Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Konrad Ng: “You Offend Me You Offend My Family” -- Justin Lin and Asian American Cinema and Social Media in the Digital Age

“You Offend Me You Offend My Family”: Justin Lin and Asian American Cinema and Social Media in the Digital Age
by Konrad Ng
Flow TV

In “Talking About a Revolution (for a Digital Age),” New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis reflects on the evolution of American independent cinema in the wake of its “Hollywood hangover.” She contends that starting in 1993, the emergence of a “studio-indie infrastructure” transformed American independent cinema into a micro Hollywood industry that allowed some filmmakers to go “from Sundance to Scorsese.” However, she contends, this studio-indie film system has been “rocked by seismic changes – including downsized companies and emerging technologies” and giving way to a leaner, non-studio version of independent cinema. Dargis states that American independent cinema is being shaped by the rise of an interactive, digitally assisted “Do-it-yourself” (D.Y.I.) film culture. She points to how digital media forms of self-distribution and promotion have enhanced independent cinema’s important connection with audiences to create “a more complex, interactive and personalized relationship.” She states that the vitality of American independent cinema also depends on “the cultivation of younger patrons who are used to receiving much if not all of their entertainment at home and on hand-held devices” and making them into “active participants in the movie and its meaning.” For Dargis, the ebb of Hollywood’s role in independent cinema means that youthfulness and digital D.Y.I. interactivity are forming the conditions for American independent cinema’s next generation of iconic films and filmmakers.

Manohla Dargis’s article prompts me to think about filmmaker Justin Lin. Lin’s young film career is characteristic of the studio-indie age before its current malaise. Lin went to great lengths, personal sacrifice and debt to make his solo debut feature film, Better Luck Tomorrow, a film that premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim, a distribution deal with MTV Films and eventually, work as a director for studios such as Universal Pictures and Touchstone Pictures. My interest in Lin lies not in discussing his merits as a filmmaker. Rather, I am interested in how Lin’s trajectory embodies a set of digital age D.Y.I. generational tactics and strategies that emerged in a tradition of American cinema that has rarely found studio traction during independent cinema’s Hollywood bubble: Asian American cinema. After Lin made his Hollywood films, Annapolis (2006) and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), he returned to the world of the independent cinema to make the film, Finishing the Game (2007). The promotional campaigns for Better Luck Tomorrow and Finishing the Game embody the practices of digital age independent cinema culture discussed by Dargis, but Lin’s strategy is both unique and instructive, I suggest, for its form of Asian American political and cultural engagement. The strategies behind Lin’s films reveal aims that went beyond simply “breaking out” as most independent films aspire to do. Instead, Lin’s films became platforms for community organizing and engagement that sought to impact the meaning of Asian America in American film history and popular culture.

To be sure, both films are notable for how they critically explore race and representation and both took refuge in the lean, but creatively free world of independent cinema. Better Luck Tomorrow tells the story of a group of high school students who use their status as academic overachievers to mask and enable their illicit activities. Finishing the Game is a mockumentary about the search for an actor to replace Bruce Lee after his unexpected death during the filming of Game of Death (1978). When considered through the lens of Asian American representation, each film becomes a provocative commentary on stereotypes, genre and cinema. As non-studio productions, Lin maintained a creative commitment to an Asian American agenda that included, among other objectives, introducing a range of multi-dimensional Asian American characters and showing how Asian America is a commercially viable audience and source of cinema. This creative independence and ethical imperative became inter-articulated with the political and cultural tactics behind the digital D.Y.I. promotional campaigns for the films. I want to save a fuller discussion of Justin Lin for another time and focus on just some of the practices that emerged from Lin’s films. My tack in exploring this topic is to study selected new media activities as part of a larger example of Asian American community organizing and political engagement in the digital age. In this regard, Lin is a pioneering figure.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

H. Porter Abbott: Hayden White on the Etymology of "Narrative"

Hayden White pointed out in his book The Content of the Form that the word “narrative” goes back to the ancient Sanskrit “gna,” a root term that means “know,” and that it comes down to us through Latin words for both “knowing” (“gnarus”) and “telling” (“narro”). This etymology catches the two sides of narrative. It is a universal tool for knowing as well as telling, for absorbing knowledge as well as expressing it. This knowledge, moreover, is not necessarily static. Narrative can be, and often is, an instrument that provokes active thinking and helps us work through problems, even as we tell about them or hear them being told. But, finally, it is also important to note that narrative can be used to deliver false information; it can be used to keep us in darkness and even encourage us to do things we should not do. This too must be kept in mind. (10-11)

Abbott, H. Porter. The Cambridge Introduction to Literature. 2nd Edition. Cambridge UP, 2008.

The Baptist Cowboy

(via my Mom :)


A cowboy, who just moved to Idaho from Texas , walks into a bar and orders three mugs of Bud. He sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When he finishes them, he comes back to the bar and orders three more.

The bartender approaches and tells the cowboy, "You know, a mug goes flat after I draw it. It would taste better if you bought one at a time."

The cowboy replies, "Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in Arizona , the other is in Colorado . When we all left our home in Texas , we promised that we'd drink this way to remember the days when we drank together. So I'm drinking one beer for each of my brothers and one for myself."

The bartender admits that this is a nice custom, and leaves it there.

The cowboy becomes a regular in the bar, and always drinks the same way. He orders three mugs and drinks them in turn

One day; he comes in and only orders two mugs. All the regulars take notice and fall silent. When he comes back to the bar for the second round, the bartender says, "I don't want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your loss."

The cowboy looks quite puzzled for a moment, then light dawns in his eyes and he laughs.

"Oh, no, everybody's just fine," he explains, "It's just that my wife and I joined the Baptist Church and I had to quit drinking."

"Hasn't affected my brothers though.."

Intelligence Squared U.S.: Should The U.S. Scale Back Relations With Israel?

Should The U.S. Scale Back Relations With Israel?
Intelligence Squared U.S. (NPR)

The special relationship between the United States and Israel is based on a history of shared intelligence, military cooperation and a reverence for the Holy Land held by many in the United States.

But does America's close relationship with Israel come at too high a cost in the Muslim world? Should the U.S. consider stepping back from that relationship?


The debate, held Feb. 9, was moderated by John Donvan, correspondent for ABC News' Nightline. Those debating were:


Roger Cohen joined The New York Times in 1990. He was a foreign correspondent for more than a decade before becoming acting foreign editor on Sept. 11, 2001, and foreign editor six months later. Since 2004 he has written a column for the Times-owned International Herald Tribune, first for the news pages and then, since 2007, for the op-ed page. In 2009, he was named a columnist of the Times.

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University. He was president of the Middle East Studies Association and was an adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the 1991-93 Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Khalidi is the author of six books, including Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood and Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness.


Stuart Eizenstat has held a number of key senior positions in three U.S. administrations, including chief White House domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter (1977-81); U.S. ambassador to the European Union, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs and deputy secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration (1993-2001). Eizenstat is currently a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP.

Itamar Rabinovich is Israel's former ambassador to the United States and was chief negotiator with Syria in the mid-1990s. He is the incumbent of the Ettinger Chair of Contemporary Middle Eastern History of Tel Aviv University and recently completed an eight-year term as the president of the university, where he has been a faculty member since 1971. He is currently a distinguished global professor at New York University and visiting professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

To Listen to the Debate

Nov 20th Student Occupation of Wheeler Hall at University of California-Berkeley

(via California Knows How to Party: No Business as Usual in UC System)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Arielle Klagsbrun: Washington University (St. Louis) Students Protest Peabody and Tell Them to Get Out of their University

WashU Students Protest Peabody and Tell Them to Get Out of their University
by Arielle Klagsbrun
It's Getting Hot In Here

After months of working on-campus to rename the Consortium for C!#@n Coal Utilization, here at Washington University, we decided to take our concerns to the source: the corporate headquarters of Peabody Energy in downtown St. Louis. Since our flashmob against our administration’s coal-sponsored “America’s Energy Future” Conference, a unanimous Student Union Senate Resolution calling for the renaming of the Consortium and a meeting with the head honchos of the Consortium have not yet yielded our goal – to remove the misleading term “c!#@n coal” from the Consortium’s name – we decided to take our concerns downtown.

