Thursday, November 27, 2008

Creative Screenwriting: Thomas McCarthy Director of The Visitor

Thomas McCarthy - The Visitor Q&A
Creative Screenwriting
Host: Jeff Goldsmith

Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith interviews writer-director Thomas McCarthy about The Visitor

To Listen to the Episode

Mario Salvo: There Comes a Time...

The words of Mario Savio during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement.

"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies on the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Democracy Now: Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner and Michael Hudson Dissect Obama’s New Economic Team & Stimulus Plan

Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner and Michael Hudson Dissect Obama’s New Economic Team & Stimulus Plan
Democracy Now
Host: Amy Goodman

On Monday Obama named New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner to the post of the Treasury Secretary. Former Treasury Secretary under Clinton Lawrence Summers was named the Director of the National Economic Council in the White House. Obama also called for a stimulus plan that will “give a jolt to the economy.” We host a roundtable discussion about Obama’s latest economic moves

To Listen to the Conversation

Democracy Now: Naomi Klein on the Bailout Profiteers and the Multi-Trillion-Dollar Crime Scene

Naomi Klein on the Bailout Profiteers and the Multi-Trillion-Dollar Crime Scene
Democracy Now
Host: Amy Goodman

“The more details emerge, the clearer it becomes that Washington’s handling of the Wall Street bailout is not merely incompetent. It is borderline criminal,” says Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine.

To Listen to the Interview

Michael Benton: I Am Past Imperfect (Thanksgiving Reflection)

(It is time for my annual Thanksgiving post... what am I thinking this time of year as everyone gathers for the feast brandishing their steely knives. Nods to Eviatar Zerubavel, Tim O'Brien, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Critical Art Ensemble, Crimethinc., Errol Morris, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Philip K. Dick, Parker Palmer, Robert McChesney, Evelyn Fox Keller, Howard Zinn, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Charlie Kaufman and my far-flung archiving comrades... who had nothing directly to do with this writing, but definitely influenced the current self that produced it.)

“I Am Past Imperfect”
by Michael Dean Benton

The little boys make up the man. A collection of little boys nestled together and masked to the world as an individual man. Russian Dolls situated one in another, each new incarnation rising out of the collective to claim the seat of power like a Roman autocrat, shouting out to the world I am "The Man." Each ascending self, conceiving of their self, as an immortal individual. Foolish little selves thinking that they will rule forever. Foolish little selves believing they are "The Man."

How do I remember who I am? Can one peel back the layers of one’s selves and penetrate to the core? Will I only find a million little pieces that people will revile as false and misleading? Is it just one missing piece somehow stuffed in the pocket of one of my selves that can make me whole? Can I ever be whole, or, is that just an illusion? Do we only become complete in death, our last breath, the author’s signature? Is the seeking of completeness a fool’s errand?

I’m sure this task requires a sense of humor because the surgeon of the soul exposes foolish personas; but mocking laughter would not be the worst effect, insecurities would be exposed, fears confronted, and hatred examined. My life has been violent. My life has been peaceful. My life has been boring. Do I have the courage to travel down the road that leads to the abyss? Can I stomach the dark tea time of the soul?

However foolish I have been in the past, my future self, now, now, now, now, now, recognizes the (im)possibility of truth(s). We re-member and re-cognize the past. The act of remembering reconstructs the past. The viewer gives meaning to the view. I remember what I remember today and will remember what I remember tomorrow. No one can expect these memories to remain the same. I am but an archivist of the self, pulling traces out of my clogged brain, seeking narrative sense, pulling fragments together, a collage of the selves represented as a self. Restor(y)ing the self.

This will be a horror story. No. This will be a bildungsroman. No. This will be a romance. No. This will be a comedy. No. Can we label today what may change tomorrow? No. This will be a true story? No. Yes. Maybe. Depending on what you conceive of as the truth. Some may even re-cognize themselves in what I write, but I warn you it is not you I write about, although, you might ask why it is I am writing about you? You might ask what is in you that you recognize in my story? You bring your own story to my tale in completing it anew for you. My story becomes our story when you read it, like love’s warm embrace, each union is unique. A fiction full of lovers, come feel my key stroke, aching to unite with you and create new meanings.

This will not be a true story. Yes! No! Maybe? This will be a true story. Yes! No! Maybe? What has always amazed me the most in life is not that so many people remember the same event/moment differently. No, that seems obvious to my 21st Century Mind, what amazes, nay, scares me, is how so many people, and societies, are able to erase the distinctive and memorable recognition that memories are but constructs of the moment and will change again and again and again. This is the violence we do to ourselves, a violence as deep and painful as our erasure of the fact that one day we will not exist. We are past imperfect.

So, what will follow is the absolute truth…



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Henry Giroux and Kerry T. Burch: Corporate Transformation of School Knowledge and the Mass Production of Idiocy

Giroux, Henry. Stealing Innocence: Youth, Corporate Power, and the Politics of Culture. New York: Palgrave, 2000: 173.

... schools are being transformed into commercial rather than public spheres as students become subject to the whims and practices of marketers whose agenda has nothing to do with critical learning and a great deal to do with restructuring civic life in the image of market culture. Civic courage--upholding the most basic non-commercial principles of democracy--as a defining principle of society is devalued as corporate power transforms school knowledge.

Kerry T. Burch. Eros as the Educational Principle of Democracy. New York: Peter Lang, 2000: 197.

... nowadays, most schools are not producing critically reflective democratic citizens; they are far more engaged in the mass production of idiocy. I use this phrase with precision: the ancient Greek etymology of idios refers to a ‘purely private person,’ one who could participate in the polis as a citizen, but did not.

Loudon Wainwright III: Hard Day on the Planet

(One of the best singer-songwriters...

... in my top releases of the year I would include his retrospective collection Recovery)

Democracy Now: Ex-CIA Officials Tied to Rendition Program and Faulty Iraq Intel Tapped to Head Obama’s Intelligence Transition Team

Ex-CIA Officials Tied to Rendition Program and Faulty Iraq Intel Tapped to Head Obama’s Intelligence Transition Team
Guests: CIA analyst Melvin Goodman and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights
Democracy Now
Host: Amy Goodman

John Brennan and Jami Miscik, both former intelligence officials under George Tenet, are leading Barack Obama’s review of intelligence agencies and helping make recommendations to the new administration. Brennan has supported warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition, and Miscik was involved with the politicized intelligence alleging weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the war on Iraq. We speak with former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

To Listen to the Conversation

Barack Obama Considering Eric Holder for Attorney General: Why We Should Be Concerned About His Role Defending Chiquita Brands in Columbia?

Colombia and Ecuador: U.S. Politics and Chiquita - Chevron Lawsuit
Worldview (WBEZ: Chicago Public Radio)
Host: Jerome McDonnell

President-Elect Barack Obama looks ready to nominate Eric Holder for Attorney General. During his years in private practice, Holder defended Chiquita Brands in a case where it admitted it funneled weapons and money to a Colombian paramilitary group deemed a terrorist organization during the time of the payments.

Chiquita paid a 25 million dollar fine in the case but no one went to prison.

Adam Isacson is Director of Programs for the Center for International Policy. His blog is called Plan Columbia and Beyond. He gave me his take on Holder’s involvement with Chiquita…

To Listen to the Interview

Jared Rapfogel: Mister Freedom--An Interview with William Klein

Mister Freedom: An Interview with William Klein
by Jared Rapfogel

Though he made films with great regularity for a full four decades, characterizing William Klein’s position in the cinematic firmament is a tricky endeavor, thanks partly to the unusual paths his life has taken, and partly to his own creative restlessness and adventurousness. Something of a prodigy during his childhood in New York, Klein began visiting the Museum of Modern Art and studying at City College as a teenager, found himself stationed in Germany and France during the war at the age of twenty, and shortly thereafter took advantage of the Franco-American Friendship Program to enroll at the Sorbonne, where he studied with Fernand Léger. An encounter with Alexander Liberman, the accomplished painter/sculptor who was also the art director of Vogue, led to the project which (after a long search for a sympathetic publisher) would eventually become his hugely influential book, New York (Life is Good and Good for You in New York), as well as to an unexpected sideline as a fashion photographer for Vogue. In the midst of this varied activity, Klein turned his attention to filmmaking, producing a beautiful, impressionistic portrait of Times Square at night (Broadway by Light, 1958), inaugurating yet another parallel career that would ultimately produce some twenty short and feature-length films.

Much better known as a photographer than a filmmaker, Klein has resisted categorization from the very beginning—he studied painting and sculpture before gaining fame for his street photography, whose unapologetically raw, muscular, expressionistic style shocked contemporary tastes. His fashion photography saw him exploring another side of his personality—one drawn to graphic design and stylization—that he couldn’t express fully through his street photography, a dynamic mirrored in his films, which have alternated between documentaries and wildly exaggerated, satiric fictions. All of Klein’s films reflect his deeply political, profoundly independent-minded sensibility, but they have done so in unmistakably diverse ways.

