Friday, April 30, 2010

Peter Ludlow: Watching the Watchers -- Power and Politics in Second Life; Henry Jenkins: Choose Your Fictions Well

There comes a point where you have to recognize that technology has passed you by... and we wonder why it is so difficult to get people to pay attention to injustices in RL. These reports are like a massive pile up on the freeway and I cannot look away

Peter Ludlow: "Watching the Watchers: Power and Politics in Second Life (Part One)"

Peter Ludlow: "Watching the Watchers: Power and Politics in Second Life (Part Two)"

Henry Jenkins: "Choose Your Fictions Well."

Counting the Beats Podcast

My new favorite music podcast/website is New Zealand's Counting the Beats. It is a great resource for free downloads of great music from around the world!

BBC News: US military joins Gulf of Mexico oil spill effort

US military joins Gulf of Mexico oil spill effort
BBC News

The US military has joined efforts to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico as fears rise about its scale.

Five times as much oil as previously thought could be leaking from the well beneath where a rig exploded and sank last week, the US Coast Guard says.

Rear Admiral Mary Landry said 5,000 barrels a day were thought to be gushing into the sea off Louisiana.

The Department of Homeland Security has designated the spill as one of "national significance".

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is to go to Louisiana to oversee operations, told reporters in Washington that this designation would allow resources to be ordered in from other areas of the US.

At the same briefing, a coastguard official said the oil slick was expected to wash ashore on the Gulf Coast on Friday.

And Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior David Hayes said the US government had ordered inspections of all deep-water oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico to see if anti-spill regulations were being followed.

To Read the Rest of the Report and Access Video

Bill Moyers Journal: Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston
Bill Moyers Journal

Bill Moyers Journal presents an illuminating interview with Maxine Hong Kingston, acclaimed author of many books including the award-winning The Woman Warrior and her latest book Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. For the past 15 years, Kingston has been working with veterans - more than 500 soldiers from World War II, from Vietnam, and now, from Iraq - as well as other survivors of war to convert the horrors they experienced into the words and stories that Kingston believes will help them cope and survive.

To Listen to the Episode

Matthew C. Nisbet: Climate Change & Human Health

Earth Day's Untold Story: Climate Change & Human Health
by Matthew C. Nisbet
Framing Science

A Federal inter-agency report released today reviews eleven key categories of diseases and other health consequences that are occurring or will occur due to climate change. The report, A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change, provides a starting point for coordination of federal research to better understand climate's impact on human health. The recommendations of the working group include research to identify who will be most vulnerable, and what efforts will be most beneficial.

Not only does this report call attention to objectively serious risks of climate change, but on Earth Day, it also represents an important re-framing of climate change away from being defined as an environmental problem to one that extends to human health. As I noted last year at the journal Environment, reframing climate change as a public health problem potentially makes the complex issue more personally relevant by drawing connections to already familiar problems such as asthma, allergies, and infectious disease, while shifting the visualization of the issue away from remote arctic regions, peoples, and animals to more socially proximate neighbors and places such as suburbs and cities. In the process, the new focus is inclusive of the need for not just mitigation but also adaptation actions, while also bringing additional trusted communication partners into the fold on climate change, notably public health officials and leaders from minority and low-income communities who are the most at risk and the most vulnerable.

To Read the Rest of the Report and Access More Resources

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fouad Pervez: Coverups in Afghanistan

Coverups in Afghanistan
By Fouad Pervez
Foreign Policy in Focus

The conflict in Afghanistan, which will enter its 10th year this fall, shows no signs of abating. The United States has expended substantial blood and treasure to try and stabilize the country. However, recent events suggest that U.S. efforts are problematic in themselves and that the chaos will only worsen. There are critical problems with accountability, transparency, and public scrutiny, all of which not only make it harder for the United States and NATO to shift away from unproductive policies. These also create serious domestic political issues in Afghanistan.

The recent news about the women killed in a botched raid on February 12 is emblematic of all the current woes in Afghanistan. The military finally admitted that U.S. Special Operations Forces were responsible for the deaths of three women, two of whom were pregnant, in a nighttime raid. They already admitted the same raid resulted in the deaths of two men, a policeman, and a prosecutor. More troubling is the accusation that the troops dug the bullets out of the women’s bodies to cover up the evidence. General McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is now ordering an investigation of the raid.

This incident is a prime example of the current problems in the Afghanistan strategy. First, McChrystal launched an investigation only after the story of the alleged cover-up gained widespread media coverage. Officials from the U.S.-led NATO command have denied the tampering charge, though Afghan officials pointed out that NATO officials were perplexed by the evidence precisely because of the tampering. Afghan officials were unable to perform an autopsy on the bodies and were denied access to the bodies at the scene. There were also several bullets missing from the scene. Given the oddities surrounding the case in the first place, the Pentagon should have launched an investigation much earlier.

The initial Pentagon report claimed the men were insurgents, and that the women were found already dead, bound and gagged, possibly from an honor killing. Thus, it was filled with inaccuracies, if not outright lies. More than a dozen survivors, witnesses, and local investigators strongly disputed the Pentagon’s initial claims, too, but there was no investigation until the story finally got wider media coverage in the past week.

This incident follows the pattern of others. Many nighttime raids conducted in Afghanistan are based on poor intelligence and result in the deaths of many civilians. Yet there is little in the way of public accountability. No information is available about reprimands handed out to troops who kill civilians, intelligence officers who obtain poor information, or higher-up commanders who plan these botched raids. This incident is one of the few where any information about an investigation is even public. If they find the soldiers did indeed commit a crime, will they be punished? Given the track record, it seems unlikely. We may never even hear about the results.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Tricky: Evolution Revolution Love

Christian Struzan: You Want to Get Mad?


