Friday, July 30, 2010

Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements, and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States

I recently received this extensive collection of essays Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements, and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States on contemporary radical organizing and action... below is the announcement for the book and here is the introduction that is available online: "Sowing Radical Currents in the Ashes of Yesteryear: The Many Uses of a Whirlwind"

Valerie Strauss: 'The Dumbest Thing' in Education Thinking -- Obama, Education, Snooki, Civil Rights and Bryan Bass

'The Dumbest Thing' in Education Thinking: Obama, Education, Snooki, Civil Rights and Bryan Bass
by Valerie Strauss
Washington Post; Reposted on Common Dreams

...

In June, 2010, Bryan Bass, the principal of Brooklyn Center High School in suburban Minneapolis, was fired.

Brooklyn Center is one of 34 schools on Minnesota's list of "persistently lowest achieving" schools. The state education commissioner says that the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program will give the state the opportunity to "really dig deep and try to solve the educational issues" in their failing schools.

For Brooklyn Center, like all schools targeted under the SIG program, receiving federal funding for reform efforts required firing the current principal.

Brooklyn Center High School enrolls about 800 students, three-quarters of whom are low-income and children of color. Roughly 14% of the students have learning disabilities, and about 20% are English Language Learners. The school offers a strong arts magnet program, and an International Baccalaureate program, making it a popular open-enrollment school. Though 82% of students who enroll, graduate, the school has some of the lowest assessment scores in the state.

Bryan Bass has been principal at Brooklyn Center for four years. Under his leadership, the number of suspensions each month fell from 45 to about 10. The number of graduates who went on to college doubled from 35% to 70%. Student mobility dropped from 33% to 26%.

Bass and Superintendent Keith Lester also worked tirelessly on meeting another need of the school community. One wing of the school was recently turned into a one-stop medical and social service center. The center is equipped to care for any student or school-age resident in the area.

With or without health insurance, students have access to dental, vision, mental health and medical services right in the building. The need for wrap-around supports for students immediately became apparent: In the first year, 70% of students who were tested were found to have untreated vision problems. By building a network of existing providers and agencies, identified needs were met. Children who needed glasses were given them. The clinic offers a therapist to help students work through emotional issues.

A social service agency has an office in the clinic that helps students' families find health insurance.

"Overnight - overnight, it absolutely decreased the amount of behavioral issues," principal Bass told a local reporter about the new school-based center. "By eliminating barriers, you start to really understand what's in the way of students getting to learn."

The future of Brooklyn Center High School's health and social services center is not guaranteed under the federal grant program. One thing was guaranteed, though. The school's energetic principal had to go, as a condition for participation in the SIG program.
Superintendent Lester is frustrated with the rigidity of the federal grants program: "I think that's the dumbest thing I've seen coming out of education in my years in education," he said.

To Read the Restof the Commentary

Greg Mosson: Ars Poetica -- A Case for American Political Poetry

Ars Poetica: A Case for American Political Poetry
by Greg Mosson
The Potomac

Why should poets address political issues, ask some critics with arched disapproving eyebrows, and then often they answer that politics its too timely a subject for quality poetry. Question and the answer miss the point. First of all, any subject matter is timely in poetry. Robert Frost’s classic second book North of Boston is almost entirely comprised of narrative dialogues of people right in the middle of things, and yet the poetry he crafted with it will remain relevant as long as the English language does. The poet in the classic sense always faces the technical difficulty of making life at hand relevant to the teeming generations. The question is much more interesting if reversed: Why should poets exclude political and social issues from their poetry?

If poetry is “a statement in words about an experience,” to use critic Yvors Winters’ definition in The Function of Criticism; then why should the political aspects of “experience” be excluded from poetry? Helen Vendler in her book Poets Thinking sees “poets as people who are always thinking, who create texts that embody elaborate and finely precise (and essentially unending) meditation.” While 20th century history shows many examples of totalitarian governments oppressing artists who dare to address state matters in their work, why should poets on their own narrow their thinking to the nooks and crannies of just personal space (as if personal space can be so cut off from other people and the social and natural worlds). Lastly, if poetry is “the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds,” as the romantic poet Shelly says in A Defense of Poetry; then do these moments automatically exclude everything political and social for every poet? In 19th century American verse, one finds a poet as solitary as Emily Dickinson, and of course a poet as socially gregarious Walt Whitman. While these
poets have different emphasis, both poets span the spectrum of the personal, social, and political. The most accurate portraits of human life always will touch on the social and the political, because people live in social and political milieus. In the reverse sense, looking at a mid-20th century political poem like Allen Ginsberg’s “America,” Ginsberg decries the war and poverty of the 1950s, which remain timely in the first decade of the 21st century, despite their “timeliness.” Ginsberg’s poem asks in modern language, “Am I my brother’s keeper” when he says in the opening lines, “When will we end the human war?” At the same time, the poem is a personal portrait of a man harried by the social milieu he cannot accept.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Al Jazeera: Superclass

Superclass
Al Jazeera

A new breed has emerged; they set the global agenda, ride on Gulfstreams and manage the credit crunch in their spare time.

They are anything but elected; they are entrepreneurs and entertainers, media moguls and former politicians - the self-made super rich who are using their money to lay down a new set of global rules.

They have more in common with each other than with their countrymen, set apart by their ability to regularly influence the lives of millions of people around the globe.

So where did this new global aristocracy come from and who is keeping them in check?

Why should Oprah Winfrey have the ear of President Obama, and who gave Shakira the right to dictate education policy?

But then again, when you have as much money as Bill Gates and you are prepared to give it over to a good cause who is going to stop you?

It is all well and good until the revolving door spins in the wrong direction. Empire talks to Christopher Hitchens about Henry Kissinger and his life beyond elected power - it does not seem to have changed that much.

Is the world suffering from a global governance gap? Should we be worried that the superclass seems to have an ever-expanding reach that bypasses governments and remains unchecked?




Link to the Webpage

Robin Murray and Joe Heumann: Passage as journey in Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals -- a narrative of environmental adaptation

Passage as journey in Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals: a narrative of environmental adaptation
by Robin Murray and Joe Heumann
Jump Cut



...

Much has been written about Native Americans’ removal to reservation lands. After more than a century of skirmishes with tribes from New England to Florida, Andrew Jackson encouraged Congress to pass the 1830 Indian Removal Act, claiming it would separate Native Americans from the onslaught of settlers moving ever westward and help them evolve into what he saw as a civilized community. In 1832, Jackson insisted that Native Americans be removed from prime farming land in the Southeast and moved to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma on what has become known as the Trail of Tears. Of the 15,000 Cherokees who began the journey, 4000 died, and many more of the 70,000 moved to Indian Territory also died along the way. The move opened up the reservation system, however, and after battles with whites in the 1860s and 70s, Plains Indian tribes were also forcibly moved to reservations, this time in Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, and other less productive and arable lands in the West.

From the beginning of the reservation system, life on “the Rez” was like hell on earth. On these reservations, Indian agents attempted to force Native Americans to farm infertile lands, leaving them close to starvation since their allotment of cattle was small and sometimes stolen by corrupt government officials. According to Gary D. Sandefur,

“The lands reserved for Indian use were generally regarded as the least desirable by whites and were almost always located for from major population centers, trails, and transportation routes that later became part of the modern system of metropolitan areas, highways and railroads” (37).


Native Americans on reservations were isolated “in places with few natural resources, far from contact with the developing U.S. economy and society” (37). Breaking up reservation land into allotments after the 1887 Dawes Act only had a negative effect since the land provided was unfit for farming or ranching, and the remaining land was purchased at low prices or stolen for white settlers to homestead.

Reservation life for the Coeur d’Alene, Sherman Alexie’s tribe, has an equally brutal history, but, as Alexie asserts, “No one winds up on the Spokane Indian Reservation by accident” (quoted in Cornwall). The Coeur d’Alene tribe of the Upper and Middle Spokanes were late to the reservation system, entering an agreement with the United States in 1887 after the Dawes Act was signed. This tribe entered into a treaty more than six years after the Lower Spokanes had moved onto the Spokane Indian Reservation, resisting the move to reservation land in Lower Spokane County primarily because it was less desirable for hunting and fishing than the middle and upper Spokane. To maintain their claim on aboriginal lands, they moved onto the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho and other reservations, including the Spokane, receiving monetary compensation for houses, cattle, seeds, and farm implements. By 1905, however, the reservations lost rights to water in the Spokane River to the Little Falls Power Plant, and by 1909, the Spokane Reservation was opened up for homesteading. Coeur d’ Alene and other tribes on the reservation were now limited to allotments of from eighty to 160 acres on land too rocky for farming.