Cineaste spoke with Klein at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, where he was being honored, appropriately, with both a photographic exhibition and an extensive retrospective of his film work. A big, outsized figure—with his great frame and his unruly shock of hair—Klein was an overwhelming presence. His festival appearances (along with a few rumors) had suggested that he could be difficult—prickly, impatient, and unforgiving—but during the interview he proved anything but. Making himself comfortable in the plush lobby of the grand Electra Palace Hotel, he turned out to be friendly, funny, extremely generous with his time, and more than willing to discuss his life and work. True to form, he was frank, uncensored, alert, and curious, interrupting the interview at regular intervals to chat with passing acquaintances and admirers (especially female ones), tell stories about other passers-by (such as Nico Papatakis, legendary owner of the Parisian nightclub La Rose Rouge, friend and associate of Jean Genet, husband of Anouk Aimée, and boyfriend of the Velvet Underground’s Nico), gripe about how busy the festival organizers were keeping him, and ask some questions of his own (regarding the selection of films for the retrospective, the nature of the audience reaction, the history of Cineaste, and, his interest obviously piqued by his fellow Thessaloniki honoree, the degree of success John Sayles has enjoyed throughout his largely self-financed career). Among Klein’s many talents, one of the most impressive has proven to be his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, making for an interview that encompassed not only his own artistic pursuits and developments, but many of postwar America and Europe’s most crucial movements and events.

To Read the Interview

Monday, November 24, 2008

Photojournalist Gustavo Vilchis: Oaxaca--Remembering the 2006 Uprising

Photojournalist Gustavo Vilchis: Oaxaca--Remembering the 2006 Uprising
Worldview (Chicago Public Radio)
Host: Jerome McDonnell

Last week, Reporters Without Borders announced that a local reporter in Oaxaca Mexico was beaten and psychologically tortured for 12 hours on the night of October 25th before being dumped outside the city.

The incident is one of many over the last two years in the after math of the 2006 grassroots protests in the southern Mexican city.

In late 2006, tens of thousands of striking public school teachers joined with indigenous, youth and labor organizations to launch a civil disobedience campaign in Oaxaca. Once just a teachers strike, the protests grew into a movement that took over the capital city with calls for Oaxaca’s governor to resign. Clashes between security forces and protestors resulted in the deaths of over two dozen protestors.

Among the dead was U.S. journalist Brad Will.

Over 2,000 people marched across the state capital in the dead journalist’s memory last month. In the U.S., protesters staged a hunger strike outside of Senator Hillary Clinton's New York office. The Mexican government marked the occasion by charging Oaxacan activist leaders with Brad's murder.

My next guest has a warrant out for his arrest and is worried that he’ll be charged with if he goes home. Photographer Gustavo Vilchis accompanied the dying journalist to the hospital.

Gustavo is in the U.S. promoting the book Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Movement in Oaxaca. It’s a collection of testimonies from participants in the Oaxacan social movement. The book also features Gustavo’s photography and his account of Brad Will’s murder.

We also spoke with Rachel Wallis, Board Member with CASA, Collectives of Support, Solidarity and Action (Colectivos de Apoyo, Solidaridad y Acción). They helped put together the book Teaching Rebellion and she interpreted for Gustavo.

Gustavo isn’t actually from Oaxaca. He’s from the Mexican state of Guerrero and Jerome asked why he went to Oaxaca to cover the protests...

To Listen to the Interview

Thom Powers: Wanted--Documentary Critics

Wanted: Documentary Critics
by Thom Powers
Stranger Than Fiction

Auteurism had Andrew Sarris. Abstract expressionism had Clement Greenberg. Punk rock had Lester Bangs. Where is the equivalent voice for today’s documentary scene? In the past, nonfiction film has drawn the attention of a few notable critics. Starting in the 1920’s, John Grierson actively championed the form. His generation gave way to the breakthroughs in direct cinema, covered by Jonas Mekas for the Village Voice and the “Living Room War” of Vietnam, analyzed by Michael Arlen for The New Yorker. Back then, documentary filmmakers were still dreaming of a future when equipment would be cheaper and distribution more accessible. Now, thanks to digital technology, that future has arrived. But America’s critical arbiters have lagged behind. Newspapers and magazines still follow the customs of an old era, squeezing in the occasional documentary review between saturation coverage of Hollywood dramas and comedies.

Two years ago, I lamented this state of affairs for an Indiewire survey titled “Wrapping 06 and Looking Ahead at 07.” Around that time, I was plowing through myriad Top Ten lists with dismay over the propensity of critics to name ten fiction films and one token documentary. I suggested that newspaper and magazine editors look to the example of book reviews by distinguishing between fiction and nonfiction lists and cultivate critics who can specialize in the latter.

Now the situation has grown even worse. Documentary filmmakers are increasing their output, but publications are decreasing staff and space for reviews. Bloggers fill some of the void. But the pressure on blogs to be quick and current leaves a gap for more thoughtful analysis. For any critic who wants to delve into documentary, an exciting job awaits. But the job is not likely to be offered. It has to be seized.

* * *

Critics, like explorers, make their names by charting new territory. The documentary landscape offers plenty to uncover. After decades of being a commercial stigma, the d-word has turned into a hook for brands like Docurama and festivals such as Silverdocs and Hot Docs. The festival cottage industry flourishes not only in big cities but also in the smaller markets of Durham, NC (Full Frame), Columbia, MO (True/False), and Missoula, MT (Big Sky). An even more dramatic shift has taken place in viewing habits through Tivo, Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. Despite these changing trends, publicists and critics still tend to lump documentaries together with art house cinema. My programming experience indicates that nonfiction has wider and more varied demographics. Titles such as Business of Being Born, I.O.U.S.A., or Young @ Heart connect to general audiences who have little affinity for the fiction from Sundance or Cannes. Earlier this month, I spoke on a documentary panel at the Chicago Humanities Festival where the sold-out audience was representative of viewers I’ve met elsewhere. They increasingly turn to documentaries to interpret the world in a way that’s more rewarding than television news and easier to digest than books. My co-panelist Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films cited another appeal with a quote from John Dewey, “The real purveyors of the news are artists, for artists are the ones who infuse fact with perception, emotion, and appreciation.”

The Cinema Eye Honors serve as a growth index for documentary output. Its website lists over 100 feature-length documentaries eligible for the 2008 award based on theatrical release or prominent festival play. I’d wager that few critics have seen half those titles. Even more nonfiction films make their way to audiences through television, DVD and other means. The lack of critical awareness was inadvertently expressed in November 2007 by a Village Voice reviewer who wrote, “I have seen more than 25 documentaries this year, and after a while they all start to run together, both structurally and thematically.” One wondered what she was watching in a year that included Crazy Love; Ghosts of Cite Soleil; Into Great Silence; Lake of Fire; Manda Bala (Send a Bullet); Manufactured Landscapes; The Monastery: Mr Vig and the Nun; No End in Sight; Sicko and Zoo – to name ten prominent titles that have little in common structurally or thematically.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tapestry of the Times #1: Leadbelly; Grupo Changui de Guantanamo; Hassan Kassayi; Woody Guthrie; Mary Lou Williams; John Cage/David Tudor; et al


Tapestry of the Times #1: Smithsonian Folkway Recordings (WYPR: Baltimore)

Woody Guthrie

It's the inaugural episode of Tapestry of the Times, and we kick things off this week with a sampling of some of the label's original legends: Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. We'll also hear blues from Warner Williams and Robert Jr. Lockwood, gospel music old and new, and international folk songs from Colombia, Cuba, and Iran. Real music, real people, and the stories behind the sounds... on Tapestry of the Times.

Album: Folkways: The Original Vision
Track: #15 "Goodnight Irene"

Grupo Changui de Guantanamo
Album: Cuba in Washington
Track: #4 "Oye Titico"

Hassan Kassayi
Album: Classical Music of Iran, Dastgah Systems
Track: #6 "Dastgah of Homayoun"

Woody Guthrie
Album: Woody Guthrie, Muleskinner Blues, the Asch Recordngs, Vol. 2
Track: #2 "The Wreck of the Old 97"

Mary Lou Williams
Album: Mary Lou Williams, Zodiac Suite
Track: #2, "Taurus"

John Cage / David Tudor
Album: Indeterminacy
Track: Disc #1, track #1

Warner Williams
Album: Blues Routes: Heroes & Tricksters, Blues & Jazz, Worksongs & Street Music
Track: #3 "Step it up and Go"

Robert Jr. Lockwood
Album: Blues Routes: Heroes & Tricksters, Blues & Jazz, Worksongs & Street Music
Track: #6 "Little Queen of Spades"

Peggy Seeger
Album: Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection
Track: #21 "Gonna Be an Engineer"

Charles Figueroa
Album: Puerto Rican Music in Hawai'i
Track: #1 "Plena: La Gallina"

Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto from Colombia
Album: Un Fuego de Sangre Pura
Track: #1 "Fuego de Cumbia"

Horace Sprott
Album: Classic African American Gospel
Track: #1 "Jesus Going to Make up my Dying Bed"

Album: Praise the Lord: Gospel Music in Washington DC
Track: #1 "I'll Go"

Elizabeth Cotten
Album: Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection
Track: #11 "Freight Train"

Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest
Album: Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest
Track: #6 "Honey Gathering song"

John Cage and David Tudor

To Listen to the Episode

Warner Williams

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gary Jules: Mad World

(Packing and moving all day, thinking, wondering, wandering, and then coming home and writing... a song associated with time, change and decision... irrevocably Donnie Darko for most people... but for me ... just thinking about the places and people that have led me to this place and this point... a song that makes me reflect... wonder ... and at times reconsider the place I am at.)

