Sunday, February 28, 2010

Revolution By the Book: Mountain Justice Dispatch #2

Mountain Justice Dispatch #2
Revolution By the Book

Escalating Sanctions against Mountaintop Removal Protesters

“Protesters Occupy Marfork Coal Co.’s Office in Response to Mounting Violations,” said a press release from the protesters’ supporters at Climate Ground Zero on Thursday morning, Feb. 18.

A news release from Massey Energy, Marfork’s parent company, told rather a different story: “Environmental Terrorists Invade Marfork Coal Company Office…. Three criminals clad in fatigues and carrying chains invaded a company office and chained themselves to chairs in the lobby. A terrified receptionist went into shock and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital…. One of the criminals, Mike Roselle, was a founding member of Earth First!, which is considered by many to be a domestic terrorist group…. These domestic terrorists are part of an anti-coal group that wants to shut down mining in Appalachia and destroy West Virginia’s economy.”

Massey’s “news release” doesn’t specify who those “many” are who consider Mike and his colleagues to be “domestic terrorists.” But even right-wing activist Ron Arnold, who’s written an entire book on “ecoterrorism,” asserts that “Roselle may be a terrible pain in the ass, but he’s no terrorist.” Writing shortly after Mike’s first trespassing arrest on Massey property, at Marfork’s Bee Tree strip mine site a year ago, Arnold scolded those who would “dilute” the meaning of the word terrorism by applying it to nonviolent protest.

“Face it,” he wrote, “what he did was civil disobedience, not terrorism.”

The claim that “a terrified receptionist went into shock” is equally puzzling. “She was definitely startled when we came in,” says Joe Hamsher, one of the three protesters arrested that day. But soon “she calmed down. She was even laughing.”

Protests are not a new experience for Massey workers. Since February of last year, more than 130 arrests have been made at civil-disobedience actions protesting mountaintop-removal (MTR) strip mining for coal in West Virginia. Several of those actions have targeted Marfork, which has begun blasting at its Bee Tree MTR site a short distance from its enormous Brushy Fork impoundment, which holds billions of gallons of liquid coal waste up above the Coal River valley. Anti-MTR activists and local residents are concerned that blasting so close to the impoundment, which is built over abandoned underground coal mine tunnels, risks catastrophic flooding that by Massey’s own estimate could kill close to a thousand people.

The only violence or threats of violence at any of these actions have been directed at the protesters, not vice versa. For example, at a protest rally at the front gate of Massey’s Goals Coal facility last June, a Massey supporter slapped anti-MTR activist Judy Bonds hard enough that she couldn’t move her neck properly for days. Most recently, in January, workers at Marfork’s Bee Tree site blared multiple airhorns, day and night, at three protesters sitting in trees there, risking permanent damage to the protesters’ hearing. At a previous tree sit, last summer, a sitter was threatened with gang rape.

“We were definitely not much of a threat to her,” Joe Hamsher says, referring to the receptionist at the Marfork office. “I mean, we were locked down.” Joe, the first of the three to enter the building that morning, announced “this is a protest,” then immediately sat down and locked himself to a chair. (That’s why they were carrying chains.)

To Read the Rest of the Report

Matt Taibi: Flat N All That -- Thomas Friedman’s greenish ways

(Matt Taibi won the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for best rant with this devastating takedown of New York Time's columnist Thomas Friedman's hypocritical turn to environmentalism, absurd writing style and just plain idiotic statements.)

Flat N All That: Thomas Friedman’s greenish ways.
By Matt Taibbi
New York Press

When some time ago a friend of mine told me that Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, was going to be a kind of environmentalist clarion call against American consumerism, I almost died laughing.

Beautiful, I thought. Just when you begin to lose faith in America’s ability to fall for absolutely anything—just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts— along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 114,000 11,400 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.

Where does a man who needs his own offshore drilling platform just to keep the east wing of his house heated get the balls to write a book chiding America for driving energy inefficient automobiles? Where does a guy whose family bulldozed 2.1 million square feet of pristine Hawaiian wilderness to put a Gap, an Old Navy, a Sears, an Abercrombie and even a motherfucking Foot Locker in paradise get off preaching to the rest of us about the need for a “Green Revolution”? Well, he’ll explain it all to you in 438 crisply written pages for just $27.95, $30.95 if you have the misfortune to be Canadian.

I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with Thomas Friedman for more than a decade now. For most of that time, I just thought he was funny. And admittedly, what I thought was funniest about him was the kind of stuff that only another writer would really care about—in particular his tortured use of the English language. Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying—and when you tried to actually picture the “illustrative” figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.

Remember Friedman’s take on Bush’s Iraq policy? “It’s OK to throw out your steering wheel,” he wrote, “as long as you remember you’re driving without one.” Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May:

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging.When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.

First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Doonesbury: A Banker's Progress


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bhaskar Sunkara: Unconventional Wisdom -- An Interview with Doug Henwood

Unconventional Wisdom: An Interview with Doug Henwood
by Bhaskar Sunkara
The Activist

Brooklyn-based Doug Henwood has been among the few articulate voices on what Perry Anderson likes to call “the vanquished left.” Doug has been publishing an irreplaceable newsletter, Left Business Observer, which examines politics and economics with a scientific rigor and without the moral exhortations or hyperbolic spasms of his contemporaries, since 1986. He also hosts Behind the News, a syndicated weekly radio program that features economic commentary and interviews with activists, journalists and academics.


BS: What electoral policies should the U.S. left be pursuing? Or are we already focused too much on electoral efforts?

DH: I’d say we’re focused too much on electoral efforts. To me, the most promising thing would be to organize around very specific issues, like living wage or single-payer campaigns – things that have great potential appeal and can unite a lot of constituencies in a common struggle. I wouldn’t rule out electoral politics, of course – you don’t want to give up on the state. But nothing higher than the House. When you get to the Senate, and especially the presidential level, you’re on the bourgeoisie’s terrain. None of the third-party or insurgent Dem campaigns – Jackson, Nader, Kucinich, McKinney, whatever – has ever broken away from the cult of personality trap and become an occasion for a real national organizing effort. A presidential campaign just isn’t the place to do that sort of thing, something that the last 20 or 30 years has pretty conclusively proved. It’s best to organize independent movements and parties that might, if we’re lucky, force the higher-ups to take notice. I was impressed, in reading that debased bit of political gossip Game Change, to learn how bent out of shape Hillary Clinton was by the complaints of the antiwar movement. She was really concerned, and her husband spent hours in the King David Hotel, of all places, writing a devious letter on her behalf, meant to defuse the opposition’s threat. It was all bullshit, of course, but it shows that an active left can have an influence even on the most centrist of Dems. That lesson seems to have been lost, at least until now, in relation to the Obama administration, whose various offenses have been denied, excused, or indulged by unions, peaceniks, greens, and other people who should be behaving better.

BS: You’ve been publishing your quasi-monthly Left Business Observer for more than 23 years. Do you have any insights on the viability of traditional print publication versus online-only models for the left?

DH: Actually monthly, now, please! Thanks to my wonderful wife and counseling editrix, Liza Featherstone. And LBO comes out via Acrobat as well as on paper. As for medium, I haven’t solved the problem that plagues everyone in the media these days: how to deal with an audience that now expects to get everything for free, even though it costs more than nothing to produce serious news and analysis. LBO is doing pretty well, but the circulation is still small. While there are some good online outlets, too many of them are just parasites on the newsgathering efforts of the old media, and when those old media die, it could devolve into a giant circle jerk. We all have to figure out how to sustain professional journalism in a post-print world.

BS: Accumulation and its discontents: is there a specifically Marxist understanding of the current economic crisis that you subscribe to?