We had eight years of Bush and Cheney, but now you get mad! You didn’t get mad ...when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and appointed a President. You didn’t get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate energy policy. You didn’t get mad when a covert CIA operative got ousted. You didn’t get mad when the Patriot Act got passed.. You didn’t get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us. You didn’t get mad when we spent over 600 billion(and counting) on said illegal war. You didn’t get mad when over 10 billion dollars just disappeared in Iraq. You didn’t get mad when you found out we were torturing people. You didn’t get mad when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans. You didn’t get mad when we didn’t catch Bin Laden. You didn’t get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed. You didn’t get mad when we let a major US city drown. You didn’t get mad when we gave a 900 billion tax break to the rich. You didn’t get mad when, using reconciliation; a trillion dollars of our tax dollars were redirected to insurance companies for Medicare Advantage which cost over 20 percent more for basically the same services that Medicare provides. You didn’t get mad when the deficit hit the trillion dollar mark, and our debt hit the thirteen trillion dollar mark. You finally got mad when the government decided that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, are all okay with you, but helping other Americans… oh hell no. AND NOW YOU’RE MAD !

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Charlie Jane Anders: Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie

Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie
by Charlie Jane Anders


Michael Bay understands that summer movies are about two things: male anxiety, and pure id. That's why he casts Shia LaBoeuf, that supreme avatar of pure male inadequacy, in the lead role. LaBoeuf projects a pathetic, wall-eyed dorkhood, when he's not babbling like a tumor removed from Woody Allen's prostate that somehow achieved sentience. I imagine the DVD of ROTF will include a whole disk of outtakes where they had to stop filming because LaBoeuf was drooling on camera. As it is, the film includes several extreme closeups of LaBoeuf's dazed stare.

Where was I? Oh yes. So LaBoeuf, who's actually a fine actor, is the stand-in for the male viewers' greatest fears about themselves. No matter how great a loser they might be, they can't be as losery a loser as Sam Witwicky. And yet, Sam has awesome giant robots stomping around telling him he's the most important awesome person ever. And he has the hottest girlfriend in the universe, Megan Fox, for whom banality is a huge aphrodisiac. The more pathetic Sam gets, the more Fox's lips pout and her nipples point, like little Irish setters.

To make matters more awesome for the insecure males in the audience, Sam actually tosses aside his giant robot fanclub and his walking-pinup girlfriend, so he can have a normal life. Of course, this only leads to other robots and hawt chicks (who turn out to be robots too) throwing themselves at him and telling him how important he is. In the end, everybody learns to appreciate Sam just a bit more than they already did, and a booming voice tells him he's earned the "matrix of leadership" through his courage and stuff.

And then there's the "id" part, which is the part where stuff blows up real good, and huge machines smash each other up. And every single performance is so ridiculous that it looks down on "over the top" as if from a great height. It's the part of your brain that thinks it would be awesome to see robots with giant dangling testicles, or hot chicks turning into robot tentacle monsters, or "ghetto" robots that talk in inept hip-hop slang and smash each other playfully, or funny Jewish men who talk about their "schmear" and randomly strip to their G-strings. Is that going too far? Then let's go 100 times farther than that and see what happens!

Transformers: ROTF is so long, you'll need to wear adult diapers to it. But the movie's pure celebration of the primal urge, and unfiltered living, will make you rejoice in your adult diapers. You'll relieve yourself in your seat with a savage joy, your barbaric yawp blending in with the crowd's screams of excitement.

And yet — and here's the part where I really think ROTF approaches "art movie" status — the movie's id overload reaches such crazy levels that the fabric of reality itself starts to break down. Michael Bay has boasted about how every single shot in the movie has so much stuff going on in it, it would take your PC since the dawn of time to render one frame. After a few hours of this assault, you feel the chair melt and the floor of the movie theater becomes an angry mirror into your soul. Nothing is solid, nothing is real, everything Transforms.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Rachel Maddow: Racist Roots of Arizona Law

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

David Vine: Environmental Protection of Bases?

Environmental Protection of Bases?
By David Vine
Foreign Policy in Focus

Just weeks before today’s Earth Day, and for the second time in little more than a year, environmental groups have teamed with governments to create massive new marine protection areas across wide swaths of the world’s oceans. Both times, however, there’s been something (pardon the pun) fishy about these benevolent-sounding efforts at environmental protection.

Most recently, on April 1, the British government announced the creation of the world’s largest marine protection area in the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Archipelago, which would include a ban on commercial fishing in an area larger than California and twice the size of Britain. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called it “a major step forward for protecting the oceans.

A representative for the Pew Charitable Trusts—which helped spearhead the effort along with groups including the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Greenpeace—compared the ecological diversity of the Chagos islands to the Galapagos and the Great Barrier Reef. The Pew representative described the establishment of the protected area as “a historic victory for global ocean conservation.” Indeed, this was the second such victory for Pew, which also supported the creation, in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, of three large marine protection areas in the Pacific Ocean, around some of the Hawai’ian islands and the islands of Guam, Tinian, and Saipan.

The timing of the announcements for both the Indian Ocean and Pacific marine protection areas—on the eve of upcoming British parliamentary elections and in the days before Bush left office when he was trying to salvage a legacy—suggests that there’s more here than the celebratory announcements would suggest.
A Base Issue

Both marine protection areas provide safe homes for sea turtles, sharks, breeding sea birds, and coral reefs. But they are also home to major U.S. military bases. Chagos’s largest island, Diego Garcia, hosts a secretive billion-dollar Air Force and Navy base that has been part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Pacific protection areas are home to U.S. bases on Guam, Tinian, Saipan, Rota, Farallon de Medinilla, Wake Island, and Johnston Island.

In both cases, the otherwise “pristine” protected environments carve out significant exceptions for the military. In Chagos, the British government has said, “We nor the US would want the creation of a marine protected area to have any impact on the operational capability of the base on Diego Garcia. For this reason…it may be necessary to consider the exclusion of Diego Garcia and its three-mile territorial waters.” In the Pacific, the Bush administration stressed that “nothing” in the protected areas “impairs or otherwise affects the activities of the U.S. Department of Defense.”