The Original Video

Donnie Darko Version

Science Talk: Kayaking Antarctica with Jon Bowermaster

Kayaking Antarctica with Jon Bowermaster
Science Talk (Scientific American)

How a warming climate leads to freezing penguins, with journalist and author Jon Bowermaster, who has kayaked the world's seas, most recently in Antarctica.

To Listen to the Interview

John Bowermaster's Website

Wikidgame/Wikiscanner: Tracking Self-Interested Edits on Wikipedia

(Courtesy of Virginia Heffernan's Internet Man of Mystery)

Wired presents a list of the most salacious edits of Wikipedia. See who seeks to alter public info on this popular site. This tells us more than the info does:


More from:


Provoke Radio #87: The Spiritual Lessons of the Financial Crisis

(A religious show, hosted by a Jesuit, dedicated to exploring issues of Peace and Social Justice.)

#87: The Spiritual Lessons of the Financial Crisis
Provoke Radio (Maryland)
Host: Father Stephen Spahn

By now it is abundantly clear, a morality tale of epic proportions is unfolding across the land. The protagonist… is Us. You and me. The antagonist? The formidable army of The Seven Deadly Sins, led into battle by its bold and brazen, insatiable and rapacious commander… Greed. His deputy, Wrath, sits on the sideline, chomping at the bit, ready and eager to burst on the scene and make heads roll. Meanwhile, Greed and his legions set up headquarters on Wall Street and Main Street. They are cloaked in Willful Ignorance and Blind Self Interest and armed with weapons of mass destruction called “Sub Prime Mortgages”, “Arcane Financial Instruments” and “Exotic Derivatives”. They calculate their next move from high atop their mountain of gold, behind the walls of their impenetrable Fortress of Financial Security, far removed from the daily battle below and immune to the defeat, despair and destruction they have caused. They promise wealth and glory for all but the only thing that trickles down from this mountaintop is More Want and Desire. And they laugh at our pathetic gullibility as they go skydiving with golden parachutes. So the battle rages on. What’s at stake are our very hearts and souls, our sense of right and wrong, of what’s important, good, and true. Yes, a morality tale is unfolding across the land. How it all ends is anyone’s guess, but the lessons are as clear as the opening bell for anyone paying attention. Listen in as Provoke asks: is this a crisis of ethics? If so, who is responsible? What would justice look like? And what message does the Cross offer at a time like this? There is something here for everyone. Don’t miss it. Guests are: Reverend Mark Bozzuti-Jones, pastor of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church, New York City; Reverend James Martin SJ, Associate Editor of America Magazine and author of My Life with the Saints; and Mr. Michael Sean Williams, regular contributor to America Magazine.

To Listen to the Conversation (go to 11/02/08)

Culture (Keywords)

Ron Strickland: Culture (2008)

Roy Wagner: The Invention of Culture (1975)

RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA: Web Sites That Dig for News Rise as Watchdogs

(Courtesy of Free Press)

Web Sites That Dig for News Rise as Watchdogs
New York Times

SAN DIEGO — Over the last two years, some of this city’s darkest secrets have been dragged into the light — city officials with conflicts of interest and hidden pay raises, affordable housing that was not affordable, misleading crime statistics.

Investigations ensued. The chiefs of two redevelopment agencies were forced out. One of them faces criminal charges. Yet the main revelations came not from any of San Diego’s television and radio stations or its dominant newspaper, The San Diego Union-Tribune, but from a handful of young journalists at a nonprofit Web site run out of a converted military base far from downtown’s glass towers — a site that did not exist four years ago.

As America’s newspapers shrink and shed staff, and broadcast news outlets sink in the ratings, a new kind of Web-based news operation has arisen in several cities, forcing the papers to follow the stories they uncover.

Here it is VoiceofSanDiego, offering a brand of serious, original reporting by professional journalists — the province of the traditional media, but at a much lower cost of doing business. Since it began in 2005, similar operations have cropped up in New Haven, the Twin Cities, Seattle, St. Louis and Chicago. More are on the way.

Their news coverage and hard-digging investigative reporting stand out in an Internet landscape long dominated by partisan commentary, gossip, vitriol and citizen journalism posted by unpaid amateurs.

The fledgling movement has reached a sufficient critical mass, its founders think, so they plan to form an association, angling for national advertising and foundation grants that they could not compete for singly. And hardly a week goes by without a call from journalists around the country seeking advice about starting their own online news outlets.

“Voice is doing really significant work, driving the agenda on redevelopment and some other areas, putting local politicians and businesses on the hot seat,” said Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. “I have them come into my classes, and I introduce them as, ‘This is the future of journalism.’ ”

That is a subject of hot debate among people who closely follow the newspaper industry. Publishing online means operating at half the cost of a comparable printed paper, but online advertising is not robust enough to sustain a newsroom.

And so financially, VoiceofSan Diego and its peers mimic public broadcasting, not newspapers. They are nonprofit corporations supported by foundations, wealthy donors, audience contributions and a little advertising.

New nonprofits without a specific geographic focus also have sprung up to fill other niches, like ProPublica, devoted to investigative journalism, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which looks into problems around the world. A similar group, the Center for Investigative Reporting, dates back three decades.

But some experts question whether a large part of the news business can survive on what is essentially charity, and whether it is wise to lean too heavily on the whims of a few moneyed benefactors.

“These are some of the big questions about the future of the business,” said Robert H. Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Nonprofit news online “has to be explored and experimented with, but it has to overcome the hurdle of proving it can support a big news staff. Even the most well-funded of these sites are a far cry in resources from a city newspaper.”

The people who run the local news sites see themselves as one future among many, and they have a complex relationship with traditional media. The say that the deterioration of those media has created an opening for new sources of news, as well as a surplus of unemployed journalists for them to hire.

“No one here welcomes the decline of newspapers,” said Andrew Donohue, one of two executive editors at VoiceofSanDiego. “We can’t be the main news source for this city, not for the foreseeable future. We only have 11 people.”

Those people are almost all young, some of them refugees from older media. The executive editors, Mr. Donohue, 30, and Scott Lewis, 32, each had a few years of experience at small papers before abandoning newsprint. So far, their audience is tiny, about 18,000 monthly unique visitors, according to Quantcast, a media measurement service.

The biggest of the new nonprofit news sites, MinnPost in the Twin Cities and the St. Louis Beacon, can top 200,000 visitors in a month, but even that is a fraction of the Internet readership for the local newspapers.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Margaret Trost - On That Day Everybody Ate: One Woman’s Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti

Margaret Trost - On That Day Everybody Ate: One Woman’s Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti
Progressive Radio

To Listen to the Interview

Rising Voices

(Courtesy of David Sasaki, the Director of Outreach for this important project, who mentioned it on his personal blog El Oso. David has long been one of the most important bloggers that I know for expanding my connections to the global voices that are available to me and my students. I am indebted to him for this great service and I encourage everyone to check out all of these important online global forums. David also writes for the Idea Lab: Reinventing Community News for the Digital Age.)

Rising Voices, an outreach initiative of Global Voices, aims to help bring new voices from new communities and speaking new languages to the global conversation by providing resources and funding to local groups reaching out to underrepresented communities.


Founded in 2004 by a group of pioneering international bloggers, Global Voices aggregates, curates, and amplifies the global conversation online - shining light on places and people other media often ignore. However, over the years it became increasingly clear that certain regions, languages, and demographics were better represented in the online global conversation than others. The bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters featured on Global Voices tended to be urban, middle-class, and well-educated.

Launched in May 2007 thanks to the support of a Knight News Challenge Award, Rising Voices seeks to empower under-represented communities to make their voices heard online by 1.) providing financial support to outreach projects, 2.) developing a series of participatory media tutorials, and 3.) cultivating a network of passionate citizen media activists to help encourage and support the replication of outreach trainings.

Micro-Grant Competition
Every six months Rising Voices organizes a micro-grant competition, which awards five grants of US$1,000 to $5,000 for new media outreach projects. Ideal applicants present innovative and detailed proposals to teach citizen media techniques to communities that are poorly positioned to discover and take advantage of tools like blogging, video-blogging, and podcasting on their own. In July and December of 2007 we announced our first and second rounds of grantees. Future grant competitions are planned for May/June and November/December of 2008. You can learn more about the bi-annual grant competition by visiting the Apply page.

