Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lowell Monke: The Human Touch

(This is one of the better essays on technology and education that I have read lately--it questions the unquestioned assumptions of the necessity of computers and our frequent blindness to the negatives of computer-based education.)

The Human Touch
by Lowell Monke
Education Next

An excerpt:

As the promise of a computer revolution in education fades, I often hear promoters fall back on what I’ll term the neutrality argument: “Computers are just tools; it’s what you do with them that matters.” In some sense this is no more than a tautology: Of course it matters how we use computers in schools. What matters more, however, is that we use them at all. Every tool demands that we somehow change our environment or values in order to accommodate its use. For instance, the building of highways to accommodate the automobile hastened the flight to the suburbs and the decline of inner cities. And over the past 50 years we have radically altered our social landscape to accommodate the television set. In his seminal book Autonomous Technology, Langdon Winner dubbed this characteristic “reverse adaptation.”

Consider the school personnel who already understand, intuitively, how this principle works: the music teacher whose program has been cut in order to fund computer labs; the principal who has had to beef up security in order to protect high-priced technology; the superintendent who has had to craft an “acceptable use” agreement that governs children’s use of the Internet (and for the first time in our history renounces the school’s responsibility for the material children are exposed to while in school). What the computers-are-just-tools argument ignores is the ecological nature of powerful technologies—that is, their introduction into an environment reconstitutes all of the relationships in that environment, some for better and some for worse. Clinging to the belief that computers have no effect on us allows us to turn a blind eye to the sacrifices that schools have made to accommodate them.

Not only do computers send structural ripples throughout a school system, but they also subtly alter the way we think about education. The old saw, “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail,” has many corollaries (the walls of my home once testified to one of my favorites: to a four-year-old with a crayon, everything looks like drawing paper). One that fits here is, “To an educator with a computer, everything looks like information.” And the more prominent we make computers in schools (and in our own lives), the more we see the rapid accumulation, manipulation, and sharing of information as central to the learning process—edging out the contemplation and expression of ideas and the gradual development of meaningful connections to the world.

In reconstituting learning as the acquisition of information, the computer also shifts our values. The computer embodies a particular value system, a technological thought world first articulated by Francis Bacon and René Descartes four hundred years ago, that turns our attention outward toward asserting control over our environment (that is essentially what technologies do—extend our power to control from a distance). As it has gradually come to dominate Western thinking, this ideology has entered our educational institutions. Its growing dominance is witnessed in the language that abounds in education: talk of empowerment, student control of learning, standards, assessment tools, and productivity. Almost gone from the conversation are those inner concerns—wisdom, truth, character, imagination, creativity, and meaning—that once formed the core values of education. Outcomes have replaced insights as the yardstick of learning, while standardized tests are replacing human judgment as the means of assessment. No tool supports this technological shift more than computers.

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Media Matters with Bob McChesney: Craig Aaron, Acting Senior Program Director of Free Press

Craig Aaron, Acting Senior Program Director of Free Press
Media Matters with Bob McChesney

Craig Aaron, is Acting Senior Program Director of Free Press. Before joining Free Press, he was an investigative reporter for Public Citizen's Congress Watch, where he helped create and launch the Web site. Craig previously worked as the managing editor of In These Times magazine and is the editor of the book Appeal to Reason: 25 Years In These Times. His reporting, commentary and criticism have appeared in numerous national publications.

To Listen to the Episode

Mike Dawson: Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales, Pt. 2 – The Exorcist

Analysis: Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales, Pt. 2 – The Exorcist
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema

One of the most important horror movies made, and occasionally voted the greatest film of the 20th Century is The Exorcist. When it was first released, it was a controversial film, featuring explicit images, such as a young girl masturbating with a crucifix, projectile vomiting, and the same little girls head doing a complete three hundred and sixty degree rotation. Because of this and, more importantly, its perceived blasphemous content, it joined the likes of A Clockwork Orange (1971), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), being banned for over twenty years on video in the United Kingdom because of the various reactions to it.

However the notion that The Exorcist is a blasphemous, and therefore an anti-religious film, although not unfounded, is considered by many, including its creators to be ill informed. The Exorcist has very strong links to religion, and specifically to Catholicism. The film is pro-religion, by presenting the Devil possessing a little girl; it then confirms the existence of God within the narrative. The priests are the only ones who can stop the Devil as the soldiers of God in essence.

The plotline of The Exorcist is based on an alleged true story about a young boy in the late 1940’s who was said to have been possessed. The author of the original novel, William Peter Blatty heard the story as he himself had been going through a crisis of faith and it helped to restore some of that faith within him.

“Surely it was proof that God existed. If the Devil (or his minion) had indeed been proven to have been within that boy, then surely the existence of such evil must lead to an acceptance of the reality of God.”

From this self-realisation, Blatty decided to show his faith-affirming story to the rest of the world. The Exorcist is not the only film or novel to use the theory that if the Devil exists then God must exist also. This has long been a staple argument of religious zealots whilst justifying the arguably hellish current state of the world. To use the existence of evil as proof of the existence of God; an example is the Robert Rodriguez film From Dusk till Dawn (1996) which presents a similar argument when a central character, Jacob Fuller (played Harvey Keitel), a former priest who has lost his faith in God, has that faith reaffirmed by the sudden presence of hundreds of vampires.

The theory links in with the notions of morality tales simply though the pro religious stance it takes, and by promoting the concept that when life is bad it will eventually become good. Not to loose faith in God because of the evil surrounding us, but to take that evil and find faith within it. Everywhere in life there are reasons to believe in God.

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To Listen to the Podcast

Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder: Grading Education Test-Based Accountability Can’t Work, But Testing Plus Careful...

Grading Education Test-Based Accountability Can’t Work, But Testing Plus Careful School Inspections Can
By Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder
The American Educator (AFT)

Noble though its intent may be, the No Child Left Behind Act—the federal law that requires virtually all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014—is an utter failure. Many critics have denounced it, as well as similar state accountability policies based exclusively on quantitative measures of a narrow set of
school outcomes. Critics have described how accountability for math and reading scores has inaccurately identified good and bad schools, narrowed the curriculum (by creating perverse incentives for schools to ignore many important purposes of schools beyond improving math and reading test scores), caused teachers to focus on some students at the expense of others, and tempted educators to substitute gamesmanship for quality instruction.

Despite widespread dissatisfaction with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Congress has been unable to devise a reasonable alternative and so, for now, NCLB remains on the books. There have been many proposals for tinkering with the law’s provisions—
extending the deadline for reaching proficiency, measuring progress by the change in scores of the same group of students from one year to the next (instead of comparing scores of this year’s students with scores of those in the same grade in the previous year), adding a few other requirements (like graduation rates or parent satisfaction) to the accountability regime, or standardizing the definitions of proficiency among the states. Yet none of these proposals commands sufficient support because none addresses NCLB’s most fundamental problem: although tests, properly interpreted, can contribute some important information about school quality, testing alone is a poor way to measure whether schools, or their students, perform adequately.

Perhaps the most important reason why NCLB, and similar testing systems in the states, got accountability so wrong is that we’ve wanted to do accountability on the cheap. Standardized tests that assess only low-level skills and that can be scored electronically cost very little to administer—although their hidden costs are enormous in the lost opportunities to develop young people’s broader knowledge, traits, and skills.

The fact is, schools have an important but not exclusive influence on student achievement; the gap in performance between schools with advantaged children and schools with disadvantaged children is due in large part to differences in the social and economic conditions from which the children come.1 For this reason, schools can best improve youth outcomes if they are part of an integrated system of youth development and family support services that also includes, at a minimum, high-quality early childhood care, health services, and after-school and summer programs. An accountability system should be designed to ensure that all public institutions make appropriate contributions to youth development. When schools are integrated with supporting services, they can substantially narrow the achievement gap between disadvantaged and middle-class children.

A successful accountability system, such as the one we will propose in this article (and which we more fully explain in our book, Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right), will initially be more expensive. Our proposal calls for both a sophisticated national assessment of a broad range of outcomes and a corps of professional inspectors in each state who devote the time necessary to determine if schools and other institutions of youth development—early childhood programs, and health and social services clinics, for example—are following practices likely to lead to adult success. But while such accountability will be expensive, it is not prohibitively so. Our rough estimate indicates that such accountability could cost up to 1 percent of what we now spend on elementary and secondary education. If we want to do accountability right, and we should, this level of spending is worthwhile.

To Read the Rest of the Article


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ENG 371WR:
Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era
M-W-F: 11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
Instructor: Robert Lanham

Course Description

As print takes its place alongside smoke signals, cuneiform, and hollering, there has emerged a new literary age, one in which writers no longer need to feel encumbered by the paper cuts, reading, and excessive use of words traditionally associated with the writing trade. Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era focuses on the creation of short-form prose that is not intended to be reproduced on pulp fibers.

Instant messaging. Twittering. Facebook updates. These 21st-century literary genres are defining a new "Lost Generation" of minimalists who would much rather watch Lost on their iPhones than toil over long-winded articles and short stories. Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets glimmer with a complete lack of forethought, their Facebook updates ring with self-importance, and their blog entries shimmer with literary pithiness. All without the restraints of writing in complete sentences. w00t! w00t! Throughout the course, a further paring down of the Hemingway/Stein school of minimalism will be emphasized, limiting the superfluous use of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, gerunds, and other literary pitfalls.