DH: Mine, of course, which is that the bourgeoisie launched a successful war on a troublesome working class in the late 1970s and early 1980s. That assault – wage-cutting, speedup, deregulation, outsourcing, union-busting, cutbacks in the welfare state, all the familiar stuff gathered under the name of neoliberalism – created a problem for a system dependent on high levels of mass consumption both to maintain aggregate demand and to secure its political legitimacy. Why put up with the volatility and tsurris of American life if there’s no promise of plentiful gadgetry and upward mobility? So the answer was to counter the downdraft of falling wages with rising borrowing, via credit cards and mortgages. That model seemed to hit a wall in the recent economic crisis, but there’s no real recognition of that fact, and no new model for accumulation. In orthodox terms, the U.S. would be ready for a serious austerity program, but our ruling class is afraid to push too hard on that, at least for now. So I think we’re going to stumble along for some time until some new economic and political model emerges. Or if one doesn’t emerge, maybe we’ll just fall apart.

BS: Is the U.S. economy in permanent decline? What of “late” capitalism in general? Can leftists even make such pronouncements anymore?

DH: I always thought “late” capitalism was an overly optimistic term. The system is remarkably resilient. But I do think that the U.S. is somewhere along a long decline, at least relative to the outside world. It’s something that’s going to play out over decades, however, and there doesn’t yet look to be a plausible heir to the hegemon position. China’s still too poor, not to mention politically, militarily, and culturally weak. And the Greek crisis has shown that the EU isn’t really ready for prime time either. It’s been amazing to watch Germany being unable to step up to the role of imperial leadership in Europe, much less on a world scale. To be dominant, a power has to spend, and Germany is too anally retentive to do that.

BS: The populist Main Street, Wall Street dichotomy is all the rage these days. What to make of it?

DH: Mixed bag. There is an opposition between the masses and the financial elite, of course, but there are many complicating factors. First, as the excellent Sam Gindin likes to point out, a crucial part of neoliberalism has been bringing the working class into the circuits of financial capital, through increased reliance on things like 401(k)’s and other defined-contribution retirement schemes, replacing the traditional defined-benefit kind. (If you’re lucky – about half of American workers have no retirement plan at all.) And second, that dichotomy has no room for real “productive” capital, the economy of goods and services, like office work, manufacturing, or retail. Because workers are paid less than the value of what they produce, that kind of labor generates profits for capital that are the ultimate roots of the games that finance plays. I’m old-fashioned enough to call it exploitation. Since populism depends on a bogus notion of a “fair” profit, and just disdains unfairly high (measured how, I don’t know) returns, there’s little room for a class-based understanding of accumulation through unpaid labor.

BS: Your take on Walter Benn Michaels’ controversial critique of identity politics and the erstwhile anti-discriminatory spirit of neoliberalism?

DH: I think that Walter Benn Michaels doesn’t always phrase things to his advantage – he aims to provoke, which is an impulse I deeply understand, but he may end up putting people off who should really listen to what he has to say. The valuable core of it, to me, is that capitalism need not be racist or sexist – equal-opportunity exploitation is theoretically possible, and even a reality in some instances. Big capital usually supports affirmative action and is deeply committed to workplace diversity. Neoliberalism prides itself on at least a verbal commitment to an economically borderless world, and the free flow of people and ideas as well as capital. What capitalism can’t live with is an end to class exploitation. So you could have half the CEOs of the Fortune 500 be female, 12% or so black, etc., and you’d still have a massively lopsided distribution of income and power. That’s not to say that racism and sexism don’t exist, far from it, but it is to say that they’re not capitalism’s fault in any profound sense.

To Read the Rest of the Interview

ABC Afterschool Special: The Day My Kid Went Punk

Watch it at Vimeo

Infomania: Johnny Weir -- That's Gay

OK, obviously, since I don't have a TV, I dislike corporate culture in general, and I'm not a fan of non-participatory sports... I'm not an expert on the Olympics, but.... based upon this video, Johnny Weir is now my favorite Olympic athlete simply because of the confusion he causes the media commentators, corporate sponsors, and dunderhead macho athletes (Thanks Saul K. for the video--hope you are enjoying this week's Gender and Sexuality films!)

Standard Operating Procedure (USA: Errol Morris, 2008)

(Extra-Credit opportunity for my students--watch and write a 600+ response)

Standard Operating Procedure: Synopsis
by Errol Morris

Is it possible for a photograph to change the world? Photographs taken by soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison changed the war in Iraq and changed America’s image of itself. Yet, a central mystery remains. Did the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs constitute evidence of systematic abuse by the American military, or were they documenting the aberrant behavior of a few “bad apples”?

We set out to examine the context of these photographs. Why were they taken? What was happening outside the frame? We talked directly to the soldiers who took the photographs and who were in the photographs. Who are these people? What were they thinking? Over two years of investigation, we amassed a million and a half words of interview transcript, thousands of pages of unredacted reports, and hundreds of photographs.

The story of Abu Ghraib is still shrouded in moral ambiguity, but it is clear what happened there. The Abu Ghraib photographs serve as both an expose and a coverup. An expose, because the photographs offer us a glimpse of the horror of Abu Ghraib; and a coverup because they convinced journalists and readers they had seen everything, that there was no need to look further. In recent news reports, we have learned about the destruction of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation tapes. A coverup. It has been front page news. But the coverup at Abu Ghraib involved thousands of prisoners and hundreds of soldiers. We are still learning about the extent of it. Many journalists have asked about “the smoking gun” of Abu Ghraib. It is the wrong question. As Philip Gourevitch has commented, Abu Ghraib is the smoking gun. The underlying question that we still have not resolved, four years after the scandal: how could American values become so compromised that Abu Ghraib—and the subsequent coverup—could happen?

Link to the Synopsis

To watch the entire documentary online:

The Daily Show: CPAC 2010 - Rage Within the Machine

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CPAC 2010 - Rage Within the Machine
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorVancouverage 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: First Graders Can't Identify Fruits, Veggies

Link to article at Huffington Post

Huffington Post: UC San Diego -- Racial Tensions Boil Over

UC San Diego: Racial Tensions Boil Over
Huffington Post

Following a night of unrest at UC Berkeley, fresh protests have swelled at UC San Diego after a week plagued by racially charged incidents.

Last night, a noose was found hanging on a light in the campus library, according to the UC Regents (Live)blog. A female student today admitted that she and two others were responsible for placing the noose there.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, students gathered today at Aldrich Hall on campus to protest and were addressed by an administrator:

"This is truly a dark day in the history of this university," Chancellor Marye Anne Fox told students gathered along Library Walk. "It's abhorrent and untenable."

On his Facebook page, UC System President Mark Yudof wrote that this most recent event was "a despicable act of racial hatred."

It has no place in civilized society and it will not be tolerated - not on this particular campus, not on any University of California campus. A full investigation is underway by both campus and law enforcement officials. We support it. Appalling acts of this sort cannot go unpunished.

This incident comes on the heels of another race-related campus controversy last week stemming from a party with a ghetto theme. News 10 reports:

Called the "Compton Cookout," attendees were urged to dress and act in a manner that school officials say perpetuated racist stereotypes. An invitation on Facebook urged female participants to dress as "ghetto chicks" and said chicken, watermelon and malt liquor would be served at the party.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Juliana Hanle: Yale University Dean’s Office Web site to host essays about sex

Dean’s Office Web site to host essays about sex
By Juliana Hanle
Yale Daily News

Even the Yale College Dean’s Office is interested in Yale’s sex scene.

With the overhaul of its Web site this coming summer, the Dean’s Office will post a new student-generated essay collection under the title “sex@yale.” The site will include 500- to 1,000-word essays by current undergraduates, allowing them to reflect anonymously on their sexual experiences at Yale and their impressions of the sexual culture here.

The Web site will not be password protected, so anyone can read it, said Melanie Boyd, director of undergraduate studies in Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies and the new special advisor to the dean of Yale College on gender issues.

Laura Gottesdiener ’10, co-chair of the project’s editorial board, said she appreciates Yale’s progressiveness in supporting the initiative.