The incongruity of military bases in the middle of environmental protection areas is particularly acute since many military installations cause serious damage to local environments. As Miriam Pemberton and I warned in the wake of Bush’s announcement, “Such damage includes the blasting of pristine coral reefs, clear-cutting of virgin forests, deploying underwater sonar dangerous to marine life, leaching carcinogenic pollutants into the soil and seas from lax toxic waste storage and military accidents, and using land and sea for target practice, decimating ecosystems with exploded and unexploded munitions. Guam alone is home to 19 Superfund sites.”

Similarly, the base on Diego Garcia was built by blasting and dredging the island’s coral-lined lagoon, using bulldozers and chains to uproot coconut trees from the ground and paving a significant proportion of the island in asphalt. Since its construction, the island has seen more than one million gallons of jet fuel leaks, water fouled with diesel fuel sludge, the warehousing of depleted uranium-tipped bunker buster bombs, and the likely storage of nuclear weapons.

For all the benefits that marine protection areas might bring, governments are using environmentalism as a cover to protect the long-term life of environmentally harmful bases. The designation also helps governments hold onto strategic territories. Indeed, all of the Pacific and Indian Ocean islands involved are effectively colonies, including the Chagos Archipelago, which Britain refers to as the British Indian Ocean Territory and which was illegally detached from Mauritius during decolonization in the 1960s.

To Read the Rest of this Article

"Snapped as the DW Horizon offshore drilling rig collapsed into the gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and pumping 42k barrels of oil a day into gulf"

via Patrick Bigger: "Snapped as the DW Horizon offshore drilling rig collapsed into the gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and pumping 42k barrels of oil a day into the gulf."

Tim Wise: The Pathology of White Privilege

Tim Wise - The Pathology of White Privilege

Wise provides a non-confrontational explanation of white privilege and the damage it does not only to people of color but to white people as well.

Kentucky Historical Society to Show “Stranger with a Camera,” Host Filmmaker Elizabeth Barret (April 27)

KHS to Show “Stranger with a Camera,” Host Filmmaker Elizabeth Barret
Date : Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Issued By : Kentucky Historical Society
Summary : The Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) film series will show "Stranger with a Camera" at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 13 at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort. Elizabeth Barret, the director of the documentary, will be in attendance at the showing.

Here is an earlier post I wrote about this documentary

Stranger With a Camera
Directed by Elizabeth Barret
Appalshop Films, 2000.

Highly recommended for its narrative structure and its meditation on media representation through the highly charged murder of a documentary filmmaker while he was filming in Appalachia. Barret, a native of the Appalachia region of Eastern Kentucky, self-reflectively attempts to represent what led up to the murder while at the same time understanding the impossibility of fully understanding these events. This is a great example of autoethnography in the Appalshop community-based filmmaking tradition. It led this reviewer to ponder what is the responsibility of the media (and researchers, governments, NGos, etc...) in representing cultures/communities.

Unfortunately it isn't available online or in most video stores, so trek on over to your nearby university or public library and see if they have a copy (if not request that they get one--most libraries are actually very cool about acquiring materials for patrons).

ITVS Site for the Documentary

PBS Site for the Documentary and Further Resources

NPR Interview with Elizabeth Barret

Austin Chronicle Review/Interview

The Media Interrogated in Stranger With a Camera

Appalshop site for the Documentary

Appalshop Films

Comparison of Blair Witch and Stranger with a Camera? (very good analysis)

Califronia Newsreel Review


Bill Moyers Journal: Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart
Bill Moyers Journal

Why do so many get their news and analysis from his fake news show?

The NEW YORK TIMES declared that when Jon Stewart took over as anchor of Comedy Central's THE DAILY SHOW, he "breathed new life into a show that hadn't even seemed to need it." In 2003, Stewart said of his role hosting the show, "Liberal and conservative have lost their meaning in America. I represent the distracted center." As declared on the show's site, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART is the most important television show ever, with the most important guests, hosts, and news - current event news, pop culture news, sports news, entertainment news - of all time."

For the past eight years, Stewart and "The Daily Show" have received 18 Emmy Award nominations and won nine. Jon himself was nominated for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 2002, 2003, 2005 and again last year in 2006. In 2004, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" was also honored by the Television Critics Association by winning for Outstanding Achievement in News and Information, beating out traditional news shows in the category. In 2003 and 2005, Jon won for Individual Achievement in Comedy and the show won in 2003 for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy. In 2001, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" also received the prestigious Peabody Award for its "Indecision 2000" campaign coverage and again in 2005 for "Indecision 2004."

To Watch the Episode

True Literacy

(Reflection/compilation by Michael Dean Benton)

Words/concepts are defined through the context of their usage and their relation to/interaction with other words/concepts.

According to H.L. Goodall our "textual positions”--“language choices you make to represent what you see”--the selection and arrangement of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs... also decisions of use or not using, humor, sarcasm, irony, and inventive analogies/metaphors, provide clues to the way in which you “see” the world and how you act in it. This writing is a sign of what you have lived through (experiences) and helps others to relate to you and your positions (or not).

Goodall, H.L. Writing the New Ethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

Furthermore, these words/concepts go through a process of social accretion in which the more they are used the more meanings attach themselves to our usage of these words/concepts.

Allan Irving and Ken Moffatt in their essay Intoxicated Midnight and Carnival Classrooms: The Professor as Poet state that:

Dialogue in Bakhtin's view is more than just two people talking; the more a word is used in our speech the more contexts and nuances it gathers and the word's meanings proliferate with each encounter. Our utterances (another of Bakhtin's words) do not forget but rather carry fragments from all our previous speech acts as well as the significance from the current context and this includes even forms of intonation. All utterances are double-voiced, bringing meanings with them, perhaps trailing them, but spoken into the here and now into the ongoing dialogues of our lives. "Every word," Bakhtin wrote, "gives off the scent of a profession, a genre, a current, a party, a particular work, a particular person, a generation, an era, a day, and an hour. Every word smells of the context and contexts in which it has lived its intense social life."

