Friday, July 31, 2009

Democracy Now: Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)- Legendary CBS Anchorman Was Critical of Media Consolidation, Wars in Vietnam and Iraq

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009): Legendary CBS Anchorman Was Critical of Media Consolidation, Wars in Vietnam and Iraq
Guests: Robert Parry and Danny Schecter
Host: Amy Goodman
Democracy Now

The legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite died at the age of ninety-two at his home in New York on Friday. For nearly twenty years, Cronkite’s broadcast was a nightly staple in millions of American homes from 1962 until he left CBS Evening News in 1981. Praise for Cronkite’s work and legacy is all over the news, but few in the mainstream media have mentioned what many consider Cronkite’s most important news moment. In February 1968, soon after he returned from a trip to Vietnam, Cronkite cast doubt on the war and helped turn the tide of American public opinion against it.

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Chris Hedges: The Rise of Gonzo Porn

The Rise of Gonzo Porn Is the Latest Sign of America's Cultural Apocalypse
By Chris Hedges, Nation Books.

A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. A visit to a Las Vegas porn convention reveals we are dying now.

I reported in my new book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle from the ringside of professional wrestling bouts at Madison Square Garden, from Las Vegas where I wrote about the pornographic film industry, from academic conferences held by positive psychologists -- who claim to be able to engineer happiness – and from the campuses of universities to chronicle our terrifying flight as a culture into a state of illusion. I looked at the array of mechanisms used to divert us from confronting the economic, political and moral collapse around us. I examined the fantasy that if we draw on our inner resources and strengths, if we realize that we are truly exceptional, we can have everything we desire.

The childish idea that we can always prevail, that reality is never an impediment to what we want, is the central motif of illusion peddled on popular talk shows, by the Christian Right, by Hollywood, in corporate retreats, by the news industry and by self-help gurus. Reality can always be overcome. The future will always be glorious. And held out to keep us amused and entertained are spectacles and celebrities who have become idealized versions of ourselves and who, we are assured, we can all one day become.

The cultural embrace of illusion, and the celebrity culture that has risen up around it, have accompanied the awful hollowing out of the state. We have shifted from a culture of production to a culture of consumption. We have been sold a system of casino capitalism, with its complicated and unregulated deals of turning debt into magical assets, to create fictional wealth for us and vast wealth for our elite. We have internalized the awful ethic of corporatism -- one built around the cult of the self and consumption as an inner compulsion -- to believe that living is about our own advancement and our own happiness at the expense of others. Corporations, behind the smoke screen, have ruthlessly dismantled and destroyed our manufacturing base and impoverished our working class. The free market became our god and government was taken hostage by corporations, the same corporations that entice us daily with illusions though the mass media, the entertainment industry and popular culture.

To Read the Rest of the Intro and Excerpt

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Annette Sadik: A New Look at Tennessee Williams - Transforming Madness into Meaning

A New Look at Tennessee Williams
CUNY Lecture Series

One of the most important and prolific playwrights of the twentieth century, Tennessee Williams, is primarily known for his earlier works, including “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1948) and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1955), both Pulitzer Prize-winning plays that were made into films. But, according to New York City College Technology English professor Annette Saddik, it is his later works that deserve a fresh look. Saddik, the editor of “The Traveling Companion and Other Plays: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams (coming out next year) and the college’s 2007 Scholar on Campus, explains in her lecture, “Transforming Madness into Meaning” that Williams was ahead of his time and displayed the tragicomic style that would be seen in the type of drama being done in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Pinter, Beckett and Albee. “He was moving into a different kind of dramatic style, with more reliance on visuals than language, very experimental.”

To Listen to the Interview (MP3)

CUNY Lecture Series: Essie Shor - A Survivor's Story

A Survivor’s Story
CUNY Lecture Series

When Essie Shor was 16, Nazis slaughtered 4,000 people — including her mother and two sisters — in her hometown of Novogrudek, then Poland. Sixty years later, Shor has told her story of survival in “Essie: The True Story of a Teenage Fighter in the Bielski Partisans,” co-authored by Andrea Zakin, an assistant professor of early childhood education at Lehman College who previously taught Shor and urged her to write a book for young adults. After escaping the Nazis, Shor fought for two years alongside her cousins, the Bielski brothers, who helped save hundreds of Jews in the forests of Nazi-occupied Poland. “It was a very difficult to write the book,” said Shor, 83, in a talk at Lehman College, “but I felt that this has to be done because of the perception that Jews went like sheep…We were fighting, but we couldn’t win against the regular German army.”

TO Listen to the Interview (MP3)


Paroinia (Ancient Greek): "The dwarf-god and man-god drank for two hours but neither entered the state that Achilles people called paroinia--'intoxication frenzy.'" (Simmons, Dan. Olympos (HarperTorch, 2006: 438)

Creative Screenwriting: Scott Neustadter on (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer Q&A
Creative Screenwriting

Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith interviews co-writer Scott Neustadter about (500) Days of Summer

To Listen to the Interview

Creative Screenwriting: James Schamus - Lust, Caution

James Schamus - Lust, Caution Q&A
Creative Screenwriting

Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith interviews screenwriter, producer and studio head James Schamus about Lust, Caution

To Listen to the Podcast

Monday, July 27, 2009

Austin Sarat and Paul Kahn: “Sacred Violence” and the State

“Sacred Violence” and the State
Austin Sarat and Paul Kahn
CUNY Podcasts

Two preeminent legal and political minds examine how religious ideas and the use of “sacred violence” play a significant role in modern secular philosophy, political theory and ultimately, the state itself. “Perhaps the greatest mark of sacred power in modern law is its ability to convince our leaders that they have the right to command us to sacrifice our lives for the state,” says Austin Sarat, professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College, and author of “When the State Kills: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics and Culture.” Sarat was joined by Paul Kahn, director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale University, in a discussion entitled “Does the State Rely on Sacred Violence?” sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center.

To Listen to the Panel

Creative Screenwriting: Todd Haynes on I'm Not There

I'm Not There Q&A
Creative Screenwriting

Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith interviews writer-director Todd Haynes about I'm Not There

To Listen to the Interview

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Marcel Proust: Art, Perspective and Reality

People of taste tell us nowadays that Renoir is a great eighteenth-century painter. But in so saying they forget the element of Time, and that it took a great deal of time, even at the height of the nineteenth century, for Renoir to be hailed as a great artist. To succeed thus in gaining recognition, the original painter or the original writer proceeds on the lines of the oculist. The course of treatment they give us by their painting or by their prose is not always pleasant. When it is at an end the practitioner says to us: 'Now look!' And, lo and behold, the world around us (which was not created once and for all, but is created afresh as often as an original artist is born) appears to us entirely different from the old world, but perfectly clear. Women pass in the street, different from those we formerly saw, because they are Renoirs, those Renoirs we persistently refused to see as women. The carriages, too, are Renoirs, and the water, and the sky; we feel tempted to go for a walk in the forest which is identical with the one which when we first saw it looked like anything in the world except a forest, like for instance a tapestry of innumerable hues but lacking precisely the hues peculiar to forests. Such is the new and perishable universe which has just been created. It will last until the next geological catastrophe is precipitated by a new painter or writer of original talent.

Marcel Proust - The Guermantes Way (1920/1921)

Tomato Festival (The Arboretum: August 8)

(From Roberta Burnes)

Hello friends,

It’s tomato time and that means we’re getting ready for the Tomato Festival at the Arboretum. The date is Saturday, August 8 from 10 – 2. The details on this free event are below; however, we need volunteers to pull this thing off and that’s where you come in! If you can donate even an hour or two of your time that day, please reply to this email. Volunteers are needed for the tomato tasting preparation team – you’ll be cutting up tomatoes into small bite-size chunks and whisking them away to our tasting table for hungry visitors to try. It’s a fun job and the day really goes by quickly. Last year we had over 500 people come to the event! This year we’ll have fewer tomatoes so we may even run out by mid-day; however, we really need a team of volunteers to make this happen. Let me know if you can help – and hope to see you there!

Celebrate the Tomato at The Arboretum’s Tomato Festival

Saturday, August 8 at 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center

Back by popular demand! Come celebrate the tomato, America’s most popular home-grown food.

· Sample many varieties of heirloom & hybrid tomato varieties from Kentucky and around the world.

· Learn how to save your own tomato seeds to grow next year.