“The Dean’s Office wants it to be from the students, for the students and by the students,” she said.

The idea grew out of a meeting in October between Women’s Center board members and Dean of Freshman Affairs Raymond Ou. In the wake of the “Pre-season Scouting Report” scandal this past fall, in which unidentified students circulated an e-mail ranking the attractiveness of incoming female freshmen, administrators decided to consider ways to contribute positively to the sexual culture on campus, Boyd said.

Boyd said she wondered why Yale was no longer distributing pamphlets and holding lectures on sexuality, as it had done when the College first admitted women in 1969. In response, the Women’s Center and the Dean’s Office decided to create an online forum where students could understand the range of sexual experiences on campus.

“There’s a real need for students to have space to think about what happens to them and what they want to have happen,” Boyd said.

The Women’s Center intentionally ceded the project to Boyd’s jurisdiction because members of the center thought the project would gain a wider variety of participants if it distinguished itself from the Women’s Center, said Alice Buttrick ’10 and Rachel Achs ’10, the center’s former and current public relations coordinators, respectively.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Friday, February 26, 2010

William Neuman: Bribes Let Tomato Vendor Sell Tainted Food

(Courtesy of Jane Garton)

Bribes Let Tomato Vendor Sell Tainted Food
by William Neuman
The New York Times

Robert Watson, a top ingredient buyer for Kraft Foods, needed $20,000 to pay his taxes. So he called a broker for a California tomato processor that for years had been paying him bribes to get its products into Kraft’s plants.

The check would soon be in the mail, the broker promised. “We’ll have to deduct it out of your commissions as we move forward,” he said, using a euphemism for bribes.

Days later, federal agents descended on Kraft’s offices near Chicago and confronted Mr. Watson. He admitted his role in a bribery scheme that has laid bare a startling vein of corruption in the food industry. And because the scheme also involved millions of pounds of tomato products with high levels of mold or other defects, the case has raised serious questions about how well food manufacturers safeguard the quality of their ingredients.

Over the last 14 months, Mr. Watson and three other purchasing managers, at Frito-Lay, Safeway and B&G Foods, have pleaded guilty to taking bribes. Five people connected to one of the nation’s largest tomato processors, SK Foods, have also admitted taking part in the scheme.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Laura Maggi and Brendan McCarthy: Former police officer pleads guilty to Danziger Bridge shooting cover-up of stunning breadth

(Courtesy of Patrick Biggers)

Former police officer pleads guilty to Danziger Bridge shooting cover-up of stunning breadth
by Laura Maggi and Brendan McCarthy

Admitting a cover-up of shocking breadth, a former New Orleans police supervisor pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction charge on Wednesday, confessing that he participated in a conspiracy to justify the shooting of six unarmed people after Hurricane Katrina that was hatched not long after police stopped firing their weapons.

The guilty plea of Lt. Michael Lohman, who retired from the department earlier this month, contains explosive details of the alleged cover-up and ramps up the legal pressure on police officers involved in the shooting and subsequent investigation. It's unclear when Lohman's cooperation with federal authorities began, but he presumably is prepared to testify against the officers he says helped him lie about the circumstances of a shooting he immediately deemed a "bad shoot."

Facts that Michael Lohman admitted to

Lohman, who pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to obstruct justice, admits he failed to order the collection of evidence or canvassing of witnesses, helped craft police reports riddled with false information, participated in a plan to plant a gun under the bridge and lied to investigators who questioned police actions.

A spokesman for NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley said the chief did not have a comment about the guilty plea. Bob Young said Riley stands by the quote he made Tuesday, as news of the guilty plea broke. "We hope that justice is served," he said then.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin did not respond to a request for comment.

To Read the Rest of the Article, To access original documents, and read more reports on the cases

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the Bench; Justice for Sale; Jeffrey Toobin on the Supreme Court and the 'Citizens United' Case

(Here is the true threat of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision to remove limits on corporate spending in elections----the elections of judges)

Bill Moyers Journal

Buying the Bench
by Bill Moyers

BILL MOYERS: Over the course of a long career in journalism, I've covered this story of money in politics more than any other. From time to time, I've been hopeful about a change for the better, but truth is, it just keeps getting uglier every year.

Those who write the checks keep buying the results they want at the expense of the public. As a reputedly self-governing democracy, we desperately need to address the problems that we've created for ourselves, but money makes impossible the reforms that might save us.

Nothing in this country seems to be working to anyone's satisfaction except the wealth machine that rewards those who game the system. Unless we break their grip on our political institution, their power to buy the agenda they want no matter the cost to everyone else, we're finished as a functioning democracy.

To Listen Bill Moyers Entire Audio Essay

Justice for Sale

How would you feel if you were in court and knew that the opposing lawyer had contributed money to the judge's campaign fund? This is not an improbable hypothetical question, but could be a commonplace occurrence in the 21 states where judges must raise money to campaign for their seats — often from people with business before the court.

Though many states have elected judges since their founding, in the past 30 years, judicial elections have morphed from low-key affairs to big money campaigns. From 1999-2008, judicial candidates raised $200.4 million, more than double the $85.4 million raised in the previous decade (1989-1998).

Because of the costs of running such a campaign, critics contend that judges have had to become politicians and fundraisers rather than jurists. In a poll by Justice at Stake, 97% of elected state Supreme Court justices said they were under pressure to raise money during their election years.

According to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, of all the fallout from the Citizens United decision, the most dangerous may be in judicial elections. These often low-profile affairs have become extraordinarily expensive in recent years, as interest groups have sought to shape the court in their favor by electing judges who share their views. With 87% of state judges facing election, the Citizens United case could have profound effects on the nation's court system. In remarks to Georgetown University law students, O'Connor said, "This rise in judicial campaigning makes last week's opinion in Citizens United a problem for an independent judiciary. No state can possibly benefit from having that much money injected into a political campaign."

This week the JOURNAL revisits "Justice for Sale," a 1999 documentary about the impact of money on judicial elections in three states — Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana. To create the documentary — produced by Steve Talbot and Sheila Kaplan — Bill Moyers collaborated with public television's acclaimed documentary series FRONTLINE and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

To Listen to this Episode

Jeffrey Toobin

A late February 2010 ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST poll found that 80 percent of Americans on both sides of the aisle oppose the Supreme Court's ruling on campaign finance in Citizens United v. FEC. Sixty-five percent of those asked "strongly" oppose it. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin contends that, indeed, the ruling's potential to harm democracy runs very deep:

I think judicial elections are really the untold story of Citizens United, the untold implication. Because when the decision happened, a lot of people said, 'Okay. This means that Exxon will spend millions of dollars to defeat Barack Obama when he runs for re-election.' I don't think there's any chance of that at all. That's too high profile. There's too much money available from other sources in a presidential race. But judicial elections are really a national scandal that few people really know about. Because corporations in particular, and labor unions to a lesser extent, have such tremendous interest in who's on state supreme courts and even lower state courts that that's where they're going to put their money and their energy because they'll get better bang for their buck there.

Listen to the Interview

Caribou: Melody Day

Henriette Gunkel and Christiane König: ‘You are not welcome here’ -- post-apartheid negrophobia and real aliens in Blomkamp’s District 9

‘You are not welcome here’: post-apartheid negrophobia and real aliens in Blomkamp’s District 9
by Henriette Gunkel and Christiane König

When District 9 (D9) was released in August 2009, the film was an immediate box office hit in several countries. This was much to the surprise of critics, reviewers and bloggers, who seemed astonished by the fact that a science fiction film with this impact could originate from South Africa. Internet forum discussions and an E-Symposium emerged as a response to the film, which continues to be the subject of controversial discussion.[1] While many celebrate the film in relation to the ‘generic’ genre of Science Fiction as a promising representative of a thriving African Cinema, others reject the film on the basis of its socio-political message, as yet another racist movie about Africa – with reference to the depiction of both ‘the Nigerians’ and the aliens.[2] In this article, we would like to move beyond a crudely metaphorical reading of representation (‘the aliens stand for X in reality’), and explore the degree to which the film foregrounds its own mediality. This focus moves us beyond a polarizing position that immediately rejects the film as racist, and allows us to engage with a complex and original text unlike so many other films that take ‘Africa’ as their subject.