This past Friday, March 26, 2010, over fifty Washington University students and St. Louis community members gathered outside of Peabody Energy to protest the company’s business practices. WashU senior Todd Zimmer laid out our demands for the crowd and for Peabody executives. “We want an end to dirty energy,” he said, “we want an end to lies about c!#@n coal, … And we want an end to the relationship between Washington University and Peabody Energy.” Many St. Louis employees emerged from their office buildings to hear our chants of “C!#@n coal, hell no, that’s a lie, it’s got to go,” and “coal, coal, no solution, we are sick of your pollution,” accompanied by a drum set, full-size banners, and signs held by protesters.

While there were many police officers – both city and Peabody security – the protest remained wholly non-violent. We had expected the Peabody security contingent; earlier this week, after the protest was advertised on Facebook and in pamphlets, an anonymous Peabody employee leaked us an internal memo. This memo alerted employees about the protest, telling them to avoid the front entrance, and described us as “anti-everything” activists.

WashU senior Jennifer Marienau dispelled this notion. “We are not anti-everything,” she told the group in a speech, “We’re not anti-community. We’re not anti-solution. We’re for people power, not destructive power.” We students ended our peaceful demonstration with a die-in. With each iteration of the chant, “No joke, coal kills!” members of the protest went fell to the ground in a symbolic representation of the millions endangered by Peabody’s dirty practices and significant contributions to climate change.

Our protest was part of the People’s Settlement, a week of action highlighting the unethical behavior of corporations in St. Louis that continually to place profits over people. Peabody certainly qualifies as one of these unscrupulous corporations. This is a company whose subsidiaries engage in the destructive and dangerous practice of mountaintop removal. This is a company that has heavily funded efforts to block all climate legislation up to this point, and is now suing the EPA over its right to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. This is a company that has adamantly denied the reality of climate change, while developing their dishonest c!#@n coal marketing campaign. This is a company that recently blackmailed St. Louis, threatening to abandon the city and move its jobs elsewhere, unless it received $10 million for “office improvements.”

To Read the Rest of the Article

"Resistance Cinema and Political Theory" (Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning: May 2010)

I'm teaching a new film course "Resistance Cinema and Political Theory" (or vice versa) at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning the month of May (Mondays 5:30-7:30) For more info and to register

Andy Kroll: JP Morgan’s War on Nature

JPMorgan’s War on Nature: How the Wall Street darling underwrites environmental Armageddon.
by Andy Kroll
Mother Jones

Unlike virtually all of its competitors, JPMorgan Chase steeled itself early for the collapse of the subprime market and emerged from the rubble of the global financial meltdown with both its balance sheet and reputation intact. But the storied firm stands alone among its Wall Street rivals in another area, too. JPMorgan backstops one of the most destructive mining practices in the world: mountaintop removal coal mining. And it continues to do so even as other major banks have cut ties to this practice.

"Chase is the single largest remaining player in this game," says Scott Edwards, advocacy director for the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental advocacy group comprised of lawyers, scientists, and activists, among others. "They just absolutely refuse to take responsibility for their role in this absolutely devastating industry."

Mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, focused in Appalachian states like West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, involves deforesting huge swaths of land and blasting the summits off of mountains to expose the black veins of coal underneath. The waste and rubble from the demolition is then dumped into nearby rivers and streams, burying local water sources in toxic byproducts, choking off tributaries that feed into larger rivers, and wiping out plants and wildlife, according to numerous scientific studies. Despite the mining industry's claims, there are no successful ways to mitigate the effects of MTR, according to Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The effects on the nearby environment, she says, are long lasting and often irreversible.

The impact of MTR mining is global, too. When mining companies deforest a mountaintop before demolition, they engage in a practice that overall contributes 25 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Between 1992 and 2012, MTR will have leveled 7 percent of Appalachian forests in areas studied by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nonetheless, over the past 17 years, JPMorgan Chase has helped to underwrite nearly 20 bond or loan deals, worth a combined $8.5 trillion, for some of the biggest players in the MTR mining business, according to data from Bloomberg. Other large banks have either halted financing companies engaging in the practice outright or signaled their intent to do so. In December 2008, for instance, Bank of America publicly announced plans to "phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal." Wells Fargo has cut ties with coal giant Massey Energy. And a Credit Suisse official says the bank has a "global mining policy" that ensures "we explicitly do not finance the extraction of coal in a mountaintop removal setting." But JPMorgan continues to back the practice.

By underwriting MTR, JPMorgan ties itself to some of the nation's biggest polluters. Take Massey Energy, which leads the nation in MTR mining. In 2008, the company extracted more than 21 million tons of coal using mountaintop removal mining, according to, an online database for coal production statistics. That same year, JPMorgan acted as lead manager on a $690 million bond offering by Massey, according to financial records.

Over the past decade, Massey has mined nearly 190 million tons of coal in Appalachia using mountaintop removal, according to—and it has essentially disregarded the law and surrounding landscape to do so. Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA's tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Keith Halladay: The Present Ammunition Shortage -- An Observation

The present ammunition shortage: an observation
By Keith Halladay
North of Center

The CCI 22 Long Rifle “Stinger” round leaves a rifle muzzle, according to the manufacturer, at 1640 feet per second, making it one of the fastest 22-caliber bullets available. Since a good part of the fun of shooting is trying new loads, in early January I took a bit of Christmas money, logged into my account at the Cabela’s online store, and began to place an order for 500 rounds of the stuff.

As I clicked through the checkout screens a message appeared to inform me that the Stingers were on backorder, and that Cabela’s was expecting a fresh shipment on March 15. “Eh,” I thought, “don’t need it now,” and I placed the order anyway.

The appointed day arrived, and while slogging through the morning email I logged back in to Cabela’s to see if my ammo had been shipped. It had not. In fact, a new message had replaced the old one: “This item is backordered. Estimate 8-9 weeks for delivery.” Confused, I called the company and spoke to a representative who told me that indeed the new shipment had arrived, but that it was of insufficient quantity to satisfy all the outstanding orders.

Now, this is 22 ammo. It’s fancy and comes in a hard plastic box instead of the mini-milk jug of bulk plinking rounds, but it’s still 22 ammo. Some rifle cartridges are tough to find, sure, but these rounds are produced by the billions, and yet were subject to multiple backorders at not only Cabela’s but all the major online retailers.

So the next day I called my gun-nut friend, who stays current with paramilitary-oriented web sites and those sorts of things, and asked, exasperated, “who in Great Caesar’s ghost is buying up all the 22 ammo?”

He chortled. “It’s Obama, man! The rednecks are buying up all the ammunition because they think he’s gonna take their guns!”

“But it’s 22 ammo,” I cried. “What do they think they’re gonna do with a bleeping 22 if they come in with tanks and helicopters?”

“I think they think that they have to get it while they still can,” he replied. “It happens every time a Democrat is elected—the rednecks buy up all the ammo and there are massive shortages. That’s why prices are so high too.”

Now, it should be noted that there are competing theories about the real cause of the present shortage. One might think, for instance, that the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have hampered some manufacturers’ abilities to provide for both military and retail consumers. Yet this cannot be the case, for the two rifle calibers most used by the U.S. armed forces, the 5.56 and 7.62 NATO cartridges, are among the easiest to find both online and in brick-and-mortar outlets. Another possibility, one especially popular among weapon hoarders, is that the government is deliberately restricting the manufacture and sale of ammunition and cartridge primers (the cap-like thing on the end of a cartridge that, when struck by the gun’s hammer, detonates the gunpowder). The idea here is that Obama (and the United Nations, in most versions), knowing outright firearms confiscation would be a tough go, figure that if there’s no ammo, then mission accomplished.

An intriguing argument to be sure, but one that, like most nutty right-wing conspiracy theories, doesn’t hold water. That we’ve been in the midst of a nationwide shortage of most types of ammunition is clear; for months the shelves at the local Wal-Marts have been nearly barren of anything but a few scattered boxes of the less-popular calibers. But it’s no conspiracy—just a whole bunch of folks buying a whole bunch of bullets, and manufacturers are struggling to keep pace. The latest Cabela’s catalog carries a bold-print notice about “unprecedented demand” and “limited availability.” And Hornady, another ammunition manufacturer, on its web site claims that they are “breaking their own production records in an attempt to keep up with customer demand.”