As these words become weighted down with multiple meanings a paradoxical effect take place that causes language-users to assume that these words are stable in their meaning and these assumptions can easily lead to misunderstandings or manipulation:

Words are used as signs, as stand-ins, arbitrary and temporary, even as language reflects (and informs) the shifting values of the peoples whose minds it inhabits and glides through. We have faith in "meaning" the way we might believe in wolverines--putting trust in the occasional reports of others or on the authority of once seeing a pelt. But it is sometimes worth tracking these tricksters back (Snyder, 8)

Snyder, Gary. "The Etiquette of Freedom." The Practice of the Wild. NY: North Point Press, 1990: 3-24.

Related Quotes:

In any case, I consider it to be an urgent task to disengage from concepts that are being deadened by routine use the meaning that they regain both from a re-examination of their history and from a reflexion on their subjective foundations.
That, no doubt, is the teacher’s prime function—the function from which all others proceed, and the one in which the price of experience is best inscribed. If this function is neglected, meaning is obscured in an action whose effects are entirely dependent on meaning, and the rules of psychoanalytic technique, by being reduced to mere recipes, rob the analytic experience of any status as knowledge and even of any criterion of reality. (Lacan, 33)

Burke’s four-part methodology—which he calls indexing—is designed to permit one to locate, describe, analyze, and interpret the four kinds of structure one finds in verbal works. These are structures of identifications, or what goes with what; structures of opposition and polarization, or what versus what; structures of progression, or what follows what; and structures of transformation, or what becomes what. (Rueckert, 235)

True literacy means examining one’s society, not simply manipulating surface features of text. (Schilb, 187)

[The "discourse city" would be] a new logic of ‘collaboration’ … [that] would celebrate four qualities of urban societies: it would allow for differentiation without exclusion; appreciate variety; encourage erotic attraction to novel, strange, and surprising encounters; and value publicity in public spaces … where people stand and sit together, interact or mingle or simply witness one another without becoming a unified community of ‘shared final ends’ (Miller, 285, 299)

Every educational system is a political means of maintaining or modifying the appropriateness of discourses with the knowledge and power they bring with them. (Foucault, 1972: 46)

Relations—thinking about our particular situation in the world map out the various relations that you interact through on a regular basis.
I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object. What is realized in my history is not the past definite of what was, since it is no more, or even the present perfect of what has been in what I am, but the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming. (Lacan, 86)

What [was] ignored was the possibility that we live in multiple and fragmentary worlds, worlds that overlap, compete, and transform themselves continuously, worlds provided by family, ethnic community, neighborhood, profession, political affiliation, and so on. A more accurate portrayal of the modern condition, and perhaps of the postmodern and premodern conditions as well, would have emphasized the way identity is shaped by the voices of these multiple worlds in which we live, each of us an unstable, occasionally harmonious but more often cacophonous chorus of these voices or—to return to the spatial metaphor—a mosaic or quilt, made up of nits and pieces of past identities that were themselves assemblages of fragments. (Halloran, 114)

[The] American “individual,” rather than being an adventurer, is in reality most often a man or woman whose circle of reality is drawn no larger than family and friends. The individual has little interest, indeed, little energy, outside that circle. The American individual is a passive person, and monotonous space is what a society of passive individuals builds for itself. A bland environment assures people that nothing disturbing or demanding is happening ‘out there.’ You build neutrality in order to legitimate withdrawal. (Sennett, 65)

The expression and site of ideas [Foucault] calls discourse, is for him an active and dialogic, rather than a passive and monologic, process. Any discourse at any given moment in time is structured as much by the assumptions about what constitutes it as a discourse as by the boundaries of language itself. Discourse in a Foucauldian sense, then, combines linguistic utterance, whether spoken or written, with the underlying non-linguistic structures—such as the cultural, social and economic—through which utterances are realized or suppressed. Within education, for example, institutional practices control the access of individuals to various kinds of pedagogic discourse. (Clark, 4)

Clark, Urszula. War Words: Language, History and the Disciplining of English. NY: Esevier, 2001.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. translated from the French by A.M. Sheridan Smith. NY: Harper & Row, 1972.

Halloran, Michael S. “Further Thoughts on the End of Rhetoric.” Defining the New Rhetorics. ed. Theresa Enos and Stuart C. Brown. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1993: 109-19.

Lacan, Jacques. “Function and Field of Language.” Ecrits. NY: W.W. Norton, 1977: 30-113.

Miller, Susan. “New Discourse City: An Alternative Model For Collaboration.” Writing With: New Directions in Collaborative Teaching, Learning, and Research. ed. Sally Barr Reagan, et al. Albany: State U of New York P, 1994: 284-99.

Rueckert, William H. Encounters With Kenneth Burke. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994.

Schilb, John. “Cultural Studies, Postmodernism, and Composition.” Contending With Words: Composition and Rhetoric in a Postmodern Age. ed. Patricia Harkin and John Schilb. NY: MLA, 1991: 173-188.

Sennett, Richard. The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities. NY: Norton, 1990.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sleater Kinney: Good Things

The (International) Noise Conspiracy: Abolish Work

Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War -- How Did the Mainstream Press Get it So Wrong?

(An important primer for anyone trying to understand the mainstream media's coverage of the Bush Administration's case for the War in Iraq. What is so valuable about this paticular special report is the extensive interviews with the actual reporters/journalists/talking-heads who covered the war and their personal reflections on their reporting on the war.)

Buying the War: How Did the Mainstream Press Get it So Wrong?
Bill Moyers Journal (PBS) Special Report

[Five] years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln wearing a flight suit and delivered a speech in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. He was hailed by media stars as a "breathtaking" example of presidential leadership in toppling Saddam Hussein. Despite profound questions over the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House's claim that the war was won. MSNBC's Chris Matthews declared, "We're all neo-cons now;" NPR's Bob Edwards said, "The war in Iraq is essentially over;" and Fortune magazine's Jeff Birnbaum said, "It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context."