From its first image, D9 is hyper-reflective on its own status as a medium. As viewers, we are confronted with a flamboyant play of remediation, as sketched out by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin.[3] There, the two strategies of immediacy (a medium makes itself transparent on the referent: ‘looking through’) and hypermediacy (a medium reflects on itself by differentiating itself from another: ‘looking at’) struggle in manifold ways to constitute a complexity not only of the narrative and its semiotic significance but also the overall status of the depicted. In D9, documentaries from the 1980s are used to depict the arrival of the aliens in South Africa. TV-reports are added, which not only show the (militant) conflicts between the local population and the aliens but also the struggles of the aliens with the local police over the following years. In interwoven faux documentaries ‘experts’ express their opinion concerning all social and political issues that the film raises within its course, culminating in a fictitious TV-report with a well-known news anchor man from the SABC network. Visual and aesthetic strategies from Hollywood movies, surveillance cameras and computer games complement and complicate this overloaded genre play.

This form of hypermediacy not only references surveillance societies and 24-hours news cycles but characterizes the film from its beginning as hybrid. As a hybrid the film systematically denies the viewer easy access to the authenticity of what is portrayed. By doing so the film unsettles dichotomies such as ‘us’ and ‘them’ as well as understandings of difference and identity. This needs to be understood as a strategy of subversion but more importantly as the productivity of the film itself. The reality that the film pretends to represent is in fact only produced through the film. In this way it becomes clear that the authenticity or putative origin of any identity (and therefore of any social reality depicted in the film) did not exist beforehand but is rather the effect of its positioning through media. Accordingly, it is important to look closely at the media strategies that are initiated through the film at particular moments and examine their purpose to either authenticate referents or to display their constructedness. We will return to these strategies throughout this article.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Atticus Narain: Rethinking post-colonial representation after Slumdog Millionaire

Rethinking post-colonial representation after Slumdog Millionaire
by Atticus Narain
Dark Matter

Sound bites: poverty porn, slum tourism, imperialist guilt flick, post-colonial inequalities continued, Bombay’s underbelly revealed- revelled, brilliant, feel good movie, accurate portrayal, gross misrepresentation, a visual Lonely Planet guide to Mumbai, an (anti-)Indian movie, Bollywood mania. On television Boyle takes questions from enthusiastic BrAsians; in The Guardian Rushdie laments the “impossibility on impossibility”; and angry Amitabh Bachchan writes back – sounds jealous; my own contribution would be Angelina Jolie and Madonna tussling at the Oscars over adopting the movie’s child actors.

The American and British film industries’ acclamation of Slumdog Millionaire has raised much media debate. Issues of authenticity, cultural ownership,‘burden of representation’, the nationality of its director, its content and stylistic aesthetics, and Eurocentric and/or re-Orientalist visions, have created a vast contact zone for analyzing cinema, identity, and nationalism. None of this is new of course – contention of where Kurosawa and Ray belong continues; Spike Lee’s criticism of Quentin Tarantino’s use of Afro-American linguistics replays these debates – albeit with different histories of race, empire and exploitation. Using child actors as allegories of post-colonial development is characteristic of new national cinemas. This is brilliantly done in Amir Naderi’s The Runner; Salam Bombay is a little geographically closer, and numerous Indian socials of the fifties and sixties deployed children as central to narrative development and critique.

Slumdog Millionaire does not confirm to the contexts of such debates usually associated with World – Third – Alternative – cinemas, certainly not in the political sense that these cinemas are often discussed. Every now and again a film’s popularity transcends the categories accorded them and is propelled to a much higher and holy accolade. Slumdog Millionaire is City of Joy for the twenty-first century, informed by an anthropological attempt at readdressing inequalities of representation by “giving” the camera to the Other and erasing the need for white protagonists – well almost. If Boyle’s ethnicity was different would all this discussion be taking place? What happened to Gurinder Chadha’s aesthetic and agenda? Forced to succumb to funding desires of reproducing the East for the West- Bride and Prejudice- or producing minority narratives that tick every possible identity ‘clash’? Gentle, unassuming, had never even been to India prior to filming, Boyle does it better!

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Seeing Red Radio: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti, Malcolm X, Billy Bragg, Utah Philips, Saul Williams, Masada, DJ Spooky, Fela Kuti

October’s Release from the Archive
Seeing Red Radio

A show slightly dated by the Bush references, but the new regime that pilots America’s Imperial Juggernaut has barely altered course. It includes sections of a Noam Chomsky talk ..., as well as Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti, Malcolm X and music by the likes of Billy Bragg, Utah Philips, Saul Williams, Masada, DJ Spooky, Fela Kuti and others.

Marching Song of the Covert Battalions – Billy Bragg
Pledge of Resistance – Saul Williams
World Turned Upside Down – Billy Bragg
VIP – Fela Kuti
to name a few…

To Listen to the Episode

Rachel Maddow Show: Glenn Greenwald "A Terrorist By Any Other Name"

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Glenn Greenwald: Excessive bipartisanship and other matters

Excessive bipartisanship and other matters
By Glenn Greenwald

One of the strangest prongs of conventional Beltway wisdom is the lament that there is not enough bipartisanship. The opposite is true: many of the most damaging acts inflicted on the country by Washington are enacted on a fully bipartisan basis -- the most destructive political act of this generation, the invasion of Iraq, was fully bipartisan, as were most of the post-9/11 civil liberties abuses and other Bush-era initiatives-- and, at least in certain areas, the harmonious joining together of Republicans and Democrats continues unabated:

Senate votes to extend Patriot Act

Democrats retreat from adding new privacy protections to the law

The Senate voted Wednesday to extend for a year key provisions of the nation's counterterrorism surveillance law that are scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

In agreeing to pass the bill, Senate Democrats retreated from adding new privacy protections to the USA Patriot Act.

The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote with no debate. It now goes to the House. . . .

Supporters say extending the law enables authorities to keep important tools in the fight against terrorism. It would also give Democrats some cover from Republican criticism that the Obama administration is soft on terrorism. . . . Some Democrats, however, had to forfeit new privacy protections they had sought for the law. . . .

"I would have preferred to add oversight and judicial review improvements to any extension of expiring provisions in the USA Patriot Act," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But I understand some Republican senators objected."

A mountain of evidence has emerged over the last several years documenting pervasive, systematic abuse of the Patriot Act powers. The proposed safeguards were extremely modest and would have provided minimal oversight on how those powers were exercised. Leading Democrats such as Dianne Feinstein spent all years ensuring that the proposed reforms were weakened to the point of virtual meaningless. But as weakened as they were, "some Republican senators objected" and might have called Democrats "soft on terror," so that was the end of that. The domestic surveillance law that Democrats spent years assailing as dangerously overbroad when out of power is renewed in full now that they are in power. That's the Beauty of Bipartisanship, and the last thing we need is more of it.

To read the rest of the post and to access hyperlinked resources

Candorville: Yin and Yang, Pt 4

Courtesy of Laura W.

Republican legislator Bob Marshall says disabled children are 'God's punishment' for abortion

(I should start a WTF archive... Courtesy of Gerald Adair)

Video: Republican legislator says disabled children are 'God's punishment' for abortion
Crooks and Liars

When a group of religious-right poobahs unveiled their effort in Virginia last week to attack Planned Parenthood and its funding, one of them -- a Republican legislator named Bob Marshal, as Josh at RightWingWatch reported -- declared that God punished women who've had abortions by giving them disabled children later:

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Marshall, a Republican.

