Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Black Angels: "You In Colour"

Lorraine Mortimer: Something Against Nature - Sweet Movie, 4, and Disgust

Something Against Nature: Sweet Movie, 4, and Disgust
by Lorraine Mortimer
Senses of Cinema


Makavejev shared Wilhelm Reich’s valuing of autonomy, not as an abstract ideal, but as a somatic-emotional experience—that of setting one’s own limits in relation to others. Like Reich, he was convinced of the dangers of servility, of raising human beings who do not know their own nature, and who can become prey to the call of tyrants with the promise of wholeness, happiness and empowerment. John Stuart Mill articulated something of this idea long ago, when he wrote of people from the highest to the lowest classes of society, who live “as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship”, until “by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to follow: their human capacities are withered and starved.” (17) These capacities, often less-than-heroic, and by no means all attractive, are exercised and performed in Sweet Movie, where physiological revolt is acted out, provoked, and experienced, one way or another, by the viewer him- or herself. The commune sequences, writes Cavell,

are, among other things, revolting. Placed in general adjacency with the sequence of the Katyn massacre, which is also revolting, we are asked to ask ourselves what we are revolted by… If rotting corpses make us want to vomit, why at the same time do live bodies insisting on their vitality? But the members of the commune themselves display images of revulsion, as if to vomit up the snakes and swords and fire the world forces down our throats. It is on this understanding that the sequence strikes me as one of innocence, or of a quest for innocence—the exact reverse of the unredeemable acts of tyrants, under whatever banner. (18)

Cavell’s ‘innocence’ here, like that of the poet, William Blake, is not related to ignorance or denial. It is intense, fulsome and complex, opposed to a cynical and sour experience. “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom”, was one of Blake’s proverbs from ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’. Called ‘mad’ by some of his contemporary artists and political radicals, he might have envisioned such scenes as we have in this film in some of his wildest hallucinations. Said Cavell, wisely:

Sweet Movie [is] in effect the most concentrated work I know that follows out the idea that the way to assess the state of the world is to find out how it tastes (a sense modality not notably stressed by orthodox epistemologists but rather consigned to a corner of aesthetics)—which means both to find out how it tastes to you and how it tastes you, for example, to find out whether you and the world are disgusting to one another…

The film attempts to extract hope…from the very fact that we are capable of genuine disgust at the world; that our revoltedness is a chance for a cleansing revulsion; that we may purge ourselves by living rather than by killing, willing to visit hell if that is the direction to something beyond purgatory; that the fight for freedom continues to originate in the demands of our instincts, the chaotic cry of our nature, our cry to have a nature. It is a work powerful enough to encourage us to see again that the tyrant’s power continues to require our complicitous tyranny over ourselves. (19)

Early in the commune sequence, before Momma Communa (outrageously) suckled Miss World, when she was feeding her own baby, we watched something not often seen in (civilised) public spaces. The camera didn’t cut away from the baby withdrawing itself from her nipple, which in its elongated shape, looked something like a dagger—or a penis. In a way, the act of nourishment and nurture can have a discomforting edge to it, a seeming ‘indecency’, as if we are exposed to what Mary Douglas called “matter out of place.” (20) In nature as in life, nothing is pure. Once we let natural vitality into our picture, we must also let in decay; when we admit the reality of birth and death. The ‘theatre’ of the commune scenes doesn’t let us escape the realities of bodily functions, the breakdown of boundaries between solids and liquids, inside and outside, cultural and biological. And the performance is unapologetic and even aggressive, certainly on a first viewing, when we are unprepared and often overwhelmed. For members of the film’s audience, Cavell’s “cleansing revulsion”, the purging “by living rather than by killing” are probably far harder for us to take because we are not actual participants. There is perhaps a feeling of helplessly watching a difficult birth. The shaved heads and nude bodies of the participants perhaps conjure up Auschwitz, especially in this film where we have watched unearthings of victims of a war massacre. But more than this, in this spectacle that we are (as if) locked into, the regressing participants clearly don’t become babies but appear as infantile, less than attractive, adults. As their bodies seem to take on their own wills, with their uncoordinated movements, and lack of boundaries and protocols for bodily substances, more than adults undertaking a certain kind of liberation, they conjure up the disturbed and the sick, the dying—humans who are losing ordinary ‘civil’ controls and proprieties they struggle to keep with age and illness. Their carnal humus is revealed, the evidence that they, and we, are in the end, degradable matter.


To Read the Entire Essay

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Greta Christina: Wealthy, Handsome, Strong, Packing Endless Hard-Ons - The Impossible Ideals Men Are Expected to Meet

Wealthy, Handsome, Strong, Packing Endless Hard-Ons: The Impossible Ideals Men Are Expected to Meet
By Greta Christina

You've almost certainly heard feminist rants about impossible cultural ideals of femininity: how standards of femininity are so narrow and rigid they're literally unattainable; how, to avoid being seen as unfeminine, women are expected to navigate an increasingly narrow window between slut and prude, between capable and docile, between moral enforcer and empathetic helpmeet.

Here's what you may not know: It works that way for men as well.

A recent article about male fitness models has made me vividly conscious of how the expectations of masculinity aren't just rigid or narrow. They are impossible. They are, quite literally, unattainable.

And while this unattainability can tie men into knots, I think -- in a weird paradox -- it can also offer a glimmer of hope.

The article in question is about the hellish, dangerous, illness-inducing routines that male fitness models regularly go through to forge their bodies into an attractive photograph of the masculine ideal. According to journalist Peta Bee in the Express UK (the article was originally published in the Sunday Times [London], but they put it behind a paywall), in order to make their bodies more photogenic and more in keeping with the masculine "fitness" ideal, top male fitness models routinely put themselves through an extreme regimen in the days and weeks before a photo shoot. Not a regimen of intense exercise and rigorously healthy diet, mind you... but a regimen that involves starvation, dehydration, excessive consumption of alcohol and sugar right before a shoot, and more.

This routine is entirely unrelated to any concept of "fitness." In fact, it leaves the models in a state of serious hypoglycemia: dizzy, exhausted, disoriented, and (ironically) unable to exercise, and indeed barely able to walk. But the routine makes their muscles look big, and tightens their skin to make their muscles "pop" on camera. And even then, the magazines use lighting tricks, posture tricks, flat-out deceptions, even Photoshop, to exaggerate this illusion of masculinity even further.

On any sort of realistic irony meter, the concept of starved, dehydrated, dazed, weakened men being offered as models of fitness completely buries the needle. But this isn't about reality. The image being sold is clearly not one of "fitness" -- i.e. athletic ability and physical health. The image being sold is an exaggerated, idealized, impossible extreme of hyper-masculinity.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Eve Ensler: I Am an Emotional Creature

Eve Ensler: I Am an Emotional Creature
Commonwealth Club

Since creating her groundbreaking first work, The Vagina Monologues, Ensler and the performers she inspired have grown into nothing less than a global movement.

A best-selling author, award-winning playwright and anti-violence activist, Ensler has been the voice for women and girls across the globe for over a decade.

In this conversation with author Daniel Handler, she reveals the daily struggles faced by modern women around the world.

To Watch the Conversation

Saturday, June 25, 2011

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

Film School (KUCI)

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

To Listen to the Episode (MP3)

Will Potter: What is the “Green Scare”?

What is the “Green Scare”?
by Will Potter
Green is the New Red


So Why Is This Happening?

The government and corporations haven’t tried to hide the fact that this is all meant to protect corporate profits. The Department of Homeland Security, in a bulletin to law enforcement agencies, warned: “Attacks against corporations by animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists are costly to the targeted company and, over time, can undermine confidence in the economy.”

And in a leaked PowerPoint presentation given by the State Department to corporations, we learn: “Although incidents related to terrorism are most likely to make the front-page news, animal rights extremism is what’s most likely to affect your day-to-day business operations.”

Underground activists like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front directly threaten corporate profits by doing things like burning bulldozers or sabotaging animal research equipment. But they’re not the only ones.

The entire animal rights and environmental movements, perhaps more than any other social movements, directly threaten corporate profits. They do it every day. Every time activists encourage people to go vegan, every time they encourage people to stop driving, every time they encourage people to consume fewer resources and live simply. Those boycotts are permanent, and these industries know it. In many ways, the Green Scare, like the Red Scare, can be seen as a culture war, a war of values.

What Effect Has This Had?

The point of all this, according to the government, is to crack down on underground activists. But underground activists already know what they’re doing is illegal, and it hasn’t stopped them. In fact, it may have added fuel to the fire. For instance, the same day the SHAC 7 were convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” for running a website that posted news of both legal and illegal actions, underground activists rescued animals from a vivisection lab and named them Jake, Lauren, Kevin, Andy, Josh, and Darius, after the defendants.

This is from the communiqué:

“And while the SHAC-7 will soon go to jail for simply speaking out on behalf of animals, those of us who have done all the nasty stuff talked about in the courts and in the media will still be free. So to those who still work with HLS and to all who abuse animals: we’re coming for you, motherfuckers.”

What Now?

So if outlandish prison sentences and “eco-terrorism” rhetoric aren’t deterring crimes or solving crimes, what’s the point?
Activists protest

Fear. It’s all about fear. The point is to protect corporate profits by instilling fear in the mainstream animal rights and environmental movements—and every other social movement paying attention—and make people think twice about using their First Amendment rights.


To Read the Entire Hyperlinked Essay

Friday, June 24, 2011

Green Cine Daily: Steve Dollar Interviews Alejandro Jodorowsky

INTERVIEW: Alejandro Jodorowsky
by Steve Dollar
Green Cine Daily

Now an avuncular 82, Alejandro Jodorowsky still has the air of a sly wizard about him—even over an Internet phone connection across the ocean in Deauville, France, where he was vacationing this week. This, after all, is the guy who once claimed: "Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my cojones." Not even age can wither that kind of spirit, as the Chilean émigré remains just as provocative in thought now as when he played the macho shaman in his classic cult movies El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), wildly influential hippie-era mindfucks that spun the tripped-out counterculture on its pointy little head.

The movies spent a long time in limbo, circulating on multiply dubbed VHS tapes for years before lingering legal issues were sorted out and they were released in remastered high-definition versions in 2006, complete with screenings at the New York Film Festival. Now they’ve been reissued in Blu-ray editions, and The Holy Mountain has a six-week run at MoMA's PS1 in Long Island City, where it will be screened three times a day in a theatrical gallery setting.

Paris has been Jodorowsky’s adoptive home since the 1960s, when his work in avant-garde street theater led him to create something he called the Panic Movement, a polymorphously perverse circus in which Antonin Artaud met lysergic freakout, and which forecast the metaphysical violence and sexuality of the films to come. As reported in the 1983 cult-film history Midnight Movies, by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum, the movement's grandest spectacle was a four-hour event staged in 1965 called Sacramental Melodrama.

"Against music provided by a six-piece rock band, a set consisting of a smashed automobile, and the visual frisson provided by a cast of bare-chested women (each body painted a different color), Jodorowsky appeared dressed in motorcyclist leather. He slit the throats of two geese, smashed plates, had himself stripped and whipped, danced with a honey-covered woman, and taped two snakes to his chest."

There's not a huge leap from that to Holy Mountain, a landmark of visionary filmmaking pitched somewhere between magic ritual and surreal burlesque. It's a rude, rowdy satire of contemporary society framed by a transcendental quest that becomes a cosmic "gotcha!" It's also a reminder of a time when making a movie could be like a gunfight. Jodorowsky populated his cast with drunks, prostitutes, disabled dwarves, monkeys, one-eyed men, plenty of naked people and an impromptu circus of frogs and lizards in costume. The movie's mesmerizing design evokes multiple religious traditions and occult imagery, including a set constructed of original tarot-card paintings and a shocking parade of flayed, crucified lambs held aloft by villagers (the filmmaker paid a local restaurant to supply the carcasses, then returned them to be served as dinner). There is still nothing quite like it, although everyone from Dennis Hopper to Darren Aronofsky have taken cues from its method and madness.

To Read the Interview

Danny Mayer: The Old, Weird Canelands

The old, weird canelands
By Danny Mayer
North of Center

“oh those fabled canelands
they come shimmering back
through two centuries”

—Warren Byrom, “Fabled Canelands”

There is a grand tradition within roots music to evoke what Greil Marcus has termed “the old, weird America,” a sort of mythical, strange underworld of the pre-modern American republic, a place where the boundaries separating blues, country, folk and mountain music do not yet seem to have taken hold. Musically, think Harry Smith’s folkways recordings of the 1920s, Woody Guthrie, Mississippi John Hurt, the Carter Family, John Hartford’s Aereoplane years, The Basement Tapes, Nebraska, and just about anything by Gillian Welch, Uncle Tupelo or Dexter Romweber.

Marcus used the term to describe how roots music connected modern America with its freakish past at risk of complete erasure: Pre-depression era Chicago confidence men like Yellow Kid Wiel selling fake stock options, nineteenth century medicine men traveling the deep south hawking healing tonics, turn of the century Shakespearean acting troupes floating down the Ohio, early republic religious revivalists setting up tents by the tens of thousands in the wilderness of Cane Ridge, KY, for weeks of Jesus, booze and massive orgies. Think of it as our national id, part fantasy and part historical record, old maps reminding new worlds.

Beginning with the album cover—a Gina Phillips tapestry depicting a pre-colonial Englishman in the opening act of clubbing an Indian—Warren Byrom’s debut solo record The Fabled Canelands is firmly situated within that old, weird America. The songs span a geographic and musical terrain bordered by the Appalachian mountains, the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and the Louisiana Gulf coast, though the heart of Byrom’s old America seems to be set nearby the inner Kentucky bluegrass region of his home, a place once thick with stands of river cane standing over ten feet tall, now long since mostly eradicated, which European settlers encountered when first flooding into the area.

To Read the Rest of the Review

DJ Monk One: The Last Thing I Learned From Gil Scott-Heron

A tribute by DJ Monk One to accompany an hour long mix of Gil Scott Heron:

Ill Doctrine: The Last Thing I Learned From Gil Scott-Heron

Johann Hari: In the age of distraction, we will need books more than ever

In the age of distraction, we will need books more than ever
by Johann Hari


We have now reached that point. And here's the function that the book - the paper book that doesn't beep or flash or link or let you watch a thousand videos all at once - does for you that nothing else will. It gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration. As Ulin puts it: "Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction.... It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise."

A book has a different relationship to time than a TV show or a Facebook update. It says that something was worth taking from the endless torrent of data and laying down on an object that will still look the same a hundred years from now. The French writer Jean-Phillipe De Tonnac says "the true function of books is to safeguard the things that forgetfulness constantly threatens to destroy." It's precisely because it is not immediate - because it doesn't know what happened five minutes ago in Kazakhstan, or in Charlie Sheen's apartment - that the book matters.

That's why we need books, and why I believe they will survive. Because most humans have a desire to engage in deep thought and deep concentration. Those muscles are necessary for deep feeling and deep engagement. Most humans don't just want mental snacks forever; they also want meals. The twenty hours it takes to read a book require a sustained concentration it's hard to get anywhere else. Sure, you can do that with a DVD boxset too - but your relationship to TV will always ultimately be that of a passive spectator. With any book, you are the co-creator, imagining it as you go. As Kurt Vonnegut out it, literature is the only art form in which the audience plays the score.

I'm not against e-books in principle - I'm tempted by the Kindle - but the more they become interactive and linked, the more they multitask and offer a hundred different functions, the less they will be able to preserve the aspects of the book that we actually need. An e-book reader that does a lot will not, in the end, be a book. The object needs to remain dull so the words - offering you the most electric sensation of all: insight into another person's internal life - can sing.

So how do we preserve the mental space for the book? We are the first generation to ever use the internet, and when I look at how we are reacting to it, I keep thinking of the Inuit communities I met in the Arctic, who were given alcohol and sugar for the first time a generation ago, and guzzled them so rapidly they were now sunk in obesity and alcoholism. Sugar, alcohol and the web are all amazing pleasures and joys - but we need to know how to handle them without letting them addle us.

The idea of keeping yourself on a digital diet will, I suspect, become mainstream soon. Just as I've learned not to stock my fridge with tempting carbs, I've learned to limit my exposure to the web - and to love it in the limited window I allow myself. I have installed the program 'Freedom' on my laptop: it will disconnect you from the web for however long you tell it to. It's the Ritalin I need for my web-induced ADHD. I make sure I activate it so I can dive into the more permanent world of the printed page for at least two hours a day, or I find myself with a sense of endless online connection that leaves you oddly disconnected from yourself.

T.S. Eliot called books "the still point of the turning world." He was right. It turns out, in the age of super-speed broadband we need dead trees to have living minds.

To Read the Entire Essay

Anil Menon's The Beast with Nine Million Feet: In a World of Bonsai People -- Believe in the Technology of Foolishness

"What are you angry about, dear one? That Soda-kaka wants my help, or that he wants my time?"

"Our time," she mumbled. "I wish you weren't so involved with politics."

"Yes, life would've been a lot simpler if I'd remained a scientist, if I hadn't started Free Life or become a voice for the voiceless."

"Sivan-bau!" A fisher-woman had gotten to her feet and was gesturing to others around her. "That's Sivan-bhau."

"So why did you?" asked Tara, tugging at her father's hand. "Why did you ever leave science? Why did you start Free Life? Why didn't you call at least once? Not even once. We didn't even know if you were dead or alive. I was so afraid I'd find out through the news. I got so tired of waiting. You care about everyone but us."

Tara felt tears trying to make a break for it. She blinked hard to put down the rebellion. "These look nice." She pointed to some green chillies.

"If I'd stayed in touch, it would have got all of you in even more trouble. I was trying not to make a bad situation worse. As to why I stopped being just a scientist, the answer is very simple. I realized millions of people were being thrown away. You've seen bonsai trees, no? The same acorn that can produce a hundred-foot oak tree can be made into a tree that fits a saucer."

Tara nodded. There was something so creepy about bonsai.

"In a way, that's what we do with millions of humans. If humans are given decent nutrition, a good education, some love, pushy parents and high expectations, they generally bloom, flourish, and reach their full potential. But take away resources, take away a person's freedoms, keep them in ignorance, bind them with superstition and fear, convince them of their inferiority, then you've created a bonsai person. Incomplete, stunted, denied even the capacity to hope. When I realized I was living in a world of bonsai people, and that I escaped only because I'd won the genetic lottery [editor's note: Sivan-bhau is talking about his scientific discovery that led to wealth, not that he has superior genetics], it was impossible to close my eyes and pretend all was well. So I'm doing my bit. Would you have preferred a father who didn't?"

"Sometimes... I wish I could see things the way you do."

"You do just fine." He squeezed her shoulder. "Sita has raised a wonderful daughter."

"But you think the best of everyone. Even when they aren't. And you have no idea who I am. Not really. I'm not noble at all. I'm so ordinary."

To her horror, Tara felt tears plotting another revolt.


"Don't be sorry, Tara. I admire nobility, but I don't want nobles. If my cause needed heroes and knights, I wouldn't do it. I believe we can create a world where poverty, violence, inequity and despair will only be a bad memory. Yes, it's foolish, but take my hand, dear one, and believe with me in the technology of foolishness. And I don't care if you're ordinary, underordinary or superordinary. I don't need reasons to love you. It's one the unexpected side-effects of beaing a father. Clear?" (Young-Zubaan, 2009: 124-126)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Melissa Anne-Marie Curley: Dead Men Don’t Lie -- Sacred Texts in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

Dead Men Don’t Lie: Sacred Texts in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.
by Melissa Anne-Marie Curley
Journal of Religion and Film

[1] In 1995, American auteur Jim Jarmusch released his experimental western Dead Man. In 1999, Jarmusch released Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, which played with the genres of the samurai picture and the mafia movie. In this paper, I argue that these two films share a single narrative, and that narrative is about books and what books can do. Taking up Mircea Eliade’s notion of the sacred text as a manual for recovering primordial time, I suggest that the protagonists of both films should be understood as Eliade’s “religious man.”

[2] Ghost Dog is a spectacularly cool black hitman loosely associated with the fading Vargo mafia family—Louie, a lesser member, once saved his life and since then he has served Louie as a retainer, adhering strictly to the rules of the samurai code. The film begins with Ghost Dog botching a job involving Louise Vargo, the daughter of the head of the family; a hit is thus ordered on Ghost Dog himself. The rest of the film traces him as he engineers his inevitable death in such a way that he can be killed both by and for Louie. The dead man in Dead Man is a spectacularly uncool white accountant named William Blake who, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, moves west to the town of Machine, only to find that the job promised him by a Mr. Dickinson has been given away. Through a series of misadventures, Blake ends up getting shot by Dickinson’s son; Blake kills the son in self-defense, Dickinson Sr. places a bounty on his head, and the rest of the film follows him on the run through the badlands, until finally he reaches the water and is set adrift in a boat to die.

[3] These narrative differences demand, naturally, that Dead Man and Ghost Dog exist in different aesthetic universes: one is set in a fin-de-siècle American West and the other in postmodern New York City; one was shot in black and white and the other in color; one was scored by Neil Young and the other by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA. Nonetheless, it is easy to compare Dead Man and Ghost Dog. They’re both genre movies and these particular genres have a special family resemblance.1 And despite the distance in terms of historical and geographical location, they also exist in the same narrative universe; Jarmusch tells us this by having the same character appear in both. In Dead Man, he has a lead role—Gary Farmer plays Nobody, a Plains Indian who guides the film’s protagonist through hell, despite his antipathy towards “stupid fucking white men.” In Ghost Dog, he has a cameo—Farmer plays a pigeon keeper who gets just one line: “stupid fucking white men.” Stay through the credits and you find that here too the character’s name is Nobody.

[4] I want to claim though that the two movies are not just comparable—Jarmusch has in fact made the same movie twice. Ghost Dog is, according to the samurai code, committed to live as one already dead; from the first scene then, he is a dead man. Dead Man too has a protagonist who is dead from the outset although we don’t learn this until the end. The film opens with Blake on a train; the train fireman asks him “doesn’t this remind you of when you were in the boat?”—if, in other words, it reminds him of the last scene of the movie, when he dies. So both movies have protagonists who, while appearing to be alive, are already dead; both these dead men are sentenced to death by their employers; and both are occupied with writing what Jarmusch in each case refers to as poetry—a “poetry of war” or a poetry “written in blood.” This poetry is in neither case original: our heroes are tasked with recirculating old texts, not with generating new ones.

[5] Jarmusch himself has old texts circulate through both movies, as props, plot points, and interstitial titles. Gregory Salyer reads Dead Man as exposing the American fear of inauthenticity; in Dead Man, he suggests, “writing is the primary medium for disseminating lies.”2 I would suggest that since Jarmusch himself is a writer—a disseminator of lies—he is also, in these films, exploring the possibility that the lies of the written text can be appropriated in such a way that the reader’s performance turns them into the truth. There are for Jarmusch always two levels to the book: the book as it is located historically and the book as it is appropriated by his heroes. The effect of each appropriation is to disrupt historical time. Acting out the demands of old books becomes then, for Ghost Dog and Blake, a way to refuse their historical locations and force a return to the primordial. Mircea Eliade has famously suggested that “religious man refuses to live solely in what, in modern terms, is called the historical present; he attempts to regain a sacred time”3 through the reenactment of sacred texts. I will argue that the protagonists of Ghost Dog and Dead Men should be understood on these terms as religious men, working with sacred texts, despite the fact that, as we will see, none of the books they read are part of any standard religious canon.

[6] There are two Japanese texts circulating in Ghost Dog: Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s Rashōmon and Other Stories . Rashōmon serves as Ghost Dog’s linking text. Inside the space of the film, the book links Ghost Dog to the two women in the movie, and the two women to each other. Louise Vargo gives the book to Ghost Dog just after he mistakenly shoots her boyfriend in front of her, telling him “ancient Japan was a pretty strange place”; he gives it to Pearline, a young girl who introduces herself to him in the park, as an initiatory gesture of friendship; and at the end of the movie, Pearline returns it to Ghost Dog. He gives it to Louie before he dies; Louise retrieves it from Louie, covered in blood. The physical object of Rashōmon is thus the sign of the continuing blood relationship between the Vargo family and its heir, Louise, and Ghost Dog and his heir, Pearline. Outside the space of the film, the book links Jarmusch’s movie to Akira Kurosawa’s famous adaptation of Rashōmon.4 Ryōko Otomo points out that the stories collected in Rashōmon are modern re-workings of legends from the classical period, “a product of eclecticism”5 —Akutagawa’s book and Kurosawa’s adaptation both problematize the notion of singular ownership of a text. What Rashōmon signals inside and outside the film then is that texts are not stable; texts circulate and because of this circulation they are at once elusive and open to appropriation. Otomo argues that for Jarmusch Rashōmon and the Hagakure function as “couriers of the true”: the “film pretends as if there were the hidden sacred true, and as if words/languages/texts carried it within.”6 I break with her reading here. “Yabu no naka,” the story to which Jarmusch links his movie, is precisely about the way that a story produces multiple truths in the telling. Texts are for Jarmusch not containers of truth, but props in the performance that produces truth.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“If a Tree Falls”: New Documentary on Daniel McGowan, Earth Liberation Front and Green Scare

“If a Tree Falls”: New Documentary on Daniel McGowan, Earth Liberation Front and Green Scare
Democracy Now

A new documentary, "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front," tells the story of environmental activist Daniel McGowan. Four years ago this month, McGowan was sentenced to a seven-year term for his role in two acts of politically motivated arson in 2001 to protest extensive logging in the Pacific Northwest—starting fires at a lumber company and an experimental tree farm in Oregon. The judge ruled he had committed an act of terrorism, even though no one was hurt in any of the actions. McGowan participated in the arsons as a member of the Earth Liberation Front but left the group after the second fire led him to become disillusioned. He was arrested years later after a key member of the Earth Liberation Front—himself facing the threat of lengthy jail time—turned government informant. McGowan ultimately reached a plea deal but refused to cooperate with the government’s case. As a result, the government sought a "terrorism enhancement" to add extra time to his sentence. McGowan is currently jailed in a secretive prison unit known as Communication Management Units, or CMUs, in Marion, Illinois. We play an excerpt from the film and speak with the film’s director, Marshall Curry. We also speak with Andrew Stepanian, an animal rights activist who was imprisoned at the same CMU as McGowan, and with Will Potter, a freelance reporter who writes about how the so-called “war on terror” affects civil liberties.

Marshall Curry, filmmaker and co-director of the new documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.

Andrew Stepanian, an animal rights activist who was jailed at the same CMU as Daniel McGowan for six months. Andrew was freed from prison in 2009 after serving a total of 31 months behind bars.

Will Potter, freelance reporter who focuses on how the war on terrorism affects civil liberties. He runs the blog, “” He his also the author of the new book Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá: Another Well-Intentioned Inquisition

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. & Cacilda Jethá, M.D.

Introduction: Another Well-Intentioned Inquisition

Forget what you’ve heard about human beings having descended from the apes. We didn’t descend from apes. We are apes. Metaphorically and factually, Homo sapiens is one of the five surviving species of great apes, along with chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans (gibbons are considered a “lesser ape”). We shared a common ancestor with two of these apes—bonobos and chimps—just five million years ago. That’s “the day before yesterday” in evolutionary terms. The fine print distinguishing humans from the other great apes is regarded as “wholly artificial” by most primatologists these days.

If we’re “above” nature, it’s only in the sense that a shaky-legged surfer is “above” the ocean. Even if we never slip (and we all do), our inner nature can pull us under at any moment. Those of us raised in the West have been assured that we humans are special, unique among living things, above and beyond the world around us, exempt from the humilities and humiliations that pervade and define animal life. The natural world lies below and beneath us, a cause for shame, disgust, or alarm; something smelly and messy to be hidden behind closed doors, drawn curtains, and minty freshness. Or we overcompensate and imagine nature floating angelically in soft focus up above, innocent, noble, balanced, and wise.

Like bonobos and chimps, we are the randy descendents of hypersexual ancestors. At first blush, this may seem an overstatement, but it’s a truth that should have become common knowledge long ago. Conventional notions of monogamous, till-death-do-us-part marriage strain under the dead weight of a false narrative that insists we’re something else. What is the essence of human sexuality and how did it get to be that way? In the following pages, we’ll explain how seismic cultural shifts that began about ten thousand years ago rendered the true story of human sexuality so subversive and threatening that for centuries it has been silenced by religious authorities, pathologized by physicians, studiously ignored by scientists, and covered up by moralizing therapists.

Deep conflicts rage at the heart of modern sexuality. Our cultivated ignorance is devastating. The campaign to obscure the true nature of our species’ sexuality leaves half our marriages collapsing under an unstoppable tide of swirling sexual frustration, libido-killing boredom, impulsive betrayal, dysfunction, confusion, and shame. Serial monogamy stretches before (and behind) many of us like an archipelago of failure: isolated islands of transitory happiness in a cold, dark sea of disappointment. And how many of the couples who manage to stay together for the long haul have done so by resigning themselves to sacrificing their eroticism on the altar of three of life’s irreplaceable joys: family stability, companionship, and emotional, if not sexual, intimacy? Are those who aspire to these joys cursed by nature to preside over the slow strangulation of their partner’s libido?

The Spanish word esposas means both “wives” and “handcuffs.” In English, some men ruefully joke about the ball and chain. There’s good reason marriage is often depicted and mourned as the beginning of the end of a man’s sexual life. And women fare no better. Who wants to share her life with a man who feels trapped and diminished by his love for her, whose honor marks the limits of his freedom? Who wants to spend her life apologizing for being just one woman?

Yes, something is seriously wrong. The American Medical Association reports that some 42 percent of American women suffer from sexual dysfunction, while Viagra breaks sales records year after year. Worldwide, pornography is reported to rake in anywhere from fifty-seven to a hundred-billion-dollars annually. In the United States, it generates more revenue than CBS, NBC, and ABC combined, and more than all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises. According to U.S. News and World Report, “Americans spend more money at strip clubs than at Broadway, off-Broadway, regional and nonprofit theaters, the opera, the ballet and jazz and classical music performances—combined.”

There’s no denying that we’re a species with a sweet tooth for sex. Meanwhile, so-called traditional marriage appears to be under assault from all sides—as it collapses from within. Even the most ardent defenders of normal sexuality buckle under its weight, as never-ending bipartisan perp-walks of politicians (Clinton, Vitter, Gingrich, Craig, Foley, Spitzer, Sanford) and religious figures (Haggard, Swaggert, Bakker) trumpet their support of family values before slinking off to private assignations with lovers, prostitutes, and interns.

Denial hasn’t worked. Hundreds of Catholic priests have confessed to thousands of sex crimes against children in the past few decades alone. In 2008, the Catholic Church paid $436 million in compensation for sexual abuse. More than a fifth of the victims were under ten years old. This we know. Dare we even imagine the suffering such crimes have caused in the seventeen centuries since a sexual life was perversely forbidden to priests in the earliest known papal decree: the Decreta and Cum in unum of Pope Siricius (c. 385)? What is the moral debt owed to the forgotten victims of this misguided rejection of basic human sexuality?

To Read the Rest of the Introduction

Howlin' Wolf: Howlin' For My Darlin'

Tim Dickinson: How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory: The onetime Nixon operative has created the most profitable propaganda machine in history. Inside America's Unfair and Imbalanced Network
by Tim Dickinson
Roling Stone

At the Fox News holiday party the year the network overtook archrival CNN in the cable ratings, tipsy employees were herded down to the basement of a Midtown bar in New York. As they gathered around a television mounted high on the wall, an image flashed to life, glowing bright in the darkened tavern: the MSNBC logo. A chorus of boos erupted among the Fox faithful. The CNN logo followed, and the catcalls multiplied. Then a third slide appeared, with a telling twist. In place of the logo for Fox News was a beneficent visage: the face of the network’s founder. The man known to his fiercest loyalists simply as "the Chairman" – Roger Ailes.

“It was as though we were looking at Mao,” recalls Charlie Reina, a former Fox News producer. The Foxistas went wild. They let the dogs out. Woof! Woof! Woof! Even those who disliked the way Ailes runs his network joined in the display of fealty, given the culture of intimidation at Fox News. “It’s like the Soviet Union or China: People are always looking over their shoulders,” says a former executive with the network’s parent, News Corp. “There are people who turn people in.”

The key to decoding Fox News isn’t Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. It isn’t even News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch. To understand what drives Fox News, and what its true purpose is, you must first understand Chairman Ailes. “He is Fox News,” says Jane Hall, a decade-long Fox commentator who defected over Ailes’ embrace of the fear-mongering Glenn Beck. “It’s his vision. It’s a reflection of him.”

Ailes runs the most profitable – and therefore least accountable – head of the News Corp. hydra. Fox News reaped an estimated profit of $816 million last year – nearly a fifth of Murdoch’s global haul. The cable channel’s earnings rivaled those of News Corp.’s entire film division, which includes 20th Century Fox, and helped offset a slump at Murdoch’s beloved newspapers unit, which took a $3 billion write-down after acquiring The Wall Street Journal. With its bare-bones news­gathering operation – Fox News has one-third the staff and 30 fewer bureaus than CNN – Ailes generates profit margins above 50 percent. Nearly half comes from advertising, and the rest is dues from cable companies. Fox News now reaches 100 million households, attracting more viewers than all other cable-news outlets combined, and Ailes aims for his network to “throw off a billion in profits.”

The outsize success of Fox News gives Ailes a free hand to shape the network in his own image. "Murdoch has almost no involvement with it at all," says Michael Wolff, who spent nine months embedded at News Corp. researching a biography of the Australian media giant. "People are afraid of Roger. Murdoch is, himself, afraid of Roger. He has amassed enormous power within the company – and within the country – from the success of Fox News."

Fear, in fact, is precisely what Ailes is selling: His network has relentlessly hyped phantom menaces like the planned “terror mosque” near Ground Zero, inspiring Florida pastor Terry Jones to torch the Koran. Privately, Murdoch is as impressed by Ailes’ business savvy as he is dismissive of his extremist politics. "You know Roger is crazy," Murdoch recently told a colleague, shaking his head in disbelief. "He really believes that stuff."

To watch even a day of Fox News – the anger, the bombast, the virulent paranoid streak, the unending appeals to white resentment, the reporting that’s held to the same standard of evidence as a late-­October attack ad – is to see a refraction of its founder, one of the most skilled and fearsome operatives in the history of the Republican Party. As a political consultant, Ailes repackaged Richard Nixon for television in 1968, papered over Ronald Reagan’s budding Alzheimer’s in 1984, shamelessly stoked racial fears to elect George H.W. Bush in 1988, and waged a secret campaign on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail health care reform in 1993. "He was the premier guy in the business," says former Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins. "He was our Michelangelo."

In the fable Ailes tells about his own life, he made a clean break with his dirty political past long before 1996, when he joined forces with Murdoch to launch Fox News. "I quit politics," he has claimed, "because I hated it." But an examination of his career reveals that Ailes has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign – one that enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion. The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.

The result is one of the most powerful political machines in American history. One that plays a leading role in defining Republican talking points and advancing the agenda of the far right. Fox News tilted the electoral balance to George W. Bush in 2000, prematurely declaring him president in a move that prompted every other network to follow suit. It helped create the Tea Party, transforming it from the butt of late-night jokes into a nationwide insurgency capable of electing U.S. senators. Fox News turbocharged the Republican takeover of the House last fall, and even helped elect former Fox News host John Kasich as the union-busting governor of Ohio – with the help of $1.26 million in campaign contributions from News Corp. And by incubating a host of potential GOP contenders on the Fox News payroll– including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – Ailes seems determined to add a fifth presidential notch to his belt in 2012. "Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network," says a former News Corp. executive. "It’s come full circle."

Take it from Rush Limbaugh, a "dear friend" of Ailes. "One man has established a culture for 1,700 people who believe in it, who follow it, who execute it," Limbaugh once declared. "Roger Ailes is not on the air. Roger Ailes does not ever show up on camera. And yet everybody who does is a reflection of him."

The 71-year-old Ailes presents the classic figure of a cinematic villain: bald and obese, with dainty hands, Hitchcockian jowls and a lumbering gait. Friends describe him as loyal, generous and "slap your mama funny." But Ailes is also, by turns, a tyrant: "I only understand friendship or scorched earth," he has said. One former deputy pegs him as a cross between Don Rickles and Don Corleone. "What’s fun for Roger is the destruction," says Dan Cooper, a key member of the team that founded Fox News. "When the light bulb goes on and he’s got the trick to outmaneuver the enemy – that’s his passion." Ailes is also deeply paranoid. Convinced that he has personally been targeted by Al Qaeda for assassination, he surrounds himself with an aggressive security detail and is licensed to carry a concealed handgun.

Ailes was born in 1940 in Warren, Ohio, a manufacturing outpost near Youngstown. His father worked at the Packard plant producing wiring for GM cars, and Roger grew up resenting the abuse his father had to take from the "college boys" who managed the line. Ailes has called his father a "Taft Republican," and the description is instructive: Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio led a GOP uprising to block the expansion of the New Deal in the late 1930s, and spearheaded passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which beat back the power of labor unions.

Roger spent much of his youth in convalescence. A sickly child – hemophilia forced him to sit out recess at school – he had to learn to walk again after getting hit by a car at age eight. His mother worked out of the house, so he was raised in equal measure by his grandmother and TV. "Television and I grew up together," he later wrote.

A teenage booze hound – "I was hammered all the time" – Ailes said he "went to state school because they told me I could drink." There was another reason: His father kicked him out of the house when he graduated from high school. During his stint at Ohio University, where he studied radio and television, his parents divorced and left the house where he had spent so much of his childhood recovering from illness and injury. "I went back, the house was sold, all my stuff was gone," he recalled. "I never found my shit!" The shock seems to have left him with an almost pathological nostalgia for the trappings of small-town America.

In college, Ailes tried to join the Air Force ROTC but was rejected because of his health. So he became a drama geek, acting in a bevy of collegiate productions. The thespian streak never left Ailes: His first job out of college was as a gofer on The Mike Douglas Show, a nationally syndicated daytime variety show that featured aging stars like Jack Benny and Pearl Bailey in a world swooning for Elvis and the Beatles. In many ways, Ailes remains a creature of that earlier era. His 1950s manners, martini-dry ripostes and unreconstructed sexism give the feeling, says one intimate, "like you’re talking to someone who’s been under a rock for a couple of decades."

To Read the Rest of the Essay

The Yes Men Fix the World (USA: Andy Bichbaum and Mike Bonanno, 2009: 87 mins)

THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD is a screwball true story about two gonzo political activists who, posing as top executives of giant corporations, lie their way into big business conferences and pull off the world's most outrageous pranks. This peer-to-peer special edition of the film is unique: it is preceded by an EXCLUSIVE VIDEO of the Yes Men impersonating the United States Chamber of Commerce. Because the Yes Men are being sued for this stunt, p2p is the only way that this film will get seen. Please spread the word! "Great fun! It takes some nerve, not to mention diabolical intelligence... to pull off the elaborate pranks devised by the Yes Men." — New York Times "This is the year's top documentary film." — New Scientist "We think it is a serious matter when people willingly misrepresent themselves." — Exxon "We have been impersonating people in power in to make political points for over a decade. The Yes Men Fix the World is our second feature film. It's won a bucket of awards and accolades, but we're still broke. We are hoping that people who share it will donate some money so that we can do even more outrageous actions.How outrageous? Outrageous enough to get us sued! Not long ago The US Chamber of Commerce took us to court for impersonating them. That is why on this special p2p version of the Yes Men Fix the World, we have included an exclusive video that the US Chamber of Commerce does not want you to see.

To Watch the Film

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fair and Feminist: Wal-Mart v Dukes - Wal-Mart declared Too Big to Discriminate

Wal-Mart v Dukes: Wal-Mart declared Too Big to Discriminate
Fair and Feminist

What’s going on with the Supreme Court decision in Wal-Mart v Dukes?

The Supreme Court decided today that Wal-Mart is Too Big To Discriminate. I previously wrote about the Wal-Mart v Dukes case, but I’ll summarize: The case was originally brought by 6 female employees 10 years ago, and today the Supreme Court has decided not IF the women were discriminated against, but rather IF the women can proceed with the lawsuit as a class-action suit (representing multiple people).

As NWLC‘s Fatima Goss Graves remarked on a conference call, what’s at stake here isn’t if these women were discriminated against–it’s “whether and how people can challenge broad-scale discrimination practices.” This isn’t just about sexism–it’s about discrimination of all kinds. Wal-mart pointed to hid behind a corporate anti-discrimination policy to evade responsibility for its employees’ discriminatory practices.

As we know, organizations themselves are gendered and raced, which means that discrimination is embedded in and created by the structures, practices, communicative acts, people, and artifacts of an organization. Sexism and racism are systemic, structural problems, not (solely) the result of individual biases. But Wal-Mart argued that they as a corporation couldn’t be held responsible for the fact that individual managers refused to promote women, made sexist remarks, and paid them less. In reality, the corporate suits of Wal-Mart designed the system that resulted in discrimination, and, it seems, did not respond to internal allegations of discrimination.

Wait–Wal-Mart has the same right to free speech as a person, but can’t be held accountable for its actions because it’s not a person, it’s a super huge company? It’s ludicrous that hundreds of employees were discriminated against and Wal-Mart won’t be held responsible because it is a BIG company.

Class Action–who cares?

NWLC’s Fatima Goss Graves, VP for Education and Employment, explained why class actions status is so important in discrimination lawsuits. First, class action suits about pay are important because women rarely know how much money they make compared to men. Many companies even have policies against discussing pay, and can retaliate against employees who do so. Class action lawsuits “lift the veil by subjecting an employer’s practices to judicial scrutiny.” As a class, the women of Wal-Mart would be able to gather information to see if there is a “systemic pay disparity,” she noted.

Second, class action lawsuits make it easier for employees to come forward without fear of retribution or public scrutiny. Third, class action status makes it financially possible for those making lower wages to bring a lawsuit. Attorney fees and time away from work are prohibitive for many working class people, thus justice is de-facto denied unless they can be part of a class action.

*It’s important to note that the merits of the case itself have not yet been heard–even after 10 years of fighting.*

So, what now?

The fight itself is not over. These women have options and thankfully, the courage, to continue to go after Wal-Mart. But a message has been sent–if your corporation can hide discrimination within discreet practices, then you won’t be held accountable for it.

Link to Report and to Access Background Hyperlinked Info and to Access Resources for Taking Action Against This Decision

More resources:

"Text of the Supreme Court Decision

Democracy Now: 1.5 Million Female Wal-Mart Employees Lose Historic Sex Discrimination Case Before Supreme Court

Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bigger Stronger Faster (USA: Christopher Bell, 2008)

(Don't underestimate this film -- powerful exploration of the American dream, celebrity culture, body issues, political hypocrisy and competitive ethics.)

Bigger, Stronger, Faster is a 2008 documentary film directed by Christopher Bell about the use of anabolic steroids as performance-enhancing drugs in the United States and how this practice relates to the American Dream.

Sarah Franklin: Transbiology - A Feminist Cultural Account of Being After IVF

Transbiology: A Feminist Cultural Account of Being After IVF
by Sarah Franklin
Scholar and Feminist Online

This article is a rewritten version of a keynote lecture given at The Scholar & Feminist Conference 2009, "The Politics of Reproduction: New Technologies of Life," held on February 28 at Barnard College in New York City.[1]

The 2009 Scholar and Feminist Conference coincides with the 40th anniversary of the first experimental fertilisation of a human egg, in 1969, and thus offers a timely moment to examine the cultural legacy of IVF. A good place to begin is the enormous, and largely neglected, feminist literature on new reproductive technology—or NRT. Even without Google Scholar, the most cursory search of this literature will confirm that NRT is one of the major themes of post-war 20th century feminist scholarship, and a field that is as rich in equivocation as it is impressive in its erudition. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of books and articles have been written by feminists on reproductive technologies—old and new.

Artificial insemination, surrogacy, surgery, and hormonal enhancement of fertility, as well as contraception, can all be counted as forms of technological assistance to reproduction, or what are known as 'new' or 'assisted' reproductive technologies. But it is the rapid expansion of IVF technology, and its evolution as a platform for genetic as well as reproductive intervention, that gives rise to the acronyms ART and NRT from the 1980s onwards. The feminist scholarly literature that developed during this period is highly diverse and unusually international.[2] One of the most prominent strands of debate associated with this vigorous early period is the denouncement of new reproductive technologies from prominent radical feminists during the 1980s, including Maria Mies, Janice Raymond, Gena Corea, Renate Klein, Jalna Hanmer, and Robyn Rowland, among others. This group is also associated with the formation and leadership of FINRRAGE, the Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering, founded in 1986.[3]

To the extent that there is a 'trademark' or 'generic' radical feminist position in this period, it can be characterised by its presumption of an identity between new reproductive technology and patriarchal culture. According to this view, new reproductive technologies encapsulate, enforce, and intensify the core values of patriarchal culture. IVF is the unadulterated offspring of patriarchal science, or, following Mary O'Brien, the manifestation, or even proof, of a masculine desire to colonise and control the female reproductive process.[4] Within this political framework, female consumers of NRT were perceived by some radical feminists, such as Renate Klein and Gena Corea, as not only victims of exploitation, but as collaborators with a male dominated medical establishment. This 'mirror theory' of new reproductive technology, and its accompanying rhetoric of female exploitation, victimisation, and collaboration, arguably did not always show feminist radicalism, scholarship, or politics at their very best.[5]

However, the emphasis on only one version of radical feminism in this period, and even the representation of it as dominant, are, like many retrospective accountings, both superficial and somewhat misleading. Like the feminist literature on NRTs more broadly, the 'FINRRAGE position' was somewhat more complicated.[6] Already, in the 1980s, the 'NRT = patriarchy' position, and its corresponding view of women who had amniocentesis or IVF as being, in Renate Klein's infamous phrase, 'dupes,' was resisted by many feminists—including other radical feminists, and large sections, if not a majority, of the FINRRAGE membership. Some feminists were motivated by alternative views of mothering, such as in the writings of Adrienne Rich, which differentiated between motherhood as a patriarchal institution and as a potential source of radical empowerment. Others, such as Naomi Pfeffer and Anne Woollett, sought to empower women to use new reproductive technologies to their advantage. Pfeffer and Woollett's sympathetic account of female infertility, published in 1983 by the London feminist publishing house Virago, was partly motivated by opposition to the 'feminists against women' who denounced women IVF patients as victims complicit with patriarchy. Similar studies exploring women's experience of IVF and infertility were generated from within FINRRAGE in the mid 1980s in response to the 'hard line' against NRTs, which increasingly, to some, resembled a caricature of radical feminist goals. Studies of women's reasons for choosing IVF were undertaken from the mid-1980s onward by FINRRAGE members Christine Crowe (Australia), Lene Koch (Denmark), Marte Kireczyk (The Netherlands), Linda Williams (Canada) and myself in the UK.[7] Conflict arising from these and other challenges to the FINRRAGE 'hard line' of complete opposition to all forms of reproductive technology led to the decline of the network from 1989 onwards.[8] These early FINRRAGE studies of women's experience of IVF in several countries, and the pioneering work of Margarete Sandelowski in the United States,[9] have since become part of a tradition of feminist studies of IVF that has been continued by Judith Lorber, Gay Becker, Charis Thompson, Marcia Inhorn, Karen Throsby and many others.[10] This comparative empirical tradition of feminist literature on IVF, largely focused on women's ambivalent experiences of it, is now a well established and rapidly expanding area of research, yet one that is rarely used to address questions of biotechnology more broadly.

Another important tradition of feminist work on NRTs that avoided the 'renounce and defame' politics of a minority of FINRRAGE members was modelled on the women's health movement. Three British feminists in London—Gail Vines, Sue Himmelweit, and Linda Birke—produced a guidebook for women seeking to use new techniques such as IVF in 1990 entitled 'Tomorrow's Child.'[11] This practical approach drew inspiration from Barbara Katz Rothman's pioneering work on amniocentesis in the mid-1980s, which she ended with an Appendix offering 'Guidelines for Personal Decisionmaking' to help women navigate the arduous choices offered by prenatal screening and to cope with the condition she identified as the 'tentative pregnancy.'[12] The defining feature of tentative pregnancy was its uncomfortable ambivalence: paradoxically, having more information and more reproductive choice could be oppressive and disempowering. This ambivalence was not used as a basis to reject the technology, but rather to enable women to negotiate its demands more effectively. Rothman's study drew direct inspiration from Rosalind Petchesky's highly influential 1980 article "Reproductive Freedom: Beyond a Woman's Right to Choose," in which she famously claimed that:

The 'right to choose' means very little when women are powerless ... women make their own reproductive choices, but they do not make them just as they please; they do not make them under conditions that they themselves create but under social conditions and constraints which they, as mere individuals, are powerless to change.[13]

Rather than the need to denounce IVF or amniocentesis, it is the difficulty of navigating 'the right to choose' that has proven to be the most consistent theme in feminist literature on NRT, as well as abortion. Somewhat paradoxically, this has proven to be as much of a challenge in the context of the 'new' reproductive choices—such as egg donation, IVF, or PGD—as for the 'older' choices of abortion, amniocentesis, or contraception. If there is any single take-home lesson from this entire body of feminist scholarship, it is that the relationship between technology and reproduction can never be separated from wider questions of women's status and empowerment. In the disappearing margin between limited choices and having-no-choice-but-to-choose-one-of-them lies the signature paradox of feminist debate over new reproductive technologies.

It has, of course, been argued that no one needs to choose IVF, amniocentesis, egg donation, or PGD (Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis) at all (indeed this is exactly what the early feminist critics of NRT were advocating). It has also been argued that feminists concerned with reproductive choice might have more pressing issues to worry about than infertility, IVF, or ultrasound—such as reducing maternal mortality, and protecting access to contraception, as well as legal abortion. Indeed the difficult reproductive choices for women who can even afford IVF or PGD might seem most politically legible as a measure of widening health inequalities. This view of IVF and its ilk as an elite gambit for which, like cosmetic surgery, the rich who can pay should rightly serve as the guinea pigs for a change, may well be one of the reasons IVF remains a virtually unregulated industry in almost every country in the world. I suggest, however, that part of a re-evaluation of IVF, and feminist politics toward it, should include greater consideration of its biopolitical implications for the general population. Especially now that IVF makes up as much as 5% of the birth-rate in some countries, and has become the gateway to new genetic technologies, such as PGD, and new treatments, like regenerative medicine and tissue engineering based on human embryonic stem cell derivation and cloning, its implications have been greatly magnified. This rapid expansion of the IVF platform is particularly significant given that many basic aspects of IVF remain both problematic and controversial.

To Read the Rest of the Essay, to Listen to it as a Podcast and/or Watch it as a Video

Diving With My Family: Lake Isabella 1979

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Scott Tobias: The New Cult Canon - Schizopolis

“When I say this is the most important motion picture you’ll ever attend, my motivation is not financial gain, but a firm belief that the delicate fabric that holds all of us together will be ripped apart unless every man, woman, and child in this country sees this film and pays full ticket price, not some bargain matinee cut-rate deal. In the event that you find certain sequences or events confusing, please bear in mind this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the picture again and again until you understand everything.”
—Steven Soderbergh, Schizopolis

Scott Tobias: The New Cult Canon - Schizopolis

Late Show with David Letterman: Captain Charles Moore on Ocean Pollution

Friday, June 17, 2011

Drive By Truckers: Used to Be a Cop

Joan Chan: Protests highlight the plight of migrant workers in China

Protests highlight the plight of migrant workers in China
By John Chan
World Socialist Web Site

A huge police presence in Zengcheng, a satellite town of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, has temporarily suppressed any further unrest over the past days, following angry protests by thousands of rural migrant workers last weekend.

On Monday and Tuesday, 2,000 riot police armed with shields, batons and shotguns paraded in a one-kilometre column through the streets of Xintang district, in a deliberate attempt to intimidate workers. Heavily-armed police set up checkpoints at major road intersections and a curfew was imposed throughout the town.

The protests were triggered last Friday when local government security personnel pushed a pregnant woman to the ground while removing small vendors from the front of a supermarket. Such are the social tensions in Zengcheng that the incident triggered rumours that the woman and her husband had been killed, igniting anger among migrant workers who face systematic abuse by police. Protesters clashed with riot police, burnt government buildings and smashed police cars.

A local shop owner told Agence France Presse on Wednesday: “It was very scary—the scariest thing I have encountered since I was born.” He reported that thousands of rioters had clashed with police. “Together they flipped police cars and set them on fire. A few hundred policemen then came. They started beating people indiscriminately with metal batons.”

Just days before the unrest in Zengcheng, similar protests erupted among migrant workers over unpaid wages in the city of Chaozhou, also in Guangdong province.

Yesterday, the Guangzhou police bureau announced that a man had been arrested for spreading the rumour online that the Zengcheng vendor had died. Officially, 25 protesters have been arrested. However, according to online eyewitness accounts, 1,000 people have been detained, out of up to 10,000 who took part in the Zengcheng protests.

To justify the police repression and stoke up ethnic divisions, attempts are being made to demonise “separatists” from Tibet and Xinjiang as the “black hand” behind the protests. The Hong Kong-based Ming Pao reported that local authorities handed out steel pipes and helmets to male residents and called on them to organise their “self-defence”.

This incitement to ethnic violence against rural migrants is a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the real issues behind protests, which stem from China’s deepening social polarisation, endemic official corruption and police-state repression.

A State Council Development Research Centre report issued on Tuesday acknowledged that the country’s 150 million rural migrant workers “are marginalised in the cities, treated as mere cheap labour, not absorbed by cities but even neglected, discriminated against and harmed.” It warned policy-makers: “If mishandled, this situation will create a major destabilising threat.”

Beijing’s answer is police repression. The Hong Kong-based Oriental Daily reported on Tuesday that central government officials held emergency meetings over the protests, “considered the situation as serious, and ordered the local authorities to carry out harsh repression.” The argument presented, according to the newspaper, was “kill one to scare one hundred.” The report paraphrased Zhang Jun, a deputy head of the Supreme Peoples Court, as saying “criminal elements extremely hostile to the state and society must be punished with the death penalty, with absolutely no mercy.”

The Oriental Daily noted that migrant workers in Zengcheng had suppressed their anger in the face of a massive police presence, but were “preparing economic revenge in a second wave of struggle.” It reported that workers were calling via the Internet for a month-long strike, “to economically bring down the ‘Capital of Jeans’ … in order to take revenge against the local law enforcement personnel and the wealthy layer’s prolonged exploitation of migrant workers.”

To Read the Rest of the Article

Intellectuals: Peace and Conflict Studies Archive

Assange, Julian and Slavoj Zizek. "Full Video of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange & Philosopher Slavoj Žižek With Amy Goodman." Democracy Now (July 2, 2011)

Batchelor, Stephen. "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist." FORA (March 19, 2010)

Benton, Michael and Michael Marchman. "So long Howard Zinn. It’s been good to know ya." North of Center (February 13, 2010)

Beyond the Frame: Alternative Perspectives on the War on Terrorism." Media Education Foundation (2004)

Bromwich, David. "Bromwich Channels Edmund Burke: "America Is Out Of Itself." Radio Open Source (June 23, 2010)

Chomsky, Noam and Robert Trivers. "On Deceit." Seed (September 6, 2006)

Chua, Amy. "The Myths of Globalization: Markets, Democracy, and Ethnic Hatred." Conversations with History (November 21, 2005)

Conversations with History [University of California-Berkeley: "Conceived in 1982 by Mr. Kreisler as a way to capture and preserve through conversation and technology the intellectual ferment of our times, Conversations with History includes over 500 interviews."]

Dellums, Ronald V. "Legislating for the People." Conversations with History (November 21, 2005)

DJ Monk One. "The Last Thing I Learned From Gil Scott Heron." Ill Doctrine (June 23, 2011)

Giroux, Henry A. "Remembering Howard Zinn, Once Again." TruthOut (January 27, 2011)

Gourevitch, Philip. "Reporting the Story of a Genocide." Conversations with History (February 11, 2000)

Johnson, Chalmers. "Militarism and the American Empire." Conversations with History (2005)

Manufacturing Consent (USA: March Achbar and Peter Wintonick, 1992)

McLemee, Scott. "CLR James and African American Liberation." We Are Many (June 18, 2009)

Moyers, Bill. "His Legendary Journalism Career: 'Democracy Should Be a Brake on Unbridled Greed and Power.'" Democracy Now (June 8, 2011)

"Wikileaks: Key Players -- Meet Eight of the Key Players in the Wikileaks Saga as They Reveal the Story Behind the Story That Took the World by Storm." ABC (2011)

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

I watch it every year. Extremely important!:

(USA: March Achbar and Peter Wintonick, 1992)

Rebecca Jordan-Young: Introduction to Scholar and Feminist Online Issue "Critical Conceptions: Technology, Justice and the Global Reproductive Market"

Rebecca Jordan-Young
Scholar & Feminist Online


The threat of fines, loss of license, and imprisonment for doctors conveys the (erroneous) impression that most abortions are coerced, and the laws may well deter even more doctors from providing abortion. But the main targets of these laws, ironically, are women of color. As Sujatha Jesudason points out in this issue, "Leveraging a collective sense of shame, unease, and outrage over 'missing girls' and racist eugenics, this legislation and campaign is emerging as the latest tactic of the anti-abortion movement to regulate the reproductive lives of women of color and limit access to abortion for all women." The same week the Arizona law was passed, a billboard campaign was unveiled, beginning in Chicago, President Obama's hometown. The billboard features Obama's likeness, and reads: "Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted."[9] When I read the Chicago Tribune article online, there was a large ad in the middle of the page that read "Millions of Babies Killed on Your Dime. Defund Planned Parenthood." The ad is linked to a petition in support of a major push by anti-choice legislators in Congress to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding (including funding for "well-woman" gynecological exams). Meanwhile, the "Stop Taxpayer Funded Abortions Act" which has 221 co-sponsors and is now being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, would further curtail abortion access, especially for poor women, and create further disincentives for health care plans to cover abortion services. One especially important element of the proposed law is that while Medicaid will currently pay for abortions in the case of rape, the proposed law would narrow this to "forcible rape," which eliminates statutory rape.

Reproductive justice activists have worked overtime to fight this latest challenge, objecting to this as a cynical tactic that fundamentally blames women of color as either stupid or collaborators with murderous racism and sexism. One of the most intriguing fruits of their labor is a newly nuanced understanding of the historical relationship between Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and Black communities. According to research by the Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, "African American leaders had worked with Sanger in the 1930s to ask for clinics in black communities. We challenged our opponents' historical revisionism by citing famous leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. Dubois, Walter White, Mary Church Terrell, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and organizations like the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women. We dared them to call these icons of the civil rights movement pawns of a racist agenda."[10] Sister Song's work signals a new level of complexity in the discourse on reproductive freedom, a complexity that is on view in many pieces in this issue. Along with the aforementioned piece by Jesudason, Faith Pennick's groundbreaking film Silent Choices undermines the characterization of Black women who opt for abortion as "dupes" or enemies of Black people's advancement. These themes are also echoed in Michele Goodwin's analysis of fetal protection laws, and the response to Goodwin by Jeanne Flavin and Carol Mason. In these pieces, women who are particularly vulnerable to State and medical surveillance by virtue of their poverty and/or race are shown to be targeted both as individually "suspect" (potential or actual) mothers, and also as representing a "wedge" that abortion opponents can use to advance the legal status of fetuses in order to curtail abortion.

In linking reproduction to social, political, and economic power, the activist movement for reproductive justice has an academic "sibling" that emerged around the same time. If a single term can capture this thread of feminist scholarship, it would probably be Shellee Colen's notion of "stratified reproduction," which she first articulated in 1986 and elaborated in a chapter of Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp's landmark volume Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction. Ginsburg and Rapp succinctly celebrated Colen's notion with the observation that it "helps us see the arrangements by which some reproductive futures are valued while others are despised."[11] Pointing to the role of "hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, gender, place in a global economy, and migration status," Colen argued that:

The reproductive labor—physical, mental, and emotional—of bearing, raising, and socializing children and of creating and maintaining households and people (from infancy to old age) is differentially experienced, valued, and rewarded according to inequalities of access to material and social resources in particular historical and cultural contexts. Stratified reproduction, particularly with the increasing commodification of reproductive labor, itself reproduces stratification by reflecting, reinforcing, and intensifying the inequalities on which it is based.[12]

Stratified reproduction transforms the meaning of reproductive ethics. When ethical issues are addressed in mainstream reproductive rights discourse, dominated as it is by the concerns of white, Western, relatively affluent, heterosexual women, ethics are generally framed in terms of individual choice, freedom, and privacy. Women are described as actually or potentially in conflict with fetuses, men/fathers, medicine, employers, or the State, but rarely with each other, and rarely do the reproductive struggles women face in these narratives stem from anything other than their female embodiment and gender oppression (both imagined as more or less universal). Both reproductive justice and stratified reproduction frameworks shatter the fantasy of the "universal woman," and direct our focus away from individuals to the level of the social: social structures, social hierarchies of oppression and privilege, and social histories. Rather than the generic (and therefore implicitly privileged) Woman, these frameworks require consideration of actual women, in all their varied, complex, and hierarchically-arranged social locations. Pursuing reproductive justice demands that we ask, "How are the burdens and possibilities for bearing and rearing children distributed?"

Further, to understand these distributions not merely as neutral differences in individual "abilities" to reproduce, we have to also ask: "What are the histories and the social structures that have created these current conditions?" That is, we must seek to understand how reproductive resources (as well as imperatives to reproduce or not) are actively distributed, rather than naturally occurring. Human reproduction, whether "assisted" and "technological" or not, is an inherently social process, and a historically contingent one. By historicizing the conditions of reproduction, such questions return us again to the possibility of transforming human reproduction to fit with a broad vision of social justice.

Of course, reproduction has already been undergoing sweeping transformations in the past few decades with the rapid rise of assisted reproduction, especially via reproductive technologies. New reproductive technologies have helped to generate not only millions of children, but also a vast and diverse literature on the ethical and political questions raised by the use of these new technologies. Interestingly, though, specific attention to the way that the uses of reproductive technologies are entangled with questions of social justice has been relatively sparse. Ginsburg and Rapp's volume, mentioned earlier, is an exquisite exception to this statement. In that volume, contributors considered technologies such as national abortion policies, prenatal diagnostic screening, midwifery, in vitro fertilization, nannying, hormonal birth control, and coitus interruptus (to name just a handful) with an eye towards "comprehend[ing] the transnational inequalities on which reproductive practices, policies, and politics increasingly depend."[13] There have been few entries in this overlapping field since, though two notable short pieces include Emily Galpern's concise "Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Overview and Perspective Using a Reproductive Justice Framework," written for the Center for Genetics and Society,[14] and a recent essay extending the concept to a "post-human" and environmental frame by Greta Gaard.[15] An especially exciting recent addition is Wendy Chavkin and JaneMaree Maher's 2010 edited volume The Globalization of Motherhood: Deconstructions and Reconstructions of Biology and Care.[16] With this special issue of S&F Online, we don't presume to cover the vast territory of entanglement between reproductive technologies and social justice, but rather to contribute to mapping it, and to push some of its apparent boundaries.


To Read the Entire Introduction

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gabrielle Caroti and Lili Chin: Opening Seen - An Annotated Soundtrack

Opening Seen: An Annotated Soundtrack
By Gabriele Caroti and Lili Chin
Project New Cinephilia

Opening Seen debuted in March 2008 at the Whitney Biennial, as part of a live broadcast on Neighborhood Public Radio, a guerrilla radio group which sets up temporary booths and broadcasts content via FM radio and over the Internet. It was then streamed a month later on Viva Radio, an Internet radio station where Gabriele Caroti hosted a weekly radio show called “The Thicket.” The annotations appear here for the first time at the Edinburgh Film Festival’s “Project: New Cinephilia” web site, along with the entire program, which is free to download.

An Italian suspense movie marks the journey for a sonic exploration of images; the only challenge is to see with your ears. Our passage into the realm of filmic sounds from opening scenes seeks new and random encounters where the esoteric and pop collide. But these aren’t just soundtracks, they’re suspense-less chases in early ’70s Po valley, pale and silvery moons in medieval Japan, Raquel Welch in stirrups, cardboard + rubber cement galaxies with mutton chops in tow, car crashes in Australian meadows, Alice in Wonderland, and more. Starring Amon Düül II, Jerry Goldsmith, Fumio Hayasaka, Mauricio Kagel, Carl Stalling, Daffy Duck, et cetera.

To Listen to the Cinematic Compilation and to Read the Descriptions of the Films Included

John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney: The Lauderdale Paradox

Pages 21-26 from "The Internet's Unholy Marriage to Capitalism." Monthly Review 62.10 (March 2011): 1-30.

The Lauderdale Paradox

In order to explain at a deeper level the fate of the Internet, arising from its unholy marriage with capitalism, it is necessary to introduce a distinction that is nonexistent in today’s neoclassical economics, but that was central to economics in its classical beginnings: one between public wealth and private riches.

The contradictions of the prevailing conception of wealth are best explained in terms of what is known in the history of economics as the “Lauderdale Paradox.” James Maitland, the eighth Earl of Lauderdale (1759-1839), was the author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth and into the Means and Causes of its Increase (1804). In the paradox with which his name came to be associated, Lauderdale argued that there was an inverse correlation between public wealth and private riches such that an increase in the latter often served to diminish the former. “Public wealth,” he wrote, “may be accurately defined,—to consist of all that man desires, as useful or delightful to him.” Such goods have use value and thus constitute wealth. But private riches, as opposed to wealth, require something additional (i.e., have an added limitation), consisting “of all that man desires as useful or delightful to him; which exists in a degree of scarcity.”

Scarcity, in other words, is a necessary requirement for something to have value in exchange, and to augment private riches. But this is not the case for public wealth, which encompasses all value in use, and thus includes not only what is scarce but also what is abundant. This paradox led Lauderdale to argue that increases in scarcity in such formerly abundant but necessary elements of life as air, water, and food would, if exchange values were then attached to them, enhance individual private riches, and indeed the riches of the country—conceived of as “the sum-total of individual riches”—but only at the expense of the common wealth. For example, if one could monopolize water that had previously been freely available by placing a fee on wells, the measured riches of the nation would be increased at the expense of the growing thirst of the population.

“The common sense of mankind,” Lauderdale contended, “would revolt” at any proposal to augment private riches “by creating a scarcity of any commodity generally useful and necessary to man.” Nevertheless, he was aware that the capitalist society in which he lived was already, in many ways, doing something of the very sort. He explained that in particularly fertile periods, Dutch colonialists burned “spiceries” or paid natives “for collecting the young blossoms or green leaves of the nutmeg trees” to kill them off; and that in plentiful years “the tobacco-planters in Virginia,” by legal enactment, burned “a certain proportion of tobacco” for every slave working their fields. Such practices were designed to increase scarcity, augmenting private riches (and the wealth of a few) by destroying or artificially limiting what constituted public wealth—in this case, the produce of the earth. “So truly is this principle understood by those whose interest leads them to take advantage of it,” Lauderdale wrote, “that nothing but the impossibility of general combination protects the public wealth against the rapacity of private avarice.”42

Lauderdale explicitly extended his paradox to the world of art and culture. “The High price of a painting or any other work of Art,” he wrote, “may make the fortune of the Artist,” and contribute to the private riches of whoever is fortunate enough to possess the work of art, but this can be seen as contributing at the same time to “the poverty of the community in the article of that species of painting,” which is valued based on its scarcity and inaccessibility.43 To be sure, scarcity in the realm of artistic production was partly the product of a “monopoly arising from skill, talent, and genius,” and to that extent constituted a justifiable tax on the public.44 Yet the community clearly did not gain in those cases where art was artificially restricted and monopolized so as to enhance its exchange value, putting it out of the reach of the majority of the population. A flowering of the arts in the culture, including a profusion of artistic talent, would ideally lead to prices falling, to the point that works of art could be diffused more generally and more easily shared, thereby enhancing public wealth. Basing his analysis on Adam Smith’s observations in The Wealth of Nations, Lauderdale was aware that the great estates of the wealthy demonstrated, as Smith had put it, “conveniences and ornaments of building, dress, equipage, and household furniture,” as well as artistic reproductions, that were monopolized for the exclusive enjoyment of the rich, and the desire for which on their part was “altogether endless.”45 For Lauderdale, such monopolization of art added to private opulence in direct proportion to the loss it represented to public wealth.

From the beginning, wealth, as opposed to mere riches, was associated in classical political economy with what John Locke called “intrinsic value,” and what later political economists were to call “use value.”46 Use values had, of course, always existed, and were the basis of human existence. But commodities produced for sale on the market under capitalism also embodied something else: exchange value (value). Every commodity was thus viewed as having “a twofold aspect,” consisting of use value and exchange value.47 The Lauderdale Paradox was an expression of this twofold aspect of wealth/value, which generated the contradiction between total public wealth (the sum of use values) and the aggregation of private riches (the sum of exchange values).

David Ricardo, the greatest of the classical-liberal political economists, responded to Lauderdale’s paradox by underscoring the importance of keeping wealth and value (use value and exchange value) conceptually distinct. In line with Lauderdale, Ricardo stressed that if water, or some other natural resource formerly freely available, acquired an exchange value due to the growth of scarcity, there would be “an actual loss of wealth” reflecting the loss of use values—even with an increase of private riches.48

In contrast, Adam Smith’s leading French follower, Jean Baptiste Say, who was to be one of the precursors of neoclassical economics, responded to the Lauderdale Paradox by simply defining it away. He argued that wealth (use value) should be subsumed under value (exchange value), effectively obliterating the former. In his Letters to Malthus on Political Economy and Stagnation of Commerce (1821), Say thus objected outright to “the definition of which Lord Lauderdale gives of wealth.” It was absolutely essential, in Say’s view, to abandon altogether the identification of wealth with use value. Say did not deny that there were “things indeed which are natural wealth, very precious to man, but which are not of that kind about which political economy can be employed.” But political economy was to encompass in its concept of value—which was to displace altogether the concept of wealth as such—nothing but exchangeable value.49

Nowhere in classical liberal political economy were the contradictions posed by the Lauderdale Paradox more apparent, generating more convolutions in logic, than in John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy. In the “Preliminary Remarks” to his book, Mill declared (after Say) that, “wealth, then, may be defined, [as] all useful or agreeable things which posses exchangeable value”—thereby essentially reducing wealth to exchange value. But Mill’s characteristic eclecticism and his classical roots led him also to expose the larger irrationality of this, undermining his own argument. Thus, we find in the same section a penetrating treatment of the Lauderdale Paradox, pointing to the conflict between capital accumulation and the wealth of the commons/public wealth. According to Mill:

Things for which nothing could be obtained in exchange, however useful or necessary they may be, are not wealth in the sense in which the term is used in Political Economy. Air, for example, though the most absolute of necessaries, bears no price in the market, because it can be obtained gratuitously: to accumulate a stock of it would yield no profit or advantage to any one; and the laws of its production and distribution are the subject of a very different study from Political Economy. But though air is not wealth, mankind are much richer by obtaining it gratis, since the time and labour which would otherwise be required for supplying the most pressing of all wants, can be devoted to other purposes. It is possible to imagine circumstances in which air would be a part of wealth. If it became customary to sojourn long in places where the air does not naturally penetrate, as in diving-bells sunk in the sea, a supply of air artificially furnished would, like water conveyed into houses, bear a price: and if from any revolution in nature the atmosphere became too scanty for the consumption, or could be monopolized, air might acquire a very high marketable value. In such a case, the possession of it, beyond his own wants, would be, to its owner, wealth; and the general wealth of mankind might at first sight appear to be increased, by what would be so great a calamity to them. The error would lie in not considering, that however rich the possessor of air might become at the expense of the rest of the community, all persons else would be poorer by all that they were compelled to pay for what they had before obtained without payment.50

Mill signaled here, in line with Lauderdale, the possibility of a vast rift in capitalist economies between the narrow pursuit of private riches on an increasingly monopolistic basis, and the public wealth of society and the commons. Yet, despite these deep insights, he closed off the discussion with these “Preliminary Remarks,” rejecting the Lauderdale Paradox in the end, by defining wealth simply as exchangeable value.

In contrast, Marx, like Ricardo, not only held fast to the Lauderdale Paradox but also made it his own, insisting that the contradictions between use value and exchange value, wealth and value, were intrinsic to capitalist production. In The Poverty of Philosophy, he responded to Proudhon’s confused treatment (in The Philosophy of Poverty) of the opposition between use value and exchange value by pointing out that this contradiction had been explained most dramatically by Lauderdale, who had “founded his system on the inverse ratio of the two kinds of value.” Indeed, Marx built his entire critique of political economy in large part around the contradiction between use value and exchange value, indicating that this was one of the key components of his argument in Capital.51

In analyzing the political economic conditions in the United States, Marx drew critically on Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s argument on the political economy of colonization. Wakefield claimed that the main problem facing capitalism in the new colonial lands, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, was the very abundance of public land, which was an obstacle to the development of wage labor. With free, abundant land available, workers quickly fled the conditions of exploited labor and the commodity sphere altogether, becoming subsistence farmers and small proprietors. The priority in such conditions, Wakefield insisted, was to find ways to make land scarce, through the artificial inflation of land prices and the promotion of absentee ownership, thereby effectively closing off what had been public land to the majority of the population. “In the interest of the so-called wealth of the nation,” Marx observed, Wakefield sought the “artificial means to ensure the poverty of the people.”52

As with Lauderdale, only with greater force and consistency, Marx contended that capitalism was a system predicated on the accumulation of exchange value, even at the expense of real wealth/use values, including the social character (and welfare) of human labor itself. “Après moi le deluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation.”53 In a similar vein, Thorstein Veblen, in the 1920s, was to describe “the American plan” of resource exploitation, as “a settled practice of converting all public wealth to private gain on a plan of legalized seizure,” destroying much of the real wealth of society in the process.54

The whole classical conception of wealth in this respect was to be turned upside down with the rise of neoclassical economics. This can be seen in the work of Carl Menger, one of the founders of neoclassical economics. In his Principles of Economics (1871) Menger attacked the Lauderdale Paradox directly, arguing that it was “exceedingly impressive at first glance,” but was based on false distinctions. For Menger, it was important to reject both the use value/exchange value and wealth/value distinctions. Wealth was based on exchange, which was now seen as rooted in subjective utilities. Standing Lauderdale on his head, he suggested that it would make sense from a purely economic standpoint to encourage “a long continued diminution of abundantly available (non-economic) goods [(e.g., air, water, natural landscapes) since this] must finally make them scarce in some degree—and thus components of wealth, which is thereby increased.” In the same vein, Menger claimed that mineral water could be conceived as an economic good, due to its scarcity, i.e., as long as it did not flow in abundance and could thus be distinguished quantitatively as well as qualitatively from freshwater in general. What Lauderdale (and Ricardo and Marx) presented as a paradox or even a curse—the promotion of private riches through the artificial generation of scarcity—Menger, one of the precursors of neoliberalism in economics, saw as a means of expanding wealth, and thus a desirable end in itself.55

As a result, the dominant neoclassical tradition moved steadily away from any concept of social/public wealth, excluding the whole question of social (and natural) costs from its core analysis.56 An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico increases GDP by promoting cleanup and litigation costs, while registering little in the way of economic losses. “The Lauderdale Paradox,” as ecological economist Herman Daly has remarked, “seems to be the price we pay for measuring wealth in terms of exchange value” rather than in terms of use value.57