Outreach Curriculum
One of the most challenging obstacles to effectively training new communities how to take advantage of citizen media tools like blogs, podcasts, and online video is the lack of documentation in languages other than English. A series of six guides - each available in at least six languages - aims to clearly explain the tools, techniques, and potential of citizen media through the use of case studies and easily understandable tutorials. Rising Voices’ Introduction to Citizen Media will soon be joined by more explanatory guides on our Library page.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tara Parker Pope: News Keeps Getting Worse for Vitamins

News Keeps Getting Worse for Vitamins
by Tara Parker Pope
The New York Times

The best efforts of the scientific community to prove the health benefits of vitamins keep falling short.

Consumers don’t want to give up their vitamins. (Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)This week, researchers reported the disappointing results from a large clinical trial of almost 15,000 male doctors taking vitamins E and C for a decade. The study showed no meaningful effect on cancer rates.

Another recent study found no benefit of vitamins E and C for heart disease.

In October, a major trial studying whether vitamin E and selenium could lower a man’s risk for prostate cancer ended amidst worries that the treatments may do more harm than good.

And recently, doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York warned that vitamin C seems to protect not just healthy cells but cancer cells, too.

Everyone needs vitamins, which are critical for the body. But for most people, the micronutrients we get from foods usually are adequate to prevent vitamin deficiency, which is rare in the United States. That said, some extra vitamins have proven benefits, such as vitamin B12 supplements for the elderly and folic acid for women of child-bearing age. And calcium and vitamin D in women over 65 appear to protect bone health.

But many people gobble down megadoses of vitamins believing that they boost the body’s ability to mop up damaging free radicals that lead to cancer and heart disease. In addition to the more recent research, several reports in recent years have challenged the notion that vitamins are good for you.

To Read the Rest of the Report and To Access Many Studies on Vitamins

A.O. Scott: The Way We Live Now--The Screening of America

The Way We Live Now: The Screening of America
by A.O. Scott
The New York Times Magazine


When television came along, Hollywood responded by expanding the scale and size of its spectacles and by making the big screen even bigger. The studios came up with wide-screen formats — with proprietary names like CinemaScope and VistaVision — that promised a level of sensory immersion no home console could ever hope to match.

Home systems eventually caught up, through a dialectical process that is only accelerating. It took a while, but Hollywood discovered that movies could, of all things, actually be shown on television. The older ones were especially adaptable, since their nearly square dimensions (the 1:33:1 aspect ratio known as the Academy standard) were close to those of the average television set. The newer, wider pictures, however, needed to be cropped or squeezed. In the VHS era, movies were routinely packaged in truncated, distorted versions, their camera movements and compositions destroyed by inelegant panning and scanning. So while you could watch a movie on TV or video, it really wasn’t the same.

Now it might actually be better. The size and shape of the television screen has changed, making it more compatible with the shape of the movie screen. The newest DVDs, especially but not only in the high-definition Blu-ray format, offer images of a clarity and fidelity far beyond what could be found in the old revival houses, where the prints might be scratched or faded and the equipment old and run-down. The digital age may well turn out to be a golden age of cinephilia, with a wider variety of movies available for viewing in better conditions than ever.

But the ubiquity of screens — and also of cameras — may also mean the death, or at least the transfiguration, of cinema as we know it. Already, the pre-eminence of the feature film as a delivery system for complex narratives has been eroded by television, both cable and broadcast. The latent novelistic potential of the dramatic series has been realized by shows like “The Wire,” “Mad Men” and “Lost,” which have also dominated conversation to an extent that few recent movies have been able to match.

At the same time, smaller-scale visual narratives have been flourishing on the Internet, delivering topical satire, political commentary and slices of real-life absurdity with a nimbleness and speed that makes both conventional film and traditional television seem unwieldy. Movies, meanwhile, are once again responding by growing louder, brighter and more sensational. Imax and variously improved 3-D formats are becoming more popular with the movie studios, even as the widespread use of digital effects gives their products less and less resemblance to traditional cinema.

Which nonetheless survives, even if it isn’t what it used to be. As we head toward a way of life organized around the diversity of screens — I’m looking over my laptop at the television, while my iPod charges on the desk until I take it with me to my next screening, where I’ll be sure to shut off my cellphone — there will be at least an equal diversity of art forms and ways of appreciating them, alone or in groups. And they will continue to cross-pollinate. Amateur filmmakers with digital cameras will learn the mechanics of classical decoupage with the preinstalled video-editing software on their computers, while professionals will continue to mimic the grainy, jerky texture of video captured by handheld camcorders and cellphone irises.

Maybe cinema is dead, but it’s a wonderful afterlife.

To Read the Entire Article

Progressive Radio: Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Progressive Radio
Host: Matthew Rothschild

To Listen to the Interview


Naomi Klein's Website

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Progressive Radio: Stephen Pimpare - A People’s History of Poverty in America

Stephen Pimpare, author of "A People’s History of Poverty in America"
Progressive Radio
Host: Matthew Rothschild

To Listen to the Interview

Radio West: Responding to Prop 8

(This is an interesting look into the Mormon Church's financial role in funding manipulative ads in support of Prop 8 and their "shock" at the reaction of protestors when Prop 8 passed.)

Responding to Prop 8
Radio West (Public Radio International/KUER: Utah State University)

Organizers expected more than 3,000 people to attend Saturday's Salt Lake City demonstration protesting the passage of California's ban on same-sex marriage. These are peaceful events - but stories of sign burnings, church defacement and potentially hazardous mailings have supporters of Proposition 8 on the defensive. Monday on RadioWest, we're talking about the reaction from the GLBT community. Do the protests invoke earlier civil rights struggles and how is this activism being understood by their LDS neighbors?

To Listen to the Episode

London Review of Books: Slavoj Žižek - Use Your Illusions

(Courtesy of Jodi Dean)

Use Your Illusions
by Slavoj Žižek
London Review of Books

Noam Chomsky called for people to vote for Obama ‘without illusions’. I fully share Chomsky’s doubts about the real consequences of Obama’s victory: from a pragmatic perspective, it is quite possible that Obama will make only some minor improvements, turning out to be ‘Bush with a human face’. He will pursue the same basic policies in a more attractive way and thus effectively strengthen the US hegemony, damaged by the catastrophe of the Bush years.

There is nonetheless something deeply wrong with this reaction – a key dimension is missing from it. Obama’s victory is not just another shift in the eternal parliamentary struggle for a majority, with all the pragmatic calculations and manipulations that involves. It is a sign of something more. This is why an American friend of mine, a hardened leftist with no illusions, cried when the news came of Obama’s victory. Whatever our doubts, for that moment each of us was free and participating in the universal freedom of humanity.

In The Contest of Faculties, Kant asked a simple but difficult question: is there true progress in history? (He meant ethical progress, not just material development.) He concluded that progress cannot be proven, but we can discern signs which indicate that progress is possible. The French Revolution was such a sign, pointing towards the possibility of freedom: the previously unthinkable happened, a whole people fearlessly asserted their freedom and equality. For Kant, even more important than the – often bloody – reality of what went on on the streets of Paris was the enthusiasm that the events in France gave rise to in the eyes of sympathetic observers all around Europe and in places as far away as Haiti, where it triggered another world-historical event: the first revolt by black slaves. Arguably the most sublime moment of the French Revolution occurred when the delegation from Haiti, led by Toussaint l’Ouverture, visited Paris and were enthusiastically received at the Popular Assembly as equals among equals.

Obama’s victory is a sign of history in the triple Kantian sense of signum rememorativum, demonstrativum, prognosticum. A sign in which the memory of the long past of slavery and the struggle for its abolition reverberates; an event which now demonstrates a change; a hope for future achievements. The scepticism displayed behind closed doors even by many worried progressives – what if, in the privacy of the voting booth, the publicly disavowed racism will re-emerge? – was proved wrong. One of the interesting things about Henry Kissinger, the ultimate cynical Realpolitiker, is how utterly wrong most of his predictions were. When news reached the West of the 1991 anti-Gorbachev military coup, for example, Kissinger immediately accepted the new regime as a fact. It collapsed ignominiously three days later. The paradigmatic cynic tells you confidentially: ‘But don’t you see that it is all really about money/power/sex, that professions of principle or value are just empty phrases which count for nothing?’ What the cynics don’t see is their own naivety, the naivety of their cynical wisdom which ignores the power of illusions.

The reason Obama’s victory generated such enthusiasm is not only that, against all odds, it really happened: it demonstrated the possibility of such a thing happening. The same goes for all great historical ruptures – think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although we all knew about the rotten inefficiency of the Communist regimes, we didn’t really believe that they would disintegrate – like Kissinger, we were all victims of cynical pragmatism. Obama’s victory was clearly predictable for at least two weeks before the election, but it was still experienced as a surprise.

The true battle begins now, after the victory: the battle for what this victory will effectively mean, especially within the context of two other more ominous events: 9/11 and the current financial meltdown, an instance of history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as comedy. President Bush’s addresses to the American people after 9/11 and the financial meltdown sound like two versions of the same speech. Both times, he evoked the threat to the American way of life and the need for fast and decisive action. Both times, he called for the partial suspension of American values (guarantees to individual freedom, market capitalism) to save those very values. Where does this similarity come from?