“In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”

To Read the Rest of the Post and to watch the video of Bob Marshall

Aldo Leopold: Thinking Like a Mountain

(Was reminded of one of my favorite environmental writings (by the hunter and conservationist) by Aldo Leopold after watching this news report in which the corporate chainstore Cabela's tries to justify there support of a "predator derby" ... Original news report courtesy of Jane Garton.)

Thinking Like a Mountain
By Aldo Leopold

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.

Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

image of deer skull: 5kWe all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.

ENG 282--International Film Studies: Oscar Picks

(Students, post choices before the start of the Oscar ceremony. Remember if you get all 6 choices correct it will count for one of your responses. I will post my choices this weekend. Good luck!)

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress

My choices (corresponding to the list above)

The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow
Jeremy Renner
Gabourey Sidibe
Stanley Tucci
Maggie Gyllenhall

For a list of Oscar nominations

John Schwartz: Courts as Battlefields in Climate Fights

(Courtesy of Russell Williamson)

Courts as Battlefields in Climate Fights
by John Schwartz
The New York Times

Tiny Kivalina, Alaska, does not have a hotel, a restaurant or a movie theater. But it has a very big lawsuit that might affect the way the nation deals with climate change.

Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo village of 400 perched on a barrier island north of the Arctic Circle, is accusing two dozen fuel and utility companies of helping to cause the climate change that it says is accelerating the island’s erosion.

Blocks of sea ice used to protect the town’s fragile coast from October on, but “we don’t have buildup right now, and it is January,” said Janet Mitchell, Kivalina’s administrator. “We live in anxiety during high-winds seasons.”

The village wants the companies, including Exxon, Mobil, Shell Oil, and many others, to pay the costs of relocating to the mainland, which could amount to as much as $400 million.

The case is one of three major lawsuits filed by environmental groups, private lawyers and state officials around the nation against big producers of heat-trapping gases. And though the village faces a difficult battle, the cases are gathering steam.

In recent months, two federal appeals courts reversed decisions by federal district courts to dismiss climate-change lawsuits, allowing the cases to go forward. In Connecticut, environmental lawyers joined forces with attorneys general of eight states and the City of New York seeking a court order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Mississippi, Gulf Coast property owners claim that industry-produced emissions that contribute to climate change increased the potency of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

And although a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., dismissed the Kivalina suit in October, the village is appealing the decision.

Tracy D. Hester, who has taught a course in climate lawsuits at the University of Houston law school, said that with the issues “very much in play” in three circuits of the federal court system, “the game pieces are being set for eventual Supreme Court review.”

The cases need not even get that far to have an impact, said James E. Tierney, the director of the National State Attorneys General program at Columbia Law School. Kivalina alleged in its complaint that the industry conspired “to suppress the awareness of the link” between emissions and climate change through “front groups, fake citizens organizations and bogus scientific bodies.”

That claim echoes those in suits against the tobacco industry that ultimately led to industry settlements and increased government regulation.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Steve Cohan: "Hollywood by Hollywood -- The Industrial Self-Reflexivity of In a Lonely Place and Sunset Boulevard" (University of Kentucky: 3/4/10)

"Hollywood by Hollywood: The Industrial Self-Reflexivity of In a Lonely Place and Sunset Boulevard"
by Steven Cohan
Thursday, March 4, 4:00 PM in the Niles Gallery

Steven Cohan's Masked Men "provides a stunning, important, and very entertaining addition to American film studies, to cold war studies, and to gender studies. An exemplary piece of cultural criticism, it helps us construct a sharper, more complete understanding of the fabric of assumptions and tenets of cultural production that circumscribe the performance of 'masculinity' at a specific historical moment."
--Film Quarterly

Professor Cohan, who teaches at Syracuse University, is widely recognized as one of the leading scholars and critics of post-World War II American film. His numerous works include Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties (Indiana UP, 1997), Incongruous Entertainment: Camp, Cultural Value, and the MGM Musical (Duke UP, 2005) and, most recently, CSI: Crime Scenes Investigation (BFI and Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008). In addition, he has edited or co-edited books on Hollywood musicals, on "road movies," and on masculinities in Hollywood cinema, and he is co-editor of the series "In Focus: Routledge Film Readers," that includes over a dozen titles. Professor Cohan is also an expert on Narrative theory and the English novel, a topic on which he has published two books and several articles.

Professor Cohan's talk will come from his work-in-progress, Self-Reflexive Hollywood, a book on movies about movie-making and the branding of US motion pictures. The talk is free and open to the public.

The Auteurs: True/False Film Festival Celebration

In honor of this year's True/False Film Festival The Auteurs are hosting an online a retrospective selection of documentaries from past festivals (all free).

The Auteurs
True/False Film Festival
To Watch the Documentaries Online

Sons of a Gun (USA: Rivkah Beth Medow and Greg O'Toole, 2008: 70 mins)

A freshly minted classic, Sons of a Gun is a portrait of a new archetypal American family—Larry, a laissez-faire LAPD hostage negotiator, and the three mentally ill adults under his care in a Bay Area motel room. Inside this claustrophobic fish bowl, we come to see lovability and comic timing along with the tics and the outbursts. Delightful and disturbing, the film crackles like a dark sitcom by way of R. Crumb and the Beale sisters. With expressive camerawork and brisk editing, Medow and O’Toole have created indelible characters and a narrative that fulfills a social mission much more effectively than a prescriptive piece on behalf of the mentally ill. It’s a jaw-dropping ride that confounds our expectations at every turn — including a second-act twist that shatters any notion their lives were going to be romanticized.

Someday My Prince Will Come Someday My Prince Will Come (UK: Marc Isaacs, 2005: 48 mins)

Heartrending and hilarious in ways that only the love life of an 11-year-old can be, this British doc is certain to provoke lots of discussion and perhaps some controversy. Rare in its willingness to accept kids on their own terms, Someday My Prince Will Come is narrated in rhyming voice-over by its subject, Laura-Anne, as she brings us along on her quest to find a “prince.” Along the way, we’re reminded of the tumultuous nature of young love and offered an unvarnished look at the social life of a small British coastal village.

The Mother (Russia/France/Switzerland: Antoine Cattin and Pavel Kostomarov, 2007: 80 mins)

Though its focus remains tight on its main subject — a Russian single mother of nine — Antoine Cattin and Pavel Kostomarov’s award-winning film has the scope, precision and resonance of a literary masterpiece. The cinematography is startling, with bleached colors that reflect the washed-out dreams of its subjects. Though shot largely with handheld cameras, its compositions would do Cartier-Bresson proud. The film’s blend of long takes and jump cuts give it the feel of an epic. And the characters and their stories are richer than fiction, as they celebrate, fight, grieve and survive. But The Mother is more than the sum of these magnificent parts, thanks to the richness and complexity of the themes it explores: the daily violence absorbed by women and children, the impossible traps of modern masculinity, the generations-long impact of addiction, the innocence of first love. Taking the long-form documentary to new heights, Cattin and Kostomarov have crafted an urgent classic of 21st-century cinema.

The Order of Myths (USA: Margaret Brown, 2008: 97 mins)

The first Mardi Gras in America was celebrated in Mobile, Alabama in 1703. In 2007, it is still racially segregated. Filmmaker Margaret Brown (Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt), herself a daughter of Mobile, escorts us into the parallel hearts of the city s two carnivals. With unprecedented access, she traces the exotic world of secret mystic societies and centuries-old traditions and pageantry; diamond-encrusted crowns, voluminous, hand-sewn gowns, surreal masks and enormous paper mache floats. Against this opulent backdrop, she uncovers a tangled web of historical violence and power dynamics, elusive forces that keep this hallowed tradition organized along enduring color lines.

Running Stumbled (USA: John Maringouin, 2006: 85 mins)

Louisiana-born filmmaker John Maringouin arrives at the front door of his father Johnny Roe’s New Orleans home unannounced to offer an apocalyptic portrait of his dysfunctional family in this unflinching, multi-sensory documentary that utilizes digital and auditory manipulation to take the viewer deeper into the psyche of a disturbed artist than they may care to travel. When Maringouin was just a child, his drug-addicted father once threatened to kill his family. These days, artist Johnny lives in drug-addicted squalor with his common-law wife Virgie. Now, as arguments erupt and threats are made, the pieces of the puzzle that Maringouin has worked for years to assemble finally begin to fall into place. —allmovie guide

The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories (Bulgaria: Andrey Paounov, 2007: 100 mins)

A small town and its hopeful citizens are about to embark on a bright new journey. Massive rusty cranes, foreign investors, and the joyful chants of cheerleaders carry the dream of a great nuclear future. Disturbed only by gigantic stinging mosquitoes, the townsfolk celebrate the atomic hurray by engraving the nuclear power plant logo on buildings and soup bowls. Amidst the apparent atomic prosperity, lies a past that no one wants to remember. An island holding terrifying secrets. Stories of shocking and horrible crimes loom on the city just like the dark clouds of mosquitoes descending on its citizens. A world instantly transformed by ideologies, regimes and dreams of economic prosperity. The tales of characters whose lives intersect in a sinister past, nuclear future and the stinging mosquitoes fl­ying through time, sealing their fate together.
Another Massey coal slurry spill in Martin County
by Erik Hungerbuhler
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC)

This morning KFTC member Mickey McCoy, a resident of Martin County, discovered that a stream near his home, the Coldwater Fork, was running gray and black from a slurry spill at a coal processing facility owned by Massey Energy. These types of spills threaten the health of nearby residents and wildlife populations and are all too frequently a fact of life for people who live downstream from slurry impoundments.

After investigating the spill for himself, Mickey spoke with an Appalshop filmmaker on the phone about the spill. You can listen to an edited version of their conversation here.

This spill is nowhere near the scale of the Martin Co. coal sludge flood of 2000, but it is a continuation of an ongoing pattern of clean water violations by Massey Energy despite Massey's $20 million settlement with the EPA for Clean Water Act violations two years ago. Ken Ward Jr. reported last month on his blog, the Coal Tatoo:

Between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, Massey violated its effluent limits at its various operations at least 971 times, and accrued 12,977 days of violation during that 12-month period. The U.S. government’s lawsuit against Massey, which resulted in the $20 million settlement, alleged more than 60,000 days of violations over a six-year period, or about 10,000 days of violations per year.

What is it going to take to get Massey to obey the law? Why are they allowed to continue operating when they show a consistent disregard for the health and safety of the communities they reside in?

To Listen to an Interview and Access More Resources

No Logo: Brands, Globalization, Resistance (USA: Sut Jhally/Naomi Klein, 2003)

Media Education Foundation

In the age of the brand, logos are everywhere. But why do some of the world's best-known brands find themselves on the wrong end of the spray paint can -- the targets of anti-corporate campaigns by activists and protesters?

No Logo, based on the best-selling book by Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein, reveals the reasons behind the backlash against the increasing economic and cultural reach of multinational companies. Analyzing how brands like Nike, The Gap, and Tommy Hilfiger became revered symbols worldwide, Klein argues that globalization is a process whereby corporations discovered that profits lay not in making products (outsourced to low-wage workers in developing countries), but in creating branded identities people adopt in their lifestyles.

Using hundreds of media examples, No Logo shows how the commercial takeover of public space, destruction of consumer choice, and replacement of real jobs with temporary work - the dynamics of corporate globalization - impact everyone, everywhere. It also draws attention to the democratic resistance arising globally to challenge the hegemony of brands.


To preview the book

Common Sense with Dan Carlin #161: Shhh!

#161 - Shhh!
Common Sense with Dan Carlin

The Patriot Act is being used against people who aren't terrorists. Dan is not surprised. Also: How our country's addiction to secrecy is hurting our Republic.

To Listen to the Episode

Harry Kelber: The Unemployed Now Have Their Own Union, and It's Catching on Quickly

(Courtesy of Michael Marchman)

The Unemployed Now Have Their Own Union, and It's Catching on Quickly
by Harry Kelber

An ingenious grassroots union for the unemployed is only a month old -- and its numbers are growing.

It's been only a month that a union for the unemployed has come into existence through an ingenious grassroots organizing campaign. In case you haven't heard about it, the union's name is "UR Union of the Unemployed" or its nickname, "UCubed," because of its unique method of organizing.

UCubed is the brain-child of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), whose leaders feel that the millions of unemployed workers need a union of their own to join in the struggle for massive jobs programs.

The idea is that if millions of jobless join together and act as an organization, they are more likely to get Congress and the White House to provide the jobs that are urgently needed. They can also apply pressure for health insurance coverage, unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits and food stamps. An unemployed worker is virtually helpless if he or she has to act alone.

Joining a Cube is as simple as it is important. (Please check the union web site: Six people who live in the same zip code address can form a Ucube. Nine such UCubes make a neighborhood. Three neighborhood UCubes form a power block that cntains 162 activists. Politicians cannot easily ignore a multitude of power blocks, nor can merchants avoid them.

The union is built from the ground up. Cube activists will select their own leadership in each cube, neighborhood, block and higher group as well.

Jobless Union's Encouraging Progress in One Month

The UR Union of Unemployed (or UCubed) already has members in over 300 zip code addresses and 43 states, reports Rick Sloan, acting executive director of the union. Seventy-five cubes are up and running. For the first month, 19,998 people visited the site and viewed over 138,000 pages of content.

The union's Op-Ed article appeared in 62 newspapers, ranging from the "Black News" to the "Mexican American Sun," and from the "Las Vegas Tribune" to the "Senior Life of Northern Indiana." Total circulation exceeded 12 million readers,

UCubed put out three press releases last month, informing politicians in Washington that the union of unemployed will be watching--and reacting--to their vote on the latest job proposals of the Obama administration.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Bill Moyers Journal: Bill T. Jones "FONDLY DO WE HOPE...FERVENTLY DO WE PRAY"

Bill Moyers Journal

At the close of Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial year, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL takes a unique look at our nation's 16th President — through the eyes of critically acclaimed, veteran dance artist Bill T. Jones. In a groundbreaking work of choreography called FONDLY DO WE HOPE...FERVENTLY DO WE PRAY, Jones reimagines a young Lincoln in his formative years through dance. Bill Moyers speaks with Jones about his creative process, his insights into Lincoln, and how dance can give us fresh perspective on America's most-studied president.

"This piece, ultimately, is not a biopic [...] It is supposed to be, 'How can we use Lincoln and his time as a mirror through which we look darkly at ourselves?'" says Jones.

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance company has launched a video-packed Web site to document the creative process underlying FONDLY DO WE HOPE...FERVENTLY DO WE PRAY. There you will find video of the work in progress and a diary of the development of the piece.

The upcoming AMERICAN MASTERS documentary A GOOD MAN also chronicles the award-winning and influential Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company as they work on "FONDLY DO WE HOPE...FERVENTLY DO WE PRAY." The film follows Jones and his Company as they create movement and gesture stirring complicated emotions about Lincoln's legacy in contemporary life while asking: What does Lincoln signify in terms of race relations, civil rights, freedom and equality, and these "United States"? Jones lets the camera inside to witness his creative process as he grapples with the contradictions created by an African-American modern dancer creating a definitive work on Lincoln.

To Watch the Episode and Access More Resources

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (USA: Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp, 2007: 73 mins)

War Made Easy reaches into the Orwellian memory hole to expose a 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after another from Vietnam to Iraq. Narrated by actor and activist Sean Penn, the film exhumes remarkable archival footage of official distortion and exaggeration from LBJ to George W. Bush, revealing in stunning detail how the American news media have uncritically disseminated the pro-war messages of successive presidential administrations.

Amy Goodman: Cracking Down on Fracking

Cracking Down on Fracking
by Amy Goodman
Common Dreams

Mike Markham of Colorado has an explosive problem: His tap water catches fire. Markham demonstrates this in a new documentary, “Gasland,” which just won the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize. Director Josh Fox films Markham as he runs his kitchen faucet, holding a cigarette lighter up to the running water. After a few seconds, a ball of fire erupts out of the sink, almost enveloping Markham’s head.

The source of the flammable water, and the subject of “Gasland,” is the mining process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Fracking is used to access natural gas and oil reserves buried thousands of feet below the ground. Companies like Halliburton drill down vertically, then send the shaft horizontally, crossing many small, trapped veins of gas and oil. Explosive charges are then set off at various points in the drill shaft, causing what Fox calls “mini-earthquakes.” These fractures spread underground, allowing the gas to flow back into the shaft to be extracted. To force open the fractures, millions of gallons of liquid are forced into the shaft at very high pressure.

The high-pressure liquids are a combination of water, sand and a secret mix of chemicals. Each well requires between 1 million and 7 million gallons of the fluid every time gas is extracted. Drillers do not have to reveal the chemical cocktail, thanks to a slew of exemptions given to the industry, most notably in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which actually granted the fracking industry a specific exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. California Congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has just announced an investigation into the composition of the proprietary chemicals used in fracking. In a Feb. 18 letter, Waxman commented on the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption: “Many dubbed this provision the ‘Halliburton loophole’ because of Halliburton’s ties to then-Vice President Cheney and its role as one of the largest providers of hydraulic fracturing services.” Before he was vice president, Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton.

In an earlier investigation, Waxman learned that Halliburton had violated a 2003 nonbinding agreement with the government in which the company promised not to use diesel fuel in the mix when extracting from certain wells. Halliburton pumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic, diesel-containing liquids into the ground, potentially contaminating drinking water.

To Read the Rest of the Article

William Fisher: US Government Sued Over Cell Phone Tracking

Gov't Sued Over Cell Phone Tracking
by William Fisher
Common Dreams

If you are a U.S. resident who owns a cell phone, you should care about the outcome of a court case that "could well decide whether the government can use your cell phone to track you - even if it hasn't shown probable cause to believe it will turn up evidence of a crime."

That was the warning issued to the public by several major civil liberties organizations as they appeared in federal court in Philadelphia to argue for more privacy protections in the use of cell phones as tracking devices by law enforcement agents.

The case is at the heart of the constitutional crisis now being played out in the U.S. federal court. Civil liberties groups are asking the court to require that the government show probable cause before it can track your whereabouts.

The groups are the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

Back in 2007, the U.S. government applied for court permission to obtain information about the location of an individual's cell phone, without showing probable cause that tracking the individual would turn up evidence of a crime.

A magistrate judge denied the government's request and a district court upheld that decision in September 2008. The government is appealing the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A number of civil liberties groups, on behalf of plaintiffs in the case, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the district court decision, arguing that district courts must require the government to show probable cause before permitting the government to obtain information about the location of a cell phone.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Peace and Conflict Studies: The People Speak, Pt. 2

(For students to post proposals for term paper--place in comments)

Harlan County USA (USA: Barbara Koppel, 1976: 103 mins)

Criterion Collection: Harlan County USA

In The People Speak there was a presentation of the words of Daniel Ellsberg who exposed the Vietnam War-era Pentagon Papers. A recent documentary explores the significance of his courageous act Filmmaker Magazine: Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith -- The Most Dangerous Man in America

Official site for the DVD The People Speak: The Voices of a People's History: The People Speak where you can access more resources and watch some of the performances again.

Extra credit opportunities for HUM 220 students (All events in the main auditorium in the Oswald Building: 600+ word response to the event):

March 24, 3:30-4:45 p.m.
Erin Howard (BCTC), World Vision

April 5, 3:30-4:45 p.m.
Peggy Ray, UK student, Human Trafficking

April 5, 6:30-7:45 pm
Michael Marchmann (NKU) and
Michael Benton (BCTC),
The Role of Protest in Democracy

April 7, 9:30-10:45
Nancy Reinhart, researcher with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
Coal Issues

April 13, 3:30-4:45
Captain Paul Chappell
Will War Ever End?

April 19, 6:30-7:45
Dave Cooper, Environmental Activist,
Mountain Justice Mountaintop Removal

April 22, 3:30-4:45
Sarah Lynn Cunningham, Environmental Educator and Engineer
Global Warming

Also the One World Film Festival is going to be starting in Lexington. All films are free and you can go to one and write a response for extra credit (600+ words):

One World Film Festival

One Page Printout of Films

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Riki "Garfunkel" Lindhome and Kate "Oates" Micucci: Sex With Ducks

Webster Word-of-the-Day: Logomachy

Webster Word-of-the-Day





1 : a dispute over or about words
*2 : a controversy marked by verbiage

Example Sentence

The surprising election results have opened the floodgates of logomachy in the political media outlets.


It doesn't take much to start people arguing about words, but there's no quarrel about the origin of "logomachy." It comes from the Greek roots "logos," meaning "word" or "speech," and "machesthai," meaning "to fight," and it entered English in the mid-1500s. If you're a word enthusiast, you probably know that "logos" is the root of many English words ("monologue," "neologism," "logic," and most words ending in "-logy," for example), but what about other derivatives of "machesthai"? Actually, this is a tough one even for word whizzes. Only a few very rare English words come from "machesthai." Here are two of them: "heresimach" ("an active opponent of heresy and heretics") and "naumachia" ("an ancient Roman spectacle representing a naval battle").

Monday, February 22, 2010

Michael Dean Benton: On Existentialism -- Five Propositions

(I'm thinking about my own personal philosophy these days and these are just some thoughts... responses appreciated!)

On Existentialism
by Michael Dean Benton

1) As humans we all exist, but it is our essence that makes us unique. What you are (essence) is the result of your choices (your existence) rather than the reverse. Essence is not destiny. You are what you make yourself to be. Our lives are not given to us, but must be developed consciously with care and consideration.

2) Living in the moment is essential, but we also interact and adapt based on our past experiences and future expectations. Yes, we are fundamentally time-bound beings, but we are also, much, much more than that. Unlike measurable (quantative), "clock" time, "lived" time is qualitative: the "not yet," the "already," and the "present" differ among themselves in meaning and value. We need to be aware of all of these. The impetus of living in the "moment" is that we should not let the past hang on us like a weight causing us to drown, or allow the possibility of an uncertain future to intimidate us to the point of inaction. Remember the lessons of the past, recognize the possibilities of the future, in order to fully live in the present.

3) Radical Humanism. Existentialism is a person-centered philosophy. It's focus is on the human individual's pursuit of identity and meaning amidst the social and economic pressures of mass society for superficiality and conformism. It is our responsibility, as free and conscious beings, to create meaning out of life and to develop an authentic essense. It is also, in my opinion, in this regard, our duty to help others develop their response-ability to do the same (for me as a teacher this is the core of an existentialist pedagogy). In this we are cultivating free, ethical and responsible individuals who care about their community. My radical humanism does not discount other beings in this world... it is holistic, in the sense of recognizing that humans are just one set of beings that live and share in the development and continuation of the broader ecosphere.

4) Freedom = Responsibility. Existentialism is a philosophy of freedom. It requires that we step back and reflect/reassess on what we have been doing and what effect our thoughts/actions have on the world. In this sense we are more than just individuals, we are members of larger collectives and our personal ethics always extend beyond ourselves (existentialism is not vulgar egotism). In this we can only be as "responsible" as we are "free." Response-ability, the ability for people to respond to the problems of their society and the impetus for them to care beyond themselves, is only realized by free, authentic and ethical beings. Where there is mindless conformism, shallow consumerism, or brutal oppression, you will see a breakdown in the development of response-ability (both in the ruled and rulers... or, manipulated and manipulators).

5) Ethical considerations are the primary questions. We all understand ethics and freedom differently, this is a given, and we must bring each of our understandings into play and sharpen our ideas through open/free public discourse. In this we, as individuals, as a community, as a society, and as a global ecosystem, should consider ethical questions. Each individual is responsible to develop and consider the authenticity of their own personal lives and their society.

Existentialism is a philosophy of living authentically in the world, but in the realization of our authentic self we also have an ethical responsibility to ensure that others have that same opportunity. My authenticity should not be at the expense of your opportunity to realize yourself (for example, we are not bloated ticks that feed off the misery of others in order to realize some twisted sense of self).

Political Compass Test

Political Compass Test

My results:

Explanation of the scoring

Kevin L. Ferguson: Yuppie devil -- Villainy in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel

Yuppie devil: villainy in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel
by Kevin L. Ferguson
Jump Cut

“When Mephistopheles shows up wearing a gold Rolex he’s truly a creature for our age.”
— Janet Maslin

Film critic Janet Maslin must call forth the devil himself to explain the curious appeal of the yuppie to late-80s filmgoers. The yuppie devil at the end of the 80s, though, is more a crafty Mephistopheles than a fearsome Lucifer. A sly character with a keen sense for bargain and an eye for economy, this devil wears his gold Rolex in fashionable display and makes his pacts in public. No more magical, smoke-filled entrances, the devil at the end of the 80s confidently takes his seat at the head of the yuppie bargaining table. The devil’s public appearance as a yuppie points up the heartless greed of that decade, and so Mephistopheles’ gold watch indicates not only his proper place at the yuppie’s table, but also the culpability of those seated across from him (with their own Rolexes, Mont Blanc pens, and Ferragamos). Maslin’s article focuses on two films, Internal Affairs (dir. Mike Figgis, U.S., 1990) and Bad Influence (dir. Curtis Hanson, U.S., 1990), to demonstrate this new trend in late-80s Hollywood cinema, where the formerly successful yuppie was conflated with the newly fashionable serial killer to create the hybrid character of the psychotic, villainous yuppie devil.

In this essay, I want to reexamine a third film that Maslin mentions briefly, Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel (U.S., 1990). Bigelow’s film is unusual since it simultaneously sustains and critiques the new trope of the yuppie devil. Furthermore, the film generated puzzled responses that allow us to see the ambivalent attitudes late-80s spectators held towards this new kind of yuppie villain. For example, even Maslin, in pointing out how yuppie devil films reveal the dangerous effects of “a decade of relative conscience-free complacency,” nonetheless mirrors this complacency by implicitly accepting the merging of yuppie and psycho tropes:

“When [Blue Steel] assumes that [its villain] automatically has the makings of a psychotic killer, it doesn’t imagine itself to be making any kind of leap.”[2]

The self-evident “obviousness” of Blue Steel’s yuppie devil makes the film worth revisiting since its ideological obviousness hides more complex cultural negotiations in the 1980s between economic power and filmic evil. Finally, since Blue Steel features a female heroine who must face the male yuppie devil, the film further questions the obviousness of assumed gender roles in late-80s imaginings of yuppie lifestyles. I will start by offering a reading of Blue Steel which argues that its yuppie devil was hastily dismissed, but is constructed in a significant visual relationship with that film’s heroine. I will then discuss the rapid transformation between 1984-1989 in U.S. popular culture representations of the yuppie from a success story to a symbol of evil.

As Maslin suggested, yuppie devil films like Blue Steel rely on a shared understanding of what the yuppie would signify to a late-80s audience. In that decade, the yuppie was a new figure in the popular imagination who reiterated an U.S. myth of economic success. The term was coined in 1983 and first popularized in 1984, which publications like Newsweek labeled “The Year of the Yuppie.” The word “yuppie,” which comes from mixing the acronym for “young urban professional” with “hippie” or “preppy,”[3] was initially used as a demographic label to describe Baby Boomers

“aged 29 to 35 who live in metropolitan areas, work in professional or managerial occupations, and have an income of at least $30,000 if they live alone.”[4]

Soon, though, “yuppie” became a pejorative description of a lifestyle, and yuppies were identified with a culture of wealth, conspicuous consumption, and conservative politics. Driving a BMW, working on Wall Street, exercising constantly, living in an expensively renovated loft in a gentrified neighborhood, or purchasing imported tarragon vinaigrette from an upscale gourmet store made one a yuppie. A backlash against the expensive, self-absorbed frivolity of the yuppie’s designer lifestyle quickly set in. By the end of the 1980s, the valueless yuppie lifestyle was a ready signifier for the selfish evil born of capitalism, and villains in films like Blue Steel could rely on this signification to scare audiences.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Bluegrass Contingent: Anti-War Protest, Saturday, March 20 in Washington, DC.

Arise, Kentuckians!
Rousers of the Rabble!
Fanners of the Flames of Discontent!
Agitators and Organizers!

A massive anti-war mobilization is scheduled for Sat, March 20 in Washington, DC.


We don't know about you, but we've been feeling frustrated, angry, un-listened to and impotent lately. This will simply not do!

So, we are helping to organize a bus for people from Lexington to attend the march/protest/mobilization.

Those of us opposed to the wars have really dropped the ball since the election. Well, here is a chance to send a message to the Obama Administration and to get that emotional and political boost that only participating in a mass mobilization can provide. If you've never been to a massive demonstration -- they are fun, energizing, solidarity-building, pessimism-reducing events.

We are trying to arrange a 28-seat bus. Let's pack it with people we know and some we don't and go have a great time doing something that desperately needs doing.

The plan is to make it as cheap and convenient as possible. Bus fare is $102 per person.

We will leave Lexington late Friday; attend the mobilization on Saturday morning/afternoon; leave DC Sat evening; and be back in time for Sunday brunch. [No overnight costs].


We know that most of us do not have $102 just lying around.
Some of us don't even have a job right now!
We know that beds are more comfortable than bus seats.
We know that some of us are overworked and weekends are a sacred time of rest!
But, let's not allow such trivialities get in the way of stopping these cursed wars and raising some hell!

Seriously... please consider coming. Let me know asap if you think you might be interested.

Tentative details:

* Depart Lexington around midnight (Fri, March 19)
* Arrive Washington, DC around 9:00am (Sat, March 20)
* Depart Washington around 7:00pm (Sat, March 20)
* Arrive back in Lexington around 3:00am (Sat night/Sun morning)

Cost: $102/per seat

In solidarity!

PS: feel free to leave a comment and contact info if you are interested

Peace and Conflict Studies: The People Speak, Pt. 1

(For students--post responses in the comment section at the bottom of this post)

Here is a list of the resources I'm going to be putting on reserve for you at the BCTC library circulation desk, in the HUM 220 section:

Crips and Bloods: Made in America

Mooney, James, ed. American Dissenters: Volume Two. Maplecrest, NY: Brandywine Press, 2005.

Includes chapters on:
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Henry George
Bill Haywood and the IWW
Thorstein Veblen
Emma Goldman
Upton Sinclair
Sinclair Lewis
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Port Huron Statement
Reflections on Power and Self-Righteousness
The Battle in Seattle
The Arrogance of Ownership

Ruane, Kevin. War and Revolution in Vietnam, 1930-1975. Bristol, PN: UCL Press, 1998.

Buchheit, Paul, ed. American Wars: Illusions and Realities. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 2008.

McCarthy, Timothy Patrick and John McMillian, eds. The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition. NY: The New Press, 2003.

Also in regards to the documentary:

The Zinn Education Project

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present. NY: Harper-Collins, 2003.

Howard Zinn on Democratic Education (Z Magazine)

Howard Zinn on Holy Wars (Democracy Now)

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 1996.

Loewen, James. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. NY: Touchstone, 2007.

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Propaganda Model of the Media

and an ongoing archive of materials on Howard Zinn