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? "What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored," says Moyers. "How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?"

"Buying the War" includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of MEET THE PRESS; Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; and John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers, which was acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006.

In "Buying the War" Bill Moyers and producer Kathleen Hughes document the reporting of Walcott, Landay and Strobel, the Knight Ridder team that burrowed deep into the intelligence agencies to try and determine whether there was any evidence for the Bush Administration's case for war. "Many of the things that were said about Iraq didn't make sense," says Walcott. "And that really prompts you to ask, 'Wait a minute. Is this true? Does everyone agree that this is true? Does anyone think this is not true?'"

In the run-up to war, skepticism was a rarity among journalists inside the Beltway. Journalist Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES, who was based in the Middle East, questioned the reporting he was seeing and reading. "I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda," he tells Moyers. "Saddam...was a total control freak. To introduce a wild card like Al Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn't believe it for an instant." The program analyzes the stream of unchecked information from administration sources and Iraqi defectors to the mainstream print and broadcast press, which was then seized upon and amplified by an army of pundits. While almost all the claims would eventually prove to be false, the drumbeat of misinformation about WMDs went virtually unchallenged by the media. THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on Iraq's "worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb," but according to Landay, claims by the administration about the possibility of nuclear weapons were highly questionable. Yet, his story citing the "lack of hard evidence of Iraqi weapons" got little play. In fact, throughout the media landscape, stories challenging the official view were often pushed aside while the administration's claims were given prominence. "From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in THE WASHINGTON POST making the administration's case for war," says Howard Kurtz, the POST's media critic. "But there was only a handful of stories that ran on the front page that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions."

"Buying the War" examines the press coverage in the lead-up to the war as evidence of a paradigm shift in the role of journalists in democracy and asks, four years after the invasion, what's changed? "More and more the media become, I think, common carriers of administration statements and critics of the administration," says THE WASHINGTON POST's Walter Pincus. "We've sort of given up being independent on our own."

To Watch/Listen to the Special Report and to Access Background Resources

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Scott Tobias: The New Cult Canon -- Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsey, 2002)

The New Cult Canon: Morvern Callar
by Scott Tobias
The New Cult Canon

Lynne Ramsay's 2002 film Morvern Callar was the inspiration for this column, because for all its bleakness and deliberate frustrations, I can think of no cooler movie. It's a wonder that theaters didn't have doormen standing behind velvet ropes, determining who was hip enough to step into its world of enveloping disaffection. Based on Alan Warner's novel, which was part of a brief flowering of Scottish literature in the wake of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, the film is an adaptation with a high degree of difficulty. It's one thing to adapt someone like James M. Cain, whose steamroller plots are action-packed and give off a lot of surface heat; it's another to capture a character's internal life, which is usually the exclusive province of novels. Working with a plot that could fit comfortably on a cocktail napkin, Ramsay has to rely almost entirely on cinematic effects—and Samantha Morton's revelatory performance—to decipher a woman who's so deep in an existential funk that her behavior is always curious and sometimes extraordinarily callous.

Before getting into the movie itself, a few words on Ramsay: To my mind, Lynne Ramsay is one of the most talented filmmakers in the world, even though she only has two features to her credit, and nothing since Morvern Callar. Ramsay has a background in photography, and in her movies, it's clear that she's a photographer first and foremost. Each frame is immaculately composed, and unusually focused on the minute details that are more characteristic of photographers than film directors, who are usually concerned with the bigger picture. After making a series of acclaimed short films, Ramsay shot her stunning 1999 debut Ratcatcher, which might have been another piece of UK kitchen-sink miserablism if not for Ramsay's extraordinary eye for finding poetry in the everyday. (Incidentally, three of Ramsay's shorts are collected as bonus features on Criterion's Ratcatcher DVD.) Though Ratcatcher wallows in the horrific world of its 12-year-old protagonist—a Glaswegian apartment-dweller in the early '70s who lives in the stinking squalor of a garbage strike—it nonetheless has moments of real beauty. As I said in my review of the DVD, "Just when Ratcatcher seems overly content to bathe in Euro-art squalor, Ramsay counters with passages so breathtakingly lyrical and improbably optimistic that they shake off the oppressive pall that too often passes for hard realism."

In recent years, Ramsay has suffered some discouragement in getting her third film to the screen. She won the rights to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones while it was still an unpublished manuscript, and watched it slip away from her as the book became an unexpected phenomenon. True to form, Ramsay reportedly loved the grim premise for the book—about a little girl who's raped and killed, and then watches the aftermath from heaven—but disliked its second half, which she found too sentimental. She worked for more than a year to craft a screenplay more to her liking, but the rights eventually went to the all-powerful Peter Jackson, who's currently filming it for release next year. Ramsay was later attached to direct an adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver's brilliant book about a mother grappling with her son's Columbine-like rampage. To me, it sounds like the ideal fit, but that project appears to have died on the vine, since I've heard nothing on it since 2006. So for now, there's only Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, and hopefully a young filmmaker who isn't too discouraged to keep pushing new boulders up a hill.

For High Fidelity types like myself, the mix-tape has always been an important (if somewhat feeble) form of romantic expression, the pop-damaged equivalent of sending a bouquet of flowers. And Morvern Callar features the mix-tape to end all mix-tapes, with tracks from bands like The Velvet Underground, Can, Boards Of Canada, Broadcast, and Aphex Twin, among others. Morton's eponymous heroine receives her mix-tape in the cruelest fashion: As one in a series of Christmas gifts given by a boyfriend who has just committed suicide. (She also receives a leather jacket, a Walkman, and a lighter.)