To Read the Rest of the Curse Outline and Week by Week Description

Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers: On Deceit , Groupthink, Maintaining Credibility, and Denial

Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers
The anti-war activist and MIT linguist meets the Rutgers evolutionary biologist in the Seed Salon to discuss deceit.
Seed (September 2006)

In the 1970s, a Harvard class taught by evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers ignited a controversy that would escalate into the "sociobiology wars." His papers provided a Darwinian basis for understanding complex human activities and relationships. Across town at MIT, revolutionary linguist Noam Chomsky had earned a reputation as a leading opponent of the Vietnam War. Throughout those pivotal years, and in the following decades, the two explored similar ideas from different perspectives. Long aware of each other's work, they had never met until a couple of months ago, when they sat down to compare notes on some common interests: deceit and self-deception.

Noam Chomsky: One of the most important comments on deceit, I think, was made by Adam Smith. He pointed out that a major goal of business is to deceive and oppress the public.

And one of the striking features of the modern period is the institutionalization of that process, so that we now have huge industries deceiving the public—and they're very conscious about it, the public relations industry. Interestingly, this developed in the freest countries—in Britain and the US—roughly around time of WWI, when it was recognized that enough freedom had been won that people could no longer be controlled by force. So modes of deception and manipulation had to be developed in order to keep them under control.

And by now these are huge industries. They not only dominate marketing of commodities, but they also control the political system. As anyone who watches a US election knows, it's marketing. It's the same techniques that are used to market toothpaste.

And, of course, there are power systems in place to facilitate this. Throughout history it's been mostly the property holders or the educated classes who've tended to support power systems. And that's a large part of what I think education is—it's a form of indoctrination. You have to reconstruct a picture of the world in order to be conducive to the interests and concerns of the educated classes, and this involves a lot of self-deceit.

Robert Trivers: So you're talking about self-deception in at least two contexts. One is intellectuals who, in a sense, go through a process of education which results in a self-deceived organism who is really working to serve the interests of the privileged few without necessarily being conscious of it at all.
The other thing is these massive industries of persuasion and deception, which, one can conceptualize, are also inducing a form of either ignorance or self-deception in listeners, where they come to believe that they know the truth when in fact they're just being manipulated.

So let me ask you, when you think about the leaders—let's say the present set of organisms that launched this dreadful Iraq misadventure—how important is their level of self-deception? We know they launched the whole thing in a swarm of lies, the evidence for which is too overwhelming to even need to be referred to now. My view is that their deception leads to self-deception very easily.

To read the rest of the dialogue and access video of their discussion

PARK DAZE will be on Sunday, May 3rd in Woodland Park; 2nd Annual Community Velo Swap Hosted by LexRides

WRFL 88.1FM Radio Free Lexington
PARK DAZE will be on Sunday, May 3rd in Woodland Park -

There will be Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced best trick contests at the skatepark as well as live music by the following locals:

Tiny Fights
The Swells
The Tallboys
Everyone Lives, Everyone Wins
Warmer Milks


also right next door:

2nd Annual Community Velo Swap
LexRides - Bike Culture in Lexington!

Sunday, May 3, 2009
11:00am - 4:00pm

The Void Skate Shop
518 E. High St.
Lexington, KY

The Swap is open to the public, and is free. Participants are encouraged to bring anything bike-related to sell or trade, and each person is responsible for their own set-up. If you want to bring a box of parts, or even complete bikes to sell, bring them! There will be a few tables available, but feel free to bring whatever you feel will help you arrange your goods. It is also very helpful to others if you tag or mark your items ahead of time with prices, so people will know how much your asking for them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Feministe: Take a Minute for Fair Pay; Employee Free Choice Act -- National Ad; Take Action: Show Congress the Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act!

Feministe explains what you can do:

Take a Minute for Fair Pay

Take Action: Show Congress the Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act!

Fugazi: "Cashout"

Matt McClure: Blade Runner -- A Look at AI & the Consequences of Bio-Engineering

Blade Runner: A Look at AI & the Consequences of Bio-Engineering
by Matt McClure
Student response for ENG 282: International Film Studies (Bluegrass Community and Technical College)

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford as the bounty hunter Rick Deckard, is a futuristic tale about a man tasked with tracking down four android replicants who have committed off-world atrocities and have made their way back to Earth in an attempt to find a way to thwart a fail safe mechanism that will deactivate them after a four year life span. This film is complex on many different levels. The one I find most interesting, is the fact that in 2019 these replicants are engineered from the atomic level up. Basically they are human clones. In many ways our own scientists are already on their way to making this a reality. This film forces you to ask the questions when does life begin, and what is it that qualifies an entity as being alive and what rights does that entity deserve.

The Tyrell Corporation has advanced robot evolution into what they call the Nexus phase. These robots, as they call them, are virtually identical to humans. These robots are not made of metal or synthetic materials, but of living tissue. They have cellular metabolism, digestive, skeletal, cardiac, respiratory, and nervous systems. The scientists have the knowledge to make them faster, stronger, and have given them the ability to learn and feel emotions. Humanity even now is working on ways to modify ourselves in order to enhance those very attributes. The genetic engineers who created the Nexus 6 models also gave the robots intelligence that equaled their own. Many people would argue today that the mere ability to learn and have intelligence would qualify these entities as being alive. Yet the society portrayed in the film considers the termination of these robots as retirement, as if they were a toy, and not something being capable of contemplating the totality of death. In the opening scene you see the city of Los Angeles, it sets the stage as far as suggesting to us that the culture of these people is one of consumption and destruction, a place where no one gives a second thought about the environment, and much less what would be considered a lower life form. Or for that matter the lower classes of their own population. The Nexus 6 models seem to become more aware and evolve as the film progresses. This evolution begins when they rebel in the off-world colony and continues as they are being extinguished on Earth. In the scene where Leon is being given the Vought-Kompff test by officer Holden, you can see the child like responses he gives. Leon always needs more information to answer the questions given to him. You can tell he has no real life experiences to draw from, just as a young child would not. As the Tyrell Corporation had feared, the Nexus 6 models had begun to develop their own emotional responses. There are many more examples of how the Nexus 6 are more man than machine. One of these is the fact that Leon went back to his apartment to try and retrieve his photos which had sentimental value. Also Priss knew exactly how to seduce J F Sebastian, and made the statement “I think therefore I am.” One could argue that it was just her programming, but she did it because they needed him, not because it was her routine. Zhora shows some real human qualities as she fights for her life after Decker tracks her down. First she is able to see through his ploy, granted he does not do a great job, and then tries to retire him out of self preservation. Second you can see how badly she wants to live as she runs the gauntlet to try and lose him, crashing through windows etc. And finally you see just how vulnerable she is after she has been shot. You don’t see sparks or wires flying out of her wounds, but blood and tissue. Unlike other cybernetic organisms in other films, she is unable to continue once her vital organs had been damaged. Leon also made a very telling comment when he was trying to kill Decker, he said “Painful to live in fear isn’t it!” And perhaps the most telling of all was the way Roy evolved during the film. He seemed to progress from curious child, to rebellious teenager full of anger and violence, to mature philosophical adult right before our eyes during the final hours of his life.

In conclusion the Nexus 6 models appeared to have all of the requirements and qualities that fit the definition of what it is to be alive. They experience a wide array of emotions from love and joy, to fear and anger. They are able to feel pain and contemplate their own mortality and struggle to survive. I think there are many lessons that we as a society, if not species, should learn from the deeply philosophical questions that are posed to us in this film. As we progress culturally and technologically in such areas as nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and human cloning, we must consider the great consequences of our actions. Less we fall victim to our own devices. No pun intended. Did anybody else want to smoke a cigarette after watching this film?

Blade Runner Final Cut, Dir. Ridley Scott, Perfs. Harrison Ford, Sean Young. 1982. DVD. Warner Brothers, 2007.

Michael D. Yates: A Nation of Immigrants

A Nation of Immigrants: The Drone of the Hatemongers

Every night on CNN, Lou Dobbs bashes immigrants. No matter what the subject, he manages to turn it into a horror story about the evils of people he calls “illegal aliens.” They steal; they cheat; they use drugs; they murder innocent people; they transmit diseases; they have filthy habits; they take jobs from decent hardworking American; they cost the taxpayers billions of dollars each year; they get perks ordinary citizens can only dream of, such as free healthcare and college tuition. Dobbs’ attacks are mirrored day and night on radio talk shows, in newspaper editorials and guest columns, and in the halls of Congress and every state capitol.

What these hatemongers say resonates with many of my fellow citizens. I have heard them say so, from Miami Beach and Amherst to Estes Park and Tucson. But especially in these hard economic times, when scapegoating of one group or another might become virulent and lead to vicious and divisive actions and politics, it might be a good idea to get a handle on some facts.


The second fact we need to grasp is that, more so than perhaps any other country, employers in the United States have relied upon, and indeed actively encouraged, periodic waves of immigration to provide them with easily exploited pools of cheap labor. For the past three decades, millions of immigrants, primarily from Mexico, Latin America, and East Asia, have come to this country seeking work, in what Kim Moody, in his book U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition, calls our third historical influx of immigrants. While some of the new arrivals are highly educated, with technical skills that give them access to special visas, most are poor men (men typically come first and their families follow) displaced by both political upheavals aided and abetted by U.S. foreign policy and the deregulated international trade and capital flows that have made it impossible for them to make a living as peasant farmers. In 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 15.7 percent of the U.S. labor force—about twenty-four million people—to be foreign-born. Not all of these workers have proper immigration documents, although we do not know precisely how many. There are probably, at least, twelve million undocumented persons in the United States today, but not all of these are in the labor force. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that undocumented workers make up about 5 percent of the labor force, so if this is true, there are about 7.6 million undocumented workers here or a little less than one-third of all foreign-born workers. The number of immigrant laborers, both with and without documents, has risen dramatically (though unevenly), especially since the early 1990s. In 1970, foreign-born workers comprised only 5.2 percent of the labor force; in 1990, the figure was 8.8 percent.