· Discover creative ways of cooking with tomatoes.

· Find out how to identify & treat common tomato diseases & pests.

· Tour the Demonstration Vegetable Garden and have your questions about growing tomatoes & other vegetables answered.

· All for free!

The Arboretum is located at 500 Alumni Drive between Tates Creek Road & Nicholasville Road in Lexington, KY. For directions see our website at .

Counterspin: Sasha Abramsky on 'Breadline USA', Jim Naureckas on the future of journalism

Sasha Abramsky on 'Breadline USA', Jim Naureckas on the future of journalism

Some 25 million Americans, nearly 9 percent of the population--rely on food pantries. But with rare exceptions, and despite its devastating impact, big media just don't seem to find a reportable story in chronic hunger. A new book hopes to make the issue more visible, by actually talking to people. It's called Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It; we'll speak with author Sasha Abramsky.

Also on the show: Hard times and decreasing ad revenues have prompted a spate of seminars and discussion about the future of journalism among traditional journalism organizations. But what's missing from most of these talk fests are hard questions about what exactly we want to save? FAIR’s monthly magazine Extra! devotes its current edition to our take on the future of journalism—we'll talk to Extra! editor Jim Naureckas.

To Listen to the Episode

Anna Notaro: ‘Reality is in the performance’ - Issues of Digital Technology, Simulation and Artificial Acting in S1mOne

‘Reality is in the performance’: Issues of Digital Technology, Simulation and Artificial Acting in S1mOne
by Anna Notaro

Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.
(Jean-Luc Godard)

Our ability to manufacture fraud now exceeds our capacity to detect it.
(Viktor Taransky)

Abstract This essay is concerned with the use of digital technologies in Hollywood cinema to argue that they perpetuate the illusionism and verisimilitude of its representations. An initial discussion of the use of digital technology in the cinema will provide the basis for an historical account of the move from avant-garde experiments in virtual, or non-human performance. Such a history is then contrasted with Hollywood appropriations of digital technologies, and its elaboration of a virtual performer – represented in a film like S1mOne (Andrew Niccol, 2002) – which is put in the service of such naturalism and illusionism. In order to appreciate their relevance, the above arguments are placed within the broader contexts of digitization, simulation and virtuality as theorized, among others, by Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard.

It was exactly thirty three years ago that Umberto Eco, following a trip to America, wrote Travels in Hyperreality. Three years later Baudrillard’s “La précession des simulacres” (1978) came out, thus marking the emergence of the ‘age of simulation’. Since then a lot of water has flowed under the bridge of critical debate, and yet some of the early observations are still common currency within today’s discussion, often marked by an uncompromising division between pessimistic (Apocalyptic) and optimistic (Integrated) intellectuals, who either condemn or embrace emergent technologies.[1] Especially in pessimistic quarters it has become a cliché to quote Baudrillard’s view that society has been reduced to simulation or to stress, in the way Eco did with reference to the USA, the commercialized aspect of the recreations and themed environments that now proliferate around the world. Today the age of simulation has acquired a new twist: it has ‘gone digital’. Its culture is one of copying, sampling, animating, imitating, hybridizing, morphing, re-enacting, re-mixing, and re-membering. Our desire to create realistic fabrications has not weakened, rather it has become stronger since we now possess the technological tools to create an alternative (virtual) reality whose seductive appeal we find irresistible.

Contemporary (popular) culture is certainly influenced by the extensive use of digital tools in domains as diverse as entertainment and news broadcasting, so much so that distinctions across media begin to blur. Interesting re-mediations (to use Bolter and Grusin’s terminology) take place for example between games and cinema – one only needs to consider films such as Tron (Steven Lisberger, 1982), Joysticks (Greydon Clark, 1983), Super Mario Brothers (Annabel Jankel & Rocky Morton, 1993), Toys (Barry Levinson, 1993), Mortal Kombat (Paul W.S. Anderson, 1995), Wing Commander (Chris Roberts, 1999), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Simon West, 2001), Final Fantasy (Hironobu Sakaguchi, 2001) and Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002), to name just a few. These films testify to a digital culture that operates in a ‘convergence mode’: the convergence of filmmaking, animation & game development; of art and technology and popular culture; of art and science.[2] It is not surprising then that different disciplines also converge in trying to provide an answer to some of the most pressing questions humanity has ever faced: what happens to our bodies and our identities in a (post-human) digital age? How do we define truth in the midst of codes and copies? How can we distinguish between the authentic and the synthetic? Cinema, itself an elaborate system for synthetic representation, is contributing to the debate in the way it knows best: by creating stories that speak to our innermost fears and desires. Maybe the contemporary craving for (hyper)realistic representation, which seems to mark our dealings with computer technology in most applications (including the cinematic) is not so much a matter of once more simulating the real - we only do that in order to recognize the way in which reality is perceived – but of learning how to build a complex world which has reality content.[3] More specifically, the status of the realism of a film’s diegetic space and its transformation under the increasing employment of digital imaging has long been a chief subject of debate in cinema and new media studies.[4]

In Future Visions Hayward and Wollen have even suggested that the “development of audiovisual technologies has been driven not so much by a realist project as by an illusionary one”. (1993, 2) Birk Weinberg in his “Beyond Interactive Cinema” (2002) has argued instead that: “The aesthetic history of media can be described on the basis of a drift towards greater realism for improved immersion of the viewer”. Others have advanced the controversial opinion that “today the real has become the new avant-garde”. (Rombes 2005) In this perspective, Rombes argues, it is rather ironic that “the re-emergence of realism in the cinema, thanks to the digital, could be traced directly to a technological form that seems to represent a final break with the real.”(2005) “But,” he asks, “is it possible to talk about the real today without being accused of a sort of retrograde orthodoxy, a naive or unreflective reversion to Bazin?” (Rombes 2005) The answer is yes, since “post-humanist theory… has told us what was always already obvious: that reality itself is an apparatus further deconstructed by cinema. In today’s landscape of self-theorizing media… it is once again safe to speak of representations of the real without putting that word in quotation marks.”(Rombes 2005) Post-humanist theory informs the reading of SimOne (Andrew Niccol, 2002) offered by Sydney Eve Matrix in “‘We’re Okay with Fake’: Cybercinematography and the Spectre of Virtual Actors in S1M0NE” (2006). In what follows below I will refute some of the conclusions drawn by Matrix to propose my reading of S1mOne as a film that demonstrates Hollywood’s ambiguous response to the crucial issues of virtuality and simulation.

Simulation One (S1mOne)

As is often the case, key concepts within academic discourse find expression in popular media – a sort of prêt à porter collection of concepts – which renders them more palatable to the general public. The issue of simulation, recurrent in a plethora of Hollywood movies, is emblematic of such a process and of its mixed results. When S1mOne by Andrew Niccol was released in 2002 critics reacted with lukewarm enthusiasm, a far cry from Niccol’s previously acclaimed achievements as a writer/director (Gattaca, 1997) and writer (The Truman Show, 1998). This was “the case of a pregnant premise being wasted by a script that takes few chances and manages to insult the intelligence of everyone in the audience”. (Berardinelli, 2002)

I share Berardinelli’s criticism, however, I would argue that the film’s shortcomings and inconsistencies are exactly what makes it worthy of critical analysis. They are to be considered in the context of Hollywood’s ambivalent attitude towards the use of new digital technology, a technology, which, while it is happily embraced (not least for the huge economic returns that it provides at the box office), is also represented in ‘apocalyptic’ terms.

The plot tells of Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino), an ‘arty’ director, who gets into trouble when his prima donna, Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder) storms off the set because her trailer is not big enough. Viktor’s career is saved by Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas), a dying and deranged computer engineer who has created a synthetic actor that Viktor can ‘cast’ in his movie without anyone being able to tell the difference. She is the ultimate director’s fantasy, an instrument that Viktor can exploit at will for his creative purposes. In spite of his declared computer illiteracy, he manages to digitally replace Nicola with Simone and the film is a hit. At first Viktor is reluctant to use ‘Simulation One’ (shortened to Simone), but he changes his mind when he realizes that “our ability to manufacture fraud exceeds our ability to detect it”. Viktor’s justification for creating his digital star is based on the recognition that “since we all live in one big lie… why shouldn’t [she] live too?” So, ‘a star is digitized’, and Simone soon becomes a world celebrity. In truth, Viktor’s intention was to reveal it all after the first reviews were in, since he believed that people would immediately spot the deception. However that is not the case: Simone is just another of Hollywood’s many ‘invisible effects’.[5] In the end, inevitably, like Dr. Frankenstein – tellingly, also a Victor – before him, Viktor is eclipsed by his creation. He may have created Simone, but her image is beyond his control.

