’s gotta inscribe himself in the sentimental narrative.” The American dream, that is, which West sees as a menace to actual American democracy, since it carries within it the idea that we are special, maybe even better than the rest of the world. West hears that narcissistic tone in Obama’s insistence that “in no other country on earth” is his personal story possible, and that his story is proof that America is getting better all the time. “Every generation the union is being perfected,” West paraphrases Obama. “But that’s a lie. There’s retreat, there’s regress, there’s setbacks, there’s moving backwards. The history of race in America is not a history of progress.”

West thinks Obama’s presidency may become one of those setbacks. “Because you end up with a selective appropriation of Obama and people like him. And his cousins on the street, Jamal and Latisha and Shaquille and all of them, they’re not a part of that. Their suffering is rendered invisible as people are preoccupied with Obama and company, who make whites more comfortable. Lessens their fears and anxieties. Allows them to embrace him while still demonizing, marginalizing, Latisha there!”

West has been jailed for half a dozen causes since he was first arrested as a Harvard freshman at a student protest. His second arrest, though, was an almost textbook case of demonization: The police rounded up the three black men on his dormitory floor after a white classmate said she’d been raped by a stranger. “Lined us up three times,” he remembers. “Kept us in for a number of days. Had her come in, shaking, crying, and the police are saying, ‘Now, these three did it.’ She said ‘No.’” West’s voice sounds like Southie as he plays the part of the cop: “‘Now please, don’t be worrying about hurting their feelings. You know they did it.’” The woman said no again. “Three times over two days. That white sister saved our lives! She held on to the truth, man.” Years later, when West was commuting to Williams College in rural Massachusetts to teach a course, a highway patrolman pulled him over and accused him of trafficking cocaine. West said he was a professor on his way to a class. “And I’m the Flying Nun,” the officer answered. “Let’s go, nigger.” When West began teaching at Princeton, cops stopped him three times in his first 10 days. He still has a hard time catching a cab in Manhattan. West speaks of these experiences not as revelations but as simple facts. “Just the way the world is,” he says. Critics who accuse him of racial opportunism ignore his commitment to a class-based economics of redistribution for everyone. He’s a scholar of Marx, hardly a career booster in America, and a professor of religion, a job that doesn’t usually lead you to semi-regular appearances on Real Time With Bill Maher. He comes under frequent fire from his own comrades on the left for his insistence that moral values must be at the heart of any movement worth dying for, which to his mind is the only kind worth fighting for.

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