A year later, minerals were found on reservations in Idaho. But this seemingly beneficial discovery has had catastrophic environmental results. Traditional tribal fishing became impossible. According to the Official Site of the Coeur d’ Alene Tribe,

“Over a 100 year period, the mining industry in Idaho’s Silver Valley dumped 72 million tons of mine waste into the Coeur d’Alene watershed. As mining and smelting operations grew, they produced billions of dollars in silver, lead, and zinc. In the process, natural life in the Coeur d’Alene River was wiped out.”

The Spokane Reservation suffered even worse repercussions from mining waste. In 1954, at the height of the Cold War, Jim and John LeBret, both tribal members, found uranium on the side of Spokane Reservation, and the Newmont Mining Company bought the rights to the Sherwood, Dawn, and Midnight Mines, all on reservation lands. The Midnight Mine remained active for twenty-seven years and became “an economic and social mainstay of the reservation,” but it also had devastating environmental consequences (Cornwall). According to Cornwall, Sherman Alexie “felt threatened by the uranium mines near his home on the Spokane Indian Reservation” after his grandmother died from esophageal cancer in 1980 and asserted, “I have very little doubt that I’m going to get cancer” (quoted in Cornwall).

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Allison Kilkenney: TIME magazine uses exploitive photo to pimp nation-building

TIME magazine uses exploitive photo to pimp nation-building
without comments
by Allison Kilkenney
Unreported

This morning, TIME Managing Editor Richard Stengel was one of the guests on Morning Joe because he drops by every week to unveil the new cover of TIME so my grandmother will know what it looks like when she decides not to buy it at the drugstore.

This latest edition’s cover is of a young Afghan woman who has had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban. Stengel used the terribly sad image to argue that the US must stay in Afghanistan forever because, if we leave, women will become the victims of retribution.

Stengel also took issue with Biden’s assertion that we are not in the business of nation-building. Actually, says the guy with zero nation-building experience (playing on the Princeton basketball team – Go Tigers! – doesn’t count,) we are in the business of nation-building, and if you take issue with that reality, look at this poor girl – LOOK AT HER.

To my great surprise, Mike Barnacle sprang to life long enough to ask Stengel if the U.S. should permanently occupy every country that possesses a suffering population. What about Cambodia and Vietnam? What about Africa? In Congo, around 5.4 million people died in a single decade. Don’t they deserve Stengel’s sympathy? Furthermore, what about China and Saudi Arabia – two countries famous for their worker exploitation and human rights violations? Stengel dismissed those concerns, making the argument that we’re in the Middle East right now, so we should stay forever until all suffering has been alleviated with the healing power of our guns and bombs.

What is particularly aggravating about this latest TIME cover is that this is one of the only times a mainstream media outlet has lifted its self-inflicted censorship to show a victim of Afghan violence in a prominent way. Unfortunately, the editors at TIME didn’t show the world any of the horrific images of civilians who have become casualties of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of the region, or any photos capturing the tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children who have died during the Afghanistan occupation. Instead, Stengel and TIME decided to slap this poor girl on the cover as a way to pimp their nation-building bias, which by the way, nonpartisan Very Serious mainstream media publications aren’t supposed to have. Stengel was peddling an agenda like a lowly blogger.

Undoubtedly, there are those in the Taliban who seek to abuse and hurt women. That behavior is evil and should be condemned. The U.S. should seek to provide amnesty to endangered women wherever they live. However, obliterating the woman’s village in the spirit of “helping” to “liberate” her doesn’t make much sense. This latter scenario is what is happening far more often in Afghanistan.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glenn Greenwald: The WikiLeaks Afghanistan Leak

The WikiLeaks Afghanistan leak
Glenn Greenwald
Salon

The most consequential news item of the week will obviously be -- or at least should be -- the massive new leak by WikiLeaks of 90,000 pages of classified material chronicling the truth about the war in Afghanistan from 2004 through 2009. Those documents provide what The New York Times calls "an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal." The Guardian describes the documents as "a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fueling the insurgency."

In addition to those two newspapers, WikiLeaks also weeks ago provided these materials to Der Spiegel, on the condition that all three wait until today to write about them. These outlets were presumably chosen by WikiLeaks with the intent to ensure maximum exposure among the American and Western European citizenries which continue to pay for this war and whose governments have been less than forthcoming about what is taking place [a CIA document prepared in March, 2010 -- and previously leaked by WikiLeaks -- plotted how to prevent public opinion in Western Europe from turning further against the war and thus forcing their Governments to withdraw; the CIA's conclusion: the most valuable asset in putting a pretty face on the war for Western Europeans is Barack Obama's popularity with those populations].

The White House has swiftly vowed to continue the war and predictably condemned WikiLeaks rather harshly. It will be most interesting to see how many Democrats -- who claim to find Daniel Ellsberg heroic and the Pentagon Papers leak to be unambiguously justified -- follow the White House's lead in that regard. Ellsberg's leak -- though primarily exposing the amoral duplicity of a Democratic administration -- occurred when there was a Republican in the White House. This latest leak, by contrast, indicts a war which a Democratic President has embraced as his own, and documents similar manipulation of public opinion and suppression of the truth well into 2009. It's not difficult to foresee, as Atrios predicted, that media "coverage of [the] latest [leak] will be about whether or not it should have been published," rather than about what these documents reveal about the war effort and the government and military leaders prosecuting it. What position Democratic officials and administration supporters take in the inevitable debate over WikiLeaks remains to be seen (by shrewdly leaking these materials to 3 major newspapers, which themselves then published many of the most incriminating documents, WikiLeaks provided itself with some cover).

Note how obviously lame is the White House's prime tactic thus far for dismissing the importance of the leak: that the documents only go through December, 2009, the month when Obama ordered his "surge," as though that timeline leaves these documents without any current relevance. The Pentagon Papers only went up through 1968 and were not released until 3 years later (in 1971), yet having the public behold the dishonesty about the war had a significant effect on public opinion, as well as the willingness of Americans to trust future government pronouncements. At the very least, it's difficult to imagine this leak not having the same effect. Then again, since -- unlike Vietnam -- only a tiny portion of war supporters actually bears any direct burden from the war (themselves or close family members fighting it), it's possible that the public will remain largely apathetic even knowing what they will now know. It's relatively easy to support and/or acquiesce to a war when neither you nor your loved ones are risking their lives to fight it.

To Read the Entire Column, Acess Hyperlinked Resources and Further Updates

More resources:

Jay Rosen: The Afghanistan War Logs Released by Wikileaks, the World's First Stateless News Organization

Behind the News with Doug Henwood: Norman Finkelstein on Israel's Invasion of Gaza in 2009

Norman Finkelstein
Behind the News with Doug Henwood



Norman Finkelstein, author of This Time We Went Too Far, talks about Israel’s invasion of Gaza in late 2009, and about changing U.S. public opinion towards that country

To Listen to the Interview

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

John Pilger: There Is a War on Journalism

John Pilger: There Is a War on Journalism
Democracy Now

It’s been a week since Rolling Stone published its article on General Stanley McChrystal that eventually led to him being fired by President Obama. Since the article came out, Rolling Stone and the reporter who broke the story, Michael Hastings, have come under attack in the mainstream media for violating the so-called "ground rules" of journalism. But the investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger says Hastings was simply doing what all true journalists need to do.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Democracy Now: Jury Convicts Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge of Lying About Torture

Jury Convicts Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge of Lying About Torture
Democracy Now

Decades after torture allegations were first leveled against former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, a federal jury has found him guilty of lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Burge has long been accused of overseeing the systematic torture of more than 100 African American men. Two years ago federal prosecutors finally brought charges against Burge—not for torture, but for lying about it. On Monday afternoon, after a five-week trial, Jon Burge was found guilty on all counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the abuse. He could face up to forty-five years in prison.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Gabriel Gatehouse: US Military 'Fails to Account' for Iraq Reconstruction Billions

US 'Fails to Account' for Iraq Reconstruction Billions
by Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC; Reprinted in Common Dreams

A US federal watchdog has criticized the US military for failing to account properly for billions of dollars it received to help rebuild Iraq.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says the US Department of Defense is unable to account properly for 96% of the money.

Billions have gone to rebuild Iraq but much of the money is impossible to trace, says a US audit. Out of just over $9bn (£5.8bn), $8.7bn is unaccounted for, the inspector says.

The US military said the funds were not necessarily missing, but that spending records might have been archived.

In a response attached to the report, it said attempting to account for the money might require "significant archival retrieval efforts".

Much of the money came from the sale of Iraqi oil and gas.

Some frozen Saddam Hussein-era assets were also sold off.

The funds in question were administered by the US Department of Defense between 2004 and 2007, and were earmarked for reconstruction projects.

But, the report says, a lack of proper accounting makes it impossible to say exactly what happened to most of the money.

This is not the first time that allegations of missing billions have surfaced in relation to the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Ian Buchanan: Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers; Kristin Ross' May 68 & Its Afterlives; Deleuze & Guattari's Anti-Oedipus

(If you would like a broad note form introduction to D & G's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia check out my attempt of carving out meaning from this difficult, but powerful theoretical text.)



Bernardo Bertolucci's highly stylized film about May '68, The Dreamers (2003), is a vivid illustration of the narrow, exclusively Parisian image of the events that has to be overturned if we are to see things in their proper historical light. Bertolucci depicts May '68 as a student protest, which is how it began, but its significance to history derives from the fact that it soon became a nationwide protest involving more than 9 million striking workers. The effects of the strikes are made apparent to us in the film in the form of mounds of uncollected garbage mouldering in stairwells and on street corners, but the striking workers themselves are never shown. Moreover, Bertolucci makes it seem the student protests began in the privileged cloisters of the Latin Quarter, and not, as was actually the case, in the functionalist towers of the new universities in the outlying immigrant slum areas of Nanterre and Vincennes, where students were provided 'with a direct "lived" lesson in uneven development.' According to the great Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre, it was this daily 'experience' of the callousness of the state that radicalized the students and provided the catalyst for their connection to workers' movements. Secondly, through the vehicle of its twin brother and sister protagonists Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), both in their late teens or early twenties and still living at home with their relatively well-to-do parents, it depicts the students who took part in May '68 as naive, self-absorbed and perverted. Cocooned in their own fantasy world concocted from fragments of movies and books, Isabelle and Theo are a postmodern version of Ulrich and Agathe. They meet an American exchange student, Matthew (Michael Pitt), and invite him to join them. When their parents go away, they are able to indulge their whims uninhibitedly and the scene is set for a cliched romp through the three staples of 1960s counterculture, namely, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. They take bubble baths together and get stoned on hash; Matthew and Isabelle make love on the kitchen floor while Theo fries an egg and looks on with Brechtian disinterest; they drink papa's fine wine straight from the bottle and debate movies and politics long into the night as though nothing else mattered. They ignore the world outside.



Mathhew soon upsets their idyllic universe by accusing them both of being unwordly: Isabelle because she's never been out on a real 'date' and Theo because of his starry-eyed romanticization of the Chinese Red Guards. It all begins when Isabelle demands that he shave his pubic hair as a sign of love. He refuses because the demand is in his view nothing but a silly game, an infantilizing gesture that proves their disconnection from the reality of what is going on around them. He tells them both 'there's something going on out there, I can feel it,' but neither Isabelle nor Theo seem to care. Their political awakening comes soon enough though in the form of a brick thrown through their apartment window. The brick literally shatters their world, but also save their lives too. Awakening after another of their orgiastic episodes, Isabelle finds a cheque written by her parents and realizes they must have been in the apartment and therefore witnessed their dishabille state and perhaps guessed at their decadent behavior -- the three of them are naked, sleeping side by side in a tent Isabelle erected in the living room. Mortally ashamed, Isabelle decides to kill herself and Theo and Matthew as well, so she switches on the gas and lays down between the two boys and readies herself for death. It is at this point that the window is broken. The intrusion of the street into their self-enclosed fantasy world is thus presented as a life-saving event. The brick breaks the spell of self-indulgence they've all been under and suddenly both Isabelle and Theo realize something is going on outside and that it does concern them, does interest them, and is more important than their fantasy world. The three of them rush first to the balcony to witness the events below and then to the street to join in. But here the happy trio split up because only Isabelle and Theo are willing to take part. Mathhew, a self-proclaimed pacifist, turns his back on them. Matthew recoils in horror when he sees Theo with a Molotov cocktail in his hands and refuses to join them when they rush hand in hand towards the fray. Bertolucci's last act then is to make May '68 an exclusively French affair, but also wrongheaded and needlessly violent.



Kristin Ross's account of May '68 takes us in precisely the opposite direction to Bertolucci. She is anxious that we see that May '68 was not just a student protest, and that those involved were anything but naive (in the sense of being unaware of history) and perhaps most importantly that it was part of a longer chain of events that stretched far beyond Paris. To begin with, Ross argues for an enlargement of the timeframe in which the events are considered, not just beyond the month of May itself, which as she shows (and Bertolucci's film exemplifies) restricts the events to a limited series of goings-on at the Sorbonne, but back two decades to the start of the Algerian War. This, in turn, enables her to argue that May '68 was not a great cultural reform, a push toward modernisation, or the dawning sun of a new individualism. It was above all not a revolt on the part of the sociological category "youth". It was rather the revolt of a broad cross-section of workers and students of all ages who had grown up with and witnessed the sickening brutality of the Gaullist regime's failed attempt to deny Algeria its independence. 'Algeria defined a fracture in French society, in its identity, by creating a break between the official "humanist" discourse of that society and French practices occurring in Algeria and occasionally within France as well.' It was impossible to reconcile the ideal of a benevolent welfare state espoused by France's leaders with the truncheon-wielding reality of the hegemonic state, except perhaps in oedipal terms by casting President de Gaulle in the role of the father and relegating the protesters to the rank of children. Anti-Oedipus is of course directed against this pseudo-psychoanalytic account of the events and indeed Deleuze and Guattari argue that it was precisely the example of Algeria that makes it clear that politics cannot be reduced to an oedipal struggle. 'It is strange', they write, 'that we had to wait for the dreams of the colonised peoples in order to see that, on the vertices of the pseudo triangle, mommy was dancing with the missionary, daddy was being fucked by the tax collector, while the self was being beaten by the white man.' (AO, 105-9/114)



What Fanon's work showed us, Deleuze and Guattari go on to suggest, is that every subject is directly coupled to elements of their:


historical situation -- the soldier, the cop, the occupier, the collaborator, the radical, the resister, the boss, the boss's wife -- who constantly break all triangulations, and who prevent the entire situation from falling back on the familial complex and becoming internalised in it. (AO, 107/116)




As Belden Fields writes, the Algerian War was crucial stimulus for the radicalization of French students in the 1960s because it delegitimized the structures of the state. 'The educational system, for instance, came to be viewed as a conduit funneling young people into military bureaucracies, whether public or private, to earn a living as a supporting cog in a system of repressive privilege'. Jean-Paul Belmondo, 'the doomed anti-hero' of Jean-Luc Goddard's path-breaking film of 1960, A bout de souffle [Breathless], is usually taken as the 'screen representative of that young generation of Frenchmen condemned to serve, suffer, and even die in Algeria'. This perceived lack of control over their own destiny, even among the relatively privileged classes to which the majority of students actually belonged, coupled with the oppressive archaism of the educational system itself, and indeed the state structure as a whole, generated among radicalized youth a powerful sense of empathy with all victims of the state. The students saw themselves as being in solidarity with factory workers, despite the fact that their destiny was to be the managers who would one day have to 'manage' these selfsame workers. In other words, in spite of the fact that their class interests were different, the students and the workers were nonetheless able to find a point of common interest in their dispute with the state. The usual divide and conquer tactics the state relies on to stratify the population and ensure that precisely this type of connection between strata doesn't occur failed spectacularly. It failed because the state was unable, at least in the first instance, to present itself as something other than a huge, oppressive monolithic edifice determined to stamp out dissent with an iron fist. Unfortunately, the French Communist Party, still a very strong and widely supported institution, was tarnished by its 'pragmatic response to the war -- the party line, that the war should be ended by negotiated settlement, was strictly enforced, with the result that it too came to be seen as ossified and antiquated and of little relevance to the needs of the present generation. Deleuze and Guattari clearly shared this view; their frequent anti-reformist remarks should be seen as directed at the French Communist Party.

Ross's second move is to argue for an enlargement of the geographical framework in which the events are considered, not just beyond the Latin Quarter to the outer suburbs of Paris, but beyond France altogether to still another of its former colonies, namely Vietnam, which having rid itself of its French masters in the 1950s was then in the process of expelling the American pretenders:

In its battle with the United States, with the worldwide political and cultural domination the United States had exerted since the end of World War II, Vietnam made possible a merging of the themes of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism ...


In fact, the events themselves were sparked by an incident -- a window of the American Express building on rue Scribe in Paris was broken -- that occurred as part of a student protest against the war in Veitnam on 20 March 1968. The irruption of student protest at Nanterre two days later was in part provoked by the heavy-handedness of the police response to the anti-Vietnam march. The students at Nantarre rallied themselves under the banner of 'Mouvement du 22 mars', deliberately recalling Castro's 'July 26th Movement' commemorating the attack on Moncada fortress and start of the insurrection against Batista. 'Vietnam thus both launched the action in the streets as well as brought under one umbrella a number of groups ... as well as previously unaffiliated militants working together. For the protesters, students and workers alike, Vietnam made manifest processes that were thought to be merely latent in the West. For one thing, it revealed both the inherent violence of the postmodern capitalist state and the lengths to which it is prepared to go in order to preserve its power. It demonstrated a willingness on the part of the powerful to use violence against the powerless to defend the status quo. Vietnam also revealed the vulnerability of the super state and its susceptibility to a 'revolution from below'. Sartre, for one, was convinced that the true origin of May '68 was Vietnam because the example of Vietnamese guerrillas winning a war against a vastly superior force, albeit at the cost of an enormous loss of life, extended the domain of the possible for Western intellectuals who otherwise thought of themselves as powerless in the face of the state.

More concretely, French workers whose livelihoods were threatened by a process we know today as globalization, the process whereby local markets are forcibly opened to global competitors, saw themselves as victims of American imperialism too. Deleuze and Guattari were keenly aware of the high cost the structural adjustments (to use the purposefully dry language of economists):

If we look at today's [1972] situation, power necessarily has a global or total vision. What I mean is that every form of repression today [repression actuelles], and they are multiple, is easily totalised, systematised from the point of view of power: the racist repression against immigrants, the repression in factories, the repression in schools and teaching, and the repression of youth in general. We mustn't look for the unity of these forms of repression only in reaction to May '68, but more so in a concerted preparation and organisation concerning our immediate future. Capitalism in France is dropping its liberal, paternalistic mask of full employment; it desperately needs a 'reserve' of unemployed workers. It's from this vantage point that unity can be found in the forms of repression I already mentioned; the limitation of immigration, once it's understood we're leaving the hardest and lowest paying jobs to them; the repression in factories, because now it's all about once again giving the French a taste for hard work; the struggle against youth and the repression in schools and teaching, because police repression must be all the more active now that there is less need for young people on the job market. (DI, 210/294)


On this point, Ross argues that the geographical boundary of the events of May needs to be widened to encompass Italy because the political convulsions wrought by the first stages of globalization were in Europe nowhere felt more keenly. The striking Fiat workers' slogan 'Vietnam is in our factories!' made the connection to American imperialism explicit. This is, then, Ross's third move: she argues for a redefinition of the sociological frame in which the events are considered. May '68 would not have been the event it was if the protest action had been confined to either the students or the workers or even the farmers. It was the fact that these groups, as well as many others, found it possible and necessary to link up with each other that resulted in the extraordinary event we know as May '68. But, and this is Ross's main point, none of these groups -- students, workers, farmers, etc. -- can be treated as pre-existing, self-contained, homogeneous entities. As for the encounters between these heterogeneous groups, they obviously cannot be treated in the same way that one might regard the actions of states agreeing by treaty to work together for the sake of a common interest. Ross suggests that the process might better be described as 'cultural contamination' and argues that it 'was encounters with people different from themselves -- and not the glow of shared identity -- that allowed a dream of change to flourish'. Ross's purpose, however, is not to assert the primacy of the individual, or indeed the primacy of differences, two moves which as [Fredric] Jameson has shown in his various critiques of Anglo-American cultural studies lead inexorably to political paralysis. By repudiating both the collective and the same under the utterly misconceived banner of 'anti-totalization', cultural studies has for all practical intents and purposes divested itself of two of the most basic prerequisites for politics, namely the potential for a common action and the identification of a common aim. Well aware of the pitfalls of valorizing the individual at the expense of the collective, the different at the expense of the same, Ross argues for an approach to the sociological dimension of May '68 that is perfectly attuned to Deleuze and Guattari's work.

Buchanan, Ian. Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. NY: Continuum, 2008: 13-19.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Toronto Police Arrest Over 600 in Crackdown Outside G20 Summit; Naomi Klein - The Real Crime Scene Was Inside the G20 Summit

(Reports on the June G20 Summit in Toronto, The Protests, and the Police Violence)

Democracy Now

Toronto Police Arrest Over 600 in Crackdown Outside G20 Summit

Canadian police have arrested over 600 people in Toronto in a police crackdown on protests at the G20 summit. Riot police used batons, plastic bullets and tear gas for the first time in the city’s history. More than 19,000 security personnel were deployed in Toronto, and a nearly four-mile-long security wall was erected around the G20 summit site at the Toronto Convention Center. The security price tag for the summit is estimated at around $1 billion. Franklin Lopez of the Vancouver Media Co-op filed this report from the streets of Toronto.


Naomi Klein: The Real Crime Scene Was Inside the G20 Summit

As thousands protested in the streets of Toronto, inside the G20 summit world leaders agreed to a controversial goal of cutting government deficits in half by 2013. We speak with journalist Naomi Klein. "What actually happened at the summit is that the global elites just stuck the bill for their drunken binge with the world’s poor, with the people that are most vulnerable," Klein says.


Journalist Describes Being Beaten, Arrested by Canadian Police While Covering G20 Protest

Among the hundreds of people arrested at the G20 protests in Toronto were a number of journalists. Jesse Rosenfeld is a freelance reporter who was on assignment for The Guardian newspaper of London. He is also a journalist with the Alternative Media Center. He was arrested and detained by Canadian police on Saturday evening covering a protest in front of the Novotel Hotel.

Democracy Now: The New Pentagon Papers -- WikiLeaks Releases 90,000+ Secret Military Documents Painting Devastating Picture of Afghanistan War

The New Pentagon Papers: WikiLeaks Releases 90,000+ Secret Military Documents Painting Devastating Picture of Afghanistan War
Democracy Now

It’s one of the biggest leaks in US military history. More than 90,000 internal records of US military actions in Afghanistan over the past six years have been published by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The documents provide a devastating portrait of the war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, how a secret black ops special forces unit hunts down targets for assassination or detention without trial, how Taliban attacks have soared, and how Pakistan is fueling the insurgency. We host a roundtable discussion with independent British journalist Stephen Grey; Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg; former State Department official in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh; independent journalist Rick Rowley; and investigative historian Gareth Porter.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Wikileaks: Kabul War Diary

Excerpt from the Intro:

WikiLeaks today released over 75,000 secret US military reports covering the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan War Diary an extraordinary secret compendium of over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010. The reports describe the majority of lethal military actions involving the United States military. They include the number of persons internally stated to be killed, wounded, or detained during each action, together with the precise geographical location of each event, and the military units involved and major weapon systems used.

The Afghan War Diary is the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war. The deaths of tens of thousands is normally only a statistic but the archive reveals the locations and the key events behind each most of these deaths. We hope its release will lead to a comprehensive understanding of the war in Afghanistan and provide the raw ingredients necessary to change its course.

Most entries have been written by soldiers and intelligence officers listening to reports radioed in from front line deployments. However the reports also contain related information from Marines intelligence, US Embassies, and reports about corruption and development activity across Afghanistan.

Each report consists of the time and precise geographic location of an event that the US Army considers significant. It includes several additional standardized fields: The broad type of the event (combat, non-combat, propaganda, etc.); the category of the event as classified by US Forces, how many were detained, wounded, and killed from civilian, allied, host nation, and enemy forces; the name of the reporting unit and a number of other fields, the most significant of which is the summary - an English language description of the events that are covered in the report.

The Diary is available on the web and can be viewed in chronological order and by by over 100 categories assigned by the US Forces such as: "escalation of force", "friendly-fire", "development meeting", etc. The reports can also be viewed by our "severity" measure-the total number of people killed, injured or detained. All incidents have been placed onto a map of Afghanistan and can be viewed on Google Earth limited to a particular window of time or place. In this way the unfolding of the last six years of war may be seen.

The material shows that cover-ups start on the ground. When reporting their own activities US Units are inclined to classify civilian kills as insurgent kills, downplay the number of people killed or otherwise make excuses for themselves. The reports, when made about other US Military units are more likely to be truthful, but still down play criticism. Conversely, when reporting on the actions of non-US ISAF forces the reports tend to be frank or critical and when reporting on the Taliban or other rebel groups, bad behavior is described in comprehensive detail. The behavior of the Afghan Army and Afghan authorities are also frequently described.

Kabul War Diary (To Read the Rest of the Intro and Access the Reports)

Linda Williams: “Cluster fuck” -- The forcible frame in Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure

“Cluster fuck”: the forcible frame in Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure
by Linda Williams
Jump Cut



Morris’s contextualization and constant reframing of the photos, qua photos, makes it possible for us to realize that the human pyramid and the simultaneously orchestrated masturbations were most likely not the worst or even the true crimes of the U.S. military and “other governmental agencies”—code for the CIA and other groups whose presence in the prison never formed part of the official record and who could thus apparently act with impunity—at Abu Ghraib.

When Susan Sontag wrote not long after their publication that these “photographs are us,”[19] she meant that we as a nation are responsible for what they show: the corruption, waste, and immorality of our occupation of Iraq (26).[20] But I suggest that they are also “us” because we recognize in them a familiar spirit of play, however perverted, that seeks distraction—even something called “fun”—in the very midst of horror. Kracauer writes of the mass ornament:

“Here, in pure externality the audience encounters itself. Its own reality is revealed in the fragmented sequence of splendid sense impressions.”


This disclosure “in distraction,” he adds, “is therefore of moral significance.”[21] What is “legitimate,” then, about the photos framed by this film is that with the aid of the Interrotron Morris makes us see how such photos could have made sense to these soldiers “on the ground” who craved a higher vantage point that would dissociate them from the prisoners with whom they lived. The photos were a legitimate expression of the frustration of their own impotency, their own inability to act successfully as soldiers, their pathetic imitation of “norms” that utterly failed to tell them their duty. Both the framed photos and Morris’s extravagant (re)enactments of what might have occurred are the ornamental cluster fucks of this misguided war

The most important ethical lesson of the film, however, may be to discourage us from judging Harman, England, or any of the cast of characters from any higher ground, as Pack would do and as the military tribunal did. The value of the film, rather, is to have shown us what it was like to be there on the ground aspiring to be somewhere else, somewhere higher.

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag argues that pictures cannot provide their own interpretations; they need captions to provide context.[22] This may not be an accurate assessment of all photos, but it seems patently true of these almost too obviously self-incriminating ones of Abu Ghraib. On first seeing these pictures, few people thought they needed further explanations or a frame of reference. In Morris’s film it is the interviews and the imaginative enactments of possible acts that provide the rich captions to complicate each photo.

Judith Butler challenges Sontag, writing that we do not always need a caption to understand that a political background is formulated and renewed through the work of a frame:

“Whenever and wherever the photograph yields up its own forcible frame to visual scrutiny and interpretation, it opens up the restrictions of interpreting reality to critical scrutiny . . . we come to interpret that interpretation that has been imposed upon us.”[23]


This, I argue is what Morris’s film does. It asks us to interpret the interpretation, to witness the witnesses. But it does so not only by citing the photos that so “forcibly” framed these acts of inhumanity but also by reframing and contextualizing them, showing us how very delimited these frames were, how much of “the visual field,” as Butler puts it, is “ruled out” (952).

The photos of Abu Ghraib pointed to and were often themselves evidence of crimes. But they are not the smoking guns they seemed to be. They suggest that “straight photographs” must always be considered in light of what we know about the situation of their taking and that very often, as in the torture-death of al-Jamadi, the real incriminating photo does not exist. Had the military prosecution that focused so intensely only on the little guys pursued the larger “primary framework” that set the conditions for what we see in these pictures, rather than assume, as the Guantánamo alum Pack does, that nakedness and stress positions were to be expected, then we might have gotten to the bottom of the torture that took place under the direct auspices of the “other government agencies.” Such a trial might have discovered whose decision it was to keep prisoners naked and shackled, whose decision it was to hold prisoners indefinitely and drive them to despair. But that would have been another movie.

To Read the Entire Essay

Friday, July 23, 2010

David Andrews: Reframing Standard Operating Procedure: Errol Morris and the creative treatment of Abu Ghraib

(What i appreciate about SOP is that it is problematizing our [perceived] direct truth correspondence with images [in particular photographs, videos and films] in an age when we should always be skeptical of that relationship... )


Reframing Standard Operating Procedure: Errol Morris and the creative treatment of Abu Ghraib
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...

Janet Walker, a trauma studies scholar, noted in counterpoint that the discussion might profit if we supplemented trauma studies’ primary focus on victim trauma with a similar focus on “perpetrator trauma”—an expansion that might be linked to the kind of spectator trauma that Nichols touches on in his own paper. Like Sobchack’s comment, Walker’s comment was mainly a response to Kahana’s paper, which posited a tradition of films in which real “soldiers give testimony about their . . . violent actions, carried out in the midst of war,” actions they can never forget. Standard Operating Procedure fits this category, Walker (still alluding to Kahana) noted, in its “presentation of psychologically charged veteran interviews as simultaneously confessional and exculpatory.”[30]

At this point, my own trauma has everything to do with personal experience, not documentary practice. I am a U.S. liberal who lived through the Bush-Cheney era. Like Morris, I feel a great deal of guilt over what happened in those years (and over what may still be happening now, for all we know). It is predictable, then, that after watching Standard Operating Procedure, my own moral center fixed on Morris’ haunting précis: the guards weren’t innocent, but they were scapegoats.[31] No matter how morally superior we feel, the guards had few choices within a machine whose policies standardized abuse and enforced obedience in its ranks. As Kleinhans notes, one “incontrovertibly true” fact of torture is that it is only

“the exceptional person who refuses to torture, especially under the conditions of military organization.”[32]

The guards may not have been exceptional people (do “the best and brightest” typically end up as enlistees in the U.S. military?) but they were people working in a situation not of their own making. They acted badly and were treated badly: they were perpetrators and victims. This means that the greatest responsibility lies with those who created the situation that ran away from the guards: the military higher-ups, the Bush administration, and the electorate.

And if we, as liberals, fall into the trap of not listening to the guards or to Morris, if we refuse to see the guards as people whose “free will” was constrained by the same machine that constrained us all, we may end up simply repeating the actions of the Bush administration, which protected itself by blaming the scandal on a few bad apples. After all, apart from the extravagant abuses—the human pyramid, the masturbating detainees—the actions of the guards were, practically speaking, unavoidable. If the guards hadn’t put the detainees in stress positions or otherwise “softened” them up, how would the guards have been treated? Would they have been demoted, discharged, court-martialed?

And what about us, the symbolic warriors who were paying for all this and increasingly knew what we were paying for as its elements were repeated at “black sites” or outsourced through rendition—what were our choices? We could have stopped paying our taxes and gone to jail or fled abroad. But how many of us could actually have done this? Haven’t we all had responsibilities that have held us in place as investors in the larger machine of the nation? (Henry David Thoreau, we should remember, was unattached, childless, and jobless when he refused to pay poll taxes so as to resist the expansionist Mexican War.) Many of us probably had the same grim, awful sense that I had during the 9/11 disaster: what was happening to us was just a particle of what the Bush administration would do in our name in retribution. And many of us probably wanted to resist this end. But we did not, mostly could not. This is not to exonerate us or the guards. It is to see ourselves in the guards, whose situation we helplessly helped create.

To Read the Entire Introduction and to Access the Other Essays

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Matt Kirby: I Heart Huckabees -- Premodern Help for Postmodern Times

I Heart Huckabees -- Premodern Help for Postmodern Times
by Matt Kirby
Metaphilm



Daniel Duane of the New York Times Magazine paraphrases America’s most commercially successful philosophical counselor, Lou Marinoff, thus:

“Americans are tired of psychologists dwelling on our every painful feeling, we’re sick of psychiatrists prescribing a new drug every time we feel confused, and many of our most pressing problems aren’t even emotional or chemical to begin with—they’re philosophical.”


Marinoff, whose slogan and book is Plato, not Prozac!, is suing his employer, the City University of New York, over lost revenue resulting from a since-lifted ban on his campus practice. He complains, “These people just can’t tell the difference between psychology and philosophy.”

Unfortunately, the manner in which philosophical counseling generally proceeds—a series of one-on-one conversations between philosopher and “philosophand”—does nothing to dissuade such a comparison. The format of psychoanalysis—paid consultation with a professionally distanced expert wherein the subject’s life is recounted in isolation from the world—has come to dominate our understanding of how a person “gets help.”

A notable element of David Russell’s I ♥ Huckabees is that it takes philosophical counseling and replaces the psychoanalytical method with the tactics of the investigator to yield a new trope: the “existential detective.”

Unlike the analyst, who uses the narratives of psychoanalysis to explain the phenomenal world, the traditional gumshoe detective interprets the phenomenal world, employing mundane objects and occurrences as clues in the construction of a narrative of heightened meaning—how a crime was committed. This requires him to reconstruct events by walking the same route, handling the same objects, and confronting the same enemies as the subject. In part, he shares the fate of the person he helps. Likewise in Huckabees, ordinary details in the life of the person being investigated—tensions in the workplace, the loss of a family cat, a (planted) Kafka title in the trash—are transformed into crucial signifiers in a larger story.

By combining the trope of the risk-taking investigator with that of the philosopher—someone willing to peer into grand, abstract questions of meaning and existence, I ♥ Huckabees has recreated, in modern language, a pre-modern problem solving form. Russell’s existential detective is a distinctly Western figure employing the methods of a shaman.

A shamanistic process

One problem with the word “shaman,” which traces its origins to the Siberian steppe, is that it is popularly employed by people more interested in fantasizing about some alternate reality than squaring their shoulders to bear the mundane burdens of this one. However, in cultures where such an office exists, the job of the shaman is primarily to foster the interrelation of two groups or positions that have hardened into such stubborn opposition that the survival of the society is at risk. For life to go on, the two camps must overcome their polemic, and the shaman acts by throwing himself into the fray—mentally, bodily, and emotionally, sometimes at personal risk. The result of his labors typically constitutes a paradigm shift rather than a compromise: the rules, though not necessarily undone, are re-contextualized and the system changes, including the position of the shaman himself.

The Existential Detectives in Huckabees, including their dissenting French faction, are essentially concerned with one thing—conflict—and not, as protagonist Albert Markovski initially supposes, with understanding coincidence in itself. Ideas, for the detectives, are clues that reveal human soul-sickness or tools that can correct it. Their explanations of how the universe works—a unified “blanket” on one hand and a meaningless void on the other—tend to be goofy or oversimplified. But this is somewhat beside the point, for their aim is action rather than analysis. They are working toward the creation and resolution of conflict—achieving a moment of crisis in order to shift an entire system.

On the surface, the schism at hand is the irreconcilability of the worldviews of bleeding-heart poet Markovski and junior executive Brad Stand. The solution of Markovski’s case requires the simultaneous solution of Stand’s. Isolated growth is not an option. The solution of both cases further depends on the solution of Tommy Corn’s and Dawn Campbell’s cases—and ultimately on the reorganization of the detectives themselves into winking compatriots rather than rivals in a zero-sum philosophical game.

This is the most startling characteristic of what, for lack of a better word, we can call the shamanistic process: to resolve one problem the entire system must be reordered. The universe is momentarily flattened so that Saint Anthony really is concerned with where you left your car keys and talk of deep things versus mundane matters is irrelevant because everything is both. The film expresses this by linking several of America’s currently raging polemics with the lives of individual agents: religion, oil, sprawl, the African crisis, and that incident in September all have something do with why Albert Markovski simply cannot stand Brad Stand and vice versa.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Democracy Now: Academy Award-Winning Filmmaker Oliver Stone Tackles Latin America’s Political Upheaval in "South of the Border"

Academy Award-Winning Filmmaker Oliver Stone Tackles Latin America’s Political Upheaval in "South of the Border", US Financial Crisis in Sequel to Iconic "Wall Street"
Democracy Now

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone has taken on three American presidents in JFK, Nixon and W. and the most controversial aspects of the war in Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. He looked at the greed of the financial industry in the Hollywood hit Wall Street and its forthcoming sequel. In South of the Border, his latest documentary out this week in the United States, Stone takes a road trip across South America, meeting with seven presidents about the revolution sweeping the continent. The leftist transformation in the region might be ignored or misrepresented as nothing but "anti-Americanism" in the corporate media, but this film seeks to tell a different story. Stone joins us along with the film’s co-writer, the Pakistani British author and activist Tariq Ali.

To Watch/Listen/Read and Access More Resources

Democracy Now: "Tea Party in Sonora" -- Ken Silverstein of Harper’s Says Arizona is Laboratory for Radical GOP Policies

"Tea Party in Sonora": Ken Silverstein of Harper’s Says Arizona is Laboratory for Radical GOP Policies
Democracy Now

A new article by Harper’s Magazine Washington editor Ken Silverstein argues that Arizona has become a laboratory not just for immigration policy, but a broad range of issues. It’s a place, he writes, where the Tea Party is arguably the ruling party, and should the Republicans retake nationwide power, "the country might start to resemble the right-wing desert that Arizona has become."

To Watch/Listen/Read and to Access Silverstein's Article

Speaking of Faith: Stress and the Balance Within

Stress and the Balance Within
Speaking of Faith (American Public Media)
Host: Krista Tippett



The American experience of stress has spawned a multi-billion dollar self-help industry. Wary of this, Esther Sternberg says that, until recently, modern science did not have the tools or the inclination to take emotional stress seriously. She shares fascinating new scientific insight into the molecular level of the mind-body connection.

To Listen to the Program and Access Resources

Roderick Heath on Election (Johnnie To, 2005)

Election (Hak se wui, 2005) Director: Johnnie To
by Roderick Heath
Ferdy on Films



...

To’s quick eye takes in a raft of small details that fill out the universe of the triad bosses with alternatively disarming and dismaying effect. Most of these gangsters aren’t actually very tough or especially good at their jobs—they’re mostly middle-age men whose days of roughneck street warfare and standover work are behind them. Amongst the younger ones, who include young punks with something to prove, and genuinely fierce warriors in need of a watchful eye, the slickest is the preternaturally cool Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo), who distributes bribes and collects debts whilst also attending seminars in finance. Small and large rituals—Teng Wai making tea for the uncles to seal their election decision; a later, full-on, religious-flavoured, blood-brother ceremony—define and seal their society. The power of ritual and tradition is simultaneously endangered, illusory, and still binding in subtle and supple ways. The governorship of the triad is established by totems and oaths, and but these are only emblems of real things, and the competition to command the emblems will finally express the reality of those symbols. As the film plays out, the meanings of those symbols become thoroughly apparent.

Election also hints at broader meanings through its title: the election, the illusion of democracy, is a sanctified ritual in the triad. But it’s only possible because of the mutual consent of powerful men, and To encompasses the history of Hong Kong and the relationship of Chinese society to centuries of hegemonic rulers both foreign and domestic. Simultaneously, what adherence to a creed means is taken seriously all the way through, even though the drama is driven by upstart Big D’s refusal to accept the rules, a breach of the creed. He threatens that if he doesn’t get his way, he will break away and form his own triad, a potent threat indeed as no one wants a war. The police know they can’t stamp out the triads, and are happy to act as something like referees in this game to reduce collateral damage; their attempts to corral the uncles before the situation combusts prove partly successful. In a moment that’s both ribald and telling, Long Gun, whilst berating Sam and Big D for failing to give a big enough bribe, orders a nubile young prostitute to jump up and down for him: those old farts are happy as long as their pockets are stuffed, their dicks are wet, and the world’s jumping to their regulated beat.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Barbara Koziak: Shepherding Romance -- Reviving the Politics of Romantic Love in Brokeback Mountain

Shepherding Romance: Reviving the Politics of Romantic Love in Brokeback Mountain
By BARBARA KOZIAK
Genders



[1] The recent film, Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee and based on Annie Proulx’s short story, received an overwhelmingly admiring response from newspaper and magazine film critics, won a series of prominent film awards, and roused a large, fervent fan base. Several large on-line discussion forums created in the months following the film’s release analyze every scene, symbol, and character, and remain to this day communities with interests that have expanded beyond the film. Coinciding with the emergence of You Tube and a new amateur video culture, fan enthusiasm created both lyrical tributes and hilarious parodies on video websites. A mini-Brokeback tourist industry emerged, with one website devoting itself to mapping and photographing every shooting location for every scene. These web-based responses culminated in net-generated cultural activism and even the popular naming of a new syndrome, “Brokeback Mountain Fever.”

[2] Such exuberant responses to the film appeared in the midst of a politically treacherous period for sexuality in public life. In the years before the film’s appearance, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled state anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional in their 2003 decision Lawrence v. Texas, five U.S. states enacted civil union or domestic partnership legislation while a handful of others recognized some spousal rights, and Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. On the other hand, during the 2004 election season, eleven states passed amendments or laws effectively barring same-sex marriage, and the red and blue state divide has largely formed around such prominent issues of sexuality and marriage. Political events after the appearance of the film were similarly ambivalent: Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, four other states enacted some form of civil union or domestic partnership laws, and New York now recognizes all marriages contracted in other states. Pulling in the opposite direction, the rush to exclude gays and lesbians from marrying continued with eight more states in 2006 and three in 2008. The last group included the stunning reversal through popular ballot of the California Supreme Court’s approval of gay marriage. Remarkably, although politics have been dominated by a sharp backlash against the early victories for gay rights, over the same period, popular support nationwide for gay marriage has been slowly increasing (Campo-Flores 38). Just this year, in the space of a week, legislators in Vermont and the courts in Iowa legalized same-sex marriage.

[3] To explain this growing support, cultural studies scholar David Shumway has argued that we should understand the changing social and narrative context for heterosexual relationships. In particular, Shumway claims that a new class of intimacy narratives in literature and film, in which people expect multiple relationships requiring intensive communicative work, has prepared the straight world to accept gay unions. However, unlike the intimacy narratives Shumway discusses, no single narrative work in the late twentieth century has so broadly appealed to both gays and straights. Although the approval has hardly been universal, popular gay websites and magazines were enthusiastic. For example, AfterElton.com’s list of 50 greatest gay movies begins with Brokeback as number one, and The Advocate featured several Brokeback themed covers. In addition, the film won numerous awards, including MTV’s Best Kiss award and the Academy Award for Best Director (if not for Best Picture), and it continues to appear in popular newspaper and magazine lists of the most romantic movies. The studio, Focus Features, understood these possibilities and worked to broaden the film’s appeal beyond GLBT and art house audiences principally by marketing the film to women, and particularly by branding it as romance (Lippman). This wide embrace is significant since Brokeback Mountain encompasses a classical romantic love narrative, not an intimacy narrative.

[4] In fact, the film arrived at a particularly strange, uncertain moment in the cultural course of love. Some have argued that romantic love emerged in the West in the milieu surrounding the production of French troubadour poetry of the twelfth century, gained widespread popularization in the nineteenth and twentieth century, but lately has been successfully challenged by new modes of heterosexual relations (Shumway, Modern Love; Bloch). In response to this historical thesis, a new debate has emerged on the cultural universality of such a love (Cheung; Janowiak; Gottschall and Nordlund). Others argue that romantic love as currently practiced has undergone a dangerous intensification (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim), while others examine how it has been infiltrated by consumerist desires (Illouz). More recently, some sociologists and historians have reemphasized the historical and psychic disjunction of love and marriage (Coontz), how marriage was traditionally not based on love, and how the effort to link the two has destabilized marriage. Feminist conversations, which in the second wave often critiqued both marriage and love (Beauvoir; Firestone), more recently turned to examining sexual desire and marriage in the midst of the politics surrounding gay and lesbian unions. This new conversation in feminist theory has been relatively silent on romantic love (Card; Josephson; Ferguson; Shanley). Those early second generation feminists had often seen romantic love as a velvet trap for women, but their analysis was rightly devoted to this trap, and they often ended on a utopian hope for a transformed love. It is time to reconsider the socio-political effect of romantic love narratives, particularly because Brokeback and the emergence of online communities enable us to reexamine both a new iteration of this orthodox tale and its contemporary reception.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Maria Pramaggiore: The global repositioning of the city symphony: sound, space, and trauma in 11’09”01—September 11

The global repositioning of the city symphony: sound, space, and trauma in 11’09”01—September 11
by Maria Pramaggiore
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...

Given the political and aesthetic heritage of the omnibus film, and given the political and media inflections associated with 9/11, it’s not surprising that the individual films in 11’09”01 address both political and aesthetic questions in their work. The majority of the films in the collection are narrative dramatizations that explore the responses of individuals or small groups at the moment they first hear about or experience the attacks (Makhmalbaf; Lelouch; Chahine; Gitaï; Tanovic; Penn). Others employ narratives that span a few days or weeks after the attacks, tracing their short-term impact (Ouedraogo; Nair). Several reject narrative altogether (Loach; Gonzáles Iñárritu) or work in an allegorical mode (Imamura). Even the most conventional narratives call attention to aspects of film form:

* in Chahine’s film, the director carries on a conversation with a ghost soldier, reminding viewers of the capacity of the moving image to bring the dead to life;

* in Gitai’s film, a layered structure turns the broadcast media into a hall of mirrors, as a reporter covering a fatal car bombing in Tel Aviv finds that her report has been pre-empted by news of the 9/11 attacks;

* in Lelouch’s film, sound and image are used disjunctively, competing for the spectator’s attention, as a hearing impaired woman living in New York remains unaware of a television in her living room that is broadcasting footage of the WTC attacks as they happen.

In all these instances, the formal capacities of the film medium are given enhanced emphasis because some conventional attribute of sound and image, such as legibility or synchronization, is violated.

The most important formal issue for 11’9”01 is that, like all omnibus films, it must contend with its own inherent fragmentation. According to David Scott Diffrient, who has written extensively on the omnibus film,

“Containment is one of the central issues appertaining to cinematic episodicity, which seeks some middle ground between unchecked excess and absolute boundaries. How does one mark off one self-contained narrative from another in a package feature or omnibus film?” (Diffrient 529).

Brigand’s containment strategy, like the choices made in designing the Sonic Memorial, manifests the desire to condense the time and space of 9/11. Containment here takes the form of an overarching graphic device that opens the film and re-appears between each of the 11 segments. The “clock-map” of the world is a dynamic, ethereal graphic that superimposes a large, bright white analog clockface onto a dark, starry background. In the opening of the film, small luminous clockfaces, with sections of continents etched in them, glide across the dark background. After they move into place, forming the continents, all the clocks stop ticking. A bright red glowing dot illuminates New York City, signifying the moment of the attack on the WTC. The various times on the clockfaces record the same instant in different time zones. Finally, the clock and maps dissolve into the title.

This device, which would look right at home on a network or cable news broadcast, attempts to unify the 11 fragmented films and indeed the complex event itself by compressing the time and space of one moment of the attack across the globe, signified by the static clockfaces, the jigsaw-puzzle continents, and the fiery red glow. Yet it remains unclear which moment on that day was or should be designated as “time zero”: the first plane slamming into the north tower (8:46 am EST), the second plane hitting the south tower (9:03 am), or the collapse of the towers (9:59 am—south tower—and 10:28 am—north tower) even if we momentarily set aside the question of how to account for the Pentagon and Pennsylvania crashes. The clock map appears to use the first crash into the south tower to synchronize the film’s representational clock: no clockface reads 8:46 am, but two clocks located over the North American continent read 7:46 am and 6:46 am.

Before each of the 11 films, this graphic returns with the same black background and white continent silhouettes, but without the clockfaces. In these introductory segments, after New York glows red, the national map of the filmmaker whose work is about to be shown is illuminated in white. The repetition of the graphic suggests equivalence among the disparate films, but several obvious dislocations arise. Some spatial disjunctions are meant to be obvious; for example, the fact that New York appears geographically distant from some of the nations from which the filmmakers hail (Iran, or Burkina Faso, for example). The fact that New York—a city—is presented as the equivalent of entire nations introduces an incongruity as well. Yet another spatial discrepancy remains invisible: the fact that some films made by directors who are citizens of countries other than the United States are not necessarily set in those “other” countries. For example, Lelouch, Iñárritu, and Nair’s films are set in New York rather than in France, Mexico, and India, respectively—so the illumination of those national maps undermines the ability of the graphic to introduce these films (set in New York) because that ties the director and the film to a specific, “non-American” national identity.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Monday, July 19, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Speak the Truth, Even If Your Voice Shakes"

(Photograph by Jantzen Ray, via Carl Root)

Democracy Now: "Top Secret America" Washington Post Investigation Reveals Massive, Unmanageable, Outsourced US Intelligence System

"Top Secret America" Washington Post Investigation Reveals Massive, Unmanageable, Outsourced US Intelligence System
Democracy Now

An explosive investigative series published in the Washington Post today begins, "The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work." Among the findings: An estimated 854,000 people hold top-secret security clearances. More than 1,200 government organizations and nearly 2,000 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in 10,000 locations. We speak with one of the co-authors of the series, Bill Arkin.

To Watch/Listen/Read


Tim Shorrock Asks Why It Took the Washington Post So Long to Investigate the US Intelligence System
Democracy Now



"With all due respect to the Washington Post, Dana Priest and Bill Arkin are very good reporters, we have to ask, why did it take them seven years to do this story?" says Tim Shorrock, an investigative journalist and author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. "Anyone who’s been covering intelligence or national security in Washington knows that intelligence has been privatized to an incredible extent."

To Watch/Listen/Read

Wax Tailor: How I Feel

Democracy Now: Tom Engelhardt on "The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s"

Tom Engelhardt on "The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s"
Democracy Now



We discuss the latest in the ongoing US war in Afghanistan, the longest-running war in American history, with Tom Engelhardt, creator and editor of the website TomDispatch and author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s. Engelhardt says the US war in Afghanistan has troubling parallels with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan of the 1980s.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Real News Network: G20 Reports of Police Brutality -- "THEY ARE NEVER GOING TO GET INSIDE MY HEAD"; "WE ASKED THEM FOR MERCY...THEY LAUGHED AT US"

The Real News Network

Highly recommended! Clear videos of the abuse this peaceful protestor suffered, of her being hit/slammed/cuffed and thrown into an umarked van with plainclothes police, and testimony of the beating and sexual threats she received from these police officers.

This was reported in mainstream news (CNN/CBC/Toronto Star), now... hear her story in her own words--very inspiring testimong from an intelligent, brave activist:

"THEY ARE NEVER GOING TO GET INSIDE MY HEAD"



Another good description from a (non-protesting) citizen swept up in the police raids--interesting the lessons being taught by the police state to everyday citizens (not to mention activists)

"G20: WE ASKED THEM FOR MERCY... THEY LAUGHED AT US"

Michael Warren: Argentina Gay Marriage Law -- First Country In Latin America To Approve Same Sex Marriage

Argentina Gay Marriage Law: First Country In Latin America To Approve Same Sex Marriage
by Michael Warren
Huffington Post

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalize gay marriage Thursday, granting same-sex couples all the legal rights, responsibilities and protections that marriage brings to heterosexuals.

The law's passage – a priority for President Cristina Fernandez's government – has inspired activists to push for similar laws in other countries, and a wave of gay weddings are expected in Buenos Aires. Some gay business leaders are predicting an economic ripple effect from an increase in tourism among gays and lesbians who will see Argentina as an even more attractive destination.

But it also carries political risks for Fernandez and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner. The vote divided their governing coalition, and while gay rights have strong support in the capital, anti-gay feelings still run strong in much of Argentine society, where the vast majority of people are Roman Catholic.

"From today onward, Argentina is a more just and democratic country," said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender federation. The law "not only recognizes the rights of our families, but also the possibility of having access to health care, to leave a pension, to leave our assets to the people with whom we have shared many years of life, including our children," she said.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pinocchio Theory: Gamer

Gamer
by Steven Shaviro
Pinocchio Theory



Gamer is science fiction. This means, not just that the movie is set in the near future, in a world whose technology is extrapolated from our own, but also that it explores the futurity that is very much a part of our actual present — the potential for change that is inherent within our presentness. Literally speaking, the movie takes place “some years from this exact moment” (as an opening title tells us). The world of the film is one in which the media — and especially the computer gaming environment — that we know today are taken to the next level. In the movie’s near-future extrapolation, spectacle, virtualization, and “entertainment” in general have been pushed to their logical extremes. Everyone in the world, it seems, is addicted to MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role-playing games). But these games are themselves viscerally “real,” in a way that is not yet the case today. The basic science-fictional ploy of the movie is to envision a form of gaming in which gamers control the actions, not of virtual avatars on a screen, but of real, physical, flesh-and-blood bodies: human “actors.” In this way, Gamer combines, and updates, the two most prominent popular entertainment forms of the current decade: massively multiplayer online gaming, and reality television. Conceptually, Gamer explores these forms of entertainment in order to think about freedom and enslavement in what Deleuze called the control society, or in a world that — as McKenzie Wark describes it — has become indistinguishable from gamespace.

There are two games that dominate the world of Gamer: Society and Slayer. In both of these games, the human actors who actually perform the physical actions of the game have no free will. Thanks to nano-implants, they no longer control their own bodies and motor actions. Rather, they are forced to take orders from the gamers “playing” them. Artificial nanocells are introduced into their brains; these cells reproduce, replacing the original, organic nerve cells with synthetic ones. Once you have undergone this procedure, you have an IP address in your head, and your body obeys whatever commands are transmitted to that address by the player who controls you. You say what they say, and move the way that they want you to move. Of course, this only works one way: actors can’t see or hear their controllers, but the controllers are able to live vicariously through them.


Society is a hilariously sleazy live version of Second Life or The Sims, with gamers guiding their actors through scenarios of drug consumption, partying and clubbing, and (most of all) down ‘n’ dirty sex. Actors rollerskate through crowded plazas, crashing into one another; or they grope one another in crowded dance clubs; or they accost one another with corny pickup lines in bars. The gamespace of Society is visually garish, with hypersaturated colors, and with raunchy costumes and lurid, tacky interior decorations that egregiously shriek out their own “bad taste.” Our first view of Society’s gamespace is hilariously set to the satirical song “The Bad Touch” by Bloodhound Gang (“You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals/ So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel”). Gamer illustrates the relation between player and actor directly, by cutting back and forth between the “actor” Angie (Amber Valletta) and her controller (Ramsey Moore). Angie is ridiculously dressed in a white fur wrap, blue hot pants, pink platform boots, and an orange wig; she is reduced, basically, to being a sexbot in the world of Society. Her controller is a morbidly obese, wheelchair-bound man; we usually see him in extreme facial closeup, sweating profusely, consuming munchies, and licking his slobbering lips as he moves her into one degrading situation after another.


Society is all about sex as spectacle; but in reality, sex is subordinated to economics. The financial structure of Society is simple, and brilliantly capitalist: you can either be a consumer by paying to play, or be a worker by being paid to be played. As Vishnevetsky observes, Gamer is “the sort of movie that imagines what the working class would have to do in its fantasy scenario” — something that is left out of most transhumanist and “exodus-to-the-virtual-world” visions. On the one hand, consumers get a pornographic experience that is still vicarious (and therefore safe) for them, but more “real” than any mere simulation could be. On the other hand, the “actors” receive wages for what is the ne plus ultra of affective labor: the production, not of physical objects, but directly of moods, feelings, and experiences. The sim-actor is not just selling the use of his or her “labor-power” for a certain number of hours (as is the case in classical capitalism as described by Marx); more than this, he or she is actually selling his or her “life” itself as a commodity. Of course, such a “biopolitical” mode of exploitation (which would seem to combine the worst aspects of slavery and of wage labor) is increasingly the norm — as Hardt and Negri argue — in our contemporary world of post-Fordism, “real subsumption,” and immaterial or affective production. Today, profits are extracted from the whole texture of our lives, not just from the labor we perform during specific hours in a factory or an office. Behind both the consumer/player and the actor/slave, there is the billionaire software genius who created, and who owns, Society (more about him below). He not only makes immense profits from user fees, but also acquires massive amounts of economically-valuable data through the technology’s surveillance of everything that streams over the network, or that happens in the minds of the nano-implanted actors.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Girish: Mediators--The Experience of Internet Cinephilia

(Response and appreciation of Girish's Mediators: The Experience of Internet Cinephilia)

I don't have anything profound to say other than this post just sent me off on the most amazing morning online derive that provided me with two hours of intense film reading and a handful of sites that I have marked down to return to later.

Thanks!

PS I addressed this a few years ago in thinking about my cultural derives in my daily life and Michael Wesch's lessons on 21st Century Literacies

Pinocchio Theory: Slow Cinema vs Fast Films

(Important statement on the problematic critical celebration of contemplative cinema as the pinnacle of filmmaking--if this piece interests you, definitely check out the comments ...)

Slow Cinema Vs Fast Films
by Steven Shaviro
Pinocchio Theory

...

Anyway. Like Nick James, I am not insensitive to the greatness and power of many of these recent “slow” or “contemplative” films. Tsai Ming-Liang is a great director by any accounting; Tarr, Kore-eda, and Sokurov have in my opinion made some important and powerful films (though in both cases, I find their work uneven). And friends of mine, whose aesthetic sensibilities I respect, have had sublime experiences with films by Reygadas, Weerasethakul, and Alonso — and I can see what it is in the films by these directors that appeal to them, even though I do not quite share their admiration.

And yet, and yet… There seems to be something lacking to me in nearly all the recent exercises in contemplative (or slow) cinema, when you compare them with such older “contemplative” works as Antonioni’s films of the 1960s, Chantal Akerman’s early films from the 1970s, Miklos Jancsó’s films of the 1960s and early 1970s, and Tarkovsky’s films before he left Russia. There was something daring and provocative about Antonioni’s portrayals of fatigue and ennui, and his precise contemplations of the positive emptiness of both natural and human-made landscapes; about Akerman’s digging into the horrors of women’s everydayness; of Jancsó’s icy priouettes around the clashes of armies on vast plains; about Tarkovsky’s patience and sense of duration. All these directors were extremists in their own singular ways: by which I mean they were pushing cinema to its extreme limits, as well as exploring the extreme aspects of human possibility and impossibility (and not just human ones — some of these directors may well be credited with pioneering a potential posthuman and object-oriented cinema).

In today’s contemplative cinema, in contrast, the daringness and provocation are missing. I never get the sense that Dumont, or Reygadas, for instance, are ever taking risks or pushing boundaries. There’s an oppressive sense in which the long-take, long-shot, slow-camera-movement, sparse-dialogue style has become entirely routinized; it’s become a sort of default international style that signifies “serious art cinema” without having to display any sort of originality or insight. “Contemplative cinema” has become a cliche; it has outlived the time in which it was refreshing or inventive.

I’d even say that the most inspired works of “difficult” international cinema are characterized by the ways that they depart from slow-cinema norms. Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, for instance, cannot be classified as slow or contemplative cinema: its narrative is oblique, as is its presentation of that narrative, but it is too intimate, or too interested in the feelings and everyday shifts of attention and mood of its protagonists, to fit the “slow” paradigm. The late (and still woefully underappreciated) Edward Yang abandoned the Antonioniesque stylings and slownesses of his earlier films for something more like a Renoiresque social realism with ensemble casts (I still think that Confucian Confusion and Mahjong are two of the greatest films of the 1990s, together constituting the postmodern equivalent of Rules of the Game). Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life is utterly inspired, with its peculiar, more-than-Gondryesque take on mortality and memory, while Still Walking seems to me to be just standard-issue CCC, with a deep-emotions-displayed-through-restraint portrayal that is strictly by the numbers, more “moving” than actually moving. Similarly, the handheld-camera rawness of Jia Zhang-ke’s earlier films (like the intensely disillusioning Xiao Wu) seem to me to be far superior to his “slower” recent works. The crazy excesses of the best Korean directors (Bong Joon-ho, park Chan-wook, and Kim Ki-Duk) all evidence, in their utterly different ways, a hunger for all the dimensions of life (from corporeal to spiritual to social) that contemplative cinema systematically omits. In his best films, Takeshi Kitano pushes slow cinema to the point of buffoonery and absurdity. And Takashi Miike has shown more formal invention, and rethinking of what cinema is, what it can be, and what it means, in each year of his career than all the CCC directors combined have shown over their entire careers. (And I could go on; Wong Kar-Wai, David Lynch, Guy Maddin, and Mladen Djordjevic are all important contemporary directors who have nothing whatsoever to do with Contemplative Cinema).

To Read the Entire Essay