As the film opens, Morvern is curled up on the floor next to her boyfriend's corpse, with Christmas lights pulsing like a disco around them. He's left her a note on her computer screen: He apologizes. He tells her he loves her. He encourages her to "be brave." He also leaves behind a completed novel and a list of possible publishers to solicit, as well as his ATM card for money to pay for the funeral. Clearly bruised by her boyfriend's cruel departure, Morvern doesn't follow through on the dead man's wishes, to put it mildly. She changes the byline on the novel to her name, and rather than using the cash from his bank account for a funeral, she buys tickets for her and her party-animal friend (and supermarket co-worker) Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) to vacation in Spain.

To Read the Rest of the Essay and View Film Clips

Tim Wise: Imagine If the Tea Party Were Black?

Imagine If the Tea Party Were Black?
by Tim Wise
Ephphatha Poetry

Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure - the ones who are driving the action - we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.

So let’s begin.

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.

Imagine that a prominent mainstream black political commentator had long employed an overt bigot as Executive Director of his organization, and that this bigot regularly participated in black separatist conferences, and once assaulted a white person while calling them by a racial slur. When that prominent black commentator and his sister — who also works for the organization — defended the bigot as a good guy who was misunderstood and “going through a tough time in his life” would anyone accept their excuse-making? Would that commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? Because that’s what happened in the real world, when Pat Buchanan employed as Executive Director of his group, America’s Cause, a blatant racist who did all these things, or at least their white equivalents: attending white separatist conferences and attacking a black woman while calling her the n-word.

Imagine that a black radio host were to suggest that the only way to get promoted in the administration of a white president is by “hating black people,” or that a prominent white person had only endorsed a white presidential candidate as an act of racial bonding, or blamed a white president for a fight on a school bus in which a black kid was jumped by two white kids, or said that he wouldn’t want to kill all conservatives, but rather, would like to leave just enough—“living fossils” as he called them—“so we will never forget what these people stood for.” After all, these are things that Rush Limbaugh has said, about Barack Obama’s administration, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, a fight on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois in which two black kids beat up a white kid, and about liberals, generally.

Imagine that a black pastor, formerly a member of the U.S. military, were to declare, as part of his opposition to a white president’s policies, that he was ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” This is, after all, what Pastor Stan Craig said recently at a Tea Party rally in Greenville, South Carolina.

To Read the Rest of the Post

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism

What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism
Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster
Monthly Review


Another Economic System Is Not Just Possible—It’s Essential

The foregoing analysis, if correct, points to the fact that the ecological crisis cannot be solved within the logic of the present system. The various suggestions for doing so have no hope of success. The system of world capitalism is clearly unsustainable in: (1) its quest for never ending accumulation of capital leading to production that must continually expand to provide profits; (2) its agriculture and food system that pollutes the environment and still does not allow universal access to a sufficient quantity and quality of food; (3) its rampant destruction of the environment; (4) its continually recreating and enhancing of the stratification of wealth within and between countries; and (5) its search for technological magic bullets as a way of avoiding the growing social and ecological problems arising from its own operations.

The transition to an ecological—which we believe must also be a socialist—economy will be a steep ascent and will not occur overnight. This is not a question of “storming the Winter Palace.” Rather, it is a dynamic, multifaceted struggle for a new cultural compact and a new productive system. The struggle is ultimately against the system of capital. It must begin, however, by opposing the logic of capital, endeavoring in the here and now to create in the interstices of the system a new social metabolism rooted in egalitarianism, community, and a sustainable relation to the earth. The basis for the creation of sustainable human development must arise from within the system dominated by capital, without being part of it, just as the bourgeoisie itself arose in the “pores” of feudal society.54 Eventually, these initiatives can become powerful enough to constitute the basis of a revolutionary new movement and society.

All over the world, such struggles in the interstices of capitalist society are now taking place, and are too numerous and too complex to be dealt with fully here. Indigenous peoples today, given a new basis as a result of the ongoing revolutionary struggle in Bolivia, are reinforcing a new ethic of responsibility to the earth. La Vía Campesina, a global peasant-farmer organization, is promoting new forms of ecological agriculture, as is Brazil’s MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra), as are Cuba and Venezuela. Recently, Venezulean President Hugo Chávez stressed the social and environmental reasons to work to get rid of the oil-rentier model in Venezuela, a major oil exporter.55 The climate justice movement is demanding egalitarian and anti-capitalist solutions to the climate crisis. Everywhere radical, essentially anti-capitalist, strategies are emerging, based on other ethics and forms of organization, rather than the profit motive: ecovillages; the new urban environment promoted in Curitiba in Brazil and elsewhere; experiments in permaculture, and community-supported agriculture, farming and industrial cooperatives in Venezuela, etc. The World Social Forum has given voice to many of these aspirations. As leading U.S. environmentalist James Gustave Speth has stated: “The international social movement for change—which refers to itself as ‘the irresistible rise of global anti-capitalism’—is stronger than many may imagine and will grow stronger.”56

The reason that the opposition to the logic of capitalism—ultimately seeking to displace the system altogether—will grow more imposing is that there is no alternative, if the earth as we know it, and humanity itself, are to survive. Here, the aims of ecology and socialism will necessarily meet. It will become increasingly clear that the distribution of land as well as food, health care, housing, etc. should be based on fulfilling human needs and not market forces. This is, of course, easier said than done. But it means making economic decisions through democratic processes occurring at local, regional, and multiregional levels. We must face such issues as: (1) How can we supply everyone with basic human needs of food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, educational and cultural opportunities? (2) How much of the economic production should be consumed and how much invested? and (3) How should the investments be directed? In the process, people must find the best ways to carry on these activities with positive interactions with nature—to improve the ecosystem. New forms of democracy will be needed, with emphasis on our responsibilities to each other, to one’s own community as well as to communities around the world. Accomplishing this will, of course, require social planning at every level: local, regional, national, and international—which can only be successful to the extent that it is of and by, and not just ostensibly for, the people.57

An economic system that is democratic, reasonably egalitarian, and able to set limits on consumption will undoubtedly mean that people will live at a significantly lower level of consumption than what is sometimes referred to in the wealthy countries as a “middle class” lifestyle (which has never been universalized even in these societies). A simpler way of life, though “poorer” in gadgets and ultra-large luxury homes, can be richer culturally and in reconnecting with other people and nature, with people working the shorter hours needed to provide life’s essentials. A large number of jobs in the wealthy capitalist countries are nonproductive and can be eliminated, indicating that the workweek can be considerably shortened in a more rationally organized economy. The slogan, sometimes seen on bumper stickers, “Live Simply so that Others May Simply Live,” has little meaning in a capitalist society. Living a simple life, such as Helen and Scott Nearing did, demonstrating that it is possible to live a rewarding and interesting life while living simply, doesn’t help the poor under present circumstances.58 However, the slogan will have real importance in a society under social (rather than private) control, trying to satisfy the basic needs for all people.