Link to the Rest of the Article

Mike Davis: Labor War in the Mojave Desert

Labor War in the Mojave
By Mike Davis
The Nation

The biggest hole in California, with the exception of the current state budget, is Rio Tinto's huge open-pit mine at the town of Boron, near Edwards Air Force Base, eighty miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Seen from Google Earth, it is easy to imagine that the 700-foot-deep crater was blasted out of the Mojave Desert by an errant asteroid or comet. From the vantage point of Highway 58, however, the landscape is enigmatic: a mile-long rampart of ochre earth and gray mudstone, terminating at what looks like a giant chemical refinery.

At night, when a driver's mind is most prone to legends of the desert, the complex's intense illumination is startling, even slightly extraterrestrial, like the sinister off-world mining colony in Aliens.

Terri Judd's labor owns part of this eerie landscape--or rather its void. She's a third-generation borax miner, as deeply rooted in the high desert as one of the native Joshua trees. Every working morning for the past thirteen years, she has bundled her long red hair under a hard hat, climbed up the ladder of a giant Le Tourneau wheel loader and turned on its 1,600-horsepower Detroit Diesel engine. Her air-conditioned cab perches almost treetop height above custom-made, twelve-foot-high tires that cost $30,000 each. She operates this leviathan with delicate manipulations of two joysticks, more high-skill video game than Mad Max.

In a regular twelve-and-a-half-hour shift, she ceaselessly repeats the same mechanical calisthenic: lowering her twenty-foot-wide bucket, deftly scooping up twenty-five to thirty tons of borax ore, then delivering the load to one of the mine's plants to be made into boric acid or granulated for eventual use in dozens of industrial applications, from fiberglass surfboards to HD display screens.

Each year 1 million tons of borax products are fed into hopper cars (800 of which are permanently assigned to the mine) and hauled to the LA harbor for shipment to China and other industrializing countries hungry for the caustic residue of the Mojave's ancient lakes. The Boron pit, which replaced an underground mine, produces almost half the world's supply of refined borates.

Strip-mining the Mojave may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Terri--a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm and a single mom--flat-out loves her job. "What can I say? We get to play with the big toys. I guess I was always a tomboy. I preferred Tonkas to Barbies, socket wrenches to dollhouses."

But she doesn't play alone: Big Brother is looking over her shoulder, evaluating her performance. "In effect, the boss rides with me. The GPS in my loader can be monitored not only from the plant but from Rio Tinto's US headquarters in Denver, or, for that matter, from the global head office in London."

Peeping Toms, however, don't normally perturb Terri. "There are no slackers in the pit. Our productivity is sky-high because borax mining is our family history." Indeed, a Boron workforce shrunk to less than 40 percent of its 1980 size produces record outputs despite a rapidly aging plant; an ornery, dipping ore body; and an increasingly remote and hostile management.


Terri acknowledges that her devotion to the mine has been an act of unrequited love. In last year's contract negotiations, Rio Tinto (the British-Australian multinational acquired its Boron facility, U.S. Borax, in 1968 and renamed it Rio Tinto Borax) stunned members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, ILWU, Local 30 (Boron), by demanding abolition of the contractually enshrined seniority system and the surrender of any worker voice in the labor process.

According to Dean Gehring, the latest in a succession of recent mine managers, international competition compels a drastic switch to "high-performance teams that have the flexibility to do many different jobs, and we need to reward and promote our top performers. The old contract doesn't allow us to do that."

The company wants a contract that would allow it to capriciously promote or demote; to outsource union jobs; to convert full-time to part-time positions with little or no benefits; to reorganize shift schedules without warning; to eliminate existing work rules; to cut holidays, sick leave and pension payments; to impose involuntary overtime; and to heavily penalize the union if workers file grievances against the company with the National Labor Relations Board.

Rio Tinto, in essence, claims the right to rule by divine whim, to blatantly discriminate against and even fire employees for felonies like "failing to have or maintain satisfactory inter-personal relationships with Company personnel, client personnel, contractor, and visitors."

"The company's proposal," union negotiators emphasize, "would destroy our union, lower our living standards, and give Borax total control over our jobs." On January 30, Local 30 members unanimously rejected the concessions demanded by Rio Tinto.

The company deadline expired the next morning, when Terri Judd set off for work as usual with her lunchbox and thermos. At the locked front gate she and other day-shift workers encountered a phalanx of nervous Kern County sheriff's deputies in full riot gear. Inside the plant, an elite "strike security team" hired by Rio Tinto had taken control of operations.

Delaware-based J.R. Gettier & Associates brags that it is the Home Depot of unionbusting, a one-stop source for security planners, armed guards, legal experts, industrial spies and, most important, highly skilled replacement workers. It even has staff who can operate Terri's giant loader.

The Gettier mercenaries wore sneers and dark glasses as they pushed their convoy past a crowd of angry Local 30 members. "Being locked out," says Terri, "is different from going on strike. Initially there's disbelief that the company is actually serious about booting you out the door. Hey, my granddad worked in this mine. But then you see that caravan of scabs coming to take your jobs, and the betrayal cuts like a knife in your heart."

To Read the Rest of the Article

More resources:

Democracy Now: Labor Struggle in Boron: Union Workers in CA Town Locked Out by Mining Giant Rio Tinto After Stalled Contract Talks

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sublett: Why We're Winning

Why We’re Winning.
By Sublett of the BAAM Newsletter
Decentralize TV

A curious property evident in the discussion of insurrection in the United States is that it gets more respect the further it occurs from home. Anarchists who would never dream of complaining that the Thessaloniki Food not Bombs is being neglected while its members amuse themselves burning banks, who could never conceive of suggesting that the Somali pirates stop seizing ships for ransom in order to start a bike repair collective, have no problem criticizing their own friends and comrades for shortchanging local projects to attend semi-annual mass mobilizations. This is a shame, because a look at the broader picture reveals that summit demos are taking an ongoing toll on the ruling class, even when they are tactically unsuccessful.

Just for starters, any city hosting a summit has to impose de facto martial law for the duration of the meetings. Miles-long steel security fences, bag searches on the subway, black helicopters in the sky, armor-clad riot cops on every corner, among other measures, make a mockery of the myth of “civil rights.” By employing such repressive tactics just to keep a few summit delegates from being confronted by those they claim to be helping, authority reveals its true nature, undisguised by the usual lies and propaganda. People who claim that we should abandon summit protests because we can never replicate the WTO (World Trade Organization) riots in Seattle are missing this point. While it’s true that the cops will never again allow themselves to be defeated on the street the way they were in Seattle, the things they have to do to win in the short term erode the perceived legitimacy of the entire ruling system in the medium term. If all they had to do was stop the protests they could just shoot the protesters. But since they must also maintain the illusion of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, their problem is complicated immensely. They have no good options, so it’s not a matter of whether we will win, only of how.

Their situation becomes all the worse when, after turning the host city into a militarized encampment for a week, the cops can’t even stop a few kids in black from breaking windows. The resulting frustration often leads them to attack and arrest defenseless groups and individuals who have minimal connection to the protests, further compounding their problems when the videos hit Youtube. Then to justify their own brutality, the cops make an example of a handful of protest organizers by hitting them with ridiculously inflated charges, usually for actions that most people would consider perfectly innocuous. As an added bonus, the lawsuits generated by blatantly unconstitutional arrests and searches strain city budgets, consume prosecutors’ time, and extend their PR nightmare. For authoritarians, the only thing worse than appearing brutal and repressive is appearing brutal and repressive and ineffectual. Cops, by their nature, will fall into this trap every time, as long as we show up and set it for them.

While not every big demo conforms to the above pattern exactly, the dynamic was illustrated to perfection at the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh September 24 and 25. The city imported 3,000 outside cops and 2,500 National Guard troops to augment its meager force of 877. In addition, the Pittsburgh municipal government launched a fear mongering campaign aimed at demonizing protesters, only to see it blow up in their faces when many businesses and schools drank a little too much Kool-Aid and shut down and boarded up for the week rather than face the black-clad hordes. The army of cops kept an unpermitted march of at most 2,000 from getting anywhere near the convention on the 24th, but couldn’t stop protesters from escaping back eastward and damaging stores in the Shadyside shopping district. Later that night, a Bash Back! march broke more windows in Oakland, even attacking some in a police substation. Despite being substantially outnumbered, both actions sustained minimal arrests. Unlike their counterparts at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul, Minnesota in September 2008, Pittsburgh cops didn’t retaliate by attacking permitted events. They did, however, beat, teargas and arrest protesters at an impromptu rally against police brutality, of all things, including a number of University of Pittsburgh students who were only hanging out watching. While this sort of behavior is routinely ignored in low-income communities of color, it generated an enormous amount of bad publicity for the police when applied to majority-white college students with video cameras.

And sure enough, as if following a script, the Pennsylvania cops found innocent people to scapegoat for their own incompetence. They arrested two members of the Tin Can Comms Collective, Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger, for broadcasting updates about police activity over Twitter. The two are charged, as of this writing, with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communications facility, and possession of instruments of crime. A week later, Madison’s home in New York was raided by the FBI, who seized stuffed animals, Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, and a picture of Curious George, among other incriminating items. The feds then tied Obama even more tightly to the case by launching a grand jury investigation of Madison and his wife. Madison and Wallschlaeger’s case is reminiscent of that of the RNC 8, eight anarchists who are being prosecuted under the Minnesota Patriot Act for helping organize protests against the RNC. But unlike the RNC 8, whose case has only been covered heavily in Minnesota, Madison and Wallschlaeger’s arrests were featured prominently nationwide. Jokes about “Twerrorism” began circulating almost immediately after their arrests, and many commentators pointed out the hypocrisy of the Obama administration supporting the use of Twitter by protesters in Iran while repressing the same thing in Pittsburgh. The incident tarnished Obama’s reputation as a supporter of civil rights, and future developments in the case will only exacerbate that problem.

But wait, there’s more. The Daily Show covered the anarchist protesters at the G-20—twice, no less. John Oliver’s “Tea Partiers Advise G20 Protesters” segment was a particularly biting attack on the disparity in police response between right-wing and left-wing protests. And, lest anybody be tempted to dismiss The Daily Show as mere comedy, a 2007 University of Louisiana study found it to contain as much, if not more, actual news than the average television news program, and at least one poll has shown Jon Stewart to be the United States’ most trusted newscaster. Not to mention he’s a lot funnier than Walter Cronkite ever was.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough: Changing the Story -- Story-Based Strategies for Direct Action Design

Changing the Story: Story-Based Strategies for Direct Action Design
By Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough, smartMeme Strategy and Training Project
In the Middle of the Whirlwind

Direct Action as Storytelling

Direct action is an age-old, common sense method of communal problem solving. Direct action is (quite simply) people organizing ourselves to make the changes we want to see in the world – whether it’s a community putting up their own radio transmitter to give voice to local residents, or mass civil disobedience to shut down a corporate war profiteer. Direct action is a good catch all term for any action where people step out of their scripted roles (be it as consumers, “good citizens” or apathetic spectators) and challenge the dominant expectation of obedience. When a direct action intervention is effective, it shifts power relationships in the moment it is happening, as well as builds lasting movement by leaving an imprint in our imaginations of new possibilities.

Every direct action is indeed part of the larger story that people powered movements are collectively (re)telling ourselves – and those whom we are inviting to join us — about the ability of ordinary people to organize, to govern ourselves, and to create change. Mass actions that are mobilizing large numbers of people to engage in direct action are an attempt to build a collaborative power for change that is compelling enough to confront and transform the coercive power of oppressive systems. Effective mass actions can build movement through alliances and organization, as well as reframe possibilities by effectively employing story-based strategies that can shift the assumptions underpinning our political status quo.

Narrative Power Analysis

A narrative analysis of power is the simple (but radical) recognition that humans understand the world (and our role in it) through stories, and thus all power relations have a narrative dimension. Stories are embedded with power– the power to explain and justify the status quo as well as the power to make change imaginable and necessary. Which stories define the cultural norms? Which stories are used to make meaning and shape our world? Who is portrayed as the main character, and whose story is ignored or erased? These questions are the narrative components of the physical relationships of power and privilege, the unequal access to resources, and denials of self-determination that define much of the global system.

Although the coercive aspects of physical, brute-force power are often more familiar and visible (police brutality, military occupation, economic intimidation etc.) narrative power can be equally coercive. The mythologies of Plymouth Rock, Manifest Destiny, Ellis Island and the American Dream are the pop-cultural histories that still haunt much of the political discourse today. Powerful interests routinely use propaganda, information warfare and the alluring buzz of the global advertising and marketing complex to de-mobilize social movements. When we are working to change the dominant stories about race, immigration, war and protecting the planet, these narratives are already in people’s heads acting as filters to our social change messages and often times limiting people’s sense of what is possible.

Telling a good story can provide new information, but more importantly it can also be help change attitudes and assumptions by reframing an issue or engaging people’s values to mobilize them to take action. Movements and campaigns that are pushing for sweeping changes in current policies must first and foremost win in the realm of ideas by changing the story that the public has around an issue. This means critically applying a narrative power analysis to identify the underlying assumptions that need to shift, and then telling a story that can challenge and change those assumptions.

Direct Action at the Point of Assumption

Across the planet people from all walks of life are taking action to intervene in the systems of domination and control. These interventions come at many places – from the point of destruction where resource extraction is devastating intact ecosystems, indigenous lands and local communities, to the point of production where workers are organizing in the sweatshops and factories of the world. Solidarity actions spring up at the point of consumption where the products that are made from unjust processes are sold, and inevitably communities of all types take direct actions at the point of decision to confront the decision makers who have the power to make the changes they need.

All of these physical points of intervention (and many more) are essential. However, our direct actions must do more than just temporarily disrupt business as usual because business as usual is a lot more than any one corporate meeting, event or specific destructive policy. Business as usual is a product of an elite world-view that defines the norms and priorities of the system and the parameters of the possible. Beyond the economic and political connections of the global system, business as usual is a dominant story told by the power holders that justifies their actions. A story-based strategy ensures that as we are intervening at a physical point of intervention (say the carefully stage managed spectacle of a modern political parties’ national convention) that we must be intervening in the power holder’s story as well.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

John Vidal: Billionaires and Mega-Corporations Behind Immense Land Grab in Africa

Billionaires and Mega-Corporations Behind Immense Land Grab in Africa
By John Vidal, Mail & Guardian

Awassa, Ethiopia -- We turned off the main road to Awassa, talked our way past security guards and drove a mile across empty land before we found what will soon be Ethiopia's largest greenhouse. Nestling below an escarpment of the Rift Valley, the development is far from finished, but the plastic and steel structure already stretches over 50 acres* -- the size of 20 soccer fields.

The farm manager shows us millions of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables being grown in 1,500 foot rows in computer controlled conditions. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technology minimises water use from two bore-holes and 1,000 women pick and pack 50 tons of food a day. Within 24 hours, it has been driven 200 miles to Addis Ababa and flown 1,000 miles to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13-million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 7.5 million acres of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.

The 2,500 acres of land which contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2-billion acquiring and developing 1.25 million acres of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

Land rush

An Observer investigation estimates that up to 125 million acres of land -- an area more than double the size of the UK -- has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies. The data used was collected by Grain, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the International Land Coalition, ActionAid and other non-governmental groups.

The land rush, which is still accelerating, has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages which followed the sharp oil price rises in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union's insistence that 10% of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015.

In many areas the deals have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of "land grabbing".

The experience of Nyikaw Ochalla, an indigenous Anuak from the Gambella region of Ethiopia now living in Britain but who is in regular contact with farmers in his region, is typical. He said: "All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.

"The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.

"All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry."

To Read the Rest of the Article

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Grit TV: Arundhati Roy -- Becoming Internal Security Threats

(via Truthout)

Grit TV

Novelist, activist, journalist, internal security threat? Arundhati Roy joins us for a special conversation about her journey into the forest in the heart of India to talk to Maoist revolutionaries.

Roy talks with Laura about resistance and struggle, war and colonialism, how you can't fire bullets at an ideology, and why we should all become internal security threats.

SubMedia: Naomi Klein's Controversial Speech

(From 2008, but makes even more sense now...)


Jesse McKinley: Legal-Marijuana Advocates Focus on a New Green

Legal-Marijuana Advocates Focus on a New Green
The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Perhaps only in California could a group of marijuana smokers call themselves fiscal realists.

And yet, faced with a $20 billion deficit, strained state services and regular legislative paralysis, voters in California are now set to consider a single-word solution to help ease some of the state’s money troubles: legalize.

On Wednesday, the California secretary of state certified a November vote on a ballot measure that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, a plan that advocates say could raise $1.4 billion and save precious law enforcement and prison resources.

Indeed, unlike previous efforts at legalization — including a failed 1972 measure in California — the 2010 campaign will not dwell on assertions of marijuana’s harmlessness or its social acceptance, but rather on cold cash.

“We need the tax money,” said Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, a trade school for marijuana growers, in Oakland, who backed the ballot measure’s successful petition drive. “Second, we need the tax savings on police and law enforcement, and have that law enforcement directed towards real crime.”

Supporters are hoping to raise $10 million to $20 million for the campaign, primarily on the Internet, with national groups planning to urge marijuana fans to contribute $4.20 at a time, a nod to 420, a popular shorthand for the drug.

The law would permit licensed retailers to sell up to one ounce at a time. Those sales would be a new source of sales tax revenue for the state.

Opponents, however, scoff at the notion that legalizing marijuana could somehow help with the state’s woes. They tick off a list of social ills — including tardiness and absenteeism in the workplace — that such an act would contribute to.

“We just don’t think any good is going to come from this,” said John Standish, president of the California Peace Officers Association, whose 3,800 members include police chiefs and sheriffs. “It’s not going to better society. It’s going to denigrate it.”

To Read the Rest of the Article

Saturday, March 27, 2010

John Nichols: Banking for the People

Banking for the People
By John Nichols
The Nation

That's a question that a growing number of candidates and legislators across the country are answering with proposals to create state-owned banks. Though these initiatives borrow from an old model--North Dakota has run a successful state bank since 1919--they are a response to a new reality: the hundreds of billions of public dollars plowed into big banks by the federal bailout have done little to free credit for job creation or economic development in recession-ravaged communities. So, taking a cue from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and other critics of private-bank bailouts, latter-day populists are proposing to put public money to work for the public good.

Oregon Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Bradbury is calling for the creation of a Bank of Oregon, which would keep money in the state and invest in sustainable development. "It is time to declare economic sovereignty from the multinational banks that are responsible for much of our current economic crisis," says the former State Senate president and secretary of state. "Every year we ship over a billion dollars in Oregon taxpayer dollars to out-of-state and multinational banks in the form of deposits, only to see that money invested elsewhere. It's time to put our money to work for Oregonians."

Michigan's Virg Bernero, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in that hard-hit state, is another public-banking proponent. "We can break the credit crunch and beat Wall Street at their own game by keeping our money right here in Michigan and investing it to retool our economy and create jobs," says the populist mayor of Lansing. In Illinois, Green Party gubernatorial nominee Rich Whitney, who won 10 percent of the statewide vote in 2006, proposes depositing all state tax revenues and pension contributions in a state bank. "Instead of using state funds as a means to further enrich private banks, a state-owned bank could earn additional revenue for the state while at the same time help spur economic development in Illinois," he argues.

It is not just candidates who are talking up bold remedies to the challenges created and perpetuated by "too big to fail" banks. Legislators from Vermont to Virginia, from Michigan to Washington State, are proposing to start state banks. They take inspiration from the Bank of North Dakota, created ninety-one years ago by radical Non-Partisan Leaguers to serve as the depository for all state tax collections and fees. The nation's only state-owned bank avoided subprime lending and the derivatives markets during the recent real estate bubble and now has $4 billion under management. It maintains the faith of its founders and, in the words of bank president Eric Hardmeyer, continues to "plow those deposits back into the state of North Dakota in the form of loans. We invest back into the state in economic development type of activities." What that means, according to Ellen Brown, author of the book Web of Debt, is that North Dakota has avoided the credit freeze "by creating its own credit [and] leading the nation in establishing state economic sovereignty."

That sounds good to Massachusetts Senate president Therese Murray, who wants her state to look into creating its own bank. Washington House finance committee vice chair Bob Hasegawa, a Seattle Democrat, has formally proposed a State Bank of Washington. "Imagine financing student aid, infrastructure, industry and community development. Imagine providing access to capital for small businesses, or otherwise leveraging our resources instead of having to do it with tax incentives," he says. "Imagine keeping our resources local instead of exporting them as profits, never to be seen again--that's what this bank could do."

To Read the Rest

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Presentation for Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

Punk Rock Warlord 1952 - 2002

The documentary is framed by the radio show London Calling that Joe Strummer hosted. Here is a link to MP3s of some of the shows.

Punk (the political thread) was influenced by the political activism of 1960s/1970s, especially the sense that another world could be created if only people would cast off their ideological chains.

However they viewed this utopian possibility as having been co-opted by global capitalism and the radical power of rock music as having been turned into a tool for brainwashing the people to becoming mindless consumers. Punks rejected the excesses of mainstream rock in which corporate created musicians where to be treated like "GODS" and the mindlessly corporate produced music that was disconnected from the realities of the people who listened to their music. Here is a Youtube video of a contemporary band that celebrates the excess that punk was rejecting:

Rock n Roll was originally powerfully subversive and the corporate system had co-opted it for consumerism. Punk was played by and for working class youths, many of them living on the streets, or squatting, or crashing where they could. Early innovators of Punk looked back to the earlier garage-style rock (sometimes referred to retrospectively as proto-punk) like Iggy Pop/Stooges for its no-holds, kick ass attitude and shocking performances (Iggy Pop would roll in broken glass from bottles thrown on stage, dive into crowds from the stage, strip off his clothes, etc...):

I Wanna Be Your Dog

Search and Destroy

Iggy and the Stooges live performance 1970

Punk rock musical style:

Fast, hard-edged music. Short songs, without electronic/computer enhancement.

Lyrics are very political (Clash) or reflect a nihilistic outlook (Sex Pistols "No Future") or seizing enjoyment of the moment.

Early Punk Songs:

Sex Pistols "Anarchy in the UK" (nihilistic stripped down punk)

Clash "London Calling"

Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop"

Richard Hell & the Voidoids "Blank Generation"

X-Ray Spex "Oh Bondage, Up Yours"

Dead Kennedys "Holiday in Cambodia"

Some Cultural Influences:

Some Cultural Influences on Punk:

1916-1922: Dada

Dada or Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in Zürich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1922. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature—poetry, art manifestoes, art theory—theatre, and graphic design, and concentrated its anti-war politics through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works. Its purpose was to ridicule what its participants considered to be the meaninglessness of the modern world. In addition to being anti-war, dada was also anti-bourgeois and anarchistic in nature.
Dada activities included public gatherings, demonstrations, and publication of art/literary journals; passionate coverage of art, politics, and culture were topics often discussed in a variety of media. The movement influenced later styles like the avant-garde and downtown music movements, and groups including surrealism, Nouveau réalisme, pop art, Fluxus and punk rock.

1957 – 1972: Situationism

The Situationist International (SI) was a restricted group of international revolutionaries founded in 1957, and which had its peak in its influence on the unprecedented general wildcat strikes of May 1968 in France.

With their ideas rooted in Marxism and the 20th century European artistic avant-gardes, they advocated experiences of life being alternative to those admitted by the capitalist order, for the fulfillment of human primitive desires and the pursuing of a superior passional quality. For this purpose they suggested and experimented with the construction of situations, namely the setting up of environments favorable for the fulfillment of such desires. Using methods drawn from the arts, they developed a series of experimental fields of study for the construction of such situations, like unitary urbanism and psychogeography.

They fought against the main obstacle on the fulfillment of such superior passional living, identified by them in advanced capitalism. Their theoretical work peaked on the highly influential book The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. Debord argued in 1967 that spectacular features like mass media and advertising have a central role in an advanced capitalist society, which is to show a fake reality in order to mask the real capitalist degradation of human life. To overthrow such a system, the Situationist International supported the May '68 revolts, and asked the workers to occupy the factories and to run them with direct democracy, through workers' councils composed by instantly revocable delegates.

After publishing in the last issue of the magazine an analysis of the May 1968 revolts, and the strategies that will need to be adopted in future revolutions, the SI was dissolved in 1972.

1960s – Present: Autonomism/Autonomen/Anarchism

Autonomism refers to a set of left-wing political and social movements and theories close to the socialist movement. Autonomism (autonomia), as an identifiable theoretical system, first emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerist (operaismo) communism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of the Italian far-left movements in the 1970s and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio Marxist group, Mario Tronti, Paolo Virno, etc. It influenced the German and Dutch Autonomen, the worldwide Social Centre movement, and today is influential in Italy, France, and to a significantly lesser extent the English-speaking countries. Those who describe themselves as autonomists now vary from Marxists to post-structuralists and anarchists.


Squatting consists of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use. According to author Robert Neuwirth, there are one billion squatters globally, that is, about one in every six people on the planet. Yet, according to Kesia Reeve, "squatting is largely absent from policy and academic debate and is rarely conceptualized, as a problem, as a symptom, or as a social or housing movement."

Anarchist Colin Ward comments: "Squatting is the oldest mode of tenure in the world, and we are all descended from squatters. This is as true of the Queen [of the United Kingdom] with her 176,000 acres (710 km2) as it is of the 54 per cent of householders in Britain who are owner-occupiers. They are all the ultimate recipients of stolen land, for to regard our planet as a commodity offends every conceivable principle of natural rights." "The country is riddled with empty houses and there are thousands of homeless people. When squatters logically put the two together the result can be electrifying, amazing and occasionally disastrous."
Besides being residences, some squats are used as social centres or host give-away shops, pirate radio stations or cafés. In Spanish-speaking countries, squatters receive several names, such as okupas in Spain or Argentina (from the verb ocupar meaning "to occupy"), or paracaidistas in Mexico (meaning "paratroopers", because they "parachute" themselves at unoccupied land).

CFP: Steal Something From Work Day (March 30)

(via Comrades in Arms)

We're soliciting stories about workplace theft for a journal that will appear in early April, in honor of STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK DAY. Obviously, they should be anonymous and fictionalized. A simple paragraph will suffice, though if one of you sends in the War and Peace of employee revenge, we won't complain.

Send stories to The deadline is this Tuesday, March 30.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Laura Eldridge: 50 Years Later -- The Dark Side of Birth Control

(via Seven Stories Press)

50 Years Later: The Dark Side of Birth Control
by Laura Eldridge

As we get ready, in 2010, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hormonal contraception in the United States, women have every right to stand up and cheer for a birth control option that has revolutionized how effective a contraceptive can be. "The Pill" and its descendants have indeed provided women with a unique tool that has changed the terms in which women control their social and professional choices.

Amidst all the applause, though, let us not oversimplify the history of a drug that has often coupled danger with opportunity, and indeed reinforced some serious inequities even as it promised to enhance women's rights. Today, 50 years later, ovulation suppression through hormonal drugs still harbors many adverse effects, which range from mood swings and diminished libido to fatalities from blood clots. The innovation itself emerged at the cost of experimentation on poor women, and came, in part, out of a desire to control the fertility of poor populations.

... Women have certainly seen their lives and opportunities transformed in the past fifty years. While the pill is one powerful player in this remarkable story, this revolution has occurred largely through the persistent efforts of women (in multiple contexts and conditions) on their own behalves. The pill did not create second wave feminism. And likewise, it did not create all the changes that that remarkable movement oversaw. Those things happened because courageous women were willing to sacrifice and fight over time for them. In recent years, the reproductive justice movement, powerfully led in many cases by feminists of color, has made the point that single-mindedly striving for the right to birth control and abortion ignores the complex power systems that too often dictate the terms in which women make decisions about their health in general and their reproductive and sexual health in particular.

And that brings us to the current moment. As the pill starts its second half-century, women find themselves dealing with many of the same old problems. Access to health care is deeply unequal: many go uninsured and many more lack basic education about their bodies and sexual health. While the shocking sterilization abuses of poor women and women of color that persisted into the nineteen eighties have been curtailed, the experience of Norplant in the nineteen nineties showed that new and potentially dangerous products are still marketed disproportionately to these women.

Doctors still pressure women to use pharmaceutical birth control and dismiss concerns about side effects and dangers revealing that while women have entered the medical profession, they have not been immune to perpetuating sexism and perhaps even more distressingly, drug company agendas.

Women have come to accept with little question that contraception should be their responsibility. Even in an age when HIV/AIDS has brought new relevance to condom use, women still struggle with partners who insist that it is better for them to bear the costs of contraception in their veins than cause sexual inconvenience. And of course all these years later there is still no "pill for men" or modern contraceptive equivalent for male bodies.

In fact there has been very little contraceptive innovation at all. Drug companies, burned by law suits with the pill, Dalkon Shield IUD and more recent devices such as Norplant have largely decided that the pill (and other hormonal contraceptives) are "good enough." Repackaging of the same old drugs--in the form of implants, injections, rings, patches and chewables--are sold as innovation and pills promising to eliminate periods show the way in which contraceptives are being subtly re-branded as lifestyle drugs.

Rarely in any contraceptive debate is the issue of respecting a woman's natural reproductive cycle raised. If men were asked to take a hormonal therapy that would cut off the healthy production of their sex cells, would they take it? Would they take it if it would reduce their sexual appetite and adversely affected their moods? Would they take it if it increased their risks of developing high blood pressure, metabolic problems, certain cancers and having a stroke? Maybe. Yet, women everyday take on these risks to suppress ovulation without ever considering whether they are loosing something essential when they do so.

The pill has indeed helped women to write heroic chapters in their histories. It has provided a contraceptive efficacy that was only a dream before, and other health benefits such as some protection against ovarian cancer and relief for women with severe menstrual distress. But it is not a silver bullet.

And even today it poses serious health questions and comes with a host of side effects. As we stand on this important anniversary, perhaps we need to do the thing that seems to be the hardest: to appreciate this remarkable innovation while also being honest about its limitations. To give credit to this exceptional tool while also frankly acknowledging the sometimes difficult histories that have allowed to it take its current position of prominence in the contraceptive landscape. We need, once again, to broaden the conversation, educating women to make responsible decisions about birth control that would respect other birth control choices. And even as we enjoy and use this amazing product, we need to keep pushing and fighting for something better.

Laura Eldridge is the author of In Our Control: The Complete Guide to Contraceptive Choices For Women, the first step in broadening the conversation about birth control to include, evaluate and promote all available alternatives to the Pill. She is also the editor, with the late Barbara Seaman, of the anthology The Body Politic: Dispatches from the Women's Health Revolution. Both books will be published in June by Seven Stories Press. The above article originally appeared in full at AlterNet.

John Thornton: Long Odds on Texas Education

Long Odds on Texas Education
by John Thornton
Seven Stories Press

So on March 13, conservatives in the Texas State Board of Education managed to radically rewrite state-mandated curricula for the social sciences. They made the following changes:

* The US government is no longer to be described as "democratic," but exclusively as "constitutional."

* Students are no longer required to learn that the Constitution prohibits the government from establishing one religion as superior to others. Separation between church and state as a guiding principle of the government is no longer to be emphasized, or necessarily mentioned.

* Thomas Jefferson is out as an Enlightenment thinker, replaced by dominionist Christian go-to figure John Calvin.

* The curriculum is no longer allowed to refer to sex and gender as social constructs -- otherwise, students might be exposed to "transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else."

* The mention that Tejanos fought at the Alamo is to be omitted. (This is a big deal if you come from Texas and had to learn about the Alamo literally every year of your life until you were 16 -- it's a different Alamo without Mexican people in the picture.)

* Sociology students are no longer required to consider the possibility that American societal institutions are racist by design.

* The rise of the Moral Majority, the fight against the ERA, and Newt Gingrich's Contract With America are now required subjects in any history class, to be taught as significant cultural movements of the 1980s. Hip-hop, on the other hand, is not to be referred to as a significant cultural movement of the 1980s. (Chuck D's "Fight The Power" is another thing we never learned about in Texas schools.)

At least they got rid of the requirement to include the idea, when teaching the civil rights movement, that the movement was ultimately a failure, leading to "unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes."

I'm a product of the Texas public education system. I didn't know about the existence of the Stonewall Riots until I was 23. There's no reason it should have been so late: I was interested in modern LGBT rights debates, had read things like Confessions of a Mask and The Immoralist and far too many William Burroughs books. I knew that logically, there had to have been some signal moment at which LGBT people popped into visibility as a viable political force. Still, I didn't know about the existence of the Stonewall Riots until I was 23. Similarly, I didn't realize that our neighborhood's name for pick-up football -- "Smear the Queer" -- referred to the act of beating up a gay person, and when Matthew Shepard was talked about at all, it was as an entry point to the argument that hate crime laws involved the government violating free speech.

Texas, our Texas, huh?

What's so chilling about all of this to me is that it would literally never have occurred to me that events like Stonewall -- or Compton's Cafeteria, or the pie in Anita Bryant's face -- had happened, that LGBT people had actually won their acknowledgment by society through violent resistance, rather than waiting around patiently for their turn. I only learned about these events basically by chance: I read enough and was interested in enough that sooner or later, statistically, I was going to hit that data point.

So what about people who don't boost their statistical chances of learning things in that way? All you've got is your basic public education, and the off-chance that something you're professionally or personally interested in -- for a lot of my old classmates, computer science or mechanical engineering professionally, movies involving car racing or interplanetary war personally -- will combine with some knowledge that an oppressed group in America stood up and fought back and won some kind of right, that your government was designed to work in certain ways. If that alchemy doesn't hit, public education is it for the rest of your life.

An old classmate and I were arguing shortly after 9/11. He's since become an industrial engineer, a good one, and a born-again Christian who advocated seizing "suspects" without trial and using torture to extract information in order to "win the War on Terror." "What about the Fourteenth Amendment?" I asked. "What about the Eighth Amendment?"

"There are parts of the Constitution that are like rotten wood," he said. "They deserve to fall away." On the wall behind him was a poster of the Statue of Liberty giving the finger.

You have to forget everything you know about how the government works to say a thing like that. And if those lessons had never been there in the first place? If they're not required elements in a curriculum increasingly loaded with required No Child Left Behind test prep taking up two days out of every five, taught by underpaid instructors with zero professional stake in going beyond the strict letter of the Board of Education's law?

I'm not talking here about random violent rednecks working in gas stations in the Great Dark Regions of North America. The problem with education in the South has to do with a class of reasonably elite people -- technologists, businessmen, even teachers themselves -- who will not seek out knowledge for its own sake, and who will grow up with only a remote statistical chance of learning that violent resistance to the status quo is not only a part of our history, but a desirable and necessary part. These are the people who start tea parties. These are the people who donate to the Palin 2012 campaign. These are the people that the Board of Education wants to generate more of.

So what do we do about this mess in the Lone Star State?

I wouldn't have known about Russell Means or Wounded Knee, either -- neither were on the standard Texas educational curriculum at the time, to my knowledge -- had it not been for an excellent teacher, Mrs. Walkup, who taught my ninth grade U.S. History.

"From now on as you move out into the world," she said on the first day of class, "you need to arm yourself intellectually against people. Everyone you meet has a political agenda, whether they know it or not, and they're going to try to influence you toward believing in that agenda. You need to be able to recognize that, and to avoid being taken in."

"How do we know you're not trying to push an agenda on us?" asked a student.

"You don't," she said.

And for all her virtues, all her willingness to talk about COINTELPRO, AIM and everything else, her agenda never included Stonewall.

This kind of local resistance is nice work, as a student, if you're lucky enough to get it on your course schedule -- and lucky enough to live in socioeconomic circumstance that permit the hiring and retention of such a teacher. But for ten years, Texas students are going to have to depend exclusively on that kind of luck for any kind of balanced view of the world.

And, of course, they'll rely on textbook publishers, who are now faced with a choice: do I tailor my books for national distribution and sale to the newly-corrupted Texas curriculum? Or do I take the long-term view that it is not a good thing to have a generation of technologists and businessmen who grow up without knowing that if a minority group wants something, they generally have to fight the power for it?

As a textbook publisher, do I lose money by taking that long-term view, and is it worth it? How long are those odds, in the end?

John Thornton is an editor at Seven Stories Press.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Keith Olbermann: GOP Self Destruction Imminent

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wire: Being Sucked In Again

(Courtesy of Rob Sica)

Andy Beckett: Santiago Dreaming

Santiago dreaming
When Pinochet's military overthrew the Chilean government 30 years ago, they discovered a revolutionary communication system, a 'socialist internet' connecting the whole country. Its creator? An eccentric scientist from Surrey. Andy Beckett on the forgotten story of Stafford Beer
The Guardian

During the early 70s, in the wealthy commuter backwater of West Byfleet in Surrey, a small but rather remarkable experiment took place. In the potting shed of a house called Firkins, a teenager named Simon Beer, using bits of radios and pieces of pink and green cardboard, built a series of electrical meters for measuring public opinion. His concept - users of his meters would turn a dial to indicate how happy or unhappy they were with any political proposal - was strange and ambitious enough. And it worked. Yet what was even more jolting was his intended market: not Britain, but Chile.

Unlike West Byfleet, Chile was in revolutionary ferment. In the capital Santiago, the beleaguered but radical marxist government of Salvador Allende, hungry for innovations of all kinds, was employing Simon Beer's father, Stafford, to conduct a much larger technological experiment of which the meters were only a part. This was known as Project Cybersyn, and nothing like it had been tried before, or has been tried since.

Stafford Beer attempted, in his words, to "implant" an electronic "nervous system" in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly more equal and responsive than before - a sort of socialist internet, decades ahead of its time.

When the Allende administration was deposed in a military coup, the 30th anniversary of which falls this Thursday, exactly how far Beer and his British and Chilean collaborators had got in constructing their hi-tech utopia was soon forgotten. In the many histories of the endlessly debated, frequently mythologised Allende period, Project Cybersyn hardly gets a footnote. Yet the personalities involved, the amount they achieved, the scheme's optimism and ambition and perhaps, in the end, its impracticality, contain important truths about the most tantalising leftwing government of the late 20th century.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Micah White's Thought Bubble: Junk Thought

Red Moon: Menstruation, Culture & the Politics of Gender (Diana Fabianova, 2009)

Red Moon: Menstruation, Culture & the Politics of Gender
Media Education Foundation

When filmmaker Diana Fabianova reached puberty, she found herself irremediably trapped in menstrual etiquette. She carefully hid the evidence from her father and brother first, and later on, from most of the other men in her life. And no matter how bad she felt, she pretended she was fine. The taboo far exceeded the scope of her family: it was all around her. Periods were a "girl thing." Periods were shameful. Periods were inappropriate for public discussion. End of the story? Not quite. Something in her was reluctant to accept and suffer in silence. Why did the sign of what all societies consider a blessing -- women's ability to give birth -- happen to be described with names and expressions like "the curse" (in England), the "English war debarquement" (in France), and "to be on the rags" (in the U.S.)?

With humor and refreshing candor, Fabianova's Red Moon provides a fascinating, often ironic, take on the absurd and frequently dangerous cultural stigmas and superstitions surrounding women's menstruation. As educational as it is liberating, the film functions as both a myth-busting overview of the realities of menstruation, and a piercing cultural analysis of the ways in which struggles over meaning and power have played out through history on the terrain of women's bodies. Ideal for use in women's studies and health courses, as well as classes in anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies.

To Preview the Film

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Doonesbury: These People Need a New Metaphor -- The Twisted Logic of the Tea Party


Thom Hartmann: The Real Boston Tea Party was Against the Wal-Mart of the 1770s

Bab'Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul (Tunisia: Nacer Khemir, 2008)

(I bought this film last year in San Francisco and finally had the opprotunity to watch it. Stunning visual poem by the Tunisian filmmaker/poet Nacer Khemir--powerful meditation on the human spirit, the great unknown, longing/belonging, belief/faith and the power of stories.)