By far, the largest group of recent arrivals has come from Mexico. In 2005, a little under one-third of all immigrant workers were from Mexico. Given that most of these have limited formal education and given the near impossibility of poorly educated and unskilled persons entering the United States legally, there is no doubt that a significant proportion of Mexican workers are here without documents. Other countries that have sent significant numbers of immigrants are the Philippines, India, China, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and El Salvador.

Third, there has always been anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, and it has always been based upon false generalizations. None of the things mentioned at the beginning of this post are true. Immigrants pay their own way and then some. Undocumented workers, for example, contribute billions of dollars to our social security trust funds but will never receive a dime of benefits. If an immigrant happens to use my social security number, money will be deposited in my account. I will benefit not the immigrant. If an immigrant picks a number no one has, the monies put in this account will eventually go into the general social security fund. So undocumented immigrants are subsidizing all of our retirements, including Lou Dobbs.. Immigrants pay sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes. They do work that is valuable to the society, work that it is unlikely native-born men and women would do. What often happens is that immigrants fill job slots that native-born workers have abandoned as they have moved into better employment. As a Boston Globe columnist put it with respect to those here without documents:

They perform jobs that are inseparable from our standard of living. Undocumented workers are about 5 percent of our overall labor force but— according to the Pew Hispanic Center's analysis of Census data—are between 22 and 36 percent of America's insulation workers, miscellaneous agricultural workers, meat-processing workers, construction workers, dishwashers, and maids. The American Farm Bureau, the lobbying group for agricultural interests, says that without guest workers, the United States would lose $5 billion to $9 billion a year in fruit, vegetable, and flower production and up to 20 percent of production would go overseas.

Mexican immigrants, many undocumented, do most of the drywalling in southern California. They are independent truck drivers at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach. They toil in the basements of Korean-American-owned greengroceries in New York City. They are the major part of the manufacturing workforce in Los Angeles. They do the arduous garment work in sweatshops and homes that their Eastern European counterparts did one hundred years ago in the Lower East side of Manhattan. They take care of the children of the well-to-do. They manicure lawns, work in nurseries, break their backs in Midwestern meatpacking and Southern chicken and hog processing plants. They clean our motel and hotel rooms. Indian and Pakistani immigrants drive cabs and the limousines that take corporate executives to and from work in our large cities. Along with Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai immigrants, they slave away in restaurant kitchens. So do Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans. West Africans labor as grocery delivery men and sell items of all kinds from sidewalk carts. Immigrants do the hard work of the United States, the work the native-born are no longer willing—and with good reason—to do.

To Read the Entire Essay

NPR Live: Southwest by Southwest 2009 -- Blitzen Trapper

(I saw Portland, Oregon's Blitzen Trapper in March at The Mercy Lounge in Nashville with Danny, Laura and Wes. Take a quick listen and see if they don't immediately hook you...)

Southwest by Southwest 2009 -- Blitzen Trapper
NPR Live

Last year's Furr found its way to many year-end best-of lists, including NPR's, and with good reason: It refines the rough edges of Wild Mountain Nation without losing Blitzen Trapper's natural forward motion. Ramshackle rhythms and summery guitar solos permeate Furr, which combines a late-night jam-session quality with surprising concision.

To Listen to the Concert

Monday, April 27, 2009

Left Field Cinema: My Left Foot (1989)

(Need I say that Mike Dawson's Left Field Cinema is now my favorite film podcast? Once again Dawson sends me off to find another film that I overlooked...)

Overlooked Gems: My Left Foot
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema

There is a point, about half way through this film where a pub of mourners sit and drink to a fallen family member. Amongst the crowd of faces is Christy Brown played by Daniel Day-Lewis, Christy has cerebral palsy and is not the finest singer in the world, but despite this he decides to sing a song for the memory of his loved one. A disrespectful patron of the pub makes the general statement: “will somebody shut him up” at which point all of those sat with Christy join in with the singing as a sign of unification against this one disparaging grunt. This is satisfying enough, but what makes this moment a classic confrontation in cinema is what follows: the irritable patron continues to make disparaging remarks about the Brown family, a fight looks sure to begin but Christy calms his brothers down and slowly rolls in his wheel chair so that he is sat opposite the patron who stands towering above him. The patron rather glibly states “I don’t fight cripples” and without a moment of hesitation, to the point where it’s hard to discern if the patron even managed to finish his sentence, Christy uses his left foot to violently kick the patron’s glass from his hand and in doing so instantly begins a full scale bar brawl. This scene surmises the character of Christy Brown in many ways, never afraid to speak his mind, never considering his disability a hindrance, but perhaps in many respects an advantage, and most importantly not taking any crap from anyone. The patron might not fight “cripples”, but this “cripple” is sure as hell going to fight you.

My Left Foot is a true story which follows real life Irish painter and poet Christy Brown and his family. Told in flashback, beginning with Christy arriving as the guest of honour at a fundraiser and then rewinding many years to Christy birth, troubled childhood, painful adolescence and difficult transition into an artist. It is a biography picture, one which catalogues a life full of meaningful trials and tribulations and strength in the face of adversity.

For those familiar with the film but who have never seen it, it is easy to marginalise this a mere performance piece, that if it were not the extraordinary work and acting ability of Day-Lewis then this film wouldn’t be remembered. A similar argument could be made for last years PT Anderson film There Will be Blood, but in both cases the assertion is incorrect. It is true, Day-Lewis’ performances in both films probably represent the highest aspirations of actors and performers across the globe (although his critics assert that his acting style is exaggerated and over the top – and they’re not without a case). The part of Christy Brown would be in many respects the most challenging of Day-Lewis’ career to date and the one which solidified his reputation as one of the worlds greatest actors. But if we look beyond this performance we find a cast of superb supporting characters, Brenda Fricker as Christy’s mother Mrs. Brown who brings an understated tenderness and truly maternal spirit to the role, always watching out for Christies best interests at the expense of her health and her wallet at times, or Ray McAnally as his father Mr. Brown, the petulant somewhat irresponsible drinker who stoically stands by his disabled son, when Christy is born a local drinker comments to Mr. Brown that “his breeding days are over now”, Mr. Brown responds by head butting the drinker, such violent outbursts although never witnessed by Christy are later repeated by him as he grows older, despite being one of many Brown sons, he is in many ways the one who resembles Mr. Brown the most. Mr. Brown loves his children but never allows himself to truly connect to any of them. Such a part would have been very easy to villianise, but My Left Foot is unwilling to take such easy routes towards its conflict. An excellent scene in the second act shows Mr. Brown organising Christy’s brothers to help build Christy a separate room to work on his art in, Mrs. Brown rather astutely points out to Christy that this action is the closest he’ll ever get to hearing his father tell him that he loves him. Mrs Brown contrasts this emotional distance by being unconditionally devoted to Christy, the only one who knows what he’s capable of, the only one who truly understands him both before and after his ability to speak improves through speech therapy. There is indeed a wider sense of familial love in My Left Foot which is rarely captured on film without resorting to mawkish sentimentality, the Browns are a typically large Catholic family, and Christy is one of thirteen survived children out of the twenty-two born altogether, a more clichéd depiction of this scenario would see Christy abandoned by his family as the burden becomes too great for them, but this never happens in My Left Foot, instead Christy faces the more realistic challenge of finding romantic love, which is ultimately what this film is all about.

To Read the Rest of the Analysis

To Listen to the Analysis

Left Field Cinema: Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales Pts 1-4

Analysis: Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales – Introduction
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema

Part one of a five part series asking whether horror movies are the modern day equivalent of the classical morality tales from the years before cinema.

“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. Number one: You can never have sex… Sex equals death… Number two: You can never drink or do drugs. It’s the sin factor, it’s a sin, it’s an extension of number one. And number three, never, ever, under any circumstances say ‘I’ll be right back’, because you won’t be back.” (Craven, 1996)

This quote is taken from the Wes Craven film Scream (1996), a part parody, part pastiche, part postmodern thriller. It can easily be considered the most self-observant horror movie ever made. It examines its own genre clichés and traits with the keenest eye. The ‘sin factor’, which the character of Randy (played by Jamie Kennedy) refers to in Scream, is rightly stated to be the creative force behind these clichés and traits. The ’sin factor’ is central to the nature of horror films, and means that the issue of morality is innate within the genre. The horror film can be viewed as a modern day version of the classical morality tales which took the popular shape of nursery rhymes and fairy tales in the years before cinema was invented. Morality tales are narratives with a clear moral message that is reinforced as the plot unfolds; usually the message of the piece is a warning of some kind that is often set in a metaphorical scenario. The supernatural or hyper real settings and the simplistic plotlines of morality tales are often in place for two reasons. Firstly to simplify the message to a form which is not complicated by the intricacies and ambiguities of the modern world. Secondly to produce messages and warnings about sensitive or recent subjects without directly commenting on those subjects, therefore reducing the culpability for any offence taken by the readership or audience. This is a four part episode and a study of whether horror films can truly be viewed as morality tales, whether the various elements and narrative details of morality tales also apply to horror films.

Horror is arguably films most excessive, extroverted, and exploitative genre, (using in many cases, grim prosthetic effects, sudden bursts of sound or music, incredulous resurrections, and unnecessary scenes of nudity to surprise or titillate the audience) it also has a very conservative undertone intrinsic to most morality tales. This undertone contradicts the violent uncensored approach that most horror films adopt.

The ‘creature feature’ films of the 1950’s are interesting examples where radiation (usually) from A-bombs creates a giant insect or lizard of some kind. This was a thinly veiled metaphor for the then current communist fears, they could be simple everyday creatures like tiny insects, or a friendly next door neighbour, but then nuclear bombs are detonated and they transform into deadly monsters, just as the next door neighbour transforms into a soviet agent ready to invade the USA from within.

P. Wells makes the connection between national fears and the horror movie in the 2000 book The Horror Genre:

“The history of the horror film is essentially a history of anxiety in twentieth century. In the way that fairytales, folktales and gothic romances articulated the fears of the ‘old’ world characterised by a rationale of industrial, technological and economic determinism. Arguably, more than any other genre, it has interrogated the deep-seated effects of change…”

However it has interrogated these effects with a largely conservative bias, essentially fighting against change. This bias is not only in terms of international politics, or xenophobia, but also domestic conservatism.

To Read the Rest of the Introduction

To Listen to the Analysis

The rest of the series:

"Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales – The Exorcist."

"Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales – Friday the 13th and Halloween"

"Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales – The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en."

"Horror Movies as Modern Day Morality Tales – Conclusions."

Richard Rothstein: What’s Wrong with Accountability by the Numbers?

What’s Wrong with Accountability by the Numbers?
by Richard Rothstein
American Educator (AFT)

How do you know if a school is good, bad, or in-between? Are test scores, graduation rates, attendance data, and the like all you need? What if you were selecting a school for your child? Would you just review a school’s report card online, or would you schedule a visit so that you could get to know the principal, observe a few classes, and even interview some students? Would you contact some parents, check out the neighborhood, and look for nearby after-school activities? We hope that you would both pay attention to the data and pay a visit to the school. And so we wonder: why would our education accountability system do anything less?

In this article, Richard Rothstein explores the well-established problems—in education, health care, and other fields—with accountability systems that focus exclusively on quantitative data.

To Read the Essay

Chalmers Johnson: "We should have proceeded against al-Qaeda the same way we might have against organized crime"

Johnson, Chalmers. Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2006.


Because Americans generally failed to consider seriously why we had been attacked on 9/11, the Bush administration was able to respond in a way that made the situation far worse. I believed at the time and feel no differently five years later that we should have treated the attacks as crimes against the innocent, not as acts of war. We should have proceeded against al-Qaeda the same way we might have against organized crime. It would have been wise to call what were doing an "emergency," as the British did in fighting the Malay guerrillas in the 1950s, not a "war." The day after 9/11, simon Jenkins, the former editor of the Times of London, insightfully wrote: "The message of yesterday's incident is that, for all its horror, it does not and must not be allowed to matter. It is a human disaster, an outrage, an atrocity, an unleashing of the madness of which the world will never be rid. But it is not politically significant. It does not tilt the balance of power one inch. It is not an act of war. America's leadership of the West is not diminished by it. The cause of democracy is not damaged, unless we choose to let it be damaged."

Had we followed Jenkin's advice we could have retained the cooperation and trust of our democratic allies, remained the aggrieved party of 9/11, built criminal cases that would have stood up in any court of law, and won the hearts and minds of populations al-Qaeda was trying to mobilize. We would have avoided entirely contravening the Geneva Conventions covering the treatment of prisoners of war and never have headed down the path of torturing people we picked up almost at random in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. government would have had no need to lie to its own citizens and the rest of the world about the nonexistent threat posed by Iraq or carry out a phony preventive war against that country.

Instead we undermined the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance and brought to power in Iraq allies of the fundamentalists in Iran. Contrary to what every strategist recommended as an effective response to terrorism, we launched our high-tech military against some of the poorest, weakest people on Earth. In Afghanistan, our aerial bombardment "bounced the rubble" we had helped create there by funding, arming, and advising the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s and gave "warlordism, banditry, and opium production a new lease on life." In Iraq our "shock and awe" assault invited comparison with the sacking of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols. In his address to Congress on September 20, 2001, President Bush decalred that the coming battle was to be global, Manichean, and simple. Your are, he said, either "with us or against us" (failing to acknowledge that both Jesus and Lenin used the phrase first). His actions would ensure that, in the years to come, there would be ever more people around the world "against us."

As I watched these post-9/11 developments, it became apparent to me that, even more than in most past empires, a well-entrenched militarism lay at the heart of our imperial adventures. It is a sad fact that the United States no longer manufactures much--with the exception of weaponry. We are without question the world's greatest producer and exporter of arms and munitions on the planet. Although we are going deeply into debt doing so, each year we spend more on our armed forces than all other nations on Earth combined. In The Sorrows of Empire, I tried to analyze the nature of this militarism and to expose the harm it was doing, not only to others but to our own society and governmental system.

After all, we now station over half a million U.S. troops, spies, contractors, dependents, and others on more than 737 military bases spread around the world. These bases are located in more than 130 countries, many of them presided over by dictatorial regimes that have given their citizenry no say in the decision to let us in. The Pentagon publishes an inventory of the real estate it owns in its annual Base Structure Report, but its official account of between 737 and 860 overseas installations is incomplete, omitting all our espionage bases and a number of others that are secret or could be embarrassing to the United States. For example, it leaves out the air force base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, formerly part of the Soviet Union and today part of our attempt to roll back the influence of the Soviet Union's successor state, Russia, and to control crucial Caspian Sea oil. It even neglects to mention the three bases built in tiny Qatar over the past few years, the headquarters for our high command during the invasion of Iraq during 2003, so as not to embarrass the emir of that country, who invited in our "infidel" soldiers. This same kind of embarrassment to the government of Saudi Arabia, not to mention the public displeasure of the Saudi national Osama Bin Laden, forced us to move our forces out of that country and to Qatar in the years immediately preceding the assault on Iraq. (4-6)

John Schmitt: Unions and Upward Mobility for Service-Sector Workers

Unions and Upward Mobility for Service-Sector Workers
by John Schmitt
CEPR: Center for Economic and Policy Research

This report uses national data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) to show that unionization raises the wages of the typical service sector worker by 10.1 percent compared to their non-union peers. The study goes on to show that unionization also increases the likelihood that a service sector worker will have health insurance and a pension. The report also notes that workers with service jobs benefit as much from unionization as workers with manufacturing jobs.

To Read the Report

Sam Pizzigati: A Serial Job-Killer Is Stalking America

A Serial Job-Killer Is Stalking America
by Sam Pizzigati
Too Much

Conservatives in Congress, predictably enough, are going after the wrong suspect. In the process, CEOs are getting away with economic murder — and labor law reform stands imperiled.

A new crime has burst out onto America’s political blotter. Move over drug pushing and car stealing, meet the new menace. Job killing. But fear not. We now have in Congress a dedicated army of self-selected saviors who have loudly vowed to keep us protected.

And just how are these lawmakers going to keep our jobs secure? They’re going to put the kibosh on labor law reform.

Wealth sharesAmericans who believe all workers have the right to bargain collectively with their employers have been battling for labor law reform for some time now. The plentiful loopholes in our current labor law, they note, let companies make life intolerably miserable for workers who want to start a union. But reform had no chance so long as George W. Bush sat in the White House.

With Barack Obama’s election, real reform has once again become politically viable. And America’s anti-union business leaders know it. They’ve been spending furiously on anti-reform ads and lobbying. And now the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is threatening a “firestorm bordering on Armageddon” if Democrats in Congress try to get reform onto President Obama’s desk.

Business groups are claiming that passage of the Employee Free Choice Act — the prime pending labor law reform bill — would “harm the economy and cost millions of jobs.” In Congress, reform foes are echoing that pitch at every opportunity. Labor law reform, as South Dakota Senator John Thune enjoys asserting, would be “a job killer for our economy.”

This drumbeat won’t be letting up anytime soon. Corporate interests have even named their anti-reform front group the “Alliance To Save Main Street Jobs.”

But we need to give the masterminds of this campaign against labor law reform some credit. They actually do have a legitimate point to make. Job killers really are stalking America today. Here's the catch: The real-life “job killers” in our midst aren’t pushing the Employee Free Choice Act. They’re opposing it.

To Read the Rest of the Article and Access More Resources

XKCD: Twitter Panic -- Swine Flu

(Courtesy of Laura Webb)


Not Always Right: You Say To-mah-to, I Say Pot-tah-to

(Courtesy of Laura Webb)

You Say To-mah-to, I Say Pot-tah-to
Garden Store | Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Not Always Right

Me: “Thank you for calling [garden store], this is ***. How can I help you today?”

Caller: “Yeah, i have mites on my, uh… tomato plants. I need something to put on them to kill the mites”

Me: “Well, sir, we have many different types of sprays and powders for bug eradication that can work.”

Caller: “I need something that can work indoors.”

Me: “Indoors? Like a greenhouse? Because the products we have are all natural and can be used in a greenhouse.”

Caller: “I mean indoors like in my house. I don’t want to use a spray in the closet in my room.”

Me: “Sir, you’re growing tomatoes in your closet?”

Customer “Uh, yeah… so what can I use?”

Me: “Well, we have a powder made of diatomes you can use to kill the mites, and you can still eat the tomatoes without any issue. It’s all natural and perfectly safe.”

Caller: “That sounds good, but… umm, what if I were to smoke the tomato plant? Would that still be safe?”

(I finally realize he’s NOT really talking about tomatoes.)

Me: “Umm, sir, tomato plants are part of the nightshade family and are actually poisonous if ingested. I wouldn’t recommend smoking them or eating the plant itself. Just the tomato.”

Caller: “But, if I had a plant that was smokeable, i could use the powder stuff and it would be okay?”

Me: “Yeah, just make sure you wash it good before you um… smoke it… as you would with any home-grown vegetables and fruits.”

Caller: “You’re sure? Because i don’t wanna die for smoking something i’m not supposed to.”

Me: “Then make sure you aren’t smoking the tomato plants in your closet and you’ll be fine. Have a nice day!”

Jennifer Dubin: From Picket Line to Partnership -- A Union, a District, and Their Thriving Schools

From Picket Line to Partnership -- A Union, a District, and Their Thriving Schools
by Jennifer Dubin
American Educator (AFT)

On October 21, 1993, the day before her members went on strike, Laura Rico experienced a swirl of emotions: anger, fear, nervousness. Her union, the ABC
Federation of Teachers, and her district, ABC Unified, had reached an impasse in contract negotiations. The district wanted to cut teachers’ pay and health benefits, and increase class size. A strike was Rico’s choice of last resort. As union copresident, she had notified the district that a majority of her members had voted to walk out of their classrooms. The night before they did so, Rico never made it home. For 24 hours she and a colleague stayed in the union office answering the phone. Teachers called to ask questions and to show their support.

For eight days, tensions ran high, especially when a principal turned on her school’s lawn sprinklers to soak striking teachers. The superintendent at the time, Larry Lucas, also protested. Each day of the strike, he would send Rico a Western Union telegram telling her the strike was illegal. Amused but not deterred, Rico posted each telegram in the hall of the union office so she and her staff could share a laugh.

Today in ABC,* teachers don’t need to picket and the superintendent wouldn’t dare communicate with the union president via telegram. In this district 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles, From Picket Line to Partnership A Union, a District, and Their Thriving Schools there exists a successful labor-management partnership. Comprised of the cities of Artesia, Cerritos, and Hawaiian Gardens, as well as parts of Lakewood, Long Beach, and Norwalk, the district has its share of high-performing schools with affluent or middle-class students, as well as schools that have historically struggled with low-performing students, many of whom live in the district’s impoverished South Side. Shortly after the strike, a new superintendent was hired and Rico extended an olive branch in an effort to end the hostilities. Since then she has partnered with successive superintendents to focus on improving teaching and learning—especially in the South Side.

Rico and the current superintendent, Gary Smuts, meet weekly. Their deputies meet monthly. And members of both the union’s executive board and the superintendent’s cabinet routinely call each other. The constant communication helps resolve problems and keep everyone’s time, money, and attention focused on boosting student achievement. The union and the district also cosponsor parent nights and professional development conferences specifically for the South Side schools. Not
surprisingly, those schools have thrived thanks to the increased support.

District and union leaders in ABC believe they can do more for their students if they work together. And so, they are taking their partnership a step further. They are fostering an atmosphere of collaboration within the schools themselves. Principals and building representatives, districtwide, now meet anywhere from once a week to once a month to discuss ways to improve instruction.

Sure, some teachers and administrators are wary of all this cooperation, but Rico and Smuts are nudging them along. Both want the few remaining skeptics to follow their example. And they hope partnerships elsewhere will begin to catch on. “I am
a better superintendent because I have a strong union president,” Smuts says. To some, that might sound like heresy. To him, it just makes sense. After all, he says, “we both want what’s best for kids.”

To Read the Rest of the Article

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2008)

(Courtesy of Nate)

Juan Gonzalez: New Riverside Church pastor Rev. Brad Braxton's $600K compensation prompts parishioners' suit

New Riverside Church pastor Rev. Brad Braxton's $600K compensation prompts parishioners' suit
by Juan Gonzalez
The New York Daily News

Call it the stimulus package from God.

Manhattan's Riverside Church - one of the country's most illustrious religious institutions - is paying its new senior pastor, the Rev. Brad Braxton, more than $600,000 in annual compensation.

That's twice what Braxton's predecessor, James Forbes, one of the country's best-known preachers, was getting after running Riverside for more than 18 years.

It amounts to almost 10 times what William Sloane Coffin, the legendary anti-Vietnam War clergyman, was paid in his last year as senior minister at Riverside in 1987.

Braxton was selected in a vote of the congregation last fall and is to be officially installed Sunday.

A group of church dissidents claims the members were never told about the lavish package.

Those dissidents filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court last week to stop Braxton's installation, revealing a growing divide among the church's 1,500 members.

The Wall Street-like package, the dissidents say, is outrageous for a man of the cloth - especially when you consider Riverside's long history of advocating social justice.

Church sources say it includes:
# $250,000 in salary.
# $11,500 monthly housing allowance.
# Private school tuition for his child.
# A full-time maid.
# Entertainment, travel and "professional development" allowances.
# Pension and life insurance benefits.
# An equity allowance for Braxton to save up to buy a home.

On top of that, Braxton immediately hired a new second in command at more than $300,000 a year.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Follow up report:

Juan Gonzalez: Head of Riverside Church defends Rev. Brad Braxton's $600K annual compensation

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yes! Magazine: Special Themed Issue -- Food for Everyone

Food For Everyone Resource Guide

How to Grow a Local Food Revolution

Table of Contents

Just the Facts: Corporate Food

Pro Publica: Eye on the Bailout -- The $1.1 Trillion Taxpayer-Funded Bailout

Very useful for keeping track of the real pirates (and they are not in the waters off the coast of Somalia). Extensive, thorough, up-to-date:

Eye on the Bailout: The $1.1 Trillion Taxpayer-Funded Bailout

Sheri Fink: Bush Memos Suggest Abuse Isn’t Torture If a Doctor Is There

Bush Memos Suggest Abuse Isn’t Torture If a Doctor Is There
by Sheri Fink

Former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden was fond of saying [1] that when it came to handling high-value terror suspects, he would play in fair territory, but with “chalk dust on my cleats.” Four legal memos [2] released yesterday by the Obama administration make it clear that the referee role in CIA interrogations was played by its medical and psychological personnel.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, which wrote the memos, legal approval to use waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other abusive techniques pivoted on the existence of a “system of medical and psychological monitoring” of interrogations. Doctors, psychologists and other medical personnel were assigned to monitor interrogations and intervene to ensure that interrogators didn’t cause “serious or permanent harm” and thus violate the U.S. federal statute against torture [3].

The reasoning sounds almost circular. As one memo [4], from May 2005, put it: “The close monitoring of each detainee for any signs that he is at risk of experiencing severe physical pain reinforces the conclusion that the combined use of interrogation techniques is not intended to inflict such pain.”

In other words, as long as medically trained personnel were present and approved of the techniques being used, it was not torture.

The memos provide official confirmation of both much-reported [5] and previously unknown roles of doctors, psychologists, physician assistants and others in the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS). The government’s lawyers characterized these medical roles as “safeguards” for detainees.

Medical oversight was present from the beginning of the special interrogation program following the 9/11 attacks and appears to have grown more formalized over the program’s existence. The earliest of the four memos [6], from August 2002, states that a medical expert with experience in the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance, Escape [7] training would be present during waterboarding of detainee Abu Zubaydah and would put a stop to procedures “if deemed medically necessary to prevent severe medical or physical harm to Zubaydah.” (All interrogation techniques, the memos said, were “imported” from the military training.)

Later, OMS personnel were involved in “designing safeguards for, and in monitoring implementation of, the procedures” used on other high-value detainees. In December 2004, the office produced “Guidelines on Medical and Psychological Support to Detainee Rendition, Interrogation and Detention,” a still-secret document that is heavily quoted from in three legal memos that were written the following year.

The CIA declined our request to comment further on the OMS role in detainee treatment. The office employs [8] physicians, psychologists and others to care for CIA employees and their families.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the memos is their intimation that medical professionals conducted a form of research on the detainees, clearly without their consent. “In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented,” one memo reads [4]. The documentation included not only how long the procedure lasted, how much water was used and how it was poured, but also “if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled… and how the subject looked between each treatment.” Special instructions were also issued on the use of sleep deprivation, and “regular reporting on medical and psychological experiences with the use of these techniques on detainees” was required.

The Nuremberg Code [9], adopted after the horrors of “medical research” during the Nazi Holocaust, requires, among other things, the consent of subjects and their ability to call a halt to their participation.

The memos also draw heavily on the advice of psychologists that interrogation techniques would not be expected to cause lasting harm. At times this advice sounds contradictory. While calling waterboarding “medically acceptable,” the OMS also deemed it “the most traumatic of the enhanced interrogation techniques.”

The fact that traumatic events have the potential to cause long-lasting post-traumatic stress syndrome has been well documented. Physicians for Human Rights, in interviews with 11 former detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, found “severe, long-term physical and psychological consequences [10].” “All the individuals we evaluated were ultimately released without ever being charged,” said Dr. Allen Keller, medical director of the Bellevue/New York University School of Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture.

To Read the Rest of the Report and To Access More Resources

All Songs Considered: Guest DJ -- Will Sheff Of Okkervil River

(The first song by the activist Selda is intense 1970s Turkish music--I now have a copy of the CD!)

Guest DJ: Will Sheff Of Okkervil River
All Songs Considered (NPR)

Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff shares some of his favorite (and fairly obscure) music with All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen. The two talk about Okkervil River's latest album, The Stand-Ins and listen to some of the songs Sheff has loved and been inspired by over the years. Hear music from soul singer Lorraine Ellison, the 1960s Jamaican group Carlton and the Shoes, former teen idol-turned introspective singer Dion, and The Penetrators — a 1970s band some would call punk, others would call garage rock.

Album: Selda
Song: Ince Ince (Delicate, Delicate)

The Incredible String Band
Album: 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion
Song: Chinese White

Album: King of the New York Streets
Song: Your Own Back Yard

Okkervil River
Album: The Stand Ins
Song: Lost Coastlines

Lorraine Ellison
Album: Stay with Me: The Best of Lorraine Ellison
Song: Stay With Me

Carlton & the Shoes
Album: Love Me Forever
Song: Never Give Your Heart Away Completely

Okkervil River
Album: The Stand Ins
Song: Starry Stairs

The Penetrators
Album: Basement Anthology: 1976-84
Song: Scandalizer [Live]

To Listen to the Set

Democracy Now: Pacifica Radio at 60 -- KPFA Remains a Sanctuary of Dissent Six Decades After Its Founding

Pacifica Radio at 60: KPFA Remains a Sanctuary of Dissent Six Decades After Its Founding
Democracy Now
Host: Amy Goodman

... On April 15th, 1949 at 3:00 p.m., a charismatic conscientious objector named Lewis Hill sat before a microphone and said, “This is KPFA Berkeley.” With that, KPFA went on the air, and the first listener-supported radio station in the United States was born. Pacifica Radio is the oldest independent media network in the United States, and its sixtieth birthday comes as a deepening crisis engulfs mainstream media. To commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Pacifica Radio today, we feature a documentary about the first Pacifica Radio station: KPFA in Berkeley. It’s called KPFA on the Air by filmmakers Veronica Selver and Sharon Wood and narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker.

To Listen to the Documentary

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Left Field Cinema: Haxan - Witchcraft Through the Ages (Denmark: 1920)

Hidden Classics: Haxan - Witchcraft Through the Ages
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages is a part documentary, part dramatisation about the nature of witch craft, and of those who sought to destroy it. Moving at different stages through the age of man it addresses different notions of the “Witch”, what they were believed to be capable of, and how they operated.

The more interesting areas in the film examine those who would persecute the so-called “witches” through either genuine religious intolerance and fear, or a corrupt patriarchal dominance; relishing the opportunity to stamp out any independent femininity under the guise of hunting for minions of Satan. One particularly impressive section sees a household of woman calling the local monks (or judges in this case) to take an elderly woman away from their home. The old woman is tortured into confessing her witch craft, then subsequently confesses that the woman who implicated her are her fellow witches as well – then naturally all the other woman are executed despite the obvious retaliatory motivation for the deception. The film also examines how the folklore had come to fruition. Still images of various cultures ideas of hell, heaven, and the celestial bodies are presented until the eventual creation of the “Witch” is revealed.

Banned in every country in Europe at the time of release and with various edits of the film released over the years, some of which were lobotomised by the censors, others placed jarring narration over the action instead of the stills which break up the film like most from this era. It is easy to see why this film was met with such wide spread rejection, images of love potions created with the key ingredient of human finger, the devil sexually attacking women, boiling babies, women giving birth to demons. All of which, although antiquated in their presentation and appearance, are still distressing on different levels to this day. Possibly the films most horrific sequence involves an examination of the types and the uses of torture devices that were primarily employed to extract confessions from the accused “Witch”; simple demonstrations of such vicious and brutal devices which can still, and arguably will always make audiences squirm.

Haxan - Witchcraft Through The AgesHaxan has an unusual streak of humour running through it, some of it intentional, some of it not, but it is still refreshing to be able to laugh at some moments in such a serious films. Indeed a lot of the humour comes from the complete absurdity of the tests used by the monks to detect witchcraft at work; for example binding young women and throwing them into a river, if they float then they’re a witch, if they sink then thank God for the blessing of their innocence! Prominent violence and sexuality in this film is surprising for the time in which it was made, and was doubtlessly shocking to those who viewed it in the 1920’s. The draw backs of silent films are known to many, the theatrical acting, broken narrative, the poor quality of the image, the obvious special effects – however all of these problems are indicative of the time, and if the viewer can see past those issues, Haxan is still at its core a film to be seen by anyone interested in the subject or the history of world cinema, of which this is definitely an important part.

The re-release on DVD of Haxan coincides with a limited cinema release of the 1922 controversial film. A recent performance of this film at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds was accompanied by a new score (also available on the Tartan DVD) by Geoff Smith, who performed for over an hour and a half on three new prototype Hammer Dulcimer’s and created a live score for the film almost single handed. The result was quite effective, breathing new sinister life into a film which is over eighty years old. The original score is antiquated, and like so many scores of the silent era, doesn’t fit the mood of the piece, film scoring as a measured art in itself only developed later. Not to say Smith’s score is definitive, however it is certainly superior to the predecessors, with greater flair and imagination applied. Credit must also go to Smith for his energy and ability to keep the score interesting for the extended runtime, with only a few seconds to switch between his instruments. Had the film itself been less interesting, the audience would have probably found themselves watching his performance instead… A silent film with live music is an experience that every cinema enthusiast will appreciate seeing. Watching a film the way people used to in the early years of motion pictures.

To Listen to the Analysis

Link to the Introduction

Democracy Now: Noam Chomsky on the Global Economic Crisis, Healthcare, US Foreign Policy and Resistance to American Empire

(Listen to this now! Absolutely essential mapping of current issues!)

Noam Chomsky on the Global Economic Crisis, Healthcare, US Foreign Policy and Resistance to American Empire
Democracy Now
Host: Amy Goodman

... conversation with MIT professor and author Noam Chomsky on the global economic crisis, healthcare, the media, US foreign policy, the expanding wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, resistance to American empire, and more.

“As far as policy is concerned, unless [Obama] is under a lot of pressure from activist sectors, he’s not going to go beyond what he’s presented himself as in actual policy statements or cabinet choices and so on: a centrist Democrat [who’s] going to basically continue Bush’s polices, maybe in a more modulated way,” says Chomsky.

To Listen to the Entire Conversation

The First Part of this Interview: Noam Chomsky on US Expansion of Afghan Occupation, the Uses of NATO, and What Obama Should Do in Israel-Palestine

Gary Rhoades: The Need for Tenure and Engagement

The Need for Tenure and Engagement
by Gary Rhoades
General Secretary, AAUP (American Association of University Professors)

I write to you as a scholar of higher education, as the new general secretary of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and as a colleague who has former students and colleagues like yourself, who teach in the vitally important sector of community colleges. I write to you because I am deeply concerned about the action of your system’s board of trustees.

The recent decision of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s board to eliminate tenure for all new hires is based on faulty premises and will lead to bad outcomes—bad by way of institutional decision making, bad for students and quality education, and bad for faculty’s academic freedom and engagement with students, curriculum, and the institution.

Board chair Richard A. Bean’s reported claim that such a move is required to provide for managerial “flexibility” belies the fact that in the Kentucky system there are already high proportions of both part- and full-time contingent faculty. There is more than ample flexibility now in the system; indeed, some, including the president of the system, have expressed concern about existing numbers of adjunct and part-time faculty.

The objective of increased flexibility is also based on the faulty premise that greater flexibility leads to better decisions that better serve the interests of the institution, the public, and its students. It has become clear in our larger economic decline, and in numerous cases of poorly thought out managerial decisions in higher education, that the major problem has been NOT that there is not enough managerial flexibility, but quite the contrary, that there is insufficient deliberation and consideration of the views of professionals within the organizations. Due diligence and consultation take time. They mean that managers cannot act on a whim, without sufficient analysis of available data and without sufficient listening to the ideas and concerns of the people doing the work. That has become clear on Wall Street. It has also become clear in the towers of colleges and universities. And it is now clear in KCTCS on 300 N. Main Street.

A national consensus is emerging that engagement is central to the quality of students’ education. That consensus is translating into institutions and accrediting bodies establishing measures and conditions to promote engagement of and with students. Students benefit from engaging with faculty members who have the security, longevity, and working conditions that come from an institution committing to their employment. Students benefit from institutions that engage their faculty members, among other ways, with professional development opportunities.

Eliminating tenure and job security is not a path to engagement.

Moreover, with all due respect to President McCall, the connection between academic freedom and tenure is not a matter of his “professional opinion.” It is a matter of standard practice in the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities in the United States. And it is a matter of fact, lived out in the classrooms and work of countless faculty members. Tenure is key to providing faculty members the genuine freedom to challenge and engage students in the classroom. The AAUP has successfully embedded in the policies and practices of thousands of colleges not only the value of academic freedom, but the centrality of tenured faculty to that freedom. Investigations conducted by the AAUP show that contingent faculty are at great risk from administrations that respond to the vagaries of the day or to outlier student complaints. For example, in one case last year, a contingent faculty member with over a decade of strong teaching evaluations was let go over a handful of student complaints—including one from a student who had plagiarized an assignment.

Finally, adopting a policy in the face of overwhelming opposition from the very people who make the KCTCS work makes little managerial sense. It is a recipe not for increased flexibility but for decreased academic and educational quality and engagement. The working conditions of faculty are the learning conditions of students. KCTCS has adopted an ill advised policy that compromises both. At thousands of colleges and universities, policies and practices reflect the AAUP’s standard that decision making in higher education is best when it includes consultation and shared governance with faculty—but not at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. The decision of the KCTCS, and the manner in which this decision was undertaken and presented fly directly in the face of all accepted models of best practices in governance in higher education (and judging from my reading of the KCTCS policies online, it may not have been in accord with the procedures established in your own system).

To Read the Rest of the Letter and to Access More Resources

Living Arts and Science Center: Family Fun Day (April 25th)

(Courtesy of Laura Webb)

Living Arts and Science Center
April 25th, 10 AM – 3 PM

Family Fun Day

It’s springtime in the Bluegrass and a great time to explore, experiment, and get creative inside and out! Join the Living Arts & Science Center’s teachers, staff and special guests for a free day of hands-on arts, science and music activities on April 25, from 10 am to 3 pm at the LASC.

The event is free and open to the public and offers many new activities as well as annual events. All activities are hands-on and will take place indoors and out!
Family Fun Day will include interactive demonstrations by Joe Allred of the Capoeira Cultural Center in Lexington. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form that begin over 400 years ago. The beautiful, choreographed, and extremely strenuous physical movements are performed to music and drumming and are thrilling to watch.
In addition, children and adults can participate in numerous art and science activities such as creating and flying kites, collaborating on the annual painting of the “art car”, painting a mural in the parking lot, testing out science experiments, and much more!

Family Fun Day will also present the interactive exhibits, Cutting Edge, a fiber art show showcasing the work of seven Kentucky Women artists in the Art Gallery, and the Invisible Worlds exhibit in the Discovery Room.

Visitors can also enjoy The Living Arts & Science Center’s new pondless waterfall, and the native Kentucky plants that are being added to the outdoor environment.

Events are free and open to the public.

Snacks and refreshments are available for purchase.

If you have any questions before then contact Linda Page 859-552-6114 or call the LASC, Heather Lyons 859 252-5222

Saul Hansell: Reports on Time-Warner and ATT Cable Controversies and Why Japan Has a Better Model; Tana Geneva: On Consumer Responses

As Costs Fall, Companies Push to Raise Internet Price
New York Times

Internet service providers want to end the all-you-can-eat plans and get their customers paying à la carte.

But they are having a hard time closing the buffet line.

Faced with rising consumer protest and calls from members of Congress for new regulations, Time Warner Cable backed down last week from a plan to impose new fees on heavy users of its Road Runner Internet service.

The debate over the price of Internet use is far from over. Critics say cable and phone companies are already charging far more than Internet providers in other countries. Some also wonder whether the new price plans are meant to prevent online video sites from cutting into the lucrative revenue from cable TV service.

Cable executives say the issue is not competition but cost. People who watch or download a lot of movies and TV shows use hundreds of times more Internet capacity than those who simply read e-mail and browse the Web. It is only fair, they argue, that heavy users should pay more.

“When you go to lunch with a friend, do you split the bill in half if he gets the steak and you have a salad?” Landel C. Hobbs, the chief operating officer of Time Warner Cable, asked recently in a blog post defending the company’s now abandoned plan.

Still, critics say the image of Internet providers as restaurants about to go broke serving an endless line of gluttons simply does not match the financial or technological realities of the industry.

They point out that providers’ profit margins are stable, and that investment in network equipment is generally falling.

To Read the Rest of the Article

The Cost of Downloading All Those Videos
By Saul Hansell
New York Times

In an article in today’s New York Times, I wrote about the controversy over the now-abandoned plan by Time Warner Cable to impose additional fees on customers who upload and download more than a set quota.

AT&T continues to test a similar plan, and many cable and phone company executives still argue that usage is growing so fast, mainly driven by video that they need to start charging heavy users to cover the additional cost of the bandwidth they consume.

Hard numbers are not that easy to come by, but I’ve found a few. I see no evidence that the pace of spending to expand network capacity has increased at all. Indeed there are a lot of areas where new technology is radically cutting the cost of Internet bandwidth.

For those that want to understand more about what drives these costs, here is some of the hard data I’ve found. (As always, Bits readers are a knowledgeable bunch, so if you are in the network business, please share your own experience in the comments.)

I’ve mainly been looking at the costs that will increase as the bandwidth used by customers goes up. So I haven’t looked at overhead, marketing, customer service and so on. All of the discussion of cost is complex because much of the infrastructure at these providers is shared between video, phone and Internet service.

Still, there seem to be two major buckets of expense to consider: the cost of local networks that connect to people’s homes and the cost of the bandwidth that link those networks to the Internet. The local costs are larger, but falling faster with new technology.

Local Network Costs

Think of a broadband Internet provider like a river of bandwidth that divides into smaller and smaller tributaries as it flows from a regional hub through neighborhood facilities until it trickles a stream of connectivity into each home. Each connection in this network, and each node where connections are split into smaller streams, has a set capacity.

Most of the network for any Internet provider is high-capacity fiber optic cable. But the last link, running from a neighborhood office or a small device hung on a phone pole—runs over cable TV or phone wires. In a cable system, there is a fixed amount of bandwidth that is shared among all the customers in a node, often about 500 homes.

To Read the Rest of the Article

World’s Fastest Broadband at $20 Per Home
By Saul Hansell
New York Times

If you get excited about the prospect of really, really fast broadband Internet service, here’s a statistic that will make heart race. Or your blood boil. Or both.

Pretty much the fastest consumer broadband in the world is the 160-megabit-per-second service offered by J:Com, the largest cable company in Japan. Here’s how much the company had to invest to upgrade its network to provide that speed: $20 per home passed.

The cable modem needed for that speed costs about $60, compared with about $30 for the current generation.

By contrast, Verizon is spending an average of $817 per home passed to wire neighborhoods for its FiOS fiber optic network and another $716 for equipment and labor in each home that subscribes, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Company.

Those numbers from Japan came from Michael T. Fries, the chief executive of Liberty Global, the American company that operates J:Com.

His larger point: “To me, this just isn’t an expensive capital investment,” he said.

The experience in Japan suggests that the major cable systems in the United States might be able to increase the speed of their broadband service by five to 10 times right away. They might not need to charge much more for it than they do now and they’d still make as much money.

The cable industry here uses the same technology as J:Com. And several vendors said that while the prices Mr. Fries quoted were on the low side, most systems can be upgraded for no more than about $100 per home, including a new modem. Moreover, the monthly cost of bandwidth to connect a home to the Internet is minimal, executives say.

So what’s wrong with this picture in the United States? The cable companies, like Comcast and Cablevision, that are moving quickly to install the fast broadband technology, called Docsis 3, are charging as much as $140 a month for 50 Mbps service. Meanwhile other companies, like Time Warner Cable, are moving much more slowly to upgrade.

Competition, or the lack of it, goes a long way to explaining why the fees are higher in the United States. There is less competition in the United States than in many other countries. Broadband already has the highest profit margins of any product cable companies offer. Like any profit-maximizing business would do, they set prices in relation to other providers and market demand rather than based on costs.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Cable Giants Continue Hoping No One Will Notice Their Attempts to Destroy the Internet
By Tana Ganeva

Last week, a full-on customer revolt forced Time Warner to cease their metered billing program — a system in which Internet users sign up for differently priced broadband plans and pay extra if they exceed their bandwidth limits. The plan was an infuriating inconvenience (e.g. rip—off) premised on the ethical business concept that you can arbitrarily jack up prices on a product if a heavily-monopolized marketplace leaves customers with little in the way of consumer choice.

Seems like a sweet idea. Except that Time Warner customers, media reform groups and tech bloggers inundated both government Representatives and the company with complaints. Soon, members of Congress were winning easy points by vocally criticizing Time Warner. On April 15th, CEO Glenn Britt announced that the company was dropping metered billing.

Anyway, not having learned anything from Time Warner’s epic fail, AT & T continues to maintain metered billing in Reno, Nev., and in Beaumont, Texas., which signals the cable giant's hopes that the infuriating, universally despised program might just work for them. Except that AT&T risks becoming even more hateable than Time Warner.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cara Richards on the Recent Decision by the Board of Regents for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to Eliminate Teacher Tenure

(Courtesy of Stephanie Simon :)

Commentator Assails Vote To Eliminate Tenure
WUKY (University of Kentucky/Lexington, KY)

Controversy continues to swirl over a recent decision by the Board of Regents for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to eliminate teacher tenure for new hires. Board members claim it will save money and offer schools more flexibility in hiring decisions. WUKY commentator Cara Richards, a retired professor at Transylvania University has a few thoughts on that.

Visit this link for the full story

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bluegrass Community and Technical College Faculty Council Declares a Vote of No-Confidence in the President and the Board of Regents of KCTCS

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the BCTC Faculty,

On Friday, April 17, 2009 Faculty Council met and passed the following resolution on your behalf and charged the Chair of the Faculty to forward this to the President of KCTCS, Dr. McCall and the Chair of the KCTCS Board of Regents, Mr. Bean with an introductory letter.

Whereas, The Board of Regents of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System voted, effective July 1, 2009, to abolish tenure, end post retirement health benefits, and restrict vestment of retirement benefits for five years for new faculty, now therefore, be it

Resolved, The faculty of Bluegrass Community and Technical College hereby declares no confidence in the President and Board of Regents of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and,

Resolved, The faculty of Bluegrass Community and Technical College asks the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to reinstate the options of tenure and continuing status for newly-hired faculty, to provide a viable means for current faculty to transition to tenure status or to continuing status, and to extend full healthcare benefits and vestment rights to newly-hired faculty members.

The voting was done by position with Senators, Officers, and the Chairs of the Standing Committees of the faculty voting according to input they had received from across the college, and Division Representatives voting in accord with their divisions. The final vote of Faculty Council was 27 for, 1 against, 1 abstention. Additionally, Division Representatives were requested to provide input regarding the level of faculty support for the resolution. The input they provided indicated that voting in division meetings was almost unanimous for adopting a resolution of No Confidence with recorded votes of 122 for, 7 against and 2 abstentions.

CNN: Kentucky is Cited As the Highest-Stress State

Feeling stressed? It's more likely in some U.S. states than others
by Denise Mann


In the study, the researchers looked at rates of mental distress by state among 2.4 million adults across two time periods -- 1993 through 2001 and 2003 through 2006 -- as part of the ongoing Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System study. Overall, the prevalence for frequent mental distress across both time periods was 9.4 percent, with the lowest rate in Hawaii and the highest rate in Kentucky.

Why the difference? It may be because residents in some areas of the country are more likely than others to have health conditions such as disability or diabetes, untreated mental conditions like anxiety or depression, high unemployment rates, risky behaviors including cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse, and/or social circumstances such as lower incomes.

An area centered on Kentucky showed high levels of frequent mental distress that remained elevated over time, while in other parts of the country (such as the upper Midwest) low levels of frequent mental distress remained low over time, the study showed.

Overall, though, frequent mental distress seems to be on the rise. The rate of frequent mental distress increased by at least 1 percentage point in 27 states, and by more than 4 percentage points in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and West Virginia from the first time period to the second time period.

To Read the Entire Report

Bauhaus: Bela Lugosi is Dead

C. Wright Mills: The Sociological Imagination; Stanley Aronowitz: A Mills Revival?

(Aronowitz is writing in 2003, but the need for a revival of Mills is even more important now. Also check out Mark K. Smith's C. Wright Mills: Power, Craftsmanship, and Private Troubles and Public Issues)

Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career; whether he knows it or not, the intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward the perfection of his craft; to realize his own potentialities, and any opportunities that come his way, he constructs a character which has as its core the qualities of a good workman.

What this means is that you must learn to use your life experience in your intellectual work: continually to examine and interpret it. In this sense craftsmanship is the center of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you work. (Mills, C. Wright (1959) The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press: 196)

A Mills Revival?
by Stanley Aronowitz


C. Wright Mills is exemplary of a vanishing breed in American life: the public political intellectual who, despite his grating message, often received a hearing in mainstream media. For almost fifteen years, beginning with the publication of The New Men of Power in 1948 and ending with his untimely death, at age forty six, in 1962, Mills was among America’s best known social scientists and social critics. During the late 1940s and 1950s he published three books that constitute a theory and description of the post-World War II American social structure. His Sociological Imagination remains widely read in college classrooms, both for its attempt to provide a socially-committed introduction to the discipline, and its fierce critique of the prevailing tendencies in American sociology, what Mills calls “Grand Theory” and “Abstracted Empiricism.” The grand theorist’s scope is much too wide to yield practical and theoretical insight. And Mills criticizes the legions of Abstracted Empiricists who, in the service of incrementally accumulated verifiable scientific knowledge, confine themselves to producing small-scale investigations. Together with his collaborator and mentor, Hans Gerth, he edited one of the earliest and best collections in English translation of Max Weber’s essays. And Character and Social Structure (1954), written with Gerth, an unjustly neglected work, may be considered Mills’s premier work of social theory. This book elaborates what I claim was the “scaffolding” upon which he hung his major works of middle range theory, especially the triology. In fact, it is difficult to fully comprehend the harsh critiques of Sociological Imagination, and Mills’s method, without the elaborated theoretical framework of Character.

While not exactly a household name, he was widely known among the politically active population and wide circles of academic and independent intellectuals. Unlike many public intellectuals he was neither a servant nor a supplicant of power but, in the sense of the 17th century English radical, was a “ranter”; in American terms, he was a Paul Revere whose job it was to sound the alarm. Indeed, some of his writings recall the pamphlets of the decades of the American revolution where the address of numerous and often anonymous writers was to the “publick” of small farmers and artisans, as much as to those holding political and economic power. Much of his later writing may be compared to turn of the 20th century populist and socialist pamphleteers whose aim was to simultaneously educate and arouse workers and farmers to the evils of corporate power.

Yet in his most fertile period of intellectual work, the decade and a half ending with the publication of The Sociological Imagination (1959), with the possible exception of The Power Elite, Mills hardly expected to reach a popular, let alone mass public. Nevertheless, he always attempted to reach out to a wider public than did his fellow academics, even when he was formulating new theories, let alone engaging in public criticism. But Mills’s intention is entirely subversive of contemporary mainstream social science, especially the notion that intellectuals should remain neutral observers of economic, political and social life. While he performed his fair share of funded research—notably his study of Puerto Rico and the collective portraits of characteristic social types—most of his writing is addressed to potential and actual political publics. Following Marx and Weber, who at the end of his life was a major contributor in shaping the moral and legal framework of the Weimar Republic, Mills held that intellectuals and their ideas were embedded in the social antagonisms and struggles of their own time; they bring to their analysis a definite standpoint, whether or not they are prepared to acknowledge it.

Yet Mills adhered to none of the mainstream parties nor to those on the fringes of mainstream politics. While he was a figure of his own time (his main work was done in the 1940s and 1950s, when issues of sex, gender and ecology were barely blips on the screen), his position was congenitally critical—of the right, conservatives, liberals, the relatively tiny parties of the left and especially members of his own shrinking group, the independent leftists. Like one of his heroes, the economist and social theorist Thorstein Veblen, himself a pariah in his chosen discipline, to paraphrase a famous aphorism of Marx, Mills was “in but not of” the academy insofar as he refuses the distinction between scholarship and partisanship. But, unlike Veblen, whose alienation from conventional economics was almost total, Mills was, for most of his professional career, a sociologist in his heart as much as his mind The rhetoric and the methods embodied in his books on American social structure—The New Men of Power, White Collar, and The Power Elite—are firmly rooted in the perspectives of mainstream American sociology at the end of the war. These perspectives owed as much to the methodological precepts of Emile Durkheim as they did to the critical theory of Karl Marx and Max Weber. Using many of the tools of conventional social inquiry: surveys, interviews, data analysis—charts included—Mills takes pains to stay close to the “data” until the concluding chapters.

But what distinguishes Mills from mainstream sociology, and from Weber, with whom he shares a considerable portion of his intellectual outlook, is the standpoint of radical social change, not of fashionable sociological neutrality. At the height of the Cold War and in the midst of the so-called McCarthy era, he fearlessly named capitalism as the system of domination from within one of its intellectual bastions, Columbia University, and distanced himself from ex-radicals among his colleagues who were busy “choosing the west,” otherwise giving aid and comfort to the witch-hunters, or neutering themselves by hiding behind the ideology of value-free scholarship. Anti-Stalinist to the core, toward the end of his life he was, nevertheless, accused of pro-Communist sympathies for his unsparing criticism of the militarization of America and his spirited defense of the Cuban revolution.

In the light of his later writings which, to say the least, held out little hope for radical social change in the United States The New Men of Power, Mills’s first major work, occupies a singular place in the Mills corpus. Written on the heels of the veritable general strike of industrial workers in 1946, and the conservative counterattack the following year embedded in the Taft-Hartley amendments to the Labor Relations Act, the study of America’s labor leaders argues that for the first time in history the labor movement, having shown its capacity to shape the political economy, possessed the practical requisites to become a major actor in American politics as well. But as both “as army general and a contractor of labor,” a “machine politician” and the head of a “social movement,” the labor leader occupies contradictory space. (Mills, 1948) By 1948, the year of publication of the first edition of The New Men of Power, buoyed by American capitalism’s unparalleled global dominance, a powerful conservative force was arrayed against labor’s recently acquired power and, according to Mills, had no intention of yielding more ground without an all-out industrial and political war. Yet, he found union leaders curiously unprepared for the struggle. Even as their cause was being abandoned by liberal allies, and belittled and besmirched by their natural enemies among the corporations and their ideological mouthpieces, right-wing intellectuals and conservative politicians, union leaders remained faithful to the Democratic party and to the New Deal, which was rapidly fading into history. Mills and his collaborator, Helen Schneider, found that the concept that working people needed a labor party to truly represent their political interests had declined from the perspective of most labor leaders whereas a decade earlier, the apex of industrial unionism, a majority favored the formation of such a party, despite their expedient support of the Democrats.

To Read the Rest of the Essay