Perhaps the Community Councils of Venezuela—where local people decide the priorities for social investment in their communities and receive the resources to implement them—are an example of planning for human needs at the local level. This is the way that such important needs as schools, clinics, roads, electricity, and running water can be met. In a truly transformed society, community councils can interact with regional and multiregional efforts. And the use of the surplus of society, after accounting for peoples’ central needs, must be based on their decisions.59

The very purpose of the new sustainable system, which is the necessary outcome of these innumerable struggles (necessary in terms of survival and the fulfillment of human potential), must be to satisfy the basic material and non-material needs of all the people, while protecting the global environment as well as local and regional ecosystems. The environment is not something “external” to the human economy, as our present ideology tells us; it constitutes the essential life support systems for all living creatures. To heal the “metabolic rift” between the economy and the environment means new ways of living, manufacturing, growing food, transportation and so forth.60 Such a society must be sustainable; and sustainability requires substantive equality, rooted in an egalitarian mode of production and consumption.

Concretely, people need to live closer to where they work, in ecologically designed housing built for energy efficiency as well as comfort, and in communities designed for public engagement, with sufficient places, such as parks and community centers, for coming together and recreation opportunities. Better mass transit within and between cities is needed to lessen the dependence on the use of the cars and trucks. Rail is significantly more energy efficient than trucks in moving freight (413 miles per gallon fuel per ton versus 155 miles for trucks) and causes fewer fatalities, while emitting lower amounts of greenhouse gases. One train can carry the freight of between 280 to 500 trucks. And it is estimated that one rail line can carry the same amount of people as numerous highway lanes.61 Industrial production needs to be based on ecological design principles of “cradle-to-cradle,” where products and buildings are designed for lower energy input, relying to as great degree as possible on natural lighting and heating/cooling, ease of construction as well as easy reuse, and ensuring that the manufacturing process produces little to no waste.62

Agriculture based on ecological principles and carried out by family farmers working on their own, or in cooperatives and with animals, reunited with the land that grows their food has been demonstrated to be not only as productive or more so than large-scale industrial production, but also to have less negative impact on local ecologies. In fact, the mosaic created by small farms interspersed with native vegetation is needed to preserve endangered species.63

A better existence for slum dwellers, approximately one-sixth of humanity, must be found. For the start, a system that requires a “planet of slums,” as Mike Davis has put it, has to be replaced by a system that has room for food, water, homes, and employment for all.64 For many, this may mean returning to farming, with adequate land and housing and other support provided.

Smaller cities may be needed, with people living closer to where their food is produced and industry more dispersed, and smaller scale.

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, has captured the essence of the situation in his comments about changing from capitalism to a system that promotes “living well” instead of “living better.” As he put it at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009: “Living better is to exploit human beings. It’s plundering natural resources. It’s egoism and individualism. Therefore, in those promises of capitalism, there is no solidarity or complementarity. There’s no reciprocity. So that’s why we’re trying to think about other ways of living lives and living well, not living better. Living better is always at someone else’s expense. Living better is at the expense of destroying the environment.”65

The earlier experiences of transition to non-capitalist systems, especially in Soviet-type societies, indicate that this will not be easy, and that we need new conceptions of what constitutes socialism, sharply distinguished from those early abortive attempts. Twentieth-century revolutions typically arose in relatively poor, underdeveloped countries, which were quickly isolated and continually threatened from abroad. Such post-revolutionary societies usually ended up being heavily bureaucratic, with a minority in charge of the state effectively ruling over the remainder of the society. Many of the same hierarchical relations of production that characterize capitalism were reproduced. Workers remained proletarianized, while production was expanded for the sake of production itself. Real social improvements all too often existed side by side with extreme forms of social repression.66

Today we must strive to construct a genuine socialist system; one in which bureaucracy is kept in check, and power over production and politics truly resides with the people. Just as new challenges that confront us are changing in our time, so are the possibilities for the development of freedom and sustainability.

When Reverend Jeremiah Wright spoke to Monthly Review’s sixtieth anniversary gathering in September 2009, he kept coming back to the refrain “What about the people?” If there is to be any hope of significantly improving the conditions of the vast number of the world’s inhabitants—many of whom are living hopelessly under the most severe conditions—while also preserving the earth as a livable planet, we need a system that constantly asks: “What about the people?” instead of “How much money can I make?” This is necessary, not only for humans, but for all the other species that share the planet with us and whose fortunes are intimately tied to ours.

To Read the Entire Essay

Nils Gilman: The Global Illicit Economy

A new class of global actors is playing an increasingly important role in globalization: smugglers, warlords, guerrillas, terrorists, gangs, and bandits of all stripes. Since the end of the Cold War, the global illicit economy has consistently grown at twice the rate of the licit global economy. Increasingly, illicit actors will represent not just an economic but a political force. As globalization hollows out traditional nation-states, what will fill the power vacuum in slums and hinterlands will be informal non-state governance structures. These zones will be globally connected, effectively run by local gangs, religious leaders, or quasi-tribal organizations – organizations that will govern without aspiring to statehood.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wakka Chikka, Wakka Chikka: Porn Music for the Masses, Vol. 1

North of Center: The Right to the City -- Liberate CentrePointe

The right to the city: Liberate CentrePointe
North of Center editorial
Smirking Chimp

Note: CentrePointe is Lexington's most visible example of the fallout from the out-of-control real estate economy that flourished in cities the world over. Over a period of years, Developer Dudley Webb purchased an entire city block of dis-invested crumbling buildings at the center of downtown Lexington. The block was home to the only drugstore in downtown Lexington, a hat shop, at the time Lexington's only music venue, and some other dive bars and restaurants. A portion of the block consisted of buildings dating to the early 19th century and were part of the city's original commercial street.