Much of my interest in this film stems from the fact that it contradicts its own premises: on one side, it seems to take a stand against our digital ‘age of simulation,’ the ‘big lie’ as Viktor puts it in which we all live, on the other, it celebrates it. As Simone herself puts it: “If the performance is genuine, does it really matter if the actor is real?” Niccol seems to suggest that it does matter: in one scene Viktor is moved to tears by the performance of the ‘human’ actress Nicola Anders. Nicola’s breathtaking performance shows the sublime irony inherent in the acting profession: the more ‘authentic’ an actor qua actor. Performance, like the body and its subjectivity which embodies and enacts the performative, might have been extended, challenged and reconfigured by technology and yet, this scene suggests, the ontology of the performance (its aura and humanness) maintains a unique privileged status. Moreover, Viktor’s hubris for creating the perfect actress is in the end punished, thus warning us against the perils of misusing technology to play God and create (artificial) life. As I have argued elsewhere, the fact that Viktor’s Pygmalion-style manipulation of Simone is short-lived demonstrates how “Hollywood’s willingness to experiment with new technologies cannot contemplate the possibility of its own extinction”. (Notaro, 2006, 93) What could have been a witty satire of the star system and of the dangers of cinematographic illusion is blatantly contradicted by S1mOne’s marketing strategy by New Line Cinema. Besides the official S1mOne web site ( a whole set of ‘fake’ web sites were produced for each of Simone’s movies, for some of her co-stars, for Viktor Taransky and even one for Amalgamated Film (, the fictional counterpart of New Line Cinema, thus blurring the line between cinematic fabrication and the ‘real’ studios’ need to push the film. This marketing strategy is a further indication, in a film apparently concerned with authenticity and sincerity, of Hollywood’s hypocritical stance on issues of virtuality and simulation. Also, despite Niccol’s initial statements that he wouldn’t reveal whether the character was real or not he later changed his mind, explaining that Simone’s voice and body were augmented by computer with elements of other actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, but Roberts was the principal source. The idea, according to Niccol, was to make a hybrid that was “contemporary but not so trendy that she would be quickly dated”. (, “S1m0ne,” 2002) A commodified digital star with a long expiry date! In addition, Niccol commented, “We’re coming to the point where you won’t know if an actor or newscaster is computerized or flesh and blood… What’s more, you won’t care, as long as they impress us or move us, because as Taransky believes, ‘in our phoney world reality is in the performance”. (, “S1m0ne,” 2002) I find it significant that Niccol himself is perfectly willing to employ technologies in a film that apparently deplores them. The reason for such an ambivalence resides in the fact that Niccol is not outside, but rather implicated in, Hollywood’s economy of manufactured celebrity and in the myth of the authentic performance. Although Niccol’s screenplay does indicate, as Matrix argues, that “digital cinema has the potential to shake up, disturb, and disrupt the methods of production in Hollywood,” (2006, 215) such a potential appears contained (and mitigated) within Hollywood’s well ‘rehearsed’ strategy to wrestle with the dilemmas of technological simulations in a fictional realm rather than in reality. In contrast to Matrix’s arguments, I propose that Niccol’s film engages but, crucially, does not disrupt the discourses concerning the impact of digital animation on Hollywood. (2006, 215)

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Counterspin: Greg Grandin on Honduras coup, Nomi Prins on Madoff verdict

Greg Grandin on Honduras coup, Nomi Prins on Madoff verdict

Coverage of the Honduran coup ousting president Manuel Zelaya has often included the claim that the coup was prompted by Zelaya’s move to change the constitution, so that he could stay in power. The fact that this central claim is untrue shows how confusing that coverage can be. We’ll talk to New York University Latin American history professor Greg Grandin about the real reasons certain sectors of Honduran society wanted Zelaya out of the picture.

Also on the show: The sentence of 150 years for convicted Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff is gratifying on many levels, certainly. But no one disagrees that Madoff was emblematic of larger problems; does putting him under the jail do anything to address those? We’ll talk with Nomi Prins, author of Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America, and the forthcoming It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street.

To Listen to the Episode

Charles Immer

Charles Immer

Monday, July 20, 2009

On the Media: Covering Big Food

Covering Big Food
On the Media

Robert Kenner set out to make a documentary about the food industry, thinking he'd hear from both activists and industry insiders. But he quickly realized that the insiders wouldn't talk, farmers who did suffered consequences and, by the way, he needs a lot more lawyers. Kenner says the process was "Orwellian."

To Listen to the Interview

Andrew O'Hehir: Dirty jokes, hot witches and a chess game with Death

Dirty jokes, hot witches and a chess game with Death
by Andrew O'Hehir

Deep in an audio interview that's half-buried among the extras on the Criterion Collection's new double-disc DVD set of "The Seventh Seal," Max von Sydow drops an odd little film-history bombshell. When Ingmar Bergman contacted him about a role in that 1957 film, von Sydow says, Bergman first suggested that he should play Jof, the lovable clown and family man who survives the Black Death together with his wife and child. How might the entire history of art-house cinema -- and von Sydow's subsequent career playing Nazi officers, tormented intellectuals and Jesus Christ -- have been different?

Ultimately, a boyish comic actor named Nils Poppe took the role of Jof, and von Sydow was reassigned to play Antonius Block, the brooding knight who is returning from the Crusades, alongside his wisecracking, cynical squire (Gunnar Björnstrand, in a performance that may outdo von Sydow's). Tormented by religious doubt and fear, Block plays a memorable game of chess with Death, buying just enough time for Jof's family to escape the latter's clutches. This seemingly insignificant casting detail offers an important clue to "The Seventh Seal," the movie that launched the international art-house movement -- and a movie that has acquired, as a direct result of its iconic stature, a totally unjustified reputation for humorlessness, obscurantism and difficulty.

Faced with an overwhelming glut of classics and art films on the DVD market, and a perennially distracted audience that is largely unfamiliar with anything made before the mid-'70s, Criterion is repackaging many of the most famous titles in its catalog. (Alain Resnais' "Last Year at Marienbad" has been reissued in a similar deluxe edition, and it's also worth a fresh look.) After 52 years it may be that the penumbra of intellectual seriousness around "The Seventh Seal" has finally dissipated, and the endless TV-commercial and greeting-card parodies of its images have faded from memory. If so, it's about goddamn time, because if you simply sit down and watch the movie without prejudice, it's full of surprises.

To Read the Rest of the Review

CounterSpin: D.D. Guttenplan on I.F. Stone

D.D. Guttenplan on I.F. Stone

I.F. Stone was not only among the greatest American investigative reporters, he was also an activist and man of the left, according to D.D. Guttenplan, who has just published the latest biography of the journalist. Because he challenged U.S. power, often simply by reporting on the contents of official documents, and because he was a leftist, Stone's reputation has been under assault by vestigial McCarthyites who have been claiming for decades that Stone was a Soviet agent. According to Guttenplan, Stone was never an unbending ideologue but a progressive who was quick to change his mind when new information intervened. A singular man, whose story, even after his death, has much to tell us about U.S. media and politics.

To Listen to the Episode

Jimmy Carter: Losing My Religion for Equality

Losing my religion for equality
by Jimmy Carter
The Age

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

To Read the Rest of His Statement

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the Media: Debunking Popular Myths

Kaplan, Fred. "Missle Crisis Memories." On the Media (July 3, 2009) [Cuban Missle Crisis]

Lembcke, Jerry. "Great Expectorations." On the Media (July 3, 2009) [Spitting on Returning Veterans]

Tyson, Tim. "Tabula Rosa." On the Media (July 3, 2009) [Rosa Parks]

Democracy Now: Google Faces Antitrust Investigation for Agreement to Digitize Millions of Books Online

Google Faces Antitrust Investigation for Agreement to Digitize Millions of Books Online
Democracy Now

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into whether Google is violating antitrust laws by reaching an agreement with authors and publishers to digitize millions of printed books and post the contents online. We speak to Brewster Kahle, founder of the non-profit internet library He’s among critics warning Google could end up with a monopoly of access to information and exclusive license to profit from millions of books.

To Listen to the Discussion

Common Sense with Dan Carlin: Sick Politics

#156: Sick Politics
Common Sense with Dan Carlin

Has the idea of implementing real health care reform in the U.S. already been compromised by powerful special interests? Dan thinks so. Also, Nancy Pelosi, CIA oversight and partisan witch hunts.

1.“Democrats seek compromise on health care reform plan” by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar for the Associated Press, May 14, 2009.
2.“Obama Praises groups' Promises” by Darlene Superville for the Associated Press, May 17, 2009.
3.“Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits” by Robert Pear for The New York Times, May 9. 2009.
4.“Proposal would require all to have health insurance” by the Associated Press, May 15, 2009.
5.“Fiscal Suicide Ahead” by David Brooks for The New York Times, May 15, 2009.
6.“Republican Newt Gingrich calls for Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi to resign” by Huma Khan and Jonathan Karl for ABC News, May 20, 2009.

To Listen to the Episode

Saturday, July 18, 2009

National Film Board of Canada: Hofmann's Potion

Hofmann's Potion
(Connie Littlefield, 2002, 56 min 35s)
National Film Board of Canada

This documentary offers a compassionate, open-minded look at LSD and how it fits into our world. Long before Timothy Leary urged a generation to "tune in, turn on and drop out," the drug was hailed as a way to treat forms of addiction and mental illness. At the same time, it was being touted as a powerful tool for mental exploration and self-understanding. Featuring interviews with LSD pioneers, beautiful music and stunning cinematography, this is much more than a simple chronicle of LSD's early days. It's an alternative way of looking at the drug... and our world.

National Film Board of Canada: How Do They Put the Centres in Chocolate

Utterly fascinating, but, careful, it will give you the munchies...

National Film Board of Canada

Siva Vaidhyanathan: Critical Information Studies - A Bibliographic Manifesto

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. "Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto." Cultural Studies 20.2/3 (2006

Bernard-Henri Levy: Beyond the War Hero

(The article originally appeared in French in Le Point)

Beyond the war hero
Bernard-Henri Levy embarks on an adventure of anti-Nazi dialectics. First stop: Tom Cruise
Sign and Sight

The release of "Operation Valkyrie" first in the Unites States and Germany and now in France is without question a good thing. Because it's always a pleasure to see the world honour its heroes. Riveting as it is however, this film poses certain questions that are too complex and too delicate to be resolved solely within the logic of the Hollywood film industry.

The first has not escaped the attention of German commentators and concerns the choice of Tom Cruise to play von Stauffenberg, a man presented as the very incarnation of anti-Hitler honour. Not that Cruise ever showed sympathy for Hitlerism. But he is a leader of a sect, the Church of Scientology, about which the least one can say is that its values have little to do with those that led to the destruction of Hitlerism. Elitism… social and political Darwinism… education as a form of dressage… brainwashing raised to a principle of conviction… sequestration… applying cybernetics to social organisation… black magic… an apocalyptic vision of the world.… This is Scientology, and this is Cruise's credo. And seen in this light having him play Stauffenberg is a mistake or, as Berthold von Stauffenberg, Stauffenberg's son, said when he learned of the decision, a very grave attack on the memory of his father.

The second question, no doubt unavoidable with this sort of enterprise, is whether raising someone to hero status does not always happen, alas, to the detriment of precision, nuance and history itself. The film shows Stauffenberg's integrity very well. It shows his courage, the nobility of his views, his firmness of spirit. But what does it tell us of his thoughts? What does it teach us about why he enthusiastically joined the Nazi Party in 1933? Why does it go into no detail on how many of his initial Nazi convictions he had to jettison to carry out his plot and how many remained in tact? A sympathy for Ernst Jünger, for example? Or for Oswald Spengler? A fierce hostility to Weimar and the idea of democracy which he shared with the other former members of the Freikorps who remained true to National Socialism and its frenetic anti-Semitism? Did Stauffenberg hope to get rid of Hitler or Hitlerism? Of a bad tyrant or the principle of tyranny? Was his project to destroy Nazism or to rescue it?

To Read the Rest of the Critique

Friday, July 17, 2009

The New York Times: Ilegal and Pointless

Illegal, and Pointless
The New York Times editorial

So why break the law, again and again? Two things seem disturbingly clear. First, President Bush and his top aides panicked after the Sept. 11 attacks. And second, Mr. Cheney and his ideologues, who had long chafed at any legal constraints on executive power, preyed on that panic to advance their agenda.

To Read the Rest of the Editorial

Center for Inquiry: Ranking Member’s Senate Minority Report on Global Warming Not Credible

Ranking Member’s Senate Minority Report on Global Warming Not Credible
Center for Inquiry

After assessing 687 individuals named as “dissenting scientists” in the January 2009 version of the United States Senate Minority Report, the Center for Inquiry’s Credibility Project found that:

* Slightly fewer than 10 percent could be identified as climate scientists.

* Approximately 15 percent published in the recognizable refereed literature on subjects related to climate science.

* Approximately 80 percent clearly had no refereed publication record on climate science at all.

* Approximately 4 percent appeared to favor the current IPCC-2007 consensus and should not have been on the list.

Further examination of the backgrounds of these individuals revealed that a significant number were identified as meteorologists, and some of these people were employed to report the weather.

Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay, the Center for Inquiry’s chief executive officer, is concerned about the falsehoods and half-truths being uttered by lawmakers now arming themselves for a major fight over legislation addressing climate change. Said Lindsay, “Sen. Inhofe and others have had some success in conveying to the media the impression that the number of scientists skeptical about man-made global warming is swelling, yet this is demonstrably not true.” Lindsay points out that Inhofe’s office had misleadingly claimed in a press release that the number of dissenting scientists outnumbered by more than 13 times the number of U.N. scientists (52) who authored the 2007 IPCC. “But those 52 U.N. scientists were in fact summarizing for policymakers the work of over 2,000 active research scientists, all with substantially similar views on global warming and its causes. This is the kind of broadside against sound science and scientific integrity that we at CFI deplore,” asserted Lindsay.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Appalshop: Mine War on Blackberry Creek (1986) - Web Stream

Mine War on Blackberry Creek (1986) - Web Stream

Mine War on Blackberry Creek reports on the long and bitter United Mine Workers of America strike in 1984 against A.T. Massey, America's fourth largest coal company with corporate ties to apartheid South Africa. While strikebreakers work inside the mines and security men with guard dogs and cameras patrol the compound, miners on the picket lines detail the history of labor struggles in the region and their determination to hold out until victory.

To Read the Rest of the Introduction and Watch the Documentary

Michael Wesch: The Machine is (Changing) Us - YouTube and the Politics of Authenticity

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom: Does God Hate Women?

Does God Hate Women?
By Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom
New Statesman

After all the arguments for subordinating women have been shown to be self-serving lies, what are misogynists left with? They have only one feeble argument that is still deferred to and shown undeserving respect across the world, even by people who should know better: “God told me to. I have to treat women as lesser beings, because it is inscribed in my Holy Book.”

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom are the editors of Butterflies and Wheels, the best atheist site on the web. In Does God Hate Women? they forensically dismantle the last respectable misogyny. They argue: “What would otherwise look like stark bullying is very often made respectable and holy by a putative religious law or aphorism or scriptural quotation . . . They worship a God who is a male who gangs up with other males against women. They worship a thug.”

Every major religion’s texts were written at a time when women were regarded as little better than talking cattle. Their words and commands reflect this, plainly and bluntly. This book starts with a panoramic sweep across the world, showing – with archetypal cases – how every religion has groups today thumping women down with its Holy Book.

In Zamfara State in northern Nigeria, a pregnant 13-year-old girl called Bariya Ibrahim received 180 lashes of the cane in 2001 after being pimped by her father. The state’s attorney general said: “It is the law of Allah, so we don’t have anything to worry about.” In Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox Jews have set up “modesty police” who terrorise young women who talk to men or show ordinary parts of their bodies. They break into their homes if they are seen with men; they force them to sit at the back of the bus, away from the men; and they even, in one recent instance, sprayed acid in the face of a 14-year-old girl.

In the areas of India still dominated by orthodox Hinduism, a widow is still expected to commit suicide when her husband dies, or go into isolation in an ashram. One – a septuagenarian woman named Radha Rani Biswas – fled and now begs on the streets of Vrindavan. She said: “My son tells me: ‘You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away.’ What do I do? My pain has no limit.” And on the directory of divine misogyny goes, running through Catholicism, Mormonism and more. Benson and Stangroom note: “Religion doesn’t necessarily originate ideas about female subordination, but it lends them a penumbra of righteousness, and it makes them ‘sacred’ and thus a matter for outrage if anyone disputes them.”

Methodically, they go through the excuses offered for these raw abuses of human rights by the religious, and their apologists.

The first – especially beloved of the Vatican and Islamists – is that women are not being treated worse, just “differently”. They claim that it accords a woman special “dignity” to trap her in the home. But this is an abuse of language. As the authors note: “Permanent consignment to a limited and lesser role in the world is not what ‘dignity’ is generally understood to mean . . . The smallness and intimacy and relatedness of home are fine things, but not if one is confined to them permanently.”

The religio-misogynists then claim that it is “racist” or “imperialist” to oppose such abuses. This merrily ignores how women within these cultures protest against their treatment – very loudly. They aren’t objecting to being imprisoned in their homes, or having their genitalia cut, or being stoned for having sex, because a white person told them to. Benson and Stangroom put it well: “Multiculturalism by definition makes a fetish of cultures, and it is almost impossible to do that without treating them as monolithic. As soon as you admit that all cultures have internal dissent and nonconformity, the whole idea of protecting or deferring to particular cultures breaks down into incoherence.”

Then the gentler, nicer apologists for religion arrive. They say that misogynists are simply misinterpreting the holy texts, which are in fact about love and compassion and kindness. But the authors point out this is certainly not the God of the texts who orders his followers to commit mass murder, including of women and children, and explicitly says women are inferior beings.

So, in order to defend their God, the apologists often have to lie about what He and His Prophets “say” in the texts. Cherie Blair, for example, claimed in a lecture: “It is not laid down in the Quran that women can be beaten by their husbands.” But it quite plainly is. The Quran says: “If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teachings of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them.”

To Read the Rest of the Review

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stanley Kutler: What Will History Make of Colin Powell?

What Will History Make of Colin Powell?
By Stanley Kutler

How do we remember history? Time diminishes our memories of details and spear carriers. Thirty-five years ago, as Richard Nixon prepared to resign, we readily recited the real-life cast of all the president’s men: Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Dean, Kleindienst, Colson, Liddy and Agnew. Today, memory of them has all but vanished, except for the few still active in the public arena.

From the Vietnam War, do we remember Gen. William Westmoreland, or do we remember the ironic incantation of “light at the end of the tunnel”? South Vietnam’s Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu rests in the ashcan of history. Khe Sanh and Hue are half-century-ago battles now reserved for military buffs; more prominent in today’s memory banks are our recognition of and trade with Vietnam.

How history plays out is, however, a very real concern for key players. Nixon campaigned for history, beginning with his teary White House farewell on Aug. 9, 1973, and continuing through two decades, with a number of books, carefully calibrated appearances and meetings with prominent leaders at home and abroad. He struggled mightily to turn the public loathing of him into admiration for his achievements. He had virtually nothing to say about Watergate; fortunately, he left an enduring gift of his thoughts and words on tape. He was the greatest self-bugger of all.

Public figures understandably fuss over their reputations and how they will be remembered. Recent news brought to mind memories of two prominent figures of their moment: Colin Powell and Robert McNamara.

Powell certainly is very conscious of his historical reputation. He said on CNN last Sunday that “history” will have to decide whether George W. Bush’s decision to make war in Iraq was correct. Like the former president, he presents a formidable example of history by amnesia. “A dictator is gone, a despicable regime is gone, the Iraqi people have been given a chance to have a representative form of government living in peace with its neighbors,” Powell said.

If “history” will decide whether Bush (with Powell) made the correct decision, then we have to confront a factual reality. Surely, Gen. Powell knows that he participated in an unprovoked war of aggression, resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 U.S. combatants and countless Iraqis. He knows that his United Nations speech describing Saddam Hussein’s menacing weapons of mass destruction was utterly fictitious, concocted in the White House and Defense Department. Powell undoubtedly has the excuse that he was handed a script full of errors, lies and poor judgments. He always has been the “good soldier.” Ironically, he was chosen for the U.N. performance for his credibility, not to mention his loyalty. President Bush, ably seconded by Vice President Dick Cheney, soon launched the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad. They quickly marginalized Powell, but he loyally stayed for slightly more than a year and a half.

Powell favors history by omission. His and Bush’s rationale rests on proven lies and factual inventions. In his recent TV appearance Powell offered his judgment of the Iraq war, minus the fact of its undeniably dubious raison d’être. Silent on that fact, Powell proceeded to the standard interpretation for Bush and his followers.

That we lied, that we misrepresented the actual facts—that Condoleezza Rice warned of a mushroom cloud over us if we failed to act against Saddam Hussein—are facts easily discarded or ignored. Powell’s interpretation simply forgets that an unnecessarily provoked war brought needless sacrifices of lives and treasures. We can hope that future historians will use all the facts.

Robert McNamara died in the same week that Powell tried to rewrite history. McNamara loyally served John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. For both, he was the principal architect and desk officer of the Vietnam War and, for six years at least, the most vocal advocate of victory through a military solution. (McGeorge Bundy and Walt Whitman Rostow helped with the heavy lifting.) His public utterances, too, promised “light at the end of the tunnel.”

For an earlier event, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, McNamara labored mightily to influence our understanding of that history, claiming he helped Kennedy forge a peaceful resolution. But the tapes do not lie: McNamara urged JFK to attack Soviet missile sites. Sheldon Stern, the leading authority on those tapes, has written that they “prove conclusively that McNamara was not JFK’s principal ally in ‘trying to keep us out of war,’ ” as McNamara often said.

McNamara readily hijacked the truth, and tried to stamp his visions upon recorded history.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bill Moyers Journal: Faith and Social Justice

Faith and Social Justice
Bill Moyers Journal

Bill Moyers talks to Cornel West, Serene Jones, and Gary Dorrien for a fresh take on what our core ethics and values as a society say about America's politics, policy, and the challenges of balancing capitalism and democracy.

To Listen to the Episode

Bill Moyers Journal: Leymah Gbowee and Abigail Disney - Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Bill Moyers Journal

The JOURNAL profiles Leymah Gbowee, a woman who led her fellow countrywomen to fight for and win peace in war-torn Liberia, and Abigail Disney, who produced the documentary of their struggle and triumph in the award-winning film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL.

For 15 years Liberia was gripped by civil war between the government of the corrupt and ruthless Charles Taylor, and warlords battling to overthrow him. More than 200,000 people had been killed and one out of three were made homeless.

Leymah Gbowee and her countrywomen were so desperate they decided to try and put a stop to the fighting. Armed with only a simple white t-shirt, they took to the streets knowing they could well be beaten and killed. They became "the market women," cajoling the fighting men and employing a tactic so old it was once used by the women of ancient Greece: No peace, no sex.

Ultimately, Charles Taylor was toppled from power and banished from Liberia. The country then elected a new president, the first woman head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

To Listen to the Episode

Bill Moyers Journal: Robert B. Reich - influence of lobbyists on policy, the economy, and the ongoing debate over health care.

Robert Reich
Bill Moyers Journal

The big decisions on health care reform are happening right now. Congress is "mixing the concrete" of the health care reform bill, as the economist Robert Reich puts it on his blog, "And after it's poured and hardens, universal health care will be with us for years to come in whatever form it now takes."

But who's doing the mixing? Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL that the fight to shape health care reform is the biggest test to date for President Obama. Powerful lobbies have lined up to oppose what is being called "the public option," a key element of the president's plan.

The public option, according to Reich, is a government-run non-profit insurance pool, that, by virtue of its size and bargaining power, could control costs and offer people who are either uncovered by, or unhappy with private insurers an affordable alternative path to health care. Medicare is an example of a public option, notes Reich, with one important caveat — the Medicare drug benefit bill passed during the Bush administration expressly forbids Medicare from using its size to negotiate for lower costs, an important key to keeping prices down.

To Listen to the Conversation

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Bill Moyers Journal

Donna Smith and her colleagues have been taking their quest for health care reform to Congress — and to the streets. Donna Smith is best known for her major role in Michael Moore's 2007 movie, SiCKO. Moore documented her return to Denver in 2006 when she and her husband Larry were forced to move into their daughter's basement. Though they were fully insured, the Smiths lost everything they had following major illnesses and surgeries. Today, Donna Smith works as a community organizer and legislative advocate for the California Nurses Association, whose 85,000 members across the country were early champions of a single-payer program.

To Listen to the Conversation

Bill Moyers Journal: Dr. David Himmelstein & Dr. Sidney Wolfe - REFORMING HEALTH CARE

Dr. David Himmelstein & Dr. Sidney Wolfe - REFORMING HEALTH CARE
Bill Moyers Journal

Washington's abuzz about health care, but why isn't a single-payer plan an option on the table? Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe and Physicians for a National Health Program's Dr. David Himmelstein on the political and logistical feasibility of health care reform.

To Listen to the Conversation

Bloggingheads TV: David Sullivan and Mark Leon Goldberg - Conflict Minerals

Conflict Materials
David Sullivan, Enough Project and Mark Leon Goldberg, UN Dispatch, The American Prospect
Bloggingheads TV

How your cell phone may be fueling Congolese violence (03:51)
From a mine in eastern Congo to a laptop in America (07:22)
David: Information can trump peacekeeping (02:58)
You’ve heard of “blood diamonds”—how about “blood iPods”? (03:38)
What electronics companies can do (02:43)
Don’t end mining; reform it (04:08)

To Listen to the Conversation

The Wobblies (Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer, 1979)

To Watch the Documentary

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bill Moyers Journal: David Simon - creator of the Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire

David Simon
Bill Moyers Journal

The executive producer of HBO's critically-acclaimed show THE WIRE, David Simon talks with Bill Moyers about inner-city crime and politics, storytelling and the future of journalism today. After a dozen years covering crime for the BALTIMORE SUN, David Simon left journalism to write books and tell stories for NBC and HBO, including his Peabody-winning cop show THE WIRE, which looked at the drug wars and the gritty underbelly of the inner-city. Simon is now producing the pilot for a series about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, called TREME.

To Listen to the Conversation

Derrick Jensen: Forget Shorter Showers - Why personal change does not equal political change

Forget Shorter Showers: Why personal change does not equal political change
by Derrick Jensen
Orion Magazine

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Marty Klein: Oprah - Anti-Vagina, Anti-Sex

"Oprah: Anti-Vagina, Anti-Sex."
by Marty Klein
Humanist Network News

Newsweek recently called out Oprah for being a quack. In a cover story titled "Crazy Talk: Oprah, Wacky Cures & You," they cited shows she's enthusiastically done on cancer, autism, and other subjects featuring non-experts offering ineffective or dangerous medical tips. She also endorses mystical New Age "thinking" as a health strategy.

One thing Newsweek didn't mention was Oprah's ignorant, destructive positions on sex.

Take sexual orientation, for example-a subject that's been in the news once or twice lately. As recently as 10 weeks ago, Oprah was asking psychologist Lisa Diamond if women turn to other women sexually "because of a shortage of men." Oprah also wondered why, when women turn away from men, so many seem to choose women who don't, um, look so feminine.

Oprah's sexual ignorance, of course, isn't limited to women. She talks about men as if she's never met an actual adult man:

* When she read mail from viewers complaining about their husbands' lack of interest, she was stunned-"Hard to believe," she said. "We thought, you know, men always wanted it."
* She opened one show by asking the audience: "True or false: once a cheater, always a cheater. What do you think?" In unison, the congregation chanted back the solemn testimony of the Church of Oprah: "True!" Women are, she says, "a big ol' cheated-on club out there."

Oprah is so focused on female victimization, in fact, that she even tells the astounding untruth that doctors pay more attention to the sexual aspects of prostate surgery than to hysterectomy. She also forgets to mention that more men die from prostate cancer than from breast or uterine cancer.

But to fully capture the flavor of Oprah's discomfort with sex, go back a few months to the show that carried this warning: "This program contains graphic content that is suitable for mature audiences only."

And what was this "graphic content" that should only be watched by a select few? A chart from a high school biology textbook that celebrity sex therapist Laura Berman used to show where the vagina is.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Bill Moyers Journal: Rachel Carson - Her Life and Legacy

Carson, Rachel. "Her Life and Legacy." Bill Moyers Journal (September 21, 2007)

Excerpt from the introduction:

The Environmental Protection Agency looks to her as a founding inspiration and the Fish & Wildlife Service as a source of agency pride. The EPA's official history site states: "There is no question...that SILENT SPRING prompted the Federal Government to take action against water and air pollution — as well as against the misuse of pesticides — several years before it otherwise might have moved."

But the common view of Rachel Carson's impact goes far beyond government bureaucracy. Carson and her most famous book, SILENT SPRING, are credited with no less than inspiring the modern global environmental movement. In its collection of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century, TIME magazine said: "Before there was an environmental movement, there was one brave woman and her very brave book." In 2007, the centenary of Carson's birth is being celebrated around the world — and her work is still making waves — just as it did in 1962.

Rachel Carson was born in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Carson was always interested in writing — contributing a number of stories to the children's magazine ST. NICHOLAS. She also had a long-standing love of nature. In a speech to the society of women journalists, Theta Sigma Pi, in 1954 she said: "I was rather a solitary child and spent a great deal of time in woods and beside streams, learning the birds and insects and flowers."

Carson attended the Pennsylvania College for Women at Pittsburgh. Originally intending on majoring in English composition, Carson changed her focus to biology and went on to study at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and received her MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.

Carson went on to a position as aquatic biologist with the Bureau of Fisheries in Washington (subsequently the Fish & Wildlife Service). Both a writer and biologist — Carson started out creating radio scripts — her series was called "The Romance of the Seas." She stayed with the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service for fifteen years, finishing her career as Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the Service.

Encouraged by friends and colleagues, Carson submitted articles for publication — "Undersea" was published in 1937 by ATLANTIC. Carson followed with three books about the sea: 1941's UNDER THE SEA WIND, best-selling THE SEA AROUND US in 1951, and THE EDGE OF THE SEA, 1955 — all of which were lauded for her ability to write eloquently and clearly about science for a mainstream audience. THE SEA AROUND US won numerous awards including the Gold Medal of the New York Zoological Society, the John Burroughs Medal, the Gold Medal of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia and the National Book Award — and was a best-seller.

David Hawpe: A lesson in love at University of the Cumberlands

A lesson in love at University of the Cumberlands
by David Hawpe (Washington Post)

Well, the University of the Cumberlands is in the news again.

You know the place. It's where Senate President David Williams, in whose district the campus is located, tried to put $12 million in public money for a pharmacy school and scholarships.

It's where a sophomore from Lexington, Jason Johnson, was kicked out shortly before the end of the spring semester in 2006, for acknowledging his homosexuality on his Web page and for mentioning he had a boyfriend. Williams then rallied a campus crowd against the school's critics, promising, "These people that don't want this university to have values and principles will be defeated."

Actually it was the university that got beat — in court, when Special Judge Roger Crittenden ruled that using state money for the pharmacy project violated the Kentucky Constitution. Meanwhile, the Accreditation Agency for Pharmacy Education was committed to policy that "ensures nondiscrimination as defined by state and federal laws and regulations, such as on the basis of race, religion gender, lifestyle, sexual orientation, national origin or disability."

Now this same University of the Cumberlands is in the headlines again, after abruptly jerking an invitation to a youth group from Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, which had planned to come build homes for the poor. And why the rebuff? Because the student-volunteers' church recently was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention, for acting to "affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior."

One wonders what values and principles Williams had in mind when he rushed to defend the university's orthodoxies.

Maybe Williams and the University of the Cumberlands administration are worried that somebody in the volunteer crew from Texas has a weak wrist and couldn't use a hammer. It was Williams, you may remember, who helped a fellow Republican's campaign for re-election by traveling the state and warning, "What a shame it would be if we traded the strong left hand of Jim Bunning — the punch that he has — for the limp wrist of (Democrat Daniel) Mongiardo."

The limp wrist line doesn't stand historical scrutiny. For example, that great lover of male beauty, Michelangelo Buonarroti, seems to have fallen for Tommaso di Cavalieri when he was 57 and Tommaso was 23. The artist dedicated more than 300 sonnets and madrigals to his young looker, and the two remained devoted until the old fellow's death. And, despite the seeming implications of all this, Michelangelo's wrist seems to have been just fine — stiff enough, obviously, to handle a mallet and various chisels, files and rasps. Otherwise we wouldn't have the David, the Pieta, etc.

Which brings me to this question: If the University of the Cumberlands is determined to wall itself off from anything gay-related, what does it do for curriculum?


To Read the Rest of the Column

Democracy Now: Vietnam War Architect Robert McNamara Dies at 93: A Look at His Legacy With Howard Zinn, Marilyn Young & Jonathan Schell

Zinn, Howard, Marilyn Young and Jonathan Schell. "Vietnam War Architect Robert McNamara Dies at 93: A Look at His Legacy With Howard Zinn, Marilyn Young & Jonathan Schell." Democracy Now (July 7, 2009)

Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara has died at the age of 93. McNamara was one of the key architects of the Vietnam war, which killed at least three million Vietnamese, around one million Cambodians and Laotians, and 58,000 American soldiers. We take a look at McNamara’s legacy with two pre-eminent historians: Howard Zinn and Marilyn Young. We also speak with Jonathan Schell, who covered Vietnam as a reporter in 1967 and met with McNamara in a secret Pentagon meeting.

Howard Zinn, historian and author of many books, including the classic work, “A People’s History of the United States.”

Marilyn Young, Professor of History at NYU and specialist on Vietnamese history. Author of “The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990” and most recently, “Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-century History.”

Jonathan Schell, Harold Willens Peace Fellow at The Nation Institute. In ’66 and ’67 he reported from South Vietnam for the New Yorker. He is the author of two books on Vietnam: “The Village of Ben Suc” and “The Military Half.”

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Bat Segundo Show: #293 Guy Maddin

#293 Guy Maddin
The Bat Segundo Show

Subjects Discussed: Whether living in Winnipeg for many year makes one an expert of Winnipeg, expertise and confused feelings, the importance of not straying from your methods, pleasant feelings and hellish depictions of Winnipeg, the strength one obtains from retellings of Icelandic sagas, the difficulties of laughing at smallpox plagues, “My Winnipeg” vs. “My New York,” Marcel Dzama, artists doing their bit for Winnipeg, being murdered by a puck, Winnipeg purse-snatching, being indoors in Winnipeg, Canadians who are being unduly rattled by Americans, James Frey and the problems with American memoirs, finding the disclaimer, naked laps, getting a nude model in Winnipeg and Manhattan, quick cutting in Maddin’s films after 2000, title cards and Godard, walkout ratios in Maddin’s films, smelling the mildew in the tableau, live elements to Maddin’s films, J. Hoberman’s assessment, Maddin reading his own press, the IMDB, Internet ego searches, getting rid of obsessions, having to live with Guy Maddin the character, Darcy Fehr as the only actor to play “Guy Maddin” twice, the Seattle Guy Maddins, having an actor impersonate Guy Maddin at a Chicago event, why Guy Maddin hasn’t played himself, whether or not Darcy Fehr is Maddin’s Jean-Pierre Léaud, similarities between Brand Upon the Brain’s Sullivan Brown and Antoine Doniel, redacted dialogue in My Winnipeg, Ann Savage, the OCD quality that Winnipeggers have, recurring handshakes, ramming the audience over the head, editing lessons learned from Cowards Bend the Knee, title cards, actors who performed scenes in several different languages in the early sound era, Maddin’s shift from storyboards to spontaneity, editing speed and cramming ideas, good actors vs. bad actors, George Toles’s dialogue, the official report on the Guy Maddin Casting Couch, hockey locker rooms, chorizo metaphors, walking and coming up with ideas, Guy Debord, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, how walking gives you courage, the advantages of sleeping in hallways and on ladders, time travel and peregrinations, the grim nature of the future, and not being a great planner.

To Listen to the Interview

CFP: Inventions of Activism (Reconstruction 10.3: Deadline 02/01/10)

Call For Papers
Issue 10.3

Michael Benton, Alan Clinton, Wes Houp and Danny Mayer

Inventions of Activism

"Creative acts of social justice fulfill every function that can be asked of a work of art. They inspire us, make us think in new ways, and birth new beauty and dignity in our world."
--Rebecca Alban Hofberger, "True Visions”

"Screw Hope; Let's Act"
--Walker Lane "Nope to Hope: False Capital and the Spectacle Triumphant"

This issue of _Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture_ solicits a variety of work which looks to activism as a broad array of creative practices yet to be defined. We seek not to revisit debates between theory and practice, but to view activism as a form of invention which may lead to new cultural formations.

What challenges do activists face as practicing utopians? What more or less local examples of activism can be looked to as models for further practice? How can activism as performance, as technology, as art lead to the production of new political and social theory? How is activism the art of the possible?

We would like this issue itself to be a form of activism inasmuch as it brings together a set of theorized practices in the form of case studies from the present and the past, a community of minds in both its contributors and subsequent readers.

We also encourage contributors to look to problem areas that have not yet been addressed or not addressed sufficiently, and to propose new models of cultural intervention.

Some areas of particular interest expressed by editors should serve as a starting point:

1. Testimonials of individuals and/or groups that document the structures of collective action and resistances (both external and internal) to these movements.

2. Activism as a form of social and political creativity. Considerations of how theory can promote or become activism, or how theories of political and social invention derive, post facto, from such activities.

3. The rhetoric of activism in its statements and endeavors.

4. Narration and development of (potential) actions with respect to labor (broadly defined).

5. Activism as a form of education, as supplement to or alternative for traditional educational theories. Educating activists. Activating educators. Theoretical and practical issues within "the academy."

6. Resistance to resistance: fatigue, Bruce Robbins' "sweatshop sublime," institutional reprisals from the most oppressive (violence, termination) to the most frustrating (hypocrisy and lip service from those in power, mainstream media misinformation, public indifference), mythologies (of the American dream, of freedom of choice, of the free market, etc.)

7. Reform from within the institution vs. revolution from without.

8. What is (non)violence and what roles do violence or nonviolence play in activism?

9. Issues of activism in different social and historical contexts, what can we learn (from Obama's vision of service to the most dangerous underground resistance movements)?

10. Psychologies of activism. For instance, do activists and/or organizers of activism benefit more from an openness to depaysement (the process by which the ethnographer/observer becomes altered and/or mediated by the culture under investigation) or dissociation/dispassion (the idea of "objective" or "critical" distance from the subject under study as providing a "better" vantage point).

11. What are the benefits or disadvantages of “traditions” in activism? Marx notoriously stated that he was not a Marxist, with that in mind, what kind of problems derive from the institution of founders and followers in activism? Even more fundamental, what is the problem of what Eric Hobsbawm called the “inner conflict of traditions,” the inevitable conflict between universal rules and specific, ever-changing circumstances/situations.

12. J.K. Gibson Graham asks in Postcapitalist Politics “If we want other worlds and other economies, how do we make ourselves a condition of possibility for their emergence (7)?”

We hope that activists of all kinds will view this issue as a form of potlatch that may lead to new practice and theory, new activist communities. While we encourage the use of anecdote as example and extended narratives as models for inventing activism, we do not want this issue to be primarily about smoking guns and personal beefs. In the light of the sensitive nature of this endeavor we will consider a variety of approaches to publication---including anonymity and/or "fictocritical" accounts which do not name names or present a situation with altered details.

Please send completed papers and abstracts to the editors at no later than February 1, 2010. Earlier submissions and queries are welcome as we may be able to collaborate with authors in order to produce work that not only fits with the intent of the issue but with the standards of Reconstruction. Also, we encourage you to forward this CFP to interested parties and lists.

Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture (ISSN: 1547-4348) is an innovative online cultural studies journal dedicated to fostering an intellectual community composed of scholars and their audience, granting them all the ability to share thoughts and opinions on the most important and influential work in contemporary interdisciplinary studies. Reconstruction publishes three themed issues and one open issue per year. Send open submissions (year round) to and submissions for themed issues to the appropriate editors listed on the site at

Reconstruction also accepts proposal for special issue editors and topics. Reconstruction is indexed in the MLA International Bibliography.

Matthew Nisbet: Food Inc - Will It Connect the Dots on Food System Problems?

Food Inc: Will It Connect the Dots on Food System Problems?
by Matthew Nisbet
Framing Science

Over the past decade, issues such as fast food and obesity, organics and pesticides, genetic engineering, and factory farming have each captured their share of attention from engaged citizens and advocacy groups. Focusing events, such as the 2008 factory farming ballot initiative in California or the 2000 Starlink GM corn episode have generated spikes in news coverage. Popular books such as Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, and Pollan's NY Times article "Farmer in Chief" have reinforced concerns among an attentive public and generated reactions from policymakers. Still, however, with the exception of obesity, each of these issues remains relatively low on the overall news agenda.

The inability of these food-related issues to break out into wider public focus can be attributed to a number of factors, most notably that none of them fit neatly into a traditional partisan divide as issues such as climate change and stem cell research do. But what has also been missing is a larger meta-frame that ties these trends in the food system together into the perception of a bigger problem.

But now comes Food Inc. The title is a potentially powerful frame device for audiences, connecting each of these food-related issues under one perceptual umbrella. Specifically, the title instantly conveys the film's dominant narrative that responsibility for these issues can be attributed to "big farming" and multi-national corporations who are serving their own private interests rather than the public interest. To correct the problem, tighter regulation, government oversight, and greater responsiveness to citizen and consumer concerns are needed.

As the Food Inc trailer above strongly emphasizes, the relevance of these food issues can be reduced down to a matter of "public accountability," a commonly appearing frame applied to issues of science and the environment. The trailer repeats several key phrases often used to actively translate this frame, including notably "controlled by multi-national corporations" and as the woman at the end of the trailer describes ominously: "The companies don't want the farmers talking, they don't want this story told."

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Zero and One

Chris Hedges: The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free

(Courtesy of Rebecca Glasscock)

The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free
by Chris Hedges


The public is bombarded with carefully crafted images meant to confuse propaganda with ideology and knowledge with how we feel. Human rights and labor groups, investigative journalists, consumer watchdog organizations and advocacy agencies have, in the face of this manipulation, inundated the public sphere with reports and facts. But facts alone, Ewen says, make little difference. And as we search for alternative ways to communicate in a time of crisis we must also communicate in new forms. We must appeal to emotion as well as to reason. The power of this appeal to emotion is evidenced in the photographs of Jacob Riis, a New York journalist, who with a team of assistants at the end of the 19th century initiated urban-reform photography. His stark portraits of the filth and squalor of urban slums awakened the conscience of a nation. The photographer Lewis Hine, at the turn of the 20th century, and Walker Evans during the Great Depression did the same thing for the working class, along with writers such as Upton Sinclair and James Agee. It is a recovery of this style, one that turns the abstraction of fact into a human flesh and one that is not afraid of emotion and passion, which will permit us to counter the force of corporate propaganda.

We may know that fossil fuels are destroying our ecosystem. We may be able to cite the statistics. But the oil and natural gas industry continues its flagrant rape of the planet. It is able to do this because of the money it uses to control legislation and a massive advertising campaign that paints the oil and natural gas industry as part of the solution. A group called, for example, has been running a series of television ads. One ad features an attractive, middle-aged woman in a black pantsuit-an actor named Brooke Alexander who once worked as the host of "WorldBeat" on CNN and for Fox News. Alexander walks around a blue screen studio that becomes digital renditions of American life. She argues, before each image, that oil and natural gas are critical to providing not only energy needs but health care and jobs.

"It is almost like they are taking the most optimistic visions of what the stimulus package could do and saying this is what the development of oil and natural gas will bring about," Ewen said. "If you go to the Web site there is a lot of sophisticated stuff you can play around with. As each ad closes you see in the lower right-hand corner in very small letters API, the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying group for ExxonMobil and all the other big oil companies. For the average viewer there is nothing in the ad to indicate this is being produced by the oil industry."

The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information. We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased. These lines diminish the power of reform, justice and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these lines are there.

"As a writer part of what you are aiming for is to present things in ways that will resonate with people, which will give voice to feelings and concerns, feelings that may not be fully verbalized," Ewen said. "You can't do that simply by providing them with data. One of the major problems of the present is that those structures designed to promote a progressive agenda are antediluvian."

Corporate ideology, embodied in neoconservatism, has seeped into the attitudes of most self-described liberals. It champions unfettered capitalism and globalization as eternal. This is the classic tactic that power elites use to maintain themselves. The loss of historical memory, which "balanced and objective" journalism promotes, has only contributed to this fantasy. But the fantasy, despite the desperate raiding of taxpayer funds to keep the corporate system alive, is now coming undone. The lie is being exposed. And the corporate state is running scared.


To Read the Entire Essay

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Copyright/Copyleft (Archive)

Ongoing project--any suggestions/comments/critique appreciated

Boynton, Robert S. "The Tyranny of Copyright?" The New York Times Magazine (January 25, 2004)

Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. (Penguin Press, 2004)

Lethem, Jonathan. "The Ecstasy of Influence." Open Source with Christopher Lydon (February 2, 2007)

---. "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism." Harper's Magazine (February 2007)

McLeod, Kembrew. Freedom of Expression (R): Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity. (Doubleday, 2005)

Miller, Paul D., aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid. "In Through the Out Door: Sampling and the Creative Act." Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. ed. Paul D. Miller. (MIT Press, 2008: 5-20.)

RiP: A Remix Manifesto (Brett Gaylor: 2008)

Seitz, Matt Zoller. Copy Rites: YouTube vs. Kevin B. Lee The House Next Door (Archive by Michael Benton: January 15, 2009)

---. "The Video Essay." Kunst der Vermittlung (April 18, 2009)


Vaidhyanathan, Siva. "Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity."

Walker Machinery Company (aka Walker Cat): Mountaintop Mining

(Thanks to Brandon Absher for sending this out and Joseph Trullinger for the blockqouted comments)

To Read the Corporate Manifesto-Pamphlet

"As if it mattered, more
bugs are killed overwhelmingly by car windshields
than on mine sites." (p.18)...

What about the bugs that are killed underwhelmingly? Goodness knows that many of my bug killings do not overwhelm the bugs.

“Flattening mountains” is merely a provocative term. It’s against the law and
has no proof in fact." (p.9)

What does it mean to prove a term, or a fortiori, to prove a term in fact?

"In no way has
mountaintop mining destroyed this land. It is useful, dynamic, and resourceful
and will be for years to come." (p.9)

"The restoration develops
beautifully over time. Unfortunately, most never get to view these areas as
mining areas still under bond are off limits for public safety reasons." (p.10)

"The positive transformational role coal
has played for mankind has not been truly appreciated.
It has brought us through two world wars, the Korean and
Vietnam experiences." (p.16)

... I'm confused. ... since when does anybody except Ernst Jünger (et al.) use wars as their go-to/ready-to-hand examples of a "positive transformational" phenomenon for "mankind"?

"Man has shown himself compassionate and willing to sacrifice for the intrinsic value and beauty of the planet and all lower forms of plant and animal life. Our coal miners protect our environment and make that great sacrifice for our
quality of life every shift." (25)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

July Online Film Discussion: Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2006)

There is a new website organizing film discussions on a monthly basis that take place on different websites. This month's discussion will be:

Who: Ed Howard
Where: Only the Cinema
When: July 20, 2009
Film: Zwartboek, aka Black Book, d. Paul Verhoeven (2006)

For future film discussions go to The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Bat Segundo Show #283: Atom Egoyan - Adoration

Egoyan, Atom. Adoration The Bat Segundo Show (May 8, 2009)

Subjects Discussed: Scenes in airports, custom lines, airport security interrogations, passage within cinematic narrative, literal and figurative baggage, detonation devices, comparisons between Adoration’s Simon and Ararat’s Raffi, the video camera as a suitcase for memories, family confessions captured on video, making an experience substantial, technology in Egoyan’s films, closed-circuit vs. open-circuit technology, the lack of emotional filtering on the Internet, creating a chat room prototype hat doesn’t exist in reality, Nezar Hindawi, drawing from real-life incidents for ideas vs. cinematic invention, whether a narrative filmmaker needs to be responsible to history, finding the meaning in creches, the violin as a permanent artistic symbol, suggestions that we are now living in a cultural Roman Empire that is now crumbling, embracing an order to a material world, victims and mourning subcultures, the inheritance of tradition vs. new traditions, the excitement of interpretation vs. meaning to interpretation, teaching vs. primordial instinct, giving substance to the gaze of obsession, being driven to trauma, decorative masks and drama, concerns for class, role-playing and therapy, “democracy” and the Internet, shooting in natural locations vs. constructed sets, Chloe, and abstracting characters in a designed space.