Bab'Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul (Tunisia: 2008)
Released by Typecast Films

A Celebration of Herbert Reid’s career and influence (University of Kentucky: 3/25/10)

You are invited:

A Celebration of Herbert Reid’s career and influence

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

in the Niles Gallery of the Lucille Little Fine Arts Building, University of Kentucky

Events begin at 3pm and 7:30pm

3pm: Panel Discussion of Herb Reid’s career and influence

Discussants: Hugh Bartling, Alan Banks, Virginia Blum, Stephen Fisher, Randy Ihara, Thomas Lairson, Dana Nelson, Christopher Rice, Shaunna Scott, and others

7:30pm: Celebration of Herb Reid and publication of Recovering the Commons

The Provost will provide opening remarks

Guest Speakers: Mary Hufford, Professor of Folklore and Folklife, UPenn, Hwa Yol Jung, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Moravian University

Sponsored by UK Appalachian Studies, UK Appalachian Center and UK Political Science

Call 859-257-4852 or visit for more information

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Colloquy: #18 "B for Bad Cinema"

Issue #18: "B for Bad Cinema"

Introduction: B for Bad Cinema
Julia Vassilieva and Claire Perkins

Excremental Ecstasy, Divine Defecation and Revolting Reception: Configuring a Scatological Gaze in Trash Filmmaking
Zoe Gross

“They don’t call ’em exploitation movies for nothing!”: Joe Bob Briggs and the Critical Commentary on I Spit on Your Grave
Tristan Fidler

Erasing the B out of Bad Cinema: Remaking Identity in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Craig Frost

“Fucking Americans”: Postmodern Nationalisms in the Contemporary Splatter Film
Phoebe Fletcher

Their Time Has Come: Bad Cinema Nerds as Late-Capitalist Paradigm
Mark Steven

Snakes on a Plane and the prefabricated cult film
Kirsten Stevens

“Bad Form”: Contemporary Cinema’s Turn to the Perverse. David Lynch: Lost Highway (1997) Lars von Trier: Breaking the Waves (1996)
Hester Joyce and Scott Wilson

The Other Side of Indonesia: New Order’s Indonesian Exploitation Cinema as Cult Films
Ekky Imanjaya

Doing It for the Kids: Rebels and Prom Queens in the Cold War Classroom Film
Anika Ervin-Ward

Family Demons: The Ghost as Domestic Inheritance
Donna McRae

B for Bad, B for Bogus and B for Bold: Rupert Kathner, The Glenrowan Affair and Ned Kelly
Stephen Gaunson

Horror-Ritual: Horror Movie Villains as Collective Representations, Uncanny Metaphors and Ritual Transgressors
Mario Rodriguez

From Kracauer to Clover: Some Reflections on Genre and Gender in 70s/80s Slasher Films
Tyson Namow

General Articles

Roland Barthes's Photobiographies: Towards an “Exemption from Meaning”
Fabien Arribert-Narce

A Re-evaluation of Literature in Active and Critical Audience Studies
John Budarick

Adding ‘Pull’ to ‘Push’ Education in the Context of Neomillennial E-learning: YouTube and the Case of “Diagnosis Wenckebach”
Julie Willems

Arriving in the Future: The Utopia of Here and Now in the Work of Modern-Day Mystics From Eric Fromm to Eckhart Tolle
Thomas Reuter

Ash’s Stasi File as a Script of Life
Catherine Karen Roy

Book Reviews

Geoff Page. 60 Classic Australian Poems. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2009.
Robert Savage

William Marderness. How to Read a Myth. New York: Humanity Books, 2009.
Geoff Berry

Charles Bukowski. Hollywood. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2007.
Geoff Berry

David Damrosch, ed. Teaching World Literature. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2009.
Geoff Berry

Robert Savage. Hölderlin after the Catastrophe: Heidegger –Adorno – Brecht. Rochester NY: Camden House, 2009.
David Blencowe

To Access Issue #18

Hambone Blues Rumshack: #38 Mississippi on My Mind

#38 Mississippi on My Mind
Hambone Blues Rumshack

The Mississippi on my mind episode. A lot of acoustic tunes this week and Mississippi keeps appearing. Music from New Zealand, UK, US, Italy and Denmark.


Darren Watson - All Going Wrong
Robin Hoare Band - Ain't No Perfect Man
Rusty Wright Band - Pretty Little Lies
Tom Rigney - Rigo's Blues
Kyla Brox - All Breaking Down
Bob Meyer - Got To Get
Papaleg Acoustic Duo - Long Distance Call
Chris Cotton - Morgan City, Mississippi
Eden Brent - Darkness On The Delta
Eden Brent - Mississippi Number One
Thorbjørn Risager - Down Home Blues
Thorbjørn Risager - You Walked Right In

To Listen to the Show

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Charles Gaskins: Mystery Action #54

Mystery Action #54
Garage Punk Podcast
Host: Charles Gaskins

... I’ve put together TWO HOURS of pure greatness in one show! It’s kind of a retrospective, if you will. A look back at the last three years of Mystery Action. Forty-Six songs sure to have you begging for more, not tired and bored. Only favorites. Too many bands to name off, but I’m playing mostly ’60s and modern garage with sprinkles of punk, country, surf, and white-boy R&B. In the new year I’ll donate an hour to nothing but soul and rhythm and blues, so hang tight! Punk’s not dead, he’s just resting.

To Listen to the Show

Richard Adams: Tampon-makers can't mention the V-word. Period.

Tampon-makers can't mention the V-word. Period.
An advertising campaign for tampons is rejected by US television networks for daring to include the word vagina
by Richard Adams
The Guardian

For years, advertising for tampons and "sanitary products" have been shrouded in nebulous euphemism. So what happens when a US tampon-maker drops the coy messaging and goes straight for the jugular (so to speak)? Its ad gets banned by the major US television networks for mentioning the word vagina.

Even when the company substituted "down there" for vagina, two of the networks still wouldn't run the ad, so the company was forced to drop the idea altogether. That provoked Amanda Hess, author of The Sexist blog, to observe: "Now, the commercial contains no direct references to female genitalia – you know, the place where the fucking tampon goes."

An executive for Kimberly-Clark, the owner of Kotex, notes that US TV networks have no such compunction about references to "erectile dysfunction" in prime-time ads for Viagra and Ciallis.

The New York Times reports that the campaign – produced by the advertising agency JWT, part of WPP – for tampon brand Kotex was "a bit too frank" for US television:

Merrie Harris, global business director at JWT, said that after being informed that it could not use the word vagina in advertising by three broadcast networks, it shot the ad cited above with the actress instead saying "down there", which was rejected by two of the three networks. (Both Ms Harris and representatives from the brand declined to specify the networks.)

"It's very funny because the whole spot is about censorship," Ms Harris said. "The whole category has been very euphemistic, or paternalistic even, and we're saying, enough with the euphemisms, and get over it. Tampon is not a dirty word, and neither is vagina."

To read the rest, access links, and view video of the ad

FAIR: CNN Scrapes Bottom of Right-Wing Barrel With Erickson Hire

CNN Scrapes Bottom of Right-Wing Barrel With Erickson Hire
FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)
Action Alert

Since Glenn Beck left Headline News for Fox, CNN executives apparently feel that their staff is short on unbalanced hatemongers. To make up the gap, they've just hired Erick Erickson as a political commentator.

"Prominent conservative commentator and editor Erick Erickson will join CNN as a political contributor," CNN announced in a March 16 press release. "Erickson will appear weeknights on John King, USA, which launches Monday, March 22, as well as provide perspective and commentary to other programs across the network."

Who is Erickson? Well, he's a racist who declared that Barack Obama won the Nobel Prize because of "affirmative action quotas" (Think Progress, 10/9/09). He's a misogynist who suggested that "feminazis were enraged" by an anti-abortion Super Bowl ad because "that's what being too ugly to get a date does to your brain." He urged that "ugly feminists return to their kitchens" (Media Matters, 2/8/10). He's a homophobe who asserted that "the full gay rights agenda" means that "men and boys can have sexual relationships free of prudish moral people frowning" (Media Matters, 10/9/09).

He's an all-around nasty human being who, upon Justice David Souter's retirement, called him "the only goat-fucking child molester to ever serve on the Supreme Court" (Crooks and Liars, 5/1/09). He declared that White House spokesperson Linda Douglass "really is the Joseph Goebbels of the White House healthcare shop" (TPM, 10/12/09). Meanwhile, he suggested that Obama might be worse than Hitler, writing, "Does it say more about the IOC or Obama that the IOC gave Hitler the Olympics, but not Obama?"

To Read the Rest of the Report