In late 2008 after acquiring deed to all the buildings, Webb proclaimed the block beyond repair and suddenly razed it to nothing, despite vociferous public opposition. Webb argued that he needed to begin immediately the construction of a 35 story hotel/condo so that it would be ready to house tourists arriving for the World Equestrian Games, Lexington's version of the Olympics, which will be held here this September.

As expected, the shady financial funding fell through: a Middle-Eastern sheik funding the thing apparently died before Webb bulldozed the block, and the city later denied Webb public funds to help defray construction costs. And so Lexington is now left with a giant unused and fenced off space in the middle of downtown. This piece was written to call Lexingtonians to action and reclaim their city block.

The Right to the city:Liberate CentrePointe

Lexington is now entering its second summer growing season without breaking ground on the CentrePointe block. With the exception of some stealthy picnics, an Irish festival and a couple minutes—total—of stolen sports action on the lush grass, an entire downtown city block has been rendered off limits to an entire city for nearly one-and-a-half years, an urban dead zone with suburban lawn aesthetics.

For this pathetic state of affairs we should blame ourselves. We spent a good amount of time last summer imagining the CentrePointe of our dreams, but not so much time, as Herald Leader journalist Tom Eblen might say, doing something about it. When CentrePointe went out to pasture, so did we.

With that in mind, we call on Lexington residents to demand and claim their right to the block.

Follow the lead of those everyday artists who make the city come alive through their papered announcements stuck on wooden electric poles and abandoned magazine racks. Draw up your own plans for the CentrePointe block and staple, paste and etch them into the planks of the CentrePointe fences that keep you out. Paper the block alive once again with your poetry and prose, your cartoons and artist renderings. Record and inscribe the block’s past and its future, what it once was and what it can be.

One idea is easily discarded, torn down, forgotten. Twenty can carefully be swept under the grass clippings. But two-hundred, two-thousand ideas covering the CP fences? That is something else, something else altogether.

But we mustn’t stop with symbolic action. We must demand that the space be used productively. This year. And we should demand this in public and as loud and as often as possible.

Dudley Webb has already stated that he will not disturb the CentrePointe site until after the World Equestrian Games. The area is essentially rendered inert for the summer and part of fall. This is an unacceptable use of that central space. The best productive use of CentrePointe is not as an unusable and excessively large front lawn—its current situation. We demand more.

The rights of private property are not inviolable. They must be questioned, tested and at times even trampled upon. We–everyone but the small group of people who own the land–can no longer remain inactive on the false premise that unused Webb property is sacred.

We demand a public garden whose main purpose will be to help feed the poor, hungry and homeless–people whom many Lexingtonians finally discovered last week during the Creative Cities Summit when Bill Strickland spoke about his experiences in poor Pittsburgh. Such an idea for the block is surely something that city residents can support—at least those who have been talking in public and in print, on the campaign trail and in conference meetings, of the need to merge “creative” acts with issues of social justice. Having our community leaders support and lay the groundwork for such a venture—to demand and not just to ask for it to happen—could be quite a thing to see.

The public input of our civic, creative, agricultural and community leaders will be important as the rest of us—either with or without the support of those leaders (though hopefully with it)–begin to till the earth and plant our seeds. Our job is to do the most creative (and simple) of acts: doing. The immediate future of CentrePointe need not be decided by them. It can be decided by you.

Who will be the first to paper the fencing? Who will take the first soil sample? What farm groups will offer their time to utilize a 1-season garden in a place that is ground zero for public visibility? What politicians will offer political support? Who will transgress that most sacred of laws, private property, and demand that the city be run according to its inhabitants’ needs—and not the failed desires of its owners? What cultural centers will publicly endorse trespassing to do something they themselves know is right? What support networks–legal, social, economic–will we demand and work towards in this city, in this summer of growing?
North of Center is a free bi-weekly paper located in coal-loving Lexington, KY. We cover sports, politics, music, film, and any other things that flow through the inner-Bluegrass region. If you're interested, we've now got a website: North of Center


Recommended Books

I'll slowly add previous recommendations as I come across them:

Saviano, Roberto. Gomorrah. NY: Picador, 2006.

Wu Ming: New Italian Epic; Roberto Saviano: Gomorrah

(I recently read Gomorrah while traveling. It is a gripping expose of the Italian Camorra and resonates for anyone exploring the tangled web of the global economy--highly recommended!!!)

by Wu Ming
Opening talk @ the conference "The Italian Perspective on Metahistorical Fiction: The New Italian Epic", Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, UK, October
2, 2008.
Wu Ming Founbdation


This is what I call the New Italian Epic. Its main characteristics are:

1. Ethical commitment to writing and storytelling, which means: a deep trust in the healing power of language and stories.

2. A sense of political necessity -- and you can choose between the broader and the stricter sense of the adjective "political".

3. The choice of stories that have a complex allegorical value. The initial choice may not even be intentional: the author may feel compelled to tell the story and later on understand what he was trying to say.

4. An explicit preoccupation for the loss of the future, with a propensity to use alternative history and alternative realities to force our gaze into imagining the future.

5. A subtle subversion of registers and language. "Subtle" because what's important is not language experimentation in and of itself; what's important is telling your story in what you feel is the best possible way.

6. A way of blending fiction and non-fiction that's different from the ