Monday, July 30, 2012

Lorraine Gamman: If Looks Could Kill -- On gangster suits and silhouettes

If Looks Could Kill: On gangster suits and silhouettes
by Lorraine Gamman
Moving Image Source

This article is written as a sequel (in two parts). The first part focuses on the modern gangster silhouette and offers reflections on the meaning of the narcissistic aspect of menacing men and their suits. The second part looks at the HBO TV series The Sopranos (1999-2007), and asks why it features so many representations of fat Mafia men who don't always look their best, even when fully tailored. It also examines the postmodern and melancholic implication of The Sopranos' crime, and consumer as well as clothing narratives.

Part 1: The gangster silhouette and mainstream movies

Gangster films are about looks—they are about making the spectator desire what the gangster possesses.
-- Stella Bruzzi1


James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart are movie stars who clearly knew how to wear a suit. In Saturday afternoon repeats of films like Little Caesar (Mervyn Le Roy, 1931), "G" Men (William Keighly, 1935), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (Anatole Litvak, 1938), or Rod Steiger in Al Capone (Richard Wilson, 1959) and Ray Danton in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (Budd Boetticher, 1960), movie gangsters reveal a narcissistic preoccupation with clothing, and in the way they link violence and vanity, they often operate to glamorize menace. The suits in gangster movies also help the actors cast a spell over the audience.2 Many of these films provide accounts of American back-street kids who made it to the top of the underworld only to be transformed into suit-wearing "Spivs" who receive their just deserts in the end. All the American actors who have played Al Capone, notably Jason Robards in The St Valentine's Day Massacre (Roger Corman, 1967), share this quality, as do British 1960s fictional villains such as Michael Caine in Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) or Richard Burton as Vic Dakin in Villain (Michael Tuchner, 1971). So why has the suit, "the whole range of tailored jackets, trousers, waistcoats, overcoats, shirt and neck-ties that make up the standard masculine civil costume all over the world,"3 lasted as a clothing style for such a long time? And why is the modern suit—often irritatingly "perfect" in its presentation—adopted by gangster movie icons?

All the classic gangster films feature forceful masculine figures: lean and mean in tight-fitting tailoring (two-tone or occasionally Savile Row suits). They entertain us by violating the law (and/or prevailing social morality) whilst remaining good-looking and sartorially special, if not always good-hearted. Stella Bruzzi's useful analysis reviews the different ways in which European and American gangster films engage with masculine archetypes and male narcissism. She argues that "vanity in a man came to signify evil and degeneracy (the most obsessively narcissistic gangster is often the most violent)."4 On the subject of their suits, from Cagney's double breasted look to Caine's single-buttoned, high-lapelled 1960s look, they operate to repress almost everything of the man, back behind the defensible lines of the image and also of the tailoring. Even in the more obviously dated Al Capone hats, spats and double-breasted jackets, featured in the TV series The Untouchables (1959-63), where the Spivs are hounded by the svelte waistcoated Eliot Ness, gangster movies seem to use the suit as a boundary that marks the "defensible space" of the body in the way that Oscar Newman used the term to describe both real and symbolic boundaries of architecture.5 Melodramatic alpha-male anti-heroes—and the violent ones too—are clearly transformed when the tailoring works. Even gangster movies that end with moral tales against lives of crime often cannot get the message across, because plot lines do not contain or override the powerful symbolic meanings of the glamorous suits onscreen that the guys lived for—and often died in. As Robert Elms has pointed out, "preposterously expensive tailor-made suits appear to have some sort of alchemical ability."6 The reason so many gangsters wear them in the movies may also be aimed at using the magic of tailoring to block the penetration of the onscreen hostile gaze—a point I shall return to.

The Godfather Parts I-III (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972; 1974; 1990), Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984), and crime films like Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990), Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1992; 1994) all feature action-packed spectacles of hard men wearing sharp, often bespoke business suits. Gangsters as "sexy beasts" appear in full filmic profile, conservatively dressed in designs that fashion historians argue have "stayed virtually the same for 200 years."7

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Alexander Billet: Pussy Riot for the 99 percent

Pussy Riot for the 99 percent: on the growing campaign to free jailed Russian feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot
by Alexander Billet
Socialist Worker

WHEN YOU'RE in a hole, you stop digging. Even if this weren't a cliché by now, it would still be common sense. Does this mean, then, that Vladimir Putin and the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church lack basic reasoning skills? The decision to extend Pussy Riot's stay in prison certainly seems to proves it so.

In roughly five months, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alokhina--three feminist activists accused of storming the altar of Christ the Savior Cathedral during Pussy Riot's "Punk Prayer"--have become a global cause célèbre.

It's not an exaggeration to say that most of the young people forming the core of the Occupy-Indignado generation know about the band and support the three women. Benefit gigs and actions in front of Russian consulates and embassies have become commonplace from LA to Prague to Tokyo.

As Pussy Riot's profile has grown, so has the level of embarrassment for the Russian state. All of the Putin regime's least savory characteristics are encapsulated in the Pussy Riot case: the disregard for democracy and civil liberties, the nepotistic coziness with the Orthodox Church, the willingness to sink to any low in order to silence his political opponents.

Given all of this, it seems that the smart thing to do, the reasonable thing to do, would be to simply let Alokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich go. Hit them with a fine, cut the government's losses, and live to fight another spineless fight another spineless day.

The court that heard their case on July 20 didn't think this the best move. Instead, the judge decided that, with still no word on when the actual trial will start, the three women will remain in a Moscow jail for at least the next six months, until at least January 2013. For singing a song.

To Read the Rest of the Article



Black Sabbath: Paranoid

[Syllabi production time ... need music!!!]

The Yardbirds: Evil Hearted You

Eekwol: Look East

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Radio West: Amy Kalafa -- Lunch Wars

Lunch Wars
Radio West (KUER: Utah Public Media)



The average American kid will have some 3,000 school lunches by the twelfth grade. But what are they eating? When filmmaker and author Amy Kalafa went into school cafeterias, she found lunch trays laden with chicken nuggets and French fries, but little in the way of healthy choices. The question she kept hearing from parents though was "What do we do about it?" Kalafa has written a book called "Lunch Wars," and ... she joins us to explain how to start a school food revolution.

To Listen to the Episode

Michel Foucault: Philosopher/Social Theorist/Historian

(October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984)

Biography:

Wikipedia: Michel Foucault

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Michel Foucault

By, about, and influenced by, Michel Foucault:

Benton, Michael Dean. "Thanksgiving." Dialogic (November 25, 2006)

---. "Questions I Have About My World." Dialogic (January 31, 2007)

---. "Thoughts on Blogging by a Poorly Masked Academic." Dialogic (May 7, 2006)

Clark, Urszula. Excerpt from War Words: Language, History and the Disciplining of English. NY: Elsevier, 2001: 4-6, 10-11, 229, 257-258.

Dennis, Dion. "Policing the Convergence of Virtual and Material Worlds: 'The True Object of Police is Man.'" C-Theory (December 5, 2006)

Farrow, Robert. "The Wicker Man: Games of truth, anthropology, and the death of ‘man.’" Metaphilm (June 20, 2005)

Foucault, Michel. "The Boomerang Effect." Excerpted from Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France, 1975 - 1976. NY: Picador, 2003: 103.

---. "The Minimalist Self, The Use of Pleasure, and, Intellectuals and Power." Dialogic (Collection of quotes from various texts: posted November 30, 2010)

---. "Panopticism." From Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (NY: Vintage Books 1995): 195-228.

---. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France, 1975 - 1976. NY: Picador, 2003.

---. "So is it important to think?" (1981) Power. ed. J. Faubion. NY: New Press, 2000: 160-1.

Frydman, Roman and Michael D. Goldberg. "Market Mysticism." Eurozine (November 30, 2010)

"Michel Foucault's Legacy Symposium." Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture (March 13, 2006)

McCormack, Tom. "Madness and Civilization: Monsieur Verdoux and the meaning of Chaplin's cinema." Moving Image Source (July 22, 2010)

Ogborn, Miles. Excerpt from “Knowledge is Power: Using Archival Research to Interpret State Formation.” Cultural Geography in Practice. Ed. Alison Blunt, et al. Oxford UP, 2003: 9-22.

Oliver, Paul. "Michel Foucault - The Development of Knowledge." Excerpt from Foucault: The Key Ideas. Blacklick, OH: McGraw Hill, 2010: 17-21.

---. "Michel Foucault - The Socialization of Individual Identity." Excerpt from Foucault: The Key Ideas. Blacklick, OH: McGraw Hill, 2010: 17.

Sluga, Hans. "On the Life and Work of Michel Foucault." Entitled Opinions (April 18, 2012)

Thorn, Michael. "Television discourse and governmentality: considering Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall as citizen projects." Cineaction (January 1, 2011: reproduced on The Free Library)

Making Contact: Poisoned Water, Fossil Fuels

Poisoned Water, Fossil Fuels
Making Contact (National Radio Project)

Mountaintop coal mining. Hydrofracking. The endless search for fossil fuels is polluting our waterways and our water supplies. On this edition, how the fight to protect clean drinking water is motivating Americans to take action. But with regulatory agencies in the pocket of industrial polluters, will it be enough and will it be too late?

Featuring:
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now host; Maria Gunnoe, West Virginia organizer and Goldman Environmental Prize recipient; Bill Raney, West Virginia Coal Association president; Rocky Hackworth, Pritchard Mining Company general manager of operations; Ben Stout, Wheeling Jesuit University ecologist; Jim Hecker, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice environmental enforcement project director; Billy Sammons, Lick Creek, West Virginia resident; Joe Manchin, former West Virginia governor; Janet Keating, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition executive director; Tara Lohan, AlterNet senior editor.

To Listen to the Episode

Mountain Justice and RAMPS Media: “Mountain Mobilization” shuts down Logan Co. strip mine

[From Mountain Justice and RAMPS Media]

“Mountain Mobilization” shuts down Logan Co. strip mine

Call for end to strip mining and a just transition for the region’s families

Charleston, W.Va.—More than 50 protesters affiliated with the R.A.M.P.S. Campaign have walked onto Patriot Coal’s Hobet mine and shut it down. Ten people locked to a rock truck, boarded it and dropped banners: "Coal Leaves, Cancer Stays." At least three have been arrested, with another in a tree being threatened by miners with a chain saw. Earlier in the day, two people were arrested at Kanawha State Forest before a group of protesters headed to the state capitol.

"The government has aided and abetted the coal industry in evading environmental and mine safety regulations. We are here today to demand that the government and coal industry end strip mining, repay their debt to Appalachia, and secure a just transition for this region,” Dustin Steele of Matewan, W.Va. said. Steele was one of the people locked to the rock truck.

Mounting scientific evidence shows that strip mining negatively impacts community health and miner health. Recent studies have found a 42 percent increase in risk of birth defects around strip mines, and miners who spend at least 20 years as strip-mine drillers have a 61 percent chance of contracting silicosis, a virulent form of black lung. “The coal companies are poisoning our water and air, and they’re treating the workers no better than the land – fighting workplace health and safety protections to get the most out of labor as they can,” said Junior Walk of Whitesville, W.Va.

As coal production declines, protesters are concerned that the region will be left with only illness and environmental devastation as the industry pulls out of the region and companies file for bankruptcy to shed legacy costs.

Patriot Coal is currently going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in which union contracts and pensions could be on the chopping block. Both UMWA pensions and the state’s Special Reclamation Fund are funded through a per-ton tax on coal. With Central Appalachian coal production in the middle of a projected six-year, 50 percent decline, this funding stream is increasingly unsustainable. Protesters are calling on the coal industry and government to ensure that funding is available both to honor commitments to retired workers and to restore the land.

“Coal companies must employ their surface mine workers in reclaiming all disturbed land to the highest standards. Instead of arguing about the ‘war on coal,’ political leaders should immediately allocate funds to retrain and re-employ laid off miners to secure a healthy future for the families of this region,” said R.A.M.P.S. spokesperson Mathew Louis-Rosenberg.

Appalachian communities, from union miners to the anti-strip mining activists of the 1960s, have a proud history of confronting the coal industry and demanding an end to its exploitive practices with direct civil disobedience. R.A.M.P.S. and other campaigns have returned to this tradition to eliminate strip mining once and for all. Since its founding in 2011, R.A.M.P.S. has organized a range of actions, from tree-sits to blockades of coal trucks.

Today’s protesters are among the hundreds of people across the country who are joining this summer’s National Uprising Against Extraction, using radical tactics to fight oppressive extractive industries and demand a transition to a sustainable economy.

Contact: Charles Suggs, 304-449-NVDA (6832), media@wg.rampscampaign.org

For More Information

Link to the statement with sources for factual information

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Media Matters: Josh Silver discusses his most recent endeavor, United Republic

Josh Silver to discuss his most recent endeavor, United Republic
Media Matters with Bob McChesney (WILL: Illinois Public Media)

Josh Silver is the co-founder and current CEO of United Republic, an organization fighting the corrupting influence of well-financed special interests over American politics and government. He is also the former CEO and president of Free Press, the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization co-founded with Bob McChesney and John Nichols in 2002 to engage the American public in media policy. He was previously campaign manager for the successful "Clean Elections in Arizona" ballot initiative; director of development for the cultural arm of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; and director of an international youth exchange program. He has published widely on media, telecommunications, campaign finance and other public policy issues. Silver has been profiled the Wall Street Journal and featured in outlets including the New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com, C-SPAN, and NPR. He speaks regularly on media and technology issues and blogs at The Huffington Post.

Silver is one of the leading figures in the growing movement for media reform. His quest to foster more critical, investigative journalism led him to start Free Press, arguably the most effective organization in the media policy reform space. His work with Free Press focused on inhibiting media consolidation, ensuring that the Internet is fast, neutral and affordable, fostering more critical, independent journalism, and encouraging a more robust, politically insulated public media system.

To Listen to the Conversation

Michael Auslin: Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations

Michael Auslin: Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations
New Books in East Asian Studies



How have the United States and Japan managed to remain such strong allies, despite having fought one another in a savage war less than 70 years ago? In Michael Auslin’s Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations (Harvard University Press, 2011), the author, an Asia expert at the American Enterprise Institute, explores the history of cultural exchange between the United States and Japan, and how important that exchange has been, and continues to be, from a political perspective.

Auslin, who is also a columnist for WSJ.com, analyses the “enduring cultural exchange” between the two countries, and describes the various stages through which this vital relationship has evolved over the last century and one half. As Auslin shows, the relationship between the United States and Japan has had a large number of twists and turns, culminating in the current close and mutually beneficial connection between the two nations. In our interview, we talk about baseball, pop culture, gunboat diplomacy, and the first Japanese ever to set foot in America.

To Listen to the Interview

Friday, July 27, 2012

Max Fisher: Map -- U.S. Ranks Near Bottom on Income Inequality

Map: U.S. Ranks Near Bottom on Income Inequality
by Max Fisher
The Atlantic

Perhaps the most politically contentious aspect of President Barack Obama's new proposed legislation, aimed to revive the still-struggling U.S. economy, is $1.5 trillion in tax increases, much of it aimed at wealthy Americans. The White House is calling this "the Buffett rule." Named for super-investor Warren Buffett's complaint that he pays a lower tax rate than some of his most menial wage employees, the legislation would be designed to ensure that anyone making more than $1 million per year will pay at least the same rate as middle-income taxpayers.

Obama's "Buffett rule" is a response to a number of U.S. economic issues (as well as some relevant political openings) related to the recession. One of the most severe is income inequality -- the gaps between wealthy, super-wealthy, and everyone else -- a serious, long-worsening problem that makes the recession more painful and recovery more difficult. To get a sense of just how bad our income inequality has become, it's worth taking a look at how we stack up to the rest of the world.

Viewed comparatively, U.S. income inequality is even worse than you might expect. Perfect comparisons across the world's hundred-plus economies would be impossible -- standards of living, the price of staples, social services, and other variables all mean that relative poverty feels very different from one country to another. But, in absolute terms, the gulf between rich and poor is still telling. Income inequality can be measured and compared using something called the Gini coefficient, a century-old formula that measures national economies on a scale from 0.00 to 0.50, with 0.50 being the most unequal. The Gini coefficient is reliable enough that the CIA world factbook uses it. Here's a map of their data, with the most unequal countries in red and the most equal in green.

To Access Maps and Read the Rest of the Report

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Robert Farrow: The Wicker Man -- Games of truth, anthropology, and the death of ‘man’

The Wicker Man: Games of truth, anthropology, and the death of ‘man’
by Robert Farrow
Metaphilm



The Wicker Man, a cult classic of 1970s British cinema, portrays the investigation of an authoritarian police officer (played by Edward Woodward) into the mysterious disappearance of a young girl in the remote Scottish island of Summerisle. It becomes apparent that the islanders observe various ancient pagan traditions, and Sgt. Howie—a committed Christian—becomes increasingly suspicious of them. Eventually, he comes to suspect that she is somewhere imprisoned, earmarked as a human sacrifice for the Mayday festival of Beltane.

As the mystery unfolds, Howie comes to realizes the awful truth: the missing girl was a mystery fabricated in order to lure him to Summerisle, and it is in fact he who is to be burnt alive in the Wicker Man as an offering to the renewed cult of the old gods. This sinister ending has ensured this film a place in the annals of horror despite its divergence from the tropes of most horror films of the 1970s. The Wicker Man presents no bogeymen, no vampires, and no sinister music; its ending is all the more shocking, in fact, for the twee charm of the villagers and the folk-music score, which lead the audience into a false state of complacency that mirrors Sgt. Howie’s own vulnerability. And in a further departure from other examples of the genre, the antagonists are in no way demonized.

So, if The Wicker Man breaks so many of the genre rules, why is it such an unsettling film? One answer is illuminated by the complex matrices of truth, power, and knowledge made familiar by the French historian and philosopher, Michel Foucault: The Wicker Man presents us with an alarm call to wake us from “anthropological sleep,” and to tear down and burn our own false conceptions of “man.”

Foucault, a noted critic of the social sciences, rejected all positive notions of objectivity and human nature. For Foucault, we exist trapped within a kind of postmodern labyrinth (or “archive”), where truths are relative to the societies and practices that develop them. This is not a facile cultural relativism. Instead, we are invited to understand truths as problematized, colored by the contexts and subjects that produce them. The power structures that (so to speak) restrain us are also what makes our freedom possible, conditioning our thought at a collective, unconscious level.

Foucault’s own diagnosis of the present took the form of investigations into (often obscure) historical documents that aimed at exposing the implicit “truths” that underlie social practices and norms, thereby supporting his position as a thinker of social and historical relativity. As his work developed, it became clear that the driving force behind his work was an interest in how senses of identity are formed when the self is essentially a product of certain power/knowledge relationships, discourses, and games of truth.

Foucault’s early works—and The Wicker Man—offer this message: identity is best understood as an amorphous, shifting fiction, an “anthropology” that is to be exposed. When the full import of this becomes understood, the effect is rather more unsettling than the fraternity gorefests that typify many later horror films.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Friday, July 20, 2012

Comments on the Aftermath of the Aurora Shootings; Louie Gohmert's Selfish Attempt to Manipulate the Fallout for Political Gain; President Obama's Avoidance of Any Attempt to Explore the Root Causes; Revisiting "Here There Be Monsters"

Way back in 2001 I tried to think about the causes of two school shootings in my hometown of San Diego (as well as the phenomenon overall) and this is what came out: Here There Be Monsters.

Rough attempt at grasping why these events happen, but might be worth revisiting and rewriting, especially since we already have absurd attempts to manipulate the public's fears for profits and politics: "Louie Gohmert: Aurora Shootings Result Of 'Ongoing Attacks On Judeo-Christian Beliefs'."

Just as bad and manipulative are claims by President Obama that violent attacks like these are "senseless" and simply "evil" as a means of avoiding any systemic exploration of root causes: "Batman US cinema shooting: 12 dead in Colorado."
Almost always we can carefully investigate and map out the root causes of these violent events. Dismissing them as the actions of "monsters" or as simply incomprehensible "evil" is an attempt to divert people from thinking about the causes (especially broader social forces/structures).

Meanwhile, the mainstream media amplifies the event in such a way that it causes the public to develop a hysterical fear that they will be gunned down by random mass murderers. At the same time, the corporate media continues to de-emphasize the daily pain, suffering and deaths (here and abroad) that are directly caused by our (American) economic, political, military, social, etc... policies.

Why do people freak out in regards to the relatively small amounts of people killed/suffering as a result of isolated people like Holmes, but continue to blithely ignore the massive amounts of people being abused/exploited/harmed/tortured/killed daily?

People claim it is senseless, or "evil" incarnate, or terror(ism), or an attack on Judeo-Christianity, or evidence that we should arm everyone to the teeth, in order to distract us from the real causes of violently-explosive, mass murders.

Just as simplistic and manipulative as Louie Gohmert's claim, is the clamor that this is evidence that we need to loosen gun control laws and allow everyone to arm themselves to the teeth. It is quite obvious that "gun control" (and ammo restrictions) is not operative in the USA: James Holmes, Aurora Shooting Suspect, Purchased 6,000 Rounds Of Ammunition Online

Another attempt to ignore the possible root causes of these type of violent outbursts is the claim that these people are simply "insane," when in reality, many of them are described as being completely "normal": James Holmes, Aurora Shooter, Described As 'Smart Kid,' Quiet Loner By Classmates

While I think most people can understand director Chris Nolan being upset about the shooting during his film, am I the only person that finds it strange that he claims a mall cinema as an "innocent and hopeful place"?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ken Chen: Chilly, Obstinate Memory -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Chilly, Obstinate Memory: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
by Ken Chen
Reverse Shot



Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind could be one of those precious, necessarily rare things: like Breathless or 2001, a paradigmatic film for a generation. The film’s conceit is ingenious in its genre-ductility: Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s characters (respectively: boyfriend, memory-of-girlfriend) flee across the landscape of his memory while it’s being forcibly forgotten—thanks to Lacuna, a therapeutic brain surgery service that offers to erase all those unpleasant thought-crumbs of ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and the recently deceased. What makes screenwriter Charles Kaufman and director Michel Gondry’s film consequently so intimidating is how it is able to think like many different films simultaneously: a romantic comedy by Alain Resnais, a listlessly unbeautiful indie flick, a formalistic trick movie like Memento, a self-consciously aesthetic art film, suffused with strange imagery (the faceless people in Sunshine are straight out of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another), a hedonistic teen flick replete with inebriated, tank-topped girl, a screwball drama, a black comedy satirizing the intrusive efficiency of machines, and a love story whose characters brim with more reality than a reservoir of Mystic Rivers. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s willingness to trot across the borders of genre, its syncretistic way of unifying all these narrative modes—all these things make it at once poetic and spiritual. The film is a metaphysical chase movie—the villain we flee from is forgetting.

But what exactly about Eternal Sunshine is spiritual? This question demands another preliminary question: what becomes of spirituality in a scientific age? And if there can be a secular spirituality, how is it distinct from sociology or psychology? Once we become bereft of God, spirituality becomes privatized, shunts inward, molts off the social, longs for private rather than profound truths. Spirituality forks away from philosophy because (perhaps to philosophy’s credit) philosophy is too comprehensible; spirituality has no moving parts, no planks of argument: it is necessarily ineffable, interpretive and “intuitive” rather than analytical—it is the roadless road that arcs over chasms unbridgeable by syllogism. Instead, in a non-metaphysical age, the subject matter of secular spirituality ceases to be truth; the subject matter of spirituality becomes the self. As Richard Rorty writes in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, “The process of coming to know oneself, confronting one’s contingency, tracking one’s causes home, is identical with the process of inventing a new language—that is, of thinking up some new metaphors.” Our version of spirituality, therefore, asks us to interpret life—to invent our life’s own story, its unique descriptive language—rather than propose an answer for it. Our preexisting tools of interpretation—the rich cultural density of the novel and the abstracting truth of poems—thus becomes analogous to spiritual searching. Our life becomes a story and the supple, mystic emotions we associate with love and longing, regret and desire, start to seem somehow more profound than the puny omnipotence of God. This is why when D.H. Lawrence writes: “Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one’s history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over,” to describe the desperate life of a poor coal miner’s wife, he seems “spiritual” (though not theological) in a way that “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands/ Sing forth the honor of his name/ make his praise glorious” (Psalm 66; King James) does not. What we require of our modern spirituality is intimate content—the wisdom of usefully idiosyncratic thought.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind feels spiritual because of the way it imbues film with this specifically literary content. It is the foremost example of what could be called avant garde realism—which might also describe films such as Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time and Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole, a type of realism that solves, dissolves, and welds together the intellectual resources of surrealism and its opposite, cinema verité. The fault of surrealism is that its mysteriousness arises from its irrelevance—surrealist images have a hard time creeping into meaning, a hard time becoming pertinent to our identity, because they resist paraphrase and explicit meaning; the fault of cinema verité is that, while it is full of life, it is a factless life, a life jailed to the moment: this is the image- oriented psychology of film rather than the thought-dense introspection of novels. Eternal Sunshine solves these genre maladies through its conceit: the first two-thirds of the film occur within the protagonist’s memory, so the otherwise “realist” film can deploy any number of non-realist conventions (a character meta-fictionally aware that she is only a memory; people disappearing as they’re forgotten; Jim Carrey surrounded by giant furniture, stuck in the memory of his baby self) without them actually becoming non-realist: they are real to their context, the way that a dream is a real dream.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Making Contact: Population Control or Population Justice?

Population Control or Population Justice?
Making Contact

Shrinking the world’s population is one way to curb global warming, according to some environmentalists. To make that happen, women need to be in control of their own fertility. But those perspectives are very controversial. On this edition: how environmentalism can lead down a slippery slope to population control, and even anti-immigrant policies. Can an emerging movement for ‘population justice’ save our planet while respecting women’s rights?

Featuring:

Laurie Mazur, author of A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice and the Environmental Challenge; Jade Sasser, Loyola Marymount University women’s studies professor; Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health policy director; Ben Zuckerman, former Sierra Club board member

To Listen to the Episode

Linda B. Blackford: Lawmakers divert Money to other areas, so pot empties faster as demand grows

Lawmakers divert Money to other areas, so pot empties faster as demand grows
By Linda B. Blackford
Lexington Herald-Leader

Jayme Hopewell has been a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College since 2010, trying to get an arts and science associate degree at the same time she works and raises her son on her own.

In late February, she filled out her annual application for a grant from Kentucky's College Assistance Program, or CAP, which helps low-income Kentuckians pay for college. She was out of luck.

The state began accepting applications for the program Jan. 1. By Feb. 7, the fund's $60 million had been doled out. It's not yet clear how many students were turned down, but 80,724 were denied in 2011.

"It was hard for me because I depend on financial aid," Hopewell said. "I do think people who intend to go to school should be able to get some help."

She later won a scholarship that allowed her to return to school, but thousands of other Kentucky students aren't that fortunate.

The same thing happens every year, for several reasons:

■ The General Assembly routinely raids funds from the Kentucky Lottery that are supposed to be used for student financial aid. Kentuckians approved the lottery in 1989 on the understanding that 100 percent of its proceeds would go to education. Instead, legislators suspend the law that directs lottery money to education and use it for other programs — to the tune of $90 million since 2006.

In addition, funding for financial aid is based on estimates of lottery proceeds rather than actual lottery sales. Since 2006, the lottery has produced $78 million more than was estimated, but the extra money went into the state's General Fund budget instead of paying for financial aid.

■ The merit-based Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, or KEES, earned by every high school student with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, receives funding priority over need-based grants.

■ With a sickly economy, experts say more and more Kentuckians are realizing they need college degrees. That means more students are competing for the same pot of financial aid, all while tuition rates continue to climb.

The students penalized most by the lack of need-based aid are often those at community colleges. Although institutions tell students to apply early for need-based aid, experts say community college students often lose out because they might not decide to go to school until the last minute based on factors such as employment and family.

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Making Contact: The Greening of America -- A New Deal for Everyone?

The Greening of America: A New Deal for Everyone?
Making Contact

From the Tennessee Valley Authority to the federal theatre project, Roosevelt’s’ New Deal of the 1930’s dramatically altered America’s infrastructure in lasting ways. Now President Obama wants a New Deal too –– only this one is green. Obama plans to create more than two-and-half million “green” jobs over the next two years. But will these jobs be as plentiful and equitable as the new administration will have us believe? On this edition, we look at the greening of America. Is it really a new deal for everyone?

Featuring:

Ricky Thigpen, GRID Alternatives supervisor; Lawrence Martinez, Randy Mason, Keith Rose and Antoine Sawyer, Richmond Build trainees; Fred Lucero, Richmond Build Project Manager and City of Richmond Contract Compliance officer; Zoey Burrows, Solar Richmond Development & Communications staff member; Samuel Charles, Richmond Build lead instructor; Deshan McFett, California Conservation Corps member; Veronica and Luz, Natural Home Cleaning Cooperative owners; Hilary Abell, WAGES executive director; Deb Goldburg, Natural Home Cleaning Cooperative general manager; Grey Brechin, historical geographer and author.

To Listen to the Episode

Friday, July 13, 2012

Entitled Opinions: A conversation with UC-Berkeley professor of philosophy Hans Sluga on the life and work of Michel Foucault

A conversation with UC-Berkeley professor of philosophy Hans Sluga on the life and work of Michel Foucault
Entitled Opinions (KZSU: Stanford University)

Autobiographical notes from Professor Sluga's departmental website:

I was born and grew up in Germany and though I have lived since then in the English-speaking world I remain considerably influenced by German culture and thought. Through an early education in the classical languages I became interested in philosophy (both ancient Greek and German). I initially pursued that interest at the Universities of Bonn and Munich where I was exposed to philosophical ideas coming from both the “analytic” and the “Continental” tradition. This left me convinced that the division between these two currents of contemporary thought is somewhat artificial and certainly unfruitful.

At Oxford, I became familiar with Wittgenstein’s writings which made a decisive impression on me. Under the influence of Michael Dummett I also concerned myself exensively with Frege’s contribution to the development of modern logical and philosophy of language. At the same time my teachers R. M. Hare and Isaiah Berlin stirred my interest in questions of ethics and politics.

My overall philosophical outlook is radically historicist. I believe that we can understand ourselves only as beings with a particular evolution and history. For this reason I have been drawn to the work of Nietzsche and Foucault. I am doubtful of the possibility of a “pure” apriori philosophizing. In consequence,I feel attracted to a realist and naturalistic view of things rather than any sort of formalistic rationalism.

In addition to numerous essays, Professor Sluga has published various books, "Gottlob Frege" (Routledge, 1980, later reprinted and translated into Chinese and Greek), "Heidegger's Crisis: Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany" (Harvard University Press, 1993), "The Philosophy of Frege" (as editor, multiple volumes, Garland Press, 1993), "The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein" (as co-editor with David Stern, Cambridge University Press, 1996), "Wittgenstein" (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). He is also working on the forthcoming "The Care of the Common." He has taught at various universities both in Europe and in the United States and has been the recipient of several distinguished fellowships.

To Listen to the Conversation

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Wendell Berry: The Work of Local Culture

Berry, Wendell. “The Work of Local Culture.” What Are People For? San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990: 153-169.



A human community, too, must collect leaves and stories, and turn them to account. It must build soil, and build that memory of itself—in lore and story and song—that will be its culture. These two kinds of accumulation, of local soil and local culture, are intimately related. (Berry, 154)

A human community, then, if it is to last long, must exert a sort of centripetal force, holding local soil and local memory in place. (Berry, 155)

This loss of local knowledge and local memory—that is, of local culture—has been ignored, or written off as one of the cheaper “prices of progress,” or made the business of folklorists. Nevertheless, local culture has a value, and part of its value is economic. This can be demonstrated readily enough. (Berry, 157)

... when a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now. Because of a general distrust and suspicion, we not only lose one another’s help and companionship, but we are all now living in jeopardy of being sued. (Berry, 157-158)

... most people of the present can only marvel to think of neighbors entertaining themselves for a whole evening without a single imported pleasure and without listening to a single minute of sales talk. (Berry, 159)

But if, for example, there should occur a forty-eight-hour power failure, we would find ourselves in much more backward circumstances than our ancestors. (Berry, 159)

Professionalism means more interest in salaries and less interest in what used to be known as disciplines. And so we arrive at the idea, endlessly reiterated in the news media, that education can be improved by bigger salaries for teachers—which may be true, but education cannot be improved, as the proponents too often imply, by bigger salaries alone. There must also be love of learning and of the cultural tradition and of excellence—and this love cannot exist, because it makes no sense, apart from the love of a place and a community. Without this love, education is only the importation into a local community of centrally prescribed “career preparation” designed to facilitate the export of young careerists. (Berry, 164)

Our children are educated, then, to leave home, not to stay home, and the costs of this education have been far too little acknowledged. One of the costs is psychological, and the other is at once cultural and ecological. (Berry, 164)

The natural or normal course of human growing up must begin with some sort of rebellion against one’s parents, for it is clearly impossible to grow up if one remains a child. But the child, in the process of rebellion and of achieving the emotional and economic independence that rebellion ought to lead to, finally comes to understand the parents as fellow humans and fellow sufferers, and in some manner returns to them as their friend, forgiven and forgiving the inevitable wrongs of family life. That is the old norm. (Berry, 164-165)

The new norm, according to which the child leaves home as a student and never lives at home again, interrupts the old course of coming of age at the point of rebellion, so that the child is apt to remain stalled in adolescence, never achieving any kind of reconciliation or friendship with the parents. Of course, such a return and reconciliation cannot be achieved without the recognition of mutual practical need. In the present economy, however, where individual dependences are so much exterior to both household and community, family members often have no practical need or use for one another. Hence the frequent futility of attempts at a purely psychological or emotional reconciliation. (Berry, 165)

The loss of local culture is, in part, a practical loss and an economic one. For one thing, such a culture contains, and conveys to succeeding generations, the history of the use of the place and the knowledge of how the place may be lived in and used. For another, the pattern of reminding implies affection for the place and respect for it, and so, finally, the local culture will carry the knowledge of how the place may be well and lovingly used, and also the implicit command to use it only well and lovingly. The only true and effective “operator’s manual for spaceship earth” is not a book that any human will ever write, it is hundreds of thousands of local cultures. (Berry, 166)

Lacking an authentic local culture, a place is open to exploitation, and ultimately to destruction, from the center. (Berry, 166)

For an online copy of the essay at The Contrary Farmer

To access the entire collection What Are People For? at Internet Archive

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Glocks and Spiels -- Obama's Executive Privilege

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Friday, July 06, 2012

John Bredin: 2 or 3 Ways Godard Taught Us How to Speak and Live

2 or 3 Ways Godard Taught Us How to Speak and Live
by John Bredin
Acidemic



I highly recommend Jean Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her to shy people. To those poor souls who, like my former self, have had their speaking agency crippled, reducing them to verbal mice. Such radical withdrawals from the speaking world are often the result of being smothered by a patriarchal, authoritative and oppressive family, school system, or society. In my case, it was all of the above.

Mindful of the healing and transformative power of art, for the reticent of speech I bring a message of radiant hope: a nugget of cinematic wisdom distilled from what critic J. Hoberman calls Godard's greatest masterpiece. (As founder of the French New Wave movement in modern cinema, Godard is, arguably, one of, if not the most important, avante garde filmmaker of all time.) Deciphering lessons from Two or Three Things which, in a burst of validation from the zeitgeist for its continuing relevance, Film Forum in New York City screened both last fall and this spring you might be inspired, like I was, with the epiphany that it's not too late for you to achieve the exalted state of verbal freedom; the intoxicating, liberating, yet simple pleasure of being able to share (in a calm, thoughtful and nuanced manner) the cognitive and affective music of your soul with others.

In Two or Three Things Godard offers humanity nothing less than a filmic template for bold and authentic communication in the world: an aesthetically rich and pedagogically fertile piece of language curriculum that bears repeated visits. Without exaggeration, I'd call it a Linguistic Declaration of Independence. Notice, if you will, how the film celebrates the miraculous potential of spoken language, while at the same time interrogating it in what linguists refer to as a meta-talk, or talk about talk fashion often through the power of amazingly simple, wonder-provoking phrases.

For example, whenever Juliette the bored housewife who moonlights as a prostitute addresses a person, the camera, or thin air with a random thought that just popped into her head (I know how to talk; Let's talk together; Together is a word I like.) or when Robert, Juliette's husband, engages in that remarkable see-saw dialogue with a strange woman in the café (Say words; Do you know what talking is? Talk about something interesting.); or the pretty girl at the bar, whose deer-in-the-headlights narration of the simple details of her life startles us with its unassuming transcendence (I like to take walks, ride my bike for fun, go to the cinema two or three times a month. I like books); or when Godard himself, intoning with his whispery, philosophical voiceover, decides to interject a thought or two because he's the auteur (filmmaker as author) and can talk whenever he damn well pleases we're treated to a model of the magical possibilities of human speech.

Shy people, take notice.

Sometimes we become shy (and I myself still feel shy at times, depending, naturally, on who I'm with, or the situation), better still, let me phrase it a different way: we say that we're shy, or inarticulate, or afraid to talk, when in reality we're simply numbed by over-exposure to the prepackaged speech of movies and television shows: talk that's fakely fluid in the Hollywood sense. After watching actors speak brilliantly, dashing off hilarious applause lines as if they were talking naturally when, in reality, they spent days or weeks memorizing a pre-written script by comparison, our own conversational offerings might appear flat and boring to us. Certainly too, in a media-saturated age such as ours, because of our overexposure to glib, slick, oily-tongued, sonorous anchor people and celebrities, one could easily see how a person might get the false, even monstrous impression that this is how real people should talk. Unable to achieve such a bizarre standard of faux eloquence in our own speech, we clam up.

Philosopher Maxine Greene, critiquing such indurations in the mundane, talks about the need to resist passivity, to, partly through reflective art encounters she says, escape submergence in the everyday, the routine, the banal. Such submergence ought to include our current mass drowning, if you will, in a sea of pop cultural and media kitsch: a filling up of our heads, like the white cream inside a Twinkie, with a combination of advertisements, pop cultural fluff, and the grave pronouncements of the talking heads. Might such an inexorable assault on our cognitive and aesthetic apparatus tamp down our capacity to generate our own unique and creative thoughts, disabling our ability to write (and speak) our own essays to the world?

Godard offers us a cure to such a paralysis of language in Two or Three Things: an extraordinary pastiche of verbal and visual images, philosophy, and politics, that many critics have likened to an essay on film. As essays go, of course, it's worth noting that the traditional, written kind from the celebrated classics of Montaigne (Of Experience) and Emerson (Self Reliance) right up through today's brilliant NY Times pieces by Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and occasionally I'll grant, David Brooks offers one of the most powerful and flexible vehicles to tell our stories and richly express the complexity of our thoughts, questions, wonderings, and theories on any given topic.

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