Monday, August 31, 2009

Dominique Russell: Lucrecia Martel — “a decidedly polyphonic cinema”

Lucrecia Martel — “a decidedly polyphonic cinema”
by Dominique Russell
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In his film sound manifesto, sound designer Randy Thom calls for films to be “designed for sound,” that is, to be conceived of aurally as well as visually. Rather than thinking of good sound as an add-on or as an effect at the service of the visual, Thom proposes that directors consider sound an “active agent,” one whose presence interacts with and therefore changes other elements of the film. In his words:

"What I propose is that the way for a filmmaker to take advantage of sound is not simply to make it possible to record good sound on the set, or simply to hire a talented sound designer/composer to fabricate sounds, but rather to design the film with sound in mind, to allow sound’s contributions to influence creative decisions in the other crafts."

While he gives examples as varied as Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Never Cry Wolf and Once Upon a Time in the West as films that were “thoroughly ‘sound designed,’ though no sound designer was credited on most of them,” Thom also theorizes more broadly what his ideal “aurally conceived” film would look like. Principally, a film that was “written for sound” would tell the story more-or-less through the point of view of one or more of the characters; have locations and sets which encourage sound as a player; and avoid non-stop dialogue. Thom then suggests a number of visual techniques that “starve the eye” and might heighten sound, allowing for sound to be part of the seduction of storytelling.

Reading this manifesto shortly after seeing Lucrecia Martel’s La niña santa (The Holy Girl, 2004),[1][open endnotes in new window] I was struck how her films answer Thom’s call for “aurally conceived cinema.” Here is a filmmaker who makes truly “audio-visual” cinema. Unlike those of many of her contemporaries, her soundtracks are not suffused with loud music and bone-rattling effects, yet sound stands out in her films. Her stunning first feature, La Ciénaga (The Swamp, 2001) tells the story of two families, one upper class and in decline, the other middle class and harried, and through them builds a devastating portrait of life in the Argentine provinces. The film is autobiographical in many ways. It is almost as if she had closed her eyes to remember the sounds of her childhood, so prominent, detailed and realistic is the soundscape. She herself has argued that its

“sound display […] defines a very profound thing of the film. Because, in the cinema, you might close your eyes, but you can’t stop listening” (qted in Martín Morán, 235).

Martel's next film, La niña santa, deals with the confused sexual awakening of adolescent girls. Much of the film foregrounds environment, especially the provincial hotel in which it takes place; and the film's spaces and drama are largely delineated in audio terms. This is not to attribute either films’ effects completely to sound aesthetics, of course — the heightening of ambiguity, for example, is a hallmark of the art cinema to which Martel's cinema belongs — but it does explain some peculiarities of Martel’s film style.[2] Her films contain all the elements outlined by Thom, and then some. Limited point of view, carefully chosen locations, the use of close-ups and other means of what Thom advocates as “starving the eye,” characterize her features. In La ciénaga the precise manipulation of noise displaces dialogue in many instances and takes over many of the functions of a musical score, immersing the spectator in the life of the film's dysfunctional extended family while excluding her at the same time. La niña santa thematizes and visualizes sound as well, placing the question of sound at the heart of the screenplay and images. In the pages that follow I explore the mechanisms and effects of Martel’s soundtracks with an eye to demonstrating the originality of her sonic imagination by making comparisons with the conventions of film sound.

Martel and New Argentine Cinema

To understand this originality, it is important to place Martel's work in the context of the New Argentine Cinema, alongside filmmakers such as Martin Rejtman, Adrián Caetano, Pablo Trapero, Daniel Burman, to name the best-known. Her work emerges from this fervor of filmmaking that renewed Argentine cinema, and she is at once representative and exceptional within it. The New Argentine Cinema is[3] less a movement than a generational shift that was facilitated by a boom of new film schools ,[4] the passing of the “Cinema law” which allowed for the recovery of some production costs, as well as the rebirth of film journals.[5] All of this took place during and after the economic crisis that devastated the middle class. In some sense, the crisis helped inspire the boom, as middle class youth who might have studied medicine or law decided that if these professions offered no shelter from the storm, they might as well do what they loved.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

A mind-blowing documentary... I'm glad I revisited it. Extremely important!:

(USA: March Achbar and Peter Wintonick, 1992)

David Greven: Surprised by Cylons

Surprised by Cylons
review by David Greven
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Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica, ed. Tiffany Potter and C.W. Marshall. New York: Continuum International, 2008. 295 pg. $18.68

Battlestar Galactica (BSG), the Sci-Fi Channel series currently airing the second half of its fourth and final season, is a brilliant, maddening, quirky, exasperating, enigmatic, dubious series. A re-imagining of a silly but oddly beloved ABC television series of the 1970s, the new BSG takes the pre-existing mythology to daringly unusual places. Human beings of the future or the distant past created robots, the Cylons, to serve them. The Cylons rose up and made war against their creators, decimating nearly the entire human population in the war that commences the new series' narrative.

Religious fervor is one of its surprising innovations. Polytheistic, the humans worship the gods of the Ancient Greeks. In contrast, the Cylons are monotheistic, worshipping the “one true God”; their campaign against the humans is a form of jihad. Fascinatingly, the Cylons of this series have “evolved” from the clanking, immense red-beam-eyed metal robots of the original series into lushly fleshy human-looking beings. These human-like Cylons, “skin jobs” as the Colonial (human) Fleet call them, provide the most fascinating aspects of the current BSG. In their uncanny resemblance to human beings and mysterious passions, these Cylons excite the science-fiction imagination, taking the genre to exciting new places. If only the human beings were half as interesting.

I am aware of the immense cult following the series has generated, and I am in awe of many of its achievements. It’s well-acted and often dazzlingly well-written, with one daringly imaginative new concept and plot twist after another. But for all its brilliance, BSG also seems to me a highly suspect series. And for all the hoopla, BSG’s success is, at best, a limited one, given that has lasted for precisely as many seasons as the last, disastrous Star Trek series, Enterprise. The interest sparked by the series has derived as much from timing as it does from the series’ own strengths. Emerging in the wake of September 11th, the series reflects a new sci-fi grittiness that is as determined by the changed political and social landscape of the post-9/11 era as it is by innovative approaches. Precisely what garners the series so much praise — its engagement with current hot-button moral issues such as terrorism and abortion and its ideological “complexity” — is also what makes it a difficult series towards which to maintain a position. The series goes through so many permutations of its premise and of its own moral sensibility that after a time we wonder what, if anything, it’s ultimately trying to say.

Luckily, we have a lively new collection of readings as a guide to this maddeningly enigmatic series. Cylons in America: Critical Readings of Battlestar Galactica, edited by Tiffany Potter and C.W. Marshall (Continuum, 2008), offers an intelligent and diverse array of interpretations. While some of the essays are disappointingly lackluster, several of them are first-rate, and on the whole the collection engages and impresses with the acuity of its insights. The essays are divided into three sections:

* “Life in the Fleet, American Life,” which primarily treats the series as an allegory for post-9/11 America, terrorism and torture being especially frequent topics;

* “Cylon/Human Interface,” which explores the myriad issues of identity raised by the human-like Cylons; and

* “Form and Context in Twenty-First-Century Television,” which covers topics as diverse as misogyny, music, and Nietzschean philosophy on the series.

“Television isn’t supposed to make us think like this,” the editors write of BSG’s apparently bold vision (5). “BSG forces us to rethink what we knew” (8). The editors position BSG as a series that goes places where no other ventures to. While the series indubitably innovates the sci-fi genre, it is also part of a wave of revisionist, genre-bending, genre-splicing other series on television. It is also part of a massive re-imagining of the potentialities of the television medium, which has undergone an aesthetic make-over in the past decade, which Suzanne Scott’s essay “Authorized Resistance: Is Fan Production Frakked?” touches upon. The extent to which BSG should be taken as something truly “new” is, I believe, an open question.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Merriam-Webster's Word-of-the-Day: Jacquerie





: a peasants' revolt

Example Sentence

"In light of inadequate social safety nets and the probability of further economic turndowns, the regime's fear of an anti-government jacquerie is not far-fetched." (David Aikman, The American Spectator, March 2000)

Christian Blauvelt: Reel Bad Arabs -- Aladdin, Al-Qaeda, and Arabs in U.S. film and TV

Reel Bad Arabs: Aladdin, Al-Qaeda, and Arabs in U.S. film and TV
by Christian Blauvelt
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Myths of Arabland

Cultural identity partly derives from geography so that landscape often points to patterns of economic and social activity. Rivers, such as the Huang and the Nile, have fostered the agrarian economies as well as transportation networks. An island country like Japan often becomes a prime hub of sea-bound trade networks, with fishing playing a large role in local food production. However, topographic-ethnic associations can also lead to reductive connotations. The Inuit people traditionally have lived within the Arctic Circle in frigid, ice-filled tundra environments, but when such an association leads mainly to imagery of Inuits living in igloos and ice fishing, the complexity of a great people’s culture gets reduced to what is little more than Rankin Bass imagery. (Image 1) Worse yet, geography may be used metaphorically to take on a personified quality that translates into attitudes toward that part of the world. When Africa means the “Jungle,” that’s not just a landscape but a state of mind. Thus Conrad’s Heart of Darknes, links cultural “backwardness” to geographic “backwardness” and finds Western morality impossible in a realm of incessant Darwinian struggle.

Such pejorative association between topography and cultural identity shapes the mise-en-scene and is the initial locus of much of Hollywood’s negative portrayal of Arabs. As Shaheen puts it,

“The depiction of Arabs always begins with the desert.”

As with depictions of Africa where the jungle connotes both danger and cultural “backwardness,” the “hostility” of the desert environment often translates into attitudes about the people who live there. (Image 2) Certainly many parts of the Arab world do feature desert landscapes. However, any uniform marriage of people and place in terms of the connotations of "desert" would ignore both physical and cultural variety, including the modern urban environments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Mediterranean climate of Tunisia, Libya, and Lebanon, the fertile fields of the Nile Valley, the rugged plateaus of Kurdistan, and the mountains of Morocco.

Looking at this kind of reductionism in more cultural terms, Hollywood not only gives Arabs a Muslim identity but all-too-often gives Muslims an Arab identity, when in reality Arabs make up only about 1/3 of the total worldwide Muslim population of over one billion people. Narratively linking Muslims with the desert sets in place an even more sweeping misperception of the great faith’s cultural diversity and complexity. How could tying Islam to those living in the desert relate to the experience of Muslims living in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or Indonesia — regions that don’t feature deserts as prominent topographical features? For example, Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, is primarily tropical in its climate, with mountains, the rainforest, and the sea as the most prominent geographical landmarks. For Hollywood films to create a link between landscape and religion shows a profound ignorance of the world. (Image 3)

“We inherited the Arab image primarily from Europeans.”

Shaheen is referring here to 19th century Orientalism, a movement inspired in part by British and French acquisition of lands in the Middle East and North Africa. European cultural production, both artistic and popular culture, included a plethora of fantastical travel writing which emphasized the exoticism of the Middle East through mythopoetic stereotypes that revealed little about the actual local culture but attracted rich European tourists. In the visual arts, Eugene Delacroix’s Orientalist paintings portrayed Arab culture as beyond decadent, with lascivious sultans wearing vibrant colors and sensual silk while surrounded by scantily clad harem girls. (Images 4-6) Delacroix also frequently depicted Arab sexuality as paired with death as in "The Death of Sardanapalus" (1827). (Images 7-8) These exotic stereotypes were transmitted to United States where they found a parallel cultural foothold, especially in the early 20th century when dime novels promoted ethnocentric adventure narratives about the “superior” Western culture taming the U.S. West and its Native American inhabitants. The dimestore novelists attached a similar xenophobic sense of “otherness” to the Middle East, to Native Americans, and to Asians, especially the Chinese. And Columbia University Professor Edward Saïd demonstrated the ways that these stereotypes persist today, even in academic analysis:

“All academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged with, impressed with, and violated by 19th century Orientalism.”[4]

Characterizing this “otherness” is the sense that Arabs are “backwards.” As a character relates about her fictional Middle East-inspired country in the Elvis Presley movie Harum Scarum (1965):

“When you cross the mountains of the moon into our country, you will be stepping back 2,000 years.”

Shaheen argues that the mythopoetic trappings of Arab culture as depicted in Hollywood films have become so rigidly codified that they have an amusement park-like uniformity:

“We have this fictional setting called Arabland, a mythical theme park. And in Arabland, you have the ominous music, you have the desert as a threatening place, we add an oasis, palm trees, a palace that has a torture chamber in the basement.”

In a common mise-en-scene, opulent, palatial interiors reveal a cruel, bloated pasha reclining on cushions and surrounded by harem maidens. The pasha possesses an unquenchable appetite for the flesh and requires sensual handmaidens and harem girls to appeal to his lascivious desires. (Images 9-10) However, as in the movie Samson Against the Sheik (1962), the Arab harem maidens don’t attract the pasha’s attention as much as the blonde European girl does, so he must abduct and ravish her against her will.

The codified trappings of Arabland which Shaheen identifies as the “Instant Ali Baba Kit” include costuming women in belly-dancing outfits and transparent pantaloons, while giving the male villains long, curved, scimitars. Since Arabland is clearly a mystical land, its inhabitants ride on magic carpets, and snake charmers hypnotize deadly cobras with eerie flute music. These trappings are not merely found in Classical Hollywood films that demonstrate an Orientalist influence like The Thief of Baghdad (1924 and 1940) or The Garden of Allah (1936), or films featuring Jamie Farr, but in even more recent fare including the 1992 Disney blockbuster Aladdin. Aladdin, in fact, continues the stale Orientalist fantasy, portraying all Arab men as either street thugs, pickpockets, emasculated palace guards, beggars, sultans, or sorcerers.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Michael Dean Benton: Quentin Tarantino, King of the Mooks - One Basterd’s Inglourious Response

Quentin Tarantino, King of the Mooks: One Basterd’s Inglourious Response
By Michael Dean Benton
Originally published in North of Center 1.8 (2009)

"The Second World War could still deliver more stories and films, but I believe that Quentin put a cover on that pot. With 'Basterds,' everything that can be said to this genre has been said. The film destroys every symbol. The work is done, end of story ... “

Brad Pitt (The German magazine Sterne)

“Historians must, as best we can, cast light into these shadows and account for these people. This we have not done. Auschwitz, generally taken to be an adequate or even a final symbol of the evil of mass killing, is in fact only the beginning of knowledge, a hint of the true reckoning with the past still to come.”

Timothy Snyder “Holocaust: The Ignored Reality” (The New York Review of Books: July 16, 2009)

In media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s 2001 Frontline documentary Merchants of Cool, he outlines the marketing category of “mooks” and “midriffs.” The mook is essentially an outgrowth of 1990s MTV Generation marketing that seeks to speak to the inner idiot of men. The mook, as a marketing image, is proudly ignorant and revels in displays of destruction. This standardized conformist dumbass-culture operates behind a veneer of exuberant irrationality. Emotional or intellectual content is rejected in favor of the “wow” factor of stylishly cool shocks to the system.

Quentin Tarantino rose to fame in the 1990s and is a leading purveyor of “mook” culture. From the beginning of his career he proudly cited his broad knowledge of obscure violent videos from long-forgotten genres. He has repetitively produced a series of imitative movies centered upon strings of stylish set scenes of violence. There generally is not a clear reason for the violence in his films, other than personal motivation. In his films (especially post Jackie Brown), style is supreme and overrides any concerns of meaning or narrative.

The last Tarantino film I watched in a theater was Kill Bill I (2003). It was a non-stop series of images of extreme violence, situated in a simplistic comic book format, with no thought or reflection. Even worse were the twisted attempts at humor. Particularly disturbing was the intended comedy of dry humping a comatose woman. I recall observing the negative impact this twisted attempt at humor had on some of the adult males in the audience, who laughed and jeered as if on cue. One male viewer next to me twitched and giggled throughout the movie, his leg jerking as heads flew and blood spurted. My companion, after the movie, said that my face during the viewing reflected my distaste and disgust. It was more my reaction toward the viewer's laughter than the movie.

Herein resides my main problem with Tarantino’s films. The simplistic nature of the cartoonish characters and plots of his films allow “any” viewer to seize upon the “story” as representing his (or her) own viewpoint. Furthermore, the absence of “effect” in regards to the hyper-violence removes any sense of context for the character’s actions beyond personal motivation. This keeps the characters from moving beyond their cartoon nature and allows the audience to revel in violence for violence’s sake.

In order to think about this I will outline some of the characters in his latest film Inglourious Basterds (2009). Most prominent, in the advertisements and trailers for the film, is Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), the leader of the American assassination squad. He simply wants scalps of Nazis because they are “evil.” The only background we get in regards to Aldo is that he may or may not have been a moonshiner back in Tennessee. This characterization is so broadly drawn that this character could easily become a NAZI without any significant changes. Raine’s background and those of his men are never fleshed out.

In contrast to this cardboard character, I’m reminded of the economy of a classic pulp film like The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich, 1967) in which the avenging men are introduced quickly and efficiently. It allows the characters to be more than interchangeable parts in a broadly drawn revenge thriller. The Dirty Dozen still operates within the genre conventions while allowing us to develop a sense of the people involved in the thriller.

Raine’s counterpart is the brilliantly deductive SS officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). He is called the “Jewish Hunter” by the French Jews he hunts, and Tarantino states that he is intentionally a “brilliant detective.” He is the classic stereotype of the “cultured” NAZI monster that will be destroyed, or brought down, by his increasingly irrational hubris. Yes, his verbosity is amusing when we forget his sinister intent, but, as with Raines, with a change of clothes and era, Landa could be Detective Robert Green on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

In American culture we are faced with a polarized political system in which all sides are calling their opponents fascists. We are slowly losing any sense of historical understanding of fascism as it becomes a derogatory term to be slung haphazardly at your opponents. Ripped from its context, the historical understanding of fascism, the sinister Landa, the hysterical Hitler, the effete Goebbels, simply become labels that can be applied to anyone we want.

Brad Pitt claims “that Quentin put a cover on that pot” and “the work is done” because they have destroyed all of the symbols associated with the WWII genre. The ignorance here is in assuming that this is simply a cultural genre that one can assault and failing to recognize that these are powerful symbols that have not been fully dealt with, because “the true reckoning with the past [is] still to come.” Perhaps, most irresponsible in this film, is the ignorance of the ultra-nationalist mentality of fascism, which encourages us to accept that anything done in the name of god, country, mom and apple pie, is ok.

Shoshana (Mélanie Laurent), who escapes an earlier massacre of her Jewish family by Landa’s men, is the hidden victim secretly plotting an extreme act of violence. She escapes and appears years later, without any explanation, magically acquiring a 350 seat cinema that will become the centerpiece for a fantasy plot to eliminate the NAZI hierarchy. Shoshana becomes a victim of convenience for Tarantino in this film. She has no purpose other than to facilitate the confrontation between the two main male protagonists. Sadly, we continue to hear the ridiculous assertion that Tarantino is producing positive female characters. Close reflection on this character will quickly show that she is but a sketch used to advance the plot.

Uniting the three character threads is a series of over-produced “set pieces” intended to move the plot. A few of them are powerful; if anything, Tarantino is a master of stylish set pieces. In particular, the opening scene and the later basement pub scene are effective tension moments. Unfortunately the book chapter style of the structure is riddled with holes and eventually collapses under the weight of a 158 minute pulp film.

At a pivotal moment near the end of the film, Shoshana prepares to burn down her cinema with the NAZI hierarchy inside. We see her applying her stylish costume for the night as the soundtrack begins playing “Putting Out the Fire” by David Bowie (from Paul Schraeder’s 1982 horror film remake Cat People). The song and music is inappropriate to the sense of drama and time, and the tracking crane shot through the hallway is awkward. This would have been the moment in which Tarantino’s characterization of Shoshana could have been powerful, but instead he is more concerned with producing hollow stylish effects than delving into his character’s mindset. Shoshana remains an empty cipher, and her ridiculous end becomes simply another set piece for Tarantino to act out his phallic fantasies.

Undoubtedly, for many Tarantino fans, this film will be a pleasure. I watched it twice this week in order to work out my reaction to the film. The first time was late on a Friday night, and the crowd laughed throughout the stylishly violent film. The second viewing was on a Sunday afternoon, and the theater was filled with two busloads of UK football players and staff. The football players were actually more restrained than the Friday night crowd. I talked to the man next to me after the Sunday repeat viewing, and he said that he enjoyed seeing good win and evil destroyed. As he walked away from me, I noticed the back of his shirt. It said, “Make war, not love” above the image of a firing machine gun. I wondered who he thought in this world were the deserving good, and who were the evil people that needed to be destroyed.

Bill Moyers Journal: Special Feature - Reforming Healthcare

Bill Moyers Journal

Washington is abuzz about health care reform. Both Congress and President Obama have made it a top priority, and there are a number of proposals making the rounds. But what will that bill look like, and who will shape it?

BILL MOYERS JOURNAL has been focusing on perspectives not being heard on Capitol Hill or on the major news outlets — from popular plans left "off the table," like single payer, to the powerful influence of the health care industry on the process.

In the video player below you can find BILL MOYERS JOURNAL's complete and continuing coverage of the health care reform debate. Links below that will take you to the program pages that contain a wealth of resources and information about specific issues.

Additionally, you'll find resources for making sense of the debate, including tips for following the money and a detailed comparison of the plans currently under consideration.

Special Feature: Reforming Healthcare

Film School: Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan -- An Unreasonable Man

Film School (KUCI)

Directors Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan discuss their documentary, An Unreasonable Man — the story of Ralph Nader, from wannabe presidential candidate to public pariah. In 1966, General Motors, the most powerful corporation in the world, sent private investigators to dig up dirt on an obscure thirty-two year old public interest lawyer named Ralph Nader, who had written a book critical of one of their cars, the Corvair. The scandal that ensued after the smear campaign was revealed launched Ralph Nader into national prominence and established him as one of the most admired Americans and the leader of the modern Consumer Movement. Over the next thirty years and without ever holding public office, Nader built a legislative record that is the rival of any contemporary president.

To Listen to the Episode (MP3)

Rick Moody: How to Be a Christian Artist; Danielson Famile: Headz in the Clouds

Angels are terrifying. The appearance of angels always brings with it cataclysmic changes in life and circumstance. ... They appear to tell 'you' that 'you' are about to be impregnated by the power that created all space and time. Or they appear to tell you that the world as you know it is going to end, and that you may perish among the billions.

--Rick Moody "How to Be a Christian Artist: From Within a Homemade Textile Tree, The Danielson Famile Makes Rock Music with All the Awkwardness, Difficulty, and Fervor of Contemporary Faith." (The Believer June/July 2005)

Danielson Famile: Headz in the Clouds (Recommended for the sheer pleasure of the unique experimental weirdness)

Paul Starr: In Sickness and In Health

In Sickness and In Health
On the Media

In discussing national health care plans, reporters, politicians and especially critics have been fond of invoking the failed Clinton plan of '93 & '94. Paul Starr, Princeton professor and author of The Social Transformation of American Medicine, says the history of national health care and its discontents is at least a century old and that for proponents and critics alike, most everything old is new again.

To Listen to the Interview

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Used Bike Super Sale benefiting Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM): Saturday, August 29th (9-5)

From: Griffin VanMeter
Subject: Used Bike Super Sale

For your information, please spread the word!

For Immediate Release:
Who: Pedal Power Bike Shop and Bullhorn Marketing
What: Used Bike Super Sale benefiting Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM).
When: Saturday, August 29th. 9-5.
Where: Pedal Power parking lot. 401 South Upper.
Why: We have received so many donations to our program with KRM that we need to sell a few bikes to make room. All proceeds go to KRM, our local refugee resettlement agency. KRM helps people displaced by war and persecution start a new life in Lexington.

Press contact: Brad Flowers
Contact number: 859.806.7660
Contact email:

Contacts at:
Pedal Power. Billy Yates 255-6408
KRM. Barbara Kleine 226-5661

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jenny Price: Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A.

by Jenny Price
The Believer


L.A. is notoriously short on parks and other public spaces. It is a stronghold of the gated neighborhood. L.A. ranks first among U.S. cities for the number of millionaires and forty-first in philanthropy. Forty-first. Here, you can so clearly observe the tendency—magnified in my adopted town but hardly unique to it—to confuse ideals of personal liberty with an ideal of being free to accumulate capital and use it to do whatever you want. You can watch the failure to ballast the quest for individual freedom with other, long-standing American-dream ideals of equality and community. This is the land of Prop. 13 and Prop. 187, where affluent Angelenos want the cheapest labor but no social services for the illegal immigrants who do it; and want the economic as well as cultural benefits of an ethnically and racially diverse city, but don’t want the diversity in their own neighborhoods; and want private canyons and beaches but expect the public to pay for the inevitable fires and mudslides; and want to commute in fabulously fuel-inefficient cars from enormous houses with forty-three-inch TVs and five bathrooms in remote canyons, but object to smog and traffic and pollution and, above all, to living anywhere near the industry and manufacture that bathroom fixtures, SUVs, and forty-three-inch TVs require. The point is that here you can watch the denial so intrinsic to the great American nature story play out as part of the larger desire to benefit from the innumerable ties to people and nature that sustain one’s life in the city, and yet refuse to make good on those connections.


None of which is to let Boulder off the hook. In fact, very much the opposite. We may wish away connections in L.A., but we can hardly wish away culpability for the ensuing troubles (and even affluent Angelenos encounter serious daily havoc). Boulder bills itself as the anti-L.A.: it’s the green place, the socially just haven, the great right town. But how much easier is it to keep your air clean when the factories that manufacture your SUVs and Gore-Tex jackets lie in other, distant towns? And you can minimize racial and class confrontations when your own population is white and affluent, while the poor and nonwhite labor force that sustains your city’s material life resides safely far away. Nature writers have documented how cities mine the hinterlands ruthlessly for raw natural resources. But they’ve declined to tell us almost anything about how the largest urban regions, and especially the poorer areas within them, disproportionately shoulder the burden of transforming nature to create all our lovely wondrous stuff.

Boulder couldn’t begin to be the town that Boulder adores without L.A. (and an abundance of other places globally like L.A.)—just as Bel Air and Malibu couldn’t be Bel Air and Malibu in their undeniable glory without their essential connections to the nature and labor throughout L.A. County. Think of a defining difference between Boulder and L.A. as the difference between Malibu and Southeast L.A. but writ nationally. Boulderites benefit proportionately more and suffer far less from how they use nature—which I suspect is one reason why Boulder never claimed my head or heart. L.A. may be a land of troubles, but also gets so unfairly maligned, because being the great right place is much too easy when you don’t have to live with a lot of the problems you create.

Which is oddly heartening, because the City of Angels feels like a distinctly honest place to seek and write about nature. And it’s a thunderously consequential place to do something about the troubles.


You almost need special glasses to see the L.A. River as the healthy, verdant river that the hundreds of people who are revitalizing it are aiming for. The project will take at least several decades to realize entirely—you also need great reserves of faith and patience—but it will happen if the political will and economic resources continue to flow.

In the mid-1980s, the first calls to revitalize the river, by the artist and writer Lewis MacAdams and his fledgling Friends of the L.A. River, were met with “River? What river?” FoLAR made Willy Wonka’s schemes and hopes for his chocolate factory sound practical. At the time, proposals to paint the concrete blue and to use the channel as a dry-season freeway for trucks received far more serious consideration than FoLAR’s ideas. After a decade of persuasion, their vision would prove to have been superb common sense before its time. And in the last five years, the river’s revival has emerged as a major policy priority, as every imaginably relevant public and private interest—from Heal the Bay, neighborhood associations, and Latino social activists to the mayor’s office, L.A. City Council, and the L.A. County Department of Public Works (our quondam Sun Gods of the river as infrastructure)—has concluded that revitalizing L.A.’s major river will help them ameliorate the city’s worst troubles.

How do you resurrect the river? You have to green the banks. You have to clean the water. And you have to dynamite out some of the concrete. And each of these goals, it turns out, quickly becomes an act of thinking big.

To green the banks, this loose coalition of players has set out to turn the cement scar through the heart of this fragmented, park-starved metropolis into a fifty-one-mile greenway and bikeway, which ideally would serve as the backbone for a countywide greenway network. The Los Angeles River Greenway now consists of two dozen new parks on the ground and many more on paper, and will green and connect many of L.A.’s poorest, and most park-poor, neighborhoods.

To clean up this outsize sewer—which by law (after the NRDC lawsuit) the EPA must now ensure happens by 2013—you can’t just extract the kilotons of pollutants after they enter the river. You have to think about where all the pollutants come from: the weed killers, insecticides, fertilizers, paints, detergents, gasoline, motor oil, car waxes, and countless more toxic everyday products in the basic city-America-2006 street stew that washes into our soil, our water, and eventually our bodies. Alas, the city has spent more time fighting the legal ruling than the pollutants. But to clean the river, L.A. will absolutely have to mandate cleaner industrial processes to manufacture products that are themselves less toxic, more recyclable, more biodegradable.

You have to blow up some of the concrete, if not every last ton: the Seine, after all, runs through Paris in a cement channel. Blast it today, however, and the next heavy winter rains could submerge the Staples Center and Union Station. Rather, before you enjoy the thought of dynamite, you have to dramatically reduce the amount of water that flows down the river during storms. To do that, the river revitalizers propose to divert floodwaters into large basins that can double as parks and wetlands. Even more important, though, they aim to capture as much rain as possible where it falls, rather than rush it into the river to water the Pacific. To do that, Public Works has launched pilot projects to use porous paving, to unpave schoolyards, and to retrofit gutters, freeway medians, and parking lots to pitch water into the ground instead of the storm sewers. You can store the water in underground cisterns and use it on-site—say, to water your lawn—or you can let it drain into the ground and replenish the aquifer (where it’ll clean itself up as minerals in the soil bind up toxic chemicals).

Altogether, restoring the river to health would improve water quality, control flooding, and restore wildlife habitat. Neighborhoods throughout L.A. would acquire much-needed park and green space. It would enhance local water supplies dramatically, and so would potentially change how water moves through the West. All the new greenery would help clean the air. The project has pushed L.A. to the national forefront of urban watershed management. It’s made the river a meeting ground for Angelenos’ broader efforts to enhance the equity and environmental quality of life in Los Angeles. And by reviving a premier symbol of urban destruction, it could make just about anything imaginable in urban transformation. A healthy L.A. River wouldn’t be quite as wondrous as the chocolate factory, but it would be close.


To Read the Rest of the Essay

Film School: Laura Poitras - My Country, My Country

Film School (KUCI)

An interview with Director Laura Poitras about her latest documentary, My Country, My Country — a film centered around Sunni political candidate, Dr. Riyadh, a medical doctor and father of six. Described by its distributor, Zeitgeist Films as "unfolding like a narrative drama," My Country, My Country follows the agonizing predicament of one man caught in the tragic contradictions of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and its effort to spread democracy in the Middle East. The film has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary category.

To Listen to the Interview (MP3)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Helena Sheehan and Sheamus Sweeney: The Wire and the World - Narrative and Metanarrative

The Wire and the world: narrative and metanarrative
by Helena Sheehan and Sheamus Sweeney
Jump Cut


No other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature ... The drama repeatedly cuts from the top of Baltimore's social structure to its bottom, from political fund-raisers in the white suburbs to the subterranean squat of a homeless junkie .... The Wire's political science is as brilliant as its sociology. It leaves The West Wing, and everything else television has tried to do on this subject, in the dust.


To Read the Enitre Essay

Monday, August 17, 2009

Christopher A. Sims: The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Christopher A. Sims
Science Fiction Studies

Under U.N. Law each emigrant automatically received possession of an android subtype of his choice, and, by 2019, the variety of subtypes passed all understanding, in the manner of American automobiles of the 1960s.—Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (16)

Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology whether we passionately affirm or deny it.—Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” (4)

Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set on post-apocalyptic Earth in the Bay Area of California. World War Terminus has devastated the population of Earth and left it nearly uninhabitable, forcing survivors to emigrate to Mars or one of the other unnamed colony planets. As incentive, emigrants are given free android servants to accompany them on their voyage and serve them on Mars. The androids are extremely sophisticated and are nearly indistinguishable from human beings. The novel explores the moral implications of enslaving a human-like biological machine, but more centrally uses the invention of a humanoid replica to critique and define the essence of humanity; whatever qualities distinguish humans from androids become the essential aspects of humanity. Rarely, an android slave will kill its master and flee Mars for haven on Earth. Bounty hunters are employed by the remaining police agencies to protect the small but determined communities of humans who refuse to emigrate and those who are prevented from emigrating because the degenerative effects of living in a radioactive environment have drastically lowered their IQs. The novel examines the psychology of bounty hunter Rick Deckard as he “retires” escaped androids. In this essay I am interested in analyzing the way in which technology is described in the novel and what the relationship is between humans and technology. The essay will also investigate the novel’s representation of human psychology confronted with the near extinction of its species and the stratification of the human population across the colony planets. Kevin McNamara, in his essay “Blade Runner’s Post-Individual Worldspace,” writes that the novel “registers its protest against the dehumanizing effects of bureaucracies and technology”(422).1 I intend to argue in this essay that the novel instead registers its protest against the dehumanizing effects of individualism and demonstrates how technology can be used as a means to reclaim the essence of humanity.

But what is technology? Most would agree that, on one level, technology is the adaptation of available material or knowledge into an instrument or process that provides humans with an advantage over their environment. Technology can imply abstract structures such as language and mathematics, as well; both are efforts to organize and systemize the human experience of reality, and both become instruments that give humans an advantage. The word “advantage” in this context suggests an evolutionary framework, in which all forms of life are struggling with one another (or at the more congenial level, using each other) in order to increase their own chances of survival.2 From this perspective technology might be considered as an evolutionary adaptation that humans have acquired and used to gain dominance over the other forms of life or aspects of nature (rivers, weather, raw materials, etc.) on the overarching ecosystem we call Earth.

When considered as an intellectual drive for kinds of adaptation that will preserve, extend, or improve human life, technology becomes inseparable from the idea of what it means to be a human. But technology at the most basic level is not exclusive to humanity. Many other species manipulate existing material in the environment to gain an advantage. Beavers collect wood to build dams, birds gather twigs to form nests, bees construct hives, and non-human primates can wield sticks and basic human tools. Many animals also have, in various forms, the technology of language. A major difference between the human use of technology and that of other animals is that humans have an ongoing dialogue about what technology is; as a result they can make modifications and sophistications on previously existing forms of technology within their own lifetime, which, though possible for other species, is unusual. Other species generally rely on a hardwired instruction for the use of simple technological apparatuses from inherited DNA “memories.” No new developments are made in the design of a hive or a nest. The human relationship to technology is unique because we can examine an instance of technology and locate potential flaws in the design, and through intellectual process modify it to conform to an imagined result and enhance its capabilities.

While I agree with McNamara’s summation that Androids “becomes a quest for an uncontestable essence of human being that separates ‘us’ from the ever more human seeming androids,” I do not share his belief that the novel is also a protest “against the dehumanizing effects … of technology” (422) because I do not feel that Dick’s novel represents technology as a dehumanizing force. On the contrary, I believe that Androids shows us that technology can be used as a guide to return the survivors of World War Terminus to the humanity that they have abandoned for solipsistic individualism. To do this, I must briefly deconstruct the concept of technology, so that it breaks free from definitions that label it as something external to humankind and the human lifeworld. Andrew Feenberg’s conception of the essence of technology in his 1999 work Questioning Technology focuses on demystifying this separation. Feenberg writes: “insofar as we continue to see the technical and the social as separate domains, important aspects of these dimensions of our existence will remain beyond our reach” (vii). The first step in liberating technology from these conceptions is to reunite humans and technology by examining how the novel represents the larger themes of the “natural” and “artificial.” The binary natural/artificial is one of the major structural binaries that this essay will explore, for I believe that Dick is exploring the question “why do we value the natural more than the artificial?” “Why,” he is asking, “is technology considered something unnatural?” If, as Heidegger claims, “everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology whether we passionately affirm or deny it” (4), what does it mean to be a natural being chained to an unnatural enterprise? In this essay I explore technology as Dick presents it in terms of an evolutionary understanding, but also in the terms that Heidegger defines in his essay “The Question Concerning Technology” (1954). I also will use Feenberg’s analysis of the Heideggerian essence of technology—as well as Feenberg’s own theories on this essence—to help update and concretize aspects of Heidegger’s thought, so that not only will the essay’s discussion of technology be more applicable to Dick’s imagined future, but it will also better illuminate the novel’s commentary on the human relationship to technology.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Left Field Cinema: David Lynch's Dune

Misunderstood Modern Cinema: Dune
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema


So what didn’t the critics like about the film when it was released? Critics like Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Janet Maslin, and Richard Corliss (all of whom are reputable American film critics) all chastised the film with scathing one-star reviews. The common complaint was that the film was structurally a mess, overly confusing, and made little to no sense. Corliss stated that “most sci-fi movies offer escape, a holiday from homework, but Dune is as difficult as a final exam. You have to cram for it.” This unifying complaint seems a tad perplexing to myself as I distinctly recall watching the film (before reading the novel) at the age of ten and found that the film made entire sense to me. Not only that but when I recently re-watched the film in preparation for this edition, I did so with my partner who had not seen the film before or read the book but followed the story perfectly and felt that the story was surprisingly clear throughout. So with that in mind let us examine the set-up and plot for Dune: the film begins with the Princess Irulan speaking directly to camera and explaining both the characters and the situation, she outlines the various sects and planets, The Haronnen’s, The Atreides, The Emporor, The planet Arrakis the source of the spice and the value it holds for everyone in the known universe. If this were not enough in the following scenes when we’re introduced to Paul Atreides (our hero as played by Kyle MacLachlan) he is working on a computer which outlines in even greater detail the relationships between the various houses; at this point we’ve gone into exposition over kill as information is now being repeated. When we switch locations it is always with the aid of a caption to tell us which planet we’re on and any time an additional element like the Bene Gesserit, the Kwisatz Haderach, the Water of Life or the Sardaukar are introduced they’re accompanied by additional exposition for the uninformed. Granted Herbert’s prose are a tad confusing especially in regards to the naming of unique elements of this universe. For instance Paul Atreides as no less than four names through the entire film and other people, places and objects often have more than one name, the planet Arrakis also being known as Dune as the title takes its name from, but these are exceptions where the proceedings are over complicated, the majority of the time everything remains simple enough to follow. The story can be condensed to a very simple level: house Atreides are invited to take over spice manufacturing for the Emperor, replacing their enemies the Harkonnens as they do. But it is a trap on the part of the Emperor who fears the Atreides leader Leto is becoming too powerful and popular and may over throw him. The Harkonnens return to Arrakis along with legions of the Emperor’s top soldiers; they over throw and wipe out the Atreides except for Leto’s son and wife, Paul and Jessica, who flee into the desert. Whilst in the desert the meet the Fremen, native warriors of Dune who take Paul as their leader, Paul trains them and drinks the water of life becoming a super human, he leads them in a revenge attack against the Emperor and the Baron Valdimir Harkonnen, he destroys his enemies, avenges his father and brings water to the desert. That’s it. That’s the story, it’s no more complex than any other revenge tale or Science Fiction odyssey, it’s no more complex than Star Wars for example. Of course there are additional subplots which pad out the experience, for example the over throwing of the Atredies at the end of the first act is only possible because of a traitor in their midst, Doctor Yueh who has set events in motion in order to get close enough to the Baron to assassinate him as revenge for the death of his wife; or that the Spacing Guild of navigators want Paul assassinated because they can foresee him posing them some danger in the near future; or Bene Gesserit’s fears that Paul will become the Kwisatz Haderach. But in all cases these subplots are either incidental to a full understanding of events or they become clearer as the film progresses.


Text Version

Podcast Version

Film School: Kirby Dick - Outrage

Film School (KUCI)
Hosts: Nathan Callahan and Mike Kaspar

An interview with Academy Award nominated filmmaker KIRBY DICK the director of OUTRAGE — a searing indictment of the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who actively campaign against the LGBT community they covertly belong to. OUTRAGE reveals the hidden lives of some of our nation’s most powerful policymakers, details the harm they've inflicted on millions of Americans, and examines the media's complicity in keeping their secrets. DICK’S highly-regarded film, DERRIDA, premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival. In 1997, he directed the internationally acclaimed SICK: THE LIFE & DEATH OF BOB FLANAGAN, SUPERMASOCHIST, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film earned an IFP/West Spirit Award Nomination and an International Documentary Association Nomination for Best Feature Documentary of 1998. Dick's other projects include TWIST OF FAITH (2004) and THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (2006), an exposé of the interior workings of the MPAA ratings system.

To Listen to the Interview (MP3)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bookworm: Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies

Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies
Host: Michael Silverblatt

With Sea of Poppies, a trilogy begins! Few know that the opium that fueled the Opium Wars was grown and processed in India. Ghosh locates the heart of a pernicious global network — drugs, slavery, indentured servitude, profiteering on a previously unimagined scale — in the innocent poppy blossom.

To Listen to the Interview

Hambone Blues Rumshack #39

Hambone Blues Rumshack #39

Life gets in the way sometimes and it is always good to be there for someone when they need you. Back on track with a podcast with some great music. Couldn't stop listening to the David Rotundo CD all weekend, cracking album. Hope that you enjoy my tribute to Koko Taylor, could have played Wang Dang Doodle, althought it was the Queen's biggest hit there were 50 years of music. Walk on Koko Taylor.


David Rotundo Band - Don't Lie To Me from No Looking Back on Stone Pillar Productions
David Rotundo Band - I Don't Need No Body from No Looking Back on Stone Pillar Productions
Sephen Dale Petit - Alexis Korner Says from Guitararama on 333 Records
Honkeyfinger - Running on Empty from Running on Empty EP on Hoarse Records
Brixton Boogie - Nobody But You from Urban Blues
Ramon Goose Band - Rude Mood from Journey Into The Blues on Tekni Records
Ramon Goose Band - Travellin' South from Journey Into The Blues on Tekni Records
Homemade Jamz Band - Who Your Real Friends Are from Pay Me No Mind on Northern Blues
Po' Girl - Bloom from Deer In The Night on Po' Girl Music
Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens - What Have You Done from What Have You Done, My Brother? on Daptone Records
Koko Taylor - What Kind Of Man Is This from Wang Dang Doodle - The Blues Collection on Orbis
Koko Taylor - I'd Rather Go Blind from Live From Chicago - An Audience with the Queen on Alligator Records
Koko Taylor and B B King - Something You Got on Blues Summit from MCA Records

To Listen to the Show

Garage Punk: Rock’n'Roll Suicide #57

Wax Museums

Rock’n'Roll Suicide #57
Host: R. Fink
Garage Punk

Continuing to turn over rocks far and wide and digging out the latest wax, R. Fink returns with another hour of sounds to annoy neighbors and coworkers alike. Tune in for new slabs from the likes of the Wax Museums, Party Fowl, the Perfect Fits, Elephant Walk, the Midwest Beat, the Holy Cobras, Wild Billy Childish & the Musicians of the British Empire and more. Download this sucker, turn it up and continue to make friends and influence others.

To Listen to the Show

Sociological Images: On Deadgirl, The Movie

On Deadgirl, The Movie
by Lisa
Sociological Images


I’m not sure what to say except:

1. It’s pretty disturbing to me that the reviewers of this movie almost unanimously think the movie is awesome and see no issue with the subject matter or plot line. That the primary critique of this movie seems to be its “pacing” or that it has “too much atmosphere” speaks to how normalized sexualized violence against women has become in our society.

2. I don’t understand why, when something is gross, horrifying, shocking, or offensive, we call it “edgy” or “original.” There is nothing original about rape and sexual objectification. Nor, apparently, is it marginalized enough to suggest that it’s on the edge. Are we really that dumb, as consumers, that we fall for this?


To Read the Entire Response

Film School: Mark Hartley - Not Quite Hollywood

Film School
Hosts: Mike Callahan and Nathan Kaspar

An interview with MARK HARTLEY the director of NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD — the first detailed examination and celebration of Australian genre cinema of the 70s and 80s. In 1971, with the introduction of the R-certificate, Australia’s censorship regime went from repressive to progressive virtually overnight. This cultural explosion gave birth to arthouse classics, such as PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and MY BRILLIANT CAREER, but also spawned a group of demon-children: maverick filmmakers who braved assault from all quarters to bring films like ALVIN PURPLE, THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, PATRICK, TURKEY SHOOT and MAD MAX to the big screen. As explicit, violent and energetic as their northern cousins, Aussie genre movies presented a unique take on established conventions. NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD won both the 2009 Filmink award and the Film Critics Circle Association award for Best Documentary .

To Listen to the Interview (MP3)

Sara Robinson: Fascist America - Are We There Yet?

Fascist America: Are We There Yet?
by Sara Robinson
Common Dreams


All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it "fascism" because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America's conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations -- passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of "mainstream" conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn't act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It's also our very last chance to stop it.


To Read the Rest of the Essay

Mark Moford: 10 Amazing Truths You Already Suspected

Go ahead, pretend you didn't know. Pretend it wasn't obvious. Are you sure?

D.D, Guttenplan: American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone

American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone
Politics of Culture

Investigative journalism is an endangered species. One of its most renowned and revered purveyors was I.F. Stone, a man who ran his own newspaper and never took advertising. D.D. Guttenplan has written a biography that puts Stone into the context of American history and politics. Will Lewis interviews him.

To Listen to the Interview

Sunday, August 09, 2009

FORA TV: "Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace"

"Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace" panel discussion at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This program was recorded on January 29, 2009.

The uncertainty and complexity surrounding the crisis in Gaza have captured the attention of the world. What needs to be done to prevent the Middle East peace process from slipping away yet again? - World Economic Forum

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has served as the Prime Minister of Turkey since March 14, 2003. He is the chairman of the Justice and Development Party.

David Ignatius - David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post. His twice-weekly column on global politics, economics, and international affairs began appearing on the op-ed page of the Post in January 1999.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - Ban Ki-moon is a South Korean diplomat and the current Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Amre Moussa - Amr Moussa has been the current Secretary-General of the League of Arab States since his election to the position in May 2001. He is a former Egyptian Foreign Minister and diplomat.

Shimon Peres - Shimon Peres is the ninth and current President of the State of Israel. Peres served twice as Prime Minister of Israel and once as Acting Prime Minister, and has been a member of 12 cabinets in a political career spanning over 66 years.

To Listen to the Forum

Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files

Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson talks about his latest book, "The Pluto Files," in a conversation with Dr. Laura Danly. This program was recorded in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library, in Los Angeles, CA, on February 4, 2009.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the bestselling author and director of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, chronicles America's irrational love affair with Pluto, man's best celestial friend.

Dr. Laura Danly is Curator at the Griffith Observatory, where she develops all educational, theatrical, gallery, and telescope programs. She holds a Ph.D. in Astronomy, and is a spectroscopist specializing in ultraviolet observations from space satellites.

To Listen to the Presentation

Jenny Price: Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A.

by Jenny Price
The Believer


L.A. is notoriously short on parks and other public spaces. It is a stronghold of the gated neighborhood. L.A. ranks first among U.S. cities for the number of millionaires and forty-first in philanthropy. Forty-first. Here, you can so clearly observe the tendency—magnified in my adopted town but hardly unique to it—to confuse ideals of personal liberty with an ideal of being free to accumulate capital and use it to do whatever you want. You can watch the failure to ballast the quest for individual freedom with other, long-standing American-dream ideals of equality and community. This is the land of Prop. 13 and Prop. 187, where affluent Angelenos want the cheapest labor but no social services for the illegal immigrants who do it; and want the economic as well as cultural benefits of an ethnically and racially diverse city, but don’t want the diversity in their own neighborhoods; and want private canyons and beaches but expect the public to pay for the inevitable fires and mudslides; and want to commute in fabulously fuel-inefficient cars from enormous houses with forty-three-inch TVs and five bathrooms in remote canyons, but object to smog and traffic and pollution and, above all, to living anywhere near the industry and manufacture that bathroom fixtures, SUVs, and forty-three-inch TVs require. The point is that here you can watch the denial so intrinsic to the great American nature story play out as part of the larger desire to benefit from the innumerable ties to people and nature that sustain one’s life in the city, and yet refuse to make good on those connections.


To Read the Rest of the Essay

Jim Emerson: The Hurt Locker - Georges Bataille and the visceral cinema of Kathryn Bigelow

Hurt Locker: Georges Bataille and the visceral cinema of Kathryn Bigelow
by Jim Emerson


She had a tremendous fascination with how violence could be portrayed in the cinema, particularly as seen through the filter of a French writer and philosopher I had never heard of named George Bataille. I got the sense that Bataille was some kind of mélange of surrealism and eroticism and de Sade-like cruelty, but the precise way he blended them and what he put in of his own was vague to me then, and even more vague to me now. But what I did understand was that Kathy wasn't just looking back to the styles and techniques of Hitchcock, Peckinpah, Romero, Argento, etc.--she was attempting to build on a highly aestheticized foundation. She didn't want to ape anybody else, she wanted to make a kind of movie that hadn't been made before. This I understood well, as it was a commonplace in European cinema for filmmakers like Godard and Resnais to use literary ideas as a means to "reinvent" cinema. The difference, and it was a huge one, is that Kathy was reading different books. What she wanted to create was more visceral and stomach-churning--more of a punch to the stomach and a battering of the subconscious than a detached and modish Brechtian challenge for the mind. [...]

To Read the Rest of the Response

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Left Field Cinema: Blue Velvet (USA: David Lynch, 1986)

American Masterpiece: Blue Velvet
Left Field Cinema

The first of a David Lynch double bill, this episode centering on his 1980's masterpiece and arguably his greatest film. Twisted homages and ironical referencing to the past works of the Hollywood mainstream, with a dark and mysterious but ultimately coherent story line.

To Listen to the Episode

FORA TV: Farm City - Novella Carpenter with Michael Pollan

Farm City: Novella Carpenter with Michael Pollan

Novella Carpenter discusses her book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, in a conversation with author Michael Pollan. This program was recorded in collaboration with Berkeley Arts and Letters, on June 18, 2009.

Novella Carpenter - Novella Carpenter grew up in rural Idaho and Washington State. She majored in biology and English at the University of Washington in Seattle. While attending Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, she studied under Michael Pollan for two years. Her writing has appeared on,,, and in Mother Jones.

Michael Pollan - Michael Pollan is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, a New York Times bestseller. His previous books include The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001); A Place of My Own (1997); and Second Nature (1991). A contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper’s Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing 2004, Best American Essays 2003, and the Norton Book of Nature Writing. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, the painter Judith Belzer, and their son, Isaac.

To Listen to the Program

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Rachel Maddow: Exposing the PR Firms Behind the Fake "Grass Roots" Anti-Healthcare Movement

I just watched this for the second time--this is essential viewing for a mapping of the method in which corporate culture is propagated through "astro turf" groups advocating as populist movements.

Very simple, notice the way she maps out who "supports" the groups and who "runs" them and what that says about the ideological/organizational impulse of the architects of a movement. In other words the "ideas"... the money... and the organization... is directed by multi-millionaire, neo-conservative, corporate executives.

Follow the money...

Elizabeth Schulte: The Story of Medicare (and the lessons of that struggle for today)

The story of Medicare: The battle to establish a government health care program for seniors, and the lessons of that struggle for today
by Elizabeth Schulte
Socialist Worker

IF YOU listen the current debate in Washington over proposals for some kind of national health care reform, the arguments that raged in the lead-up to the founding of Medicare--the government health care program for the elderly, which celebrated its 44th birthday on July 30--echo through to the current day.

When the administration of John F. Kennedy discussed a plan for government health care that would cover people of Social Security age, the American Medical Association (AMA) fought back, along with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, with a well-funded campaign--complete with a commercial featuring actor Ronald Reagan, who was determined to talk to America about an "imminent threat":

Now, back in 1927, an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism, the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program...

One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project...Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.

The someday-Governor-and-later-President Reagan finished his appeal by asking listeners to write their members of Congress with the warning:

And if you don't do this, and if I don't do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

Are you shivering in your boots? During her doomed vice presidential campaign, Republican "maverick" Sarah Palin brought Reagan's views back into the national debate--nearly half a century on.

Of course, the danger of creeping socialism is a much less compelling argument today among ordinary people than it was during the Cold War. If anything, socialism is becoming a preferred alternative to the mess that capitalism has made of working-class living standards.

Still, one of the familiar arguments from right-wing politicians--and many liberal politicians, for that matter--against a government-run health program is that people don't want the government controlling their lives. Americans, the argument goes, want to make their own decisions about their health care. And they all agree that the free-market system is the best way to guarantee we get the best care possible.

Not only are these conceptions wrong, but they've succeeded in confusing and misleading people about exactly what kind of health care is even being proposed today. The Washington Post recently reported on a health care town hall meeting in Simpsonville, S.C., where a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to "keep your government hands off my Medicare."

"I had to politely explain that, 'Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,' " Inglis told the Post. "But he wasn't having any of it."

That's a pretty drastic example. But it shows just how successful the politicians and the media have been at confusing the national discussion on health care.

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Joe Allen: The First Bud Billiken - The Forgotten Story of a Chicago Writer with a Militant Commitment to the Fight for Civil Rights

The First Bud Billiken: The Forgotten Story of a Chicago Writer with a Militant Commitment to the Fight for Civil Rights.
by Joe Allen
Socialist Worker


BORN IN 1909 and raised in Englewood on the South Side of Chicago, Motley aspired from a young age to be a writer. As a teen, he wrote a children's column, using the pseudonym "Bud Billiken," in the Chicago Defender for a little over a year between December 1922 and January 1924.

Motley had an adventurous spirit, and soon after he graduated in 1929, he began a series of cross-country trips that netted him a small income as a travel writer. Many of the people he met on his travels provided raw material for his later novels. It's also important to recognize that Motley, according to friends and supporters, was gay--though not openly so, since this was a time when being Black and gay could have lethal consequences.

By the late 1930s, Motley was back in Chicago and lived in the Maxwell Street neighborhood around 14th and Union Streets, one the few multi-ethnic and multiracial neighborhoods in the city at the time. He helped launch Hull House Magazine in 1939, and the next year, he started working for the Federal Writers Project of the Works Project Administration, the New Deal era program that supported writers during the Great Depression.

With the approach of the Second World War, Motley began to take militant positions on political issues that would be characteristic for the rest of his life. "When the Selective Training and Service Act was passed in 1940, Motley declared that he would not serve in the segregated military," according to Wald. He filed for and received a conscientious objector status from the U.S. military.

While working as a lab technician, Motley spent the war years researching and writing what became his best-known novel Knock on Any Door. It quickly became a bestseller in 1947, selling over 47,000 copies in its first three weeks on the market and 350,000 over the next two years, and it was made into a popular 1949 film starring Humphrey Bogart.

The novel tells the story of Nick Romano, a street tough who kills a cop and is sentenced to death. Motley sees that Romano's tragic life is shaped by the poverty, bigotry and despair of his upbringing. He portrays Romano as a sympathetic character, and Motley's opposition to the death penalty is clear and eloquent at the climax of the story.

Motley, like the much better known Chicagoan Richard Wright, used his success to support causes for social justice. Soon after Knock on Any Door became a bestseller, he became an active member of the campaign to save James Hickman from the electric chair.


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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Natasha Singer: Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy

Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy
The New York Times

Newly unveiled court documents show that ghostwriters paid by a pharmaceutical company played a major role in producing 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women, suggesting that the level of hidden industry influence on medical literature is broader than previously known.

The articles, published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones to protect against maladies like aging skin, heart disease and dementia. That supposed medical consensus benefited Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company that paid a medical communications firm to draft the papers, as sales of its hormone drugs, called Premarin and Prempro, soared to nearly $2 billion in 2001.

But the seeming consensus fell apart in 2002 when a huge federal study on hormone therapy was stopped after researchers found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. A later study found that hormones increased the risk of dementia in older patients.

The ghostwritten papers were typically review articles, in which an author weighs a large body of medical research and offers a bottom-line judgment about how to treat a particular ailment. The articles appeared in 18 medical journals, including The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and The International Journal of Cardiology.

The articles did not disclose Wyeth’s role in initiating and paying for the work. Elsevier, the publisher of some of the journals, said it was disturbed by the allegations of ghostwriting and would investigate.

The documents on ghostwriting were uncovered by lawyers suing Wyeth and were made public after a request in court from PLoS Medicine, a medical journal from the Public Library of Science, and The New York Times.

A spokesman for Wyeth said that the articles were scientifically accurate and that pharmaceutical companies routinely hired medical writing companies to assist authors in drafting manuscripts.

The court documents provide a detailed paper trail showing how Wyeth contracted with a medical communications company to outline articles, draft them and then solicit top physicians to sign their names, even though many of the doctors contributed little or no writing. The documents suggest the practice went well beyond the case of Wyeth and hormone therapy, involving numerous drugs from other pharmaceutical companies.

“It’s almost like steroids and baseball,” said Dr. Joseph S. Ross, an assistant professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who has conducted research on ghostwriting. “You don’t know who was using and who wasn’t; you don’t know which articles are tainted and which aren’t.”

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Kseniya Simonova: Sand Animation

(Courtesy of Robert Benton. Very beautiful!)

Stephen Rowley: The Classic Hollywood Town at the Dawn of Suburbia

The Classic Hollywood Town at the Dawn of Suburbia
by Stephen Rowley


This article examines the depictions of small towns in a number of Hollywood films from the 1940s, and describes some of the ideals of community that were shaping (and reflecting) the community attitudes that would underlie the post-war suburban boom. Two points are of particular interest. Firstly, what are some of the common physical and social characteristics of the communities as depicted in these films? And secondly, what can we glean from the films about the attitudes to community and suburbanisation that existed at the dawn of the suburban age?

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Call For Papers: Inventions of Activism (Reconstruction 10.3: Deadline February 1, 2010)

Call For Papers
Issue 10.3

Michael Benton, Alan Clinton, Wes Houp and Danny Mayer

Inventions of Activism

"Creative acts of social justice fulfill every function that can be asked of a work of art. They inspire us, make us think in new ways, and birth new beauty and dignity in our world."
--Rebecca Alban Hofberger, "True Visions”

"Screw Hope; Let's Act"
--Walker Lane "Nope to Hope: False Capital and the Spectacle Triumphant"

This issue of _Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture_ solicits a variety of work which looks to activism as a broad array of creative practices yet to be defined. We seek not to revisit debates between theory and practice, but to view activism as a form of invention which may lead to new cultural formations.

What challenges do activists face as practicing utopians? What more or less local examples of activism can be looked to as models for further practice? How can activism as performance, as technology, as art lead to the production of new political and social theory? How is activism the art of the possible?

We would like this issue itself to be a form of activism inasmuch as it brings together a set of theorized practices in the form of case studies from the present and the past, a community of minds in both its contributors and subsequent readers.

We also encourage contributors to look to problem areas that have not yet been addressed or not addressed sufficiently, and to propose new models of cultural intervention.

Some areas of particular interest expressed by editors should serve as a starting point:

1. Testimonials of individuals and/or groups that document the structures of collective action and resistances (both external and internal) to these movements.

2. Activism as a form of social and political creativity. Considerations of how theory can promote or become activism, or how theories of political and social invention derive, post facto, from such activities.

3. The rhetoric of activism in its statements and endeavors.

4. Narration and development of (potential) actions with respect to labor (broadly defined).

5. Activism as a form of education, as supplement to or alternative for traditional educational theories. Educating activists. Activating educators. Theoretical and practical issues within "the academy."

6. Resistance to resistance: fatigue, Bruce Robbins' "sweatshop sublime," institutional reprisals from the most oppressive (violence, termination) to the most frustrating (hypocrisy and lip service from those in power, mainstream media misinformation, public indifference), mythologies (of the American dream, of freedom of choice, of the free market, etc.)

7. Reform from within the institution vs. revolution from without.

8. What is (non)violence and what roles do violence or nonviolence play in activism?

9. Issues of activism in different social and historical contexts, what can we learn (from Obama's vision of service to the most dangerous underground resistance movements)?

10. Psychologies of activism. For instance, do activists and/or organizers of activism benefit more from an openness to depaysement (the process by which the ethnographer/observer becomes altered and/or mediated by the culture under investigation) or dissociation/dispassion (the idea of "objective" or "critical" distance from the subject under study as providing a "better" vantage point).

11. What are the benefits or disadvantages of “traditions” in activism? Marx notoriously stated that he was not a Marxist, with that in mind, what kind of problems derive from the institution of founders and followers in activism? Even more fundamental, what is the problem of what Eric Hobsbawm called the “inner conflict of traditions,” the inevitable conflict between universal rules and specific, ever-changing circumstances/situations.

12. J.K. Gibson Graham asks in Postcapitalist Politics “If we want other worlds and other economies, how do we make ourselves a condition of possibility for their emergence (7)?”

We hope that activists of all kinds will view this issue as a form of potlatch that may lead to new practice and theory, new activist communities. While we encourage the use of anecdote as example and extended narratives as models for inventing activism, we do not want this issue to be primarily about smoking guns and personal beefs. In the light of the sensitive nature of this endeavor we will consider a variety of approaches to publication---including anonymity and/or "fictocritical" accounts which do not name names or present a situation with altered details.

Please send completed papers to the editors at no later than February 1, 2010. Earlier submissions and queries are welcome as we may be able to collaborate with authors in order to produce work that not only fits with the intent of the issue but with the standards of Reconstruction. Also, we encourage you to forward this CFP to interested parties and lists.

Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture (ISSN: 1547-4348) is an innovative online cultural studies journal dedicated to fostering an intellectual community composed of scholars and their audience, granting them all the ability to share thoughts and opinions on the most important and influential work in contemporary interdisciplinary studies. Reconstruction publishes three themed issues and one open issue per year. Send open submissions (year round) to and submissions for themed issues to the appropriate editors listed on the site at

Reconstruction also accepts proposal for special issue editors and topics. Reconstruction is indexed in the MLA International Bibliography.

Julia Lesage: Torture Documentaries

Torture Documentaries
by Julia Lesage
Jump Cut


I have organized this essay to explore two large aspects of the torture documentary—epistephilia and affect. To do so, and also to give some indication about genre structures, I provide a textual analysis of three highly accomplished films: two documentaries—Taxi to the Dark Side and Standard Operating Procedure—and a docudrama—The Road to Guantanamo. However, in the way that the documentaries actually work, knowledge and affect are not so neatly divided; all these documentaries elicit emotion and purvey knowledge and are structured to do so. Thus, even though I particularly use Taxi to the Dark Side to consider how it uses voices of authority—and more generally to offer my own to challenge torture epistephilia at this moment in the United States—I also consider how the film uses photojournalistic images for emotion, especially irony. In the same way, I use a textual analysis of Standard Operating Procedure, which takes as its topic just the Abu Ghraib photographs, to explore issues of affect in the torture documentary. However, I also explore how the film works as an analytic documentary, one that explores what the photograph, or indeed witnesses, can and cannot convey. Standard Operating Procedure particularly raises the question of "authenticity" in relation to its interviewees. It uses lengthy segments of people talking, with edited moments from what were clearly very long interviews, and the camera holds on them after a speech to capture just their individual expressions. We are asked to evaluate not only the history of Abu Ghraib torture that these participants tell us about but also how much we trust what they have to say.

Because of the historical role of the Abu Ghraib photographs and their shocking image material, I consider the photographs on their own terms, first in terms of torture, sexuality, and theatricality; and then in terms of elements within those photos that shape viewer response. Finally I offer a briefer textual analysis of The Road to Guantanamo, which as a docudrama has its own particular way of evoking the specifics of a situation and eliciting an emotional and political response.

The documentaries under consideration here:

Taxi to the Dark Side, dir. Alex Gibney, 2007: This film uses the documented homicide of an Afghan taxi driver in Bagram prison as the focus for interviewing Bagram prison guards and interrogators, as well as for investigating U.S. government policy and the legal and social/psychological issues around torture. The film incorporates dramatic reenactments and many still images taken by photojournalists on the political or war beat.

Standard Operating Procedure, dir. Errol Morris, 2008: Morris explores the circumstances around the Abu Ghraib photographs. He interviews participants from Abu Ghraib, freely uses dramatic reenactments, and edits to a highly emotional musical score by Danny Elfman. The film shows many Abu Ghraib photographs uncropped and at length as it questions what photographs can and cannot convey, what's outside the frame. Morris collaborated with Philip Gourevitch to write a book of the same name based on the transcribed interviews, court testimonies and depositions, and other documentation about torture, especially the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Morris has an extensive web site, and he also writes lengthy entries for a blog at the New York Times including many issues directly related to this film.[3]

The Road to Guantanamo, dir. Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, 2006, Channel 4, UK: This low-budget docudrama uses actors and the original figures of the Tipton Three, who provided one of the first exposés of Guantanamo abuses in England. The film traces the long journey of the young men, UK citizens from a Pakistani background, who traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, were captured by the Northern Alliance, imprisoned by the U.S. military in Kandahar and Guantanamo, and two years later released. Because the film was made for activism, it was released on DVD and television within days of its theatrical release.


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Chuck Kleinhans: Imagining Torture

Imagining torture
by Chuck Kleinhans
Jump Cut

Most of us don’t know torture, either as victim or perpetrator. We haven’t experienced it. We can only imagine it. We imagine it in terms of extreme pain we have felt, the feeling of panic and loss, violation of our body, perhaps in a accident or illness. But even then we don’t have the experience of being a prisoner, of being totally helpless. Therefore we have to imagine torture from descriptive sources such as news or, more likely, from fictions, particularly its representation in popular film and on TV.

In this essay I want to survey the fundamental political facts of torture in the present moment in U.S. history and then provide a brief introduction to the visual imagination of torture in moving image media. Other articles in this issue of Jump Cut also discuss torture: Julia Lesage’s analyses of recent documentaries on U.S. CIA and military torture of prisoners taken in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Martha Rosler’s reconsideration of her pioneering video, A Simple Case for Torture. But the fundamental issues also cross over into the sections in this issue on porn and on horror. The human body, on display, in extreme sensory states, in danger, in degradation, in humiliation: these conditions overlap, as with a Venn diagram overlapping sex, horror, and violence. Considering these connections in a fast-changing current political and media moment is an urgent task now and in the near future.
One: torture and the national imagination

As the United States moved to the November 2008 Presidential election, other issues took the lead: the national domestic economy; the financial sector meltdown; the increasing housing crisis; the high cost of transportation, energy, healthcare, and food; the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so forth. In that frame, torture was not a front burner issue. As the election season narrowed the range of topics in public discussion and concentrated attention on individual candidates rather than offered any systematic analysis, torture appeared to disappear as an issue. But, we would argue, it is also deeply present in U.S. life and also deeply repressed. America is in denial about torture. First, it is a troubling topic. Deaths in combat are an uncomfortable topic, but understandable. Soldiers become casualties and kill others — combatants and civilians.

But torture suddenly became one of the central issues in the Obama era, in part because of how the President chose to play out the choices: close Guantanamo; do not prosecute CIA agents involved in torture; do not pursue the war crimes of the previous administration; continue the imprisonment by moving prisoners to other sites; restore military tribunals. At the same time, those who want to hold the Bush-Cheney administration responsible have found a fulcrum point in the torture issue. Even more invitingly, Dick Cheney has become increasingly defensive and open, calling for release of classified documents to “prove” torture was effective and thus that he was right. Even the normally circumspect Condoleezza Rice has made public defenses of her past actions. And the right wing media amplifiers have blustered on, with TV talk show host Sean Hannity even offering to be waterboarded to prove it wasn’t really torture, and then chickening out when challenged to do so.

Torture in custody always involves premeditation and planning. It is hard to talk about, to recognize, to face up to. The examples that come forward, such as the Abu Ghraib photos, or reports that the United States took children as hostages and terrorized them to get information about the whereabouts of their father, are disturbing. But we would argue that issue is really always present but repressed. The trace of denial can be seen in media representations, and covers not only documentaries, but also dramatic feature films about the war, and entertainment films and TV shows that touch on the subject.

Torture is part of the contemporary national imagination. In summer 2007 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, at a Canadian meeting of international jurists, indicated he was a big fan of the TV drama 24.

"'Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,' Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent's rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand. 'Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?' Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. 'Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so. …'"

"During a break from the panel, Judge Scalia specifically mentioned the segment in Season 2 … 'There's a great scene where he told a guy that he was going to have his family killed,' Judge Scalia said. 'They had it on closed circuit television - and it was all staged. ... They really didn't kill the family.'"[1][open endnotes in new window]

Following the 9/11 attack, the war in Afghanistan, and the subsequent capture of Al-Qaeda suspects (and more, later in Iraq), the White House National Security Council’s Principals Committee met regularly to advise President Bush on the prisoners (euphemistically called in Bushspeak “detainees,” as if they were just being politely asked to wait a little while until another flight). Chaired by then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, the group included Vice President Dick Chaney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA director George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, or their principal deputies. They discussed and approved specific details of how Al-Qaeda prisoners would be interrogated. They approved combining techniques including slapping, pushing, slamming heads into walls, sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud music, and waterboarding.

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