The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 marked the beginning of the ‘happy 1990s’. According to Francis Fukuyama, liberal democracy had, in principle, won. The era is generally seen as having come to an end on 9/11. However, it seems that the utopia had to die twice: the collapse of the liberal-democratic political utopia on 9/11 did not affect the economic utopia of global market capitalism, which has now come to an end.

The financial meltdown has made it impossible to ignore the blatant irrationality of global capitalism. In the fight against Aids, hunger, lack of water or global warming, we may recognise the urgency of the problem, but there is always time to reflect, to postpone decisions. The main conclusion of the meeting of world leaders in Bali to talk about climate change, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue the talks. But with the financial meltdown, the urgency was unconditional; a sum beyond imagination was immediately found. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, finding a cure for Aids, saving the starving children . . . All that can wait a bit, but ‘Save the banks!’ is an unconditional imperative which demands and gets immediate action. The panic was absolute. A transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges among world leaders momentarily forgotten in order to avert the catastrophe. (Incidentally, what the much-praised ‘bi-partisanship’ effectively means is that democratic procedures were de facto suspended.) The sublimely enormous sum of money was spent not for some clear ‘real’ task, but in order to ‘restore confidence’ in the markets – i.e. for reasons of belief. Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?

Compare the $700 billion spent on stabilising the banking system by the US alone to the $22 billion pledged by richer nations to help poorer nations cope with the food crisis, of which only $2.2 billion has been made available. The blame for the food crisis cannot be put on the usual suspects of corruption, inefficiency or state interventionism. Even Bill Clinton has acknowledged that ‘we all blew it, including me,’ by treating food crops as commodities instead of a vital right of the world's poor. Clinton was very clear in blaming not individual states or governments, but the long-term Western policy imposed by the US and European Union and enacted by the World Bank, the IMF and other international institutions. African and Asian countries were pressured into dropping government subsidies for farmers, opening up the way for the best land to be used for more lucrative export crops. The result of such ‘structural adjustments’ was the integration of local agriculture into the global economy: crops were exported, farmers were thrown off their land and pushed into sweat-shops, and poorer countries had to rely more and more on imported food. In this way, they are kept in postcolonial dependence, vulnerable to market fluctuations – soaring grain prices (caused in part by the use of crops for biofuels) have meant starvation in countries from Haiti to Ethiopia.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Point of Inquiry: Susan Jacoby - The Age of Unreason

Susan Jacoby - The Age of Unreason
Point of Inquiry
Host: D.J. Grothe

Susan Jacoby is the author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. A prominent public intellectual, she frequently appears in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Free Inquiry. Her latest best selling book is The Age of American Unreason.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Susan Jacoby explores recent trends that she argues have led to the "age of American unreason," including religious fundamentalism, mass media consumption and "video culture," and multiculturalism. She addresses how fundamentalism feeds anti-intellectualism in America, and how not only fundamentalism can be blamed for it. She details both the upside and the downside of the internet, the perils of too much TV viewing, and the effect of such over-consumtion on the cultural literacy of average Americans. She addresses criticism that she is merely "elitist" or a "luddite," and ends with specifics on how people can work to challenge the Age of American Unreason.

To Listen to the Interview

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

David Wieck: "Habits of Direct Action"

(Courtesy of AK Press)

To take a homely example. If the butcher weighs one's meat with his thumb on the scale, one may complain about it and tell him he is a bandit who robs the poor, and if he persists and does nothing else, this is mere talk; one may call the Department of Weights and Measures, and this is indirect action; or one may, talk failing, insist on weighing one's own meat, bring along a scale to check the butcher's weight, take one's business somewhere else, help open a cooperative store, etc., and these are direct actions.

--David Wieck - "Habits of Direct Action"

NOW on PBS: Prisons for Profit

Prisons for Profit

Corporations are running many Americans prisons, but will they put profits before prisoners?

A grim new statistic: One in every hundred Americans is now locked behind bars. As the prison population grows faster than the government can build prisons, private companies see an opportunity for profit.

... NOW on PBS investigates the government's trend to outsource prisons and prisoners to the private sector. Critics accuse private prisons of standing in the way of sentencing reform and sacrificing public safety to maximize profits.

"The notion that a corporation making a profit off this practice is more important to us than public safety or the human rights of prisoners is outrageous," Judy Greene, a criminal policy analyst, tells NOW on PBS.

Companies like Corrections Corporation of America say they're doing their part to solve the problem of inmate overflow and a shortage of beds without sacrificing safety.

"You don't cut corners to where it's going to be a safety, security or health issue," Richard Smelser, warden of the Crowley Correctional Facility in Colorado tells NOW. The prison is run by Corrections Corporation, which had revenues of over $1.4 billion last year.

The Crowley prison made headlines back in 2004 after a major prison riot caused overwhelmed staff to run away from the facility. Outside law enforcement had to come in to put down the uprising.

"The problems that were identified in the wake of the riot are typical of the private prison industry and happen over and over again," Green tells NOW.

... NOW travels to Colorado, where the controversy over private prisons is boiling over. The hot question: should incarceration be incorporated?

To Listen/Watch the Report

Center for Media and Democracy: Welcome to the Fifth Annual Falsies Awards!

(Courtesy of Media Matters with Robert McChesney)

Center for Media and Democracy: PR Watch

Vote Falsies 2008! It's your chance to vote for the worst candidates -- and enjoy it.

Each year, the Center for Media and Democracy sponsors the "Falsies Awards" contest to shine an unflattering light on those responsible for polluting our information environment. As you look back at 2008, who stands out, for their shameless spinning?

Please rate our Falsies nominees (listed below), and tell us who you think should win our "Readers' Choice" Falsies. We're also asking you to sincerely nominate people or groups who have championed honest discourse over the past year, for our "Win Against Spin" Awards.

Please fill out the survey by 5:00 pm (U.S. central standard time) on Monday, December 1, 2008, to make sure your votes are tallied. You can vote for multiple winners in each category; our awards committee will factor that into their deliberations. Please note that you must vote on at least eight of our nominees for your ballot to be counted. (We don't need anyone stuffing our Falsies!)

Thanks for your input, and stay tuned to for a revealing look at our Falsies Awards winners, in December.

This year's nominees are:

Welcome to the Fifth Annual Falsies Awards!

Heda Kovaly: Under a Cruel Star (Review by E.J. Graff)

Recklessness and Arrogance
by E.J. Graff
Columbia Review of Journalism


In Under A Cruel Star, Heda Kovály tells of having escaped Auschwitz during a forced march at the age of fifteen; meeting and later marrying her childhood sweetheart, Rudolf Margolius; seeing him prosecuted and killed in Czechoslovakia’s first Stalinist show trial; and thus of living through two of the most barbaric episodes of a barbaric century. Kovály’s keenly observed, politically astute memoir offers intimate insight into how people behave under totalitarianism, how the human psyche can surrender to absolutism in the pursuit of beautiful ideals, how idealism can result in genuine evil (a noun I use advisedly) — and yet how civilization can restore itself, even after such horror. Under A Cruel Star has helped me think about the motivations and distortions of a vast range of political and social movements — McCarthyism, the Iranian revolution and its aftermath, Al Qaeda, any “radicalism” (left or right), and any movement that claims the word “liberation.” Strangely enough, it has even taught me about the virtues of both skepticism and optimism.


Kovály’s attention to the world’s beauty, even while in hell, is so brazen as to take my breath away. Or consider an episode in which Kovály impulsively screams at her overseer — a business person who had paid for Auschwitz labor — that she and the other girls could not be expected to work well while starving. Terrified, the other girls try to silence her, certain she will be shot. Instead, he pulls her aside and asks her to explain. She does, and he is visibly stunned. As she says later: “That man lived in Nazi Germany and had daily contact with a concentration camp and its inmates, yet he knew nothing. I am quite sure he did not. He had simply thought that we were convicts, sentenced by a regular court of law for proven crimes.” When we ask ourselves the important question — How can citizens let their government do such things, in their names? — it’s essential to know that the answer is, at least in part: they didn’t always know.

After spending only twenty pages on the Holocaust, Under A Cruel Star moves on to what Kovály finds to be the greater puzzle: “It seems beyond belief that in Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup in 1948, people were once again beaten and tortured by the police, that prison camps existed and we did not know, and that if anyone had told us the truth we would have refused to believe it.” And yet it happened.

Today we think of Communism as an outstanding example of how humanity’s best and most high-minded intentions can be perverted into the worst actions. Kovály explores how and why that occurred, with an emotional nuance and intellectual curiosity that ought to awaken even the most hopeless utopian or deadline-driven journalist. She can be mordantly funny and exactingly precise in recounting her friends’ and her own credulity. She paints a picture of her and her husband’s crowd — serious, thoughtful people, all — hungrily gathering at informal parties in Prague to debate which political system could best rebuild their society. Communist Party pamphlets and writings “offered such clear and simple answers to the most complicated questions that I kept feeling there had to be a mistake somewhere,” she writes. Injustice, discrimination, misery, war: they all happened because a powerful few exploited the rest. But the party would overthrow that handful of evildoers and divide the riches of the world equally.

How could they have swallowed such nonsense? Because, she explains, the war had beaten the confidence out of Czechoslovaks of all stripes. They had been forced to live as slaves, terrorized paupers, outlaws, or humiliated subjects of a brutal occupation, scrambling to make it from one day to the next. Nowhere else have I read such a vivid parsing of how national shame, personal humiliation, defeat, deprivation, and perpetual fear can lead the thoughtful to abandon their senses and yearn to be perfect — while the craven cloak themselves in the language of the good.

Kovály is especially good at examining the mentality of the camp survivors. “It is hardly possible for people to live for so many years as slaves in everyday contact with fascists and fascism without becoming somewhat twisted,” she writes. She and her fellow prisoners were tormented by having survived while everyone and everything they loved had been turned into lampshades and ash. They were too devastated even to stand up for themselves and insist that their former neighbors return stolen apartments, paintings, china, carpets. Living for the small everyday pleasures — home, family, friends, music, theater — seemed petty after such loss. To redeem their lost lives, they wanted to sacrifice themselves for a noble effort: creating a perfect future “in which this could never happen again.” And so they joined the party.

“Never again,” in this book, is shown to be a dangerous sentiment, a fundamentally religious belief, because it allows a vision of a perfect eternity to eclipse everyday reality. With the promise of a perfect future, who could be so petty as to complain about a few bread lines and shoe shortages, or a few moments of a hideously kitschy state-sponsored film? Silence was easier than enduring the endless self-critique sessions that spontaneous honesty could have engendered. But silence was the problem. “It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant,” Kovály writes. “Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of ‘understood necessity,’ for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth.”


When I first read Under A Cruel Star, it illuminated Pol Pot’s and Pinochet’s reign of terror. Rereading it last year, I kept thinking of more recent events: The American government manipulating fear and idealism to justify torture camps in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. The Iranian revolution forcing grown women to walk around in large black bags for the sake of a pure society. The Israeli government using historical evils to justify a barbaric occupation. If you’re temperamentally a pessimist, as I am, you could react to these situations by locking yourself in your room for the rest of your life.

But the great challenge and joy of Kovály’s book is that she refuses you that option. Yes, she shows that human beings can be petty and fearful herd animals, manipulated by power, idealism, greed, or fear into condoning the most shocking atrocities. Nevertheless, hers is far from a Hobbesian world. Rather, it is a world in which what she calls “the spontaneous solidarity of the decent” can shake off tyranny, in which ordinary neighborliness and troubled middle-class consciences can undo the grand political machinations described in our newspapers and history books. For Kovály, respect for ordinary folks’ modest goals for daily happiness — good food, a nice home, time with family and friends — offers the most trustworthy path to a good society and a reliable political system. This may be common sense to others. But this testimony, offered from Europe’s heart of darkness, changed how I view the world.

Kovály’s intimate reportage shrugs off several popular journalistic theories of history: the mad leader (how did Hitler and Stalin become monsters?); “national character” or “ancient hatreds” (authoritarian Germans always hate Jews, the Balkans are always balkanized); and military strategy (“How many divisions does the Pope have?”). Kovály concentrates on personal decency. For her the key questions are not about what politics or religion you follow, but rather, how you treat the starving deportee who unexpectedly knocks at your door, the social pariah who desperately needs medical care, the widow who demands that her dead husband’s good name be restored. Is your response honest and sensible, or fearful and full of excuses? From that, all else follows —including the fate of governments. (my emphasis)


Entire Review Essay

Sans Titre: "Direct action implies one's acting for one's self..."

(Courtesy of AK Press)

Direct action implies one's acting for one's self, in a fashion in which one may weigh directly the problem with which you are confronted, and without needing the mediation of politicians or bureaucrats. If you see some bulldozers about to wreck your house, you engage in direct action to directly intervene to try to stop them. Direct action places moral conscience up against the official law... It is the expression of the individual's readiness to fight, to take control of his life, and to try, directly, to act on the world that surrounds us, to take responsibility for one's actions.

--Sans Titre Bulletin 1

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Daily Show: Baracknophobia

("We have nothing to fear, but fear itself" Courtesy of Zep Valdis)

This Pariah-to-Messiah Moment: Anthropologist John Comaroff on the Obama Moment

(I have been suffering from post-presidential-election burnout, avoiding most of the reporting on the aftermath of the election, but when I saw that Comaroff was going to weigh in on the significance of this moment I knew I had to tune in. I was not disappointed!)

This Pariah-to-Messiah Moment: John Comaroff
Open Source (Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies)
Host: Christopher Lydon

The Obama Moment in America reminds the Chicago anthropologist John Comaroff of the Mandela Moment in his native South Africa in the early 1990s. The whole world has embraced the Obama Moment as its own, Comaroff says, because it marks “the reentry of a pariah nation into the world” on the terms of a revived democracy.

There’s a bracing analysis here from a man who makes it his business to jar our perspective — whose definition of anthropology boils down to “critical estrangement.” Anthropology won the election, Comaroff says, only half kidding. He means not just that Barack Obama is the son of an anthropologist but has a mind to stand outside the consensus when he must.

“We’ve seen something like the the birth of a counter-Enlightenment in the Bush years,” Comaroff says. “‘Give me faith, and I’ll tell you the answer. Take my heart… as sufficient justification for the Iraq War, or for judging good and evil.’ Anthropology says: ‘Wait a moment. What do we sacrifice when we sacrifice reason?’ Digging at surfaces is the anthropological act. Anthropology as a discipline has a mantra: estrangement. Take nothing for granted. Whatever appears to you in the surfaces of everyday life is not an answer to anything; its a question about something. Obama, though trained as a legal scholar, is an organic anthropologist.”

The Obama Moment is an invitation to restore politics and a public space where nationhood “in any collective sense” almost died. President Bush’s invocation of the shopping cure after 9.11 helped define “a nation of individuals held together by a market.” The Obama Moment “reenvisions America as the sum of its differences.” The Bush years gave us “lying as a national practice,” with political impunity. “Forensic journalism” marks the path back to the estate of truth. Forensic journalism — argumentative interpretation of the evidence — is embodied differently in the Nobelist Paul Krugman of The New York Times, John Stewart of The Daily Show, and Charlie Savage, who broke the Bush “signing statement” scandal for The Boston Globe. But it will take more than a few heroes to sustain the euphoria in this unfamiliar Obama Majority. The rest is up to us.

To Listen/Watch the Conversation

Open Source: Nicholson Baker - Human Smoke

Nicholson Baker - Human Smoke
Open Source
Host: Christopher Lydon

A wing commander in the [British] Royal Air Force [in Iraq], J. A. Chamier, published his views on how best to deal with tribal rebellions.

The commanding officer must choose the most inaccessible village of the most prominent tribe, said Chamier, and attack it with all available aircraft. “The attack with bombs and machine guns must be relentless and unremitting and carried on continuously by day and night, on houses, inhabitants, crops and cattle,” Chamier wrote. “This sounds brutal, I know, but it must be made brutal to start with. The threat alone in the future will prove efficacious if the lesson is once properly learnt.” It was 1921.

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke, page 8.

Frederick Birchall, Berlin correspondent for The New York Times, published an article about Germany’s preparations for war. It was October 8, 1933.

Birchell quoted from a recent book by Ewald Banse, a teacher at the Technical High School in Brunswick, Germany. The book was called Wehrwissenschaft — “Military Science.” War was no longer a matter of marches and medals, Banse observed: “It is gas and plague. It is tank and aircraft horror. It is baseness and falsehood. It is hunger and poverty.” And because war is so horrible, Banse said, it must be incorporated into the school curriculum and taught as a new and comprehensive science: “The methods and aims of the new science are to create an unshakable belief in the high ethical value of war and to produce in the individual the psychological readiness for sacrifice in the cause of nation and state.”

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke, page 44.

Neville Chamberlain told the House of Commons that England was officially at war with Germany… It was September 3, 1939.

Churchill’s mood, as he listened, wasn’t sad at all. He felt, he wrote later, a sense of uplifted serenity and a detachment from human affairs. “The glory of Old England, peace-loving and ill-prepared as she was, but instant and fearless at the call of honour, thrilled my being and seemed to lift our fate to those spheres far removed from earthly facts and physical sensation,” he said.

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke, page 138.

Dorothy Day, the editor of the Catholic Worker, wrote an editorial called “Our Stand.” “As in the Ethiopian war, the Spanish war, the Japanese and Chinese war, the Russian-Finnish war — so in the present war we stand unalterably opposed to the use of war as a means of saving ‘Christianity,’ ‘civilization,’ ‘democracy.’” She urged a nonviolent opposition to injustice and servitude: She called it the Folly of the Cross.

“We are bidden to love God and to love one another,” she wrote. “It is the whole law, it is all of life. Nothing else matters.” It was June 1940.

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke, page 192.

“This ordeal by fire has, in a certain sense, even exhilarated the manhood and the womanhood of Britain,” [Churchill] said [in a radio speech, seven months into the German Blitz.] It had lifted them above material facts “into that joyous serenity we think belongs to a better world than this.”

“There are less than seventy million malignant Huns — some of whom are curable and others killable,” Churchill said. The population of the British empire and the United States together amounded to some two hundred million. The Allies had more people and made more steel, he said. The Allies would win. It was April 27, 1941.

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke, page 192.

Some people want to make an issue of method and form around Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, subtitled The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. But the real problem is, of course, his message. In an afterword on almost 500 pages of vignettes, Nick Baker offers his own judgment that the pacifists and other resisters had the right strategic answer to the war-madness of the 20th Century — people like Gandhi, the Quakers, ex-President Herbert Hoover who wanted to break the British food blockade on starving Europe in October, 1941 (”Can you point to one benefit that has been gained from this holocaust?” Hoover asked in a radio speech) and the diarist Howard Schoenfeld, who went to prison in Danbury, CT for standing against the draft and “against war, which I believe to be the greatest evil known to man.”

Human Smoke reads like a wall of Post-It notes — pointilistic dots on a 40-year canvas — which Louis Menand in the New Yorker, for example, says should not be confused with responsible history. I felt it, on the contrary, as a very familiar, virtually cinematic, quick-cutting, frame-shifting, angular and episodic style of story telling. It’s not so unlike the method of Ken Burns’ PBS epic on The War, which took its perspective from GI letters home and family memories today in just four American cities, like Waterbury, Connecticut and Mobile, Alabama.

The difference is that the Burns TV film summoned up and revarnished a lot of old feelings. Baker tears into every bit of received sentiment about the war, and about its heroes — Churchill most especially — in the book and our conversation:

He’s fascinating. He’s brilliant. He had a mind well stocked with poetry… So one doesn’t want to dismantle Churchill in the sense of saying he was not a great man. He has hugeness of personality, but he was a man of many phases… In this period that I’m looking at him, he was really a maniac. He was absolutely intent on widening the war and on getting as many people — his own citizens and other countries — involved as possible. I don’t think I’m being unfair to him. It’s just that if you quote him properly you realize he was just hell bent on this confrontation. As the prime minister of Australia [Robert Menzies] said on first meeting Churchill: “This man is a great hater.” It was so fascinating to watch Menzies’ visit. He first reaction was: “humorless… a great hater.” A few nights later: “he’s a great hater, but he does know an awful lot.” And then, late night, 2:30 or 3 in the morning, he’s up again listening to war stories from Churchill, and he writes, “the man has greatness.” Finally, he’s saying, “the Hun must be taught through his hide!” Menzies is now speaking the language of Churchill. So obviously this man Churchill has an incredible power over other human beings.

Nicholson Baker, in conversation with Chris Lydon, April 16, 2008

Human Smoke is a departure for Nicholson Baker, the high-stylist of The Mezzanine and of Vox, the phone-sex novel that Monica Lewinsky gave to Bill Clinton. He says, “I’ve always liked writing about the things that I hope make life worth living — the reflections on the edge of moving objects, or the little theories you develop when you shoelace breaks… So I tried to use my same approach, my method, in writing about probably the worst 5-year period in human history.”

And yes, Iraq was at the root of it all. Baker conceived the project, he says, “in the run-up to the Iraq war, when the Second World War was repeatedly invoked as the one necessary war. I’ve never really understood the Second World War. It never made sense to me that we had to demolish cities in order to bring a regime down, but I always chalked it up to my own ignorance of history. But if this war is going to be invoked over and over again, then let’s actually look at it. How does it begin? What happened in what order?” And more pointedly: whence came the disastrous doctrines of exemplary war, strategic starvation, bombing and indiscriminate abuse of civilians, that persist in our own long war on Iraq? Baker’s format invites you to put Human Smoke down, annotate it, and keep picking it up. I for one cannot get its arguments out of my head.

To Listen to the Conversation

Open Source: Chris Adrian - A Better Angel

Chris Adrian - A Better Angel
Open Source
Host: Chris Lydon

The writer Chris Adrian is a medical doctor, a pediatric oncologist, who seems to have known from the beginning that our bodies are not the problem. I think of Beatrice, an attempted suicide, “the jumping lady,” in “The Sum of Our Parts,” one of ten stories in Adrian’s shimmering, glow-in-the-dark collection A Better Angel. Beatrice is comatose, being readied for a liver transplant. But “that part of her which was not her broken body” doesn’t want to live. Her spirit lifts off, finally, “in search of a place without loneliness and desire; without misery and rage, without disappointment; without crushing and impenetrable sadness.”

In Chris Adrian’s world, the people who jumped out of the twin towers on 9.11 are still falling, some in the strangest of places. In “The Vision of Peter Damien,” for example, they are raining down on a medieval Ohio farm town which may also stand for Iraq. It’s a world where, as he says, “dead people don’t go away.” Out of his own experience and his own obsessions, Chris Adrian’s stories embrace the natural and the supernatural, articulate souls as well as hurting minds and bodies. It was his writing teacher at Iowa, Marilynne Robinson, who turned him toward theology, toward the unexpected pleasure of reading John Calvin, and then to Divinity School at Harvard.

Our long conversation here fortifies the hope that bad times make good books, and that Chris Adrian is as good as they get at making metaphors of this very strange moment. In one of his most widely read stories, “The Changeling,” which ran in Esquire with the title “Promise Breaker”, a single father hacks off his own hand with an ax to address the psychosis of his son Carl, who has taken on himself the pain of the 9.11 dead. “Is it enough?” the father asks. “And I think I mean is it enough to prove to them I love my son, or that I deserve to have him back, that I mean it when I say I promise to take better care of him, that I promise to be a better father, to unroot whatever fault in me threw him into the company of these angry souls who died to make us all citizens of the world…” In Chris Adrian’s cosmos of irremediable pain, father and son can both be seen meeting agony with love. “I am still a fan of happy endings,” as Chris Adrian said to me in conversation. “It was meant to be a happy ending.”

To Listen to the Interview

More on Chris Adrian:

Chris Adrian on his first novel Gob's Grief

Bookworm: Chris Adrian on The Children's Hospital

Science Friday: Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall
Science Friday (NPR)
Host: Ira Flatow

Over 45 years ago, a young researcher named Jane Goodall observed wild chimpanzees in the Gombe making and using tools -- a finding that changed the field of primate research dramatically. In this segment, Ira talks with primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall about her work in studying chimpanzees, preserving habitats, and what lies ahead for the field of evolutionary science.

To Listen to the Conversation

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Join the Impact: National Day of Protest Against Proposition 8

More info on the Kentucky protest locations

Join the Impact: National Information on Protests

And courtesy of Firedoglake a message from Slash and his wife Petra (good to see as, in my experience, a sizable part of the metal crowd--fueled by moronic hard rock DJs--has been blindly homophobic. I say blindly because many of their iconic metal gods are homosexual.)


Nancy Scola: Obama Puts Well-Known Internet Advocate in Charge of FCC Review

(After 16 years of disastrous telecommunications acts, unchecked media consolidation and corporate-allied FCC chairs, this is great news for media activists!)

Obama Puts Well-Known Internet Advocate in Charge of FCC Review
by Nancy Scola

Is this a peek into how the how the Obama Administration plans to handle the Federal Communications Commission when it comes to town in January? The Obama-Biden transition team has just named the staunchly pro-Internet Susan Crawford its co-lead in the review of the powerful FCC. Crawford, a leading expert on communications policy, is the founder of OneWebDay, called "an environmental movement for the Internet ecosystem." She was, until recently, also a member of the board of directors of ICANN, the organization charged with overseeing some of the Internet's operations.

To Read More

Rachel Maddow: On Why Leiberman Should Lose His Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee

(Seems like a no-brainer to me. Leiberman appears at the Republican National Committee and slams Obama, he campaigns with Republican candidate McCain, and claims on FOX news multiple times that the country will be destroyed if Obama is elected president and/or the Democrats gain a majority in congress. These offenses are bad enough, but, as Maddow points out, the most serious offense is that as Chairman he refused to investigate "any" of the offenses of the Bush administration. So, regardless of whether he would cause trouble for Obama, he should lose the post due to his earlier failure to carry out the duties of his post. Courtesy of Open Left)

Friday, November 14, 2008 Independent and Open Publishing

(Courtesy of وب‌لوگ)

In a global environment marked by timidity and laxness in thought, publishes outstanding work in contemporary philosophy. A dedicated philosophy press—one of the very few active in the Anglophone world today— is committed to publishing rigorous philosophy that doesn’t give way on its desire. At once exclusive and egalitarian, seeks to support and disseminate such thought worldwide.

In line with this ambition, is itself a new kind of publisher. Attentive to the latest developments in contemporary technologies, publications are available globally, wherever there is access to the internet. We seek to make as many of our publications as possible available as open-access files, free to anyone who wishes to download them. Our hard-copy books are print-on-demand, minimizing waste and cost. Yet our publications also maximize design values, boosting clarity and aesthetic qualities.

... aims to publish the best philosophical works available, whether these emerge from well-established or from previously unknown thinkers, whether they are from the North or the South, the East or the West, whether they are Platonists or Hegelians, materialists or idealists. True thought is global, universal, transformative, shredding ideologies and opinions like the statues of old dictators. But true thought also begins locally, in images and signs that may as yet have no recognisable reference or import.' head offices are located in the city of Melbourne, Australia. And Melbourne is, as the art-critic Norbert Loeffler has remarked, one of the great art-cities of the world - without anybody knowing it. Lacking the established power, media and reputation of traditional centres of world art, Melbourne forces its artists to sustain themselves otherwise. Aware of contemporary work from all over the world, local artists transmute it for their own, often-obscure purposes, into unprecedented forms. seeks, like an insatiable kleptoparasite, to draw off some of this aesthetic power for its own ends, by using their images for its cover-art.

Link to Statement

The Treatment: Director Lance Hammer on Ballast

Director Lance Hammer on Ballast
The Treatment (KCRW: Santa Monica, CA)
Host: Elvis Mitchell

Low-key photorealism, well-chosen non-actors and an achingly heart-felt drama played out in the Mississippi Delta. That's Ballast, the feature film directing debut of Lance Hammer. It's an art film with a black cast.

Lance discusses the inspiration of the Delta landscape and William Eggleston's photography, using the visual tone to communicate the story of grief and renewal, the importance of casting local non-professional actors, his decision to distribute the film himself, the challenges of shooting in confined spaces with available light on 35mm film, and his decision not to use music in the film.

To Listen to the Interview

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Elaine Scarry: The Objective of the Patriot Act

The objective of the Patriot Act [is to make] the population visible and the Justice Department invisible. The Act inverts the constitutional requirement that people's lives be private and the work of government officials be public; it instead crafts a set of conditions that make our inner lives transparent and the workings of government opaque.

- Elaine Scarry, "Acts of Resistance," Harper's Magazine, May 2004

Ideology (keywords)

Hawke, David. Ideology. 2nd ed. NY: Routledge, 2003.

Parenti, Michael. "Racism and the Ideology of Slavery." Unwelcome Guests #8 (April 29, 2000)

Power, Nina. "The Spectre of the “Public”: The Ideology of Law and Order." Backdoor Broadcasting Company (The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities "Ideology Now – Conference": April 28, 2012)

Strickland, Ron. "Althusser's Concept of Ideology." (Teaching video posted on Youtube: 2008)

Zizek, Slavoj. Excerpt from "The Spectre of Ideology." The Žižek Reader. ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999: 53-86.

Sylvère Lotringer on Paulo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude

(This is an excerpt Sylvère Lotringer's Forward. Courtesy of Wood's Lot)

Hosted on Generation Online

A Grammar of the Multitude
For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life
by Paulo Virno
Foreword by Sylvère Lotringer

Translated from the Italian
Isabella Bertoletti
James Cascaito
Andrea Casson

FOREWORD: We, the Multitude

Paolo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude is a short book, but it casts a very long shadow. Behind it looms the entire history of the labor movement and its heretical wing, Italian "workerism" (operaismo), which rethought Marxism in light of the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. For the most part, though, it looks forward. Abstract intelligence and immaterial signs have become the major productive force in the "post-Fordist" economy we are living in and they are deeply affecting contemporary structures and mentalities. Virno's essay examines the increased mobility and versatility of the new labor force whose work-time now virtually extends to their entire life. The "multitude" is the kind of subjective configuration that this radical change is liberating, raising the political question of what we are capable of.

Operaismo (workerism) has a paradoxical relation to traditional Marxism and to the official labor movement because it refuses to consider work as the defining factor of human life. Marxist analysis assumes that what makes work alienating is capitalist exploitation, but operaists realized that it is rather the reduction of life to work. Paradoxically, "workerists" are against work, against the socialist ethics that used to exalt its dignity. They don't want to re-appropriate work ("take over the means of production") but reduce it. Trade unions or parties are concerned about wages and working conditions. They don't fight to change the workers' lot, at best they make it more tolerable. Workerists pressed for the reduction of labor time and the transformation of production through the application of technical knowledge and socialized intelligence.

In the mid-30s the leftist philosopher Simone Weil experienced the appalling abjection of the assembly line first hand by enlisting in a factory. She wondered whether Lenin or Stalin could ever have set foot in a work place and celebrated workers' labor. "The problem is, therefore, quite clear," she concluded in Oppression and Liberty after renouncing Marxism and breaking up with the organized workers' movement. "It is a question of knowing whether it is possible to conceive of an organization of production" that wouldn't be "grinding down souls and bodies under oppression."1 It was too early to achieve this goal through automation and her efforts remained isolated. It finally took the Italian Operaists in the late 50s to pick up where she left off.

Ideologically, Operaism was made possible by the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956, which revealed the true nature of bureaucratic socialism. To young Italian intellectuals on the left of the left (among them Toni Negri and Mario Tronti) it became clear that the Soviet Union wasn't the Workers' Country, but a totalitarian form of capitalism. Around that time the first large emigration of Italian workers from the impoverished South to the industrial North proved even more unsettling. Instead of submitting to the new system of mass production, young unskilled workers ("mass-workers") bypassed established trade-unions, which privileged skilled workers, and furiously resisted the Ford assembly line. The Operaist movement took off in 1961 after the first massive labor confrontation in Turin. Quaderni Rossi ("Red Notebooks"), its first publication, analyzed the impact the young mass workers had on the labor force and the new "class composition" that emerged from recent capitalist transformations. Classe Operaia ("Working Class"), published in 1964, formulated a new political strategy, the refusal of work, challenging capital to develop its productive forces with new technology. This "strategy of refusal" (a seminal essay by Mario Tronti) was applied "inside" capitalist development, but "against it." It anticipated the post-68 analysis of capital by Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze in Anti-Oedipus, 1972, and brought Italian social thinkers and post- Structuralist French philosophers together in the mid-70s. What mass-workers objected to most was the transfer of human knowledge to the machines, reducing life to "dead labor." There was an existential dimension there, but active and creative. Their effort to change labor conditions was unknown to classical Marxism, mostly preoccupied with mechanisms of oppression and their effect on the working class.

In Daybreak, Nietzsche summoned European workers to "declare that henceforth as a class they are a human impossibility and not just, as is customary, a harsh and purposeless establishment." And he exhorted that "impossible class" to swarm out from the European beehive, "and with this act of emigration in the grand manner protest against the machine, against capital, and against the choice with which they are now threatened, of becoming of necessity either slaves of the state or slaves of a revolutionary party..." This celebration of exile can be found in Michael Hardt and Toni Negri's Empire, a best-seller among American Marxist academics and art critics ("A specter haunts the world and it is the specter of migration...") as well as in Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude, which it complements in its own way. This call retroactively found its model in the unorthodox and mobile migrant labor force of the Wobblies (International Workers of the World) who organized immigrant workers throughout the United States in the 1920s. (Hence the paradoxical fondness of operaists for the American workers' movement and America in general). Migration as a form of resistance also recalls Marx's essay on modern colonization, laborers in Europe deserting famines or factory work for free lands in the American West.2 It took the inventiveness of Italian social thinkers to turn this cursory account of the workers' desire "to become independent landowners" into an anticipation of the postmodern multitude. While Hardt and Negri consider this kind of Exodus "a powerful form of class struggle," Virno cautions that desertion was "a transitory phase," an extended metaphor for the mobility of post-Fordist workers (European laborers worked in East Coast factories for a decade or two before moving on). A nuance, maybe, but significant. Unlike Hardt and Negri, Virno refrains from turning exile, or the multitude for that matter, let alone communism, into another splendid myth.

Autonomist theory is found in many places, including the United States, but the movement developed most powerfully in Italy where the 60s' movement extended well into the 70s. Breaking away from the orthodox and populist Marxism of Antonio Gramsci, founder of the Italian Communist Party, young Operaist intellectuals learned from the workers themselves what the reality of production was. They helped them create their organizations and confront the system of production head on through strikes and sabotage. This pragmatic and militant aspect of workerism sets Italian social thinkers apart. They opposed the hegemony of the Italian C.P. and Gramsci's strategy of small steps (the "war of position" within civil society) which led to Eurocommunism and the "historic compromise" with the governing Christian-Democrats (conservatives). Operaists were the first to question the centrality of the proletariat, cornerstone of the entire socialist tradition, and call for a reevaluation of the categories of class analysis. The notion of "changing class composition" introduced by Sergio Bologna allowed them to re-center the revolutionary struggle on the "new social subject" just emerging at the time both from the factory and the university.

To Read the Rest of Lotringer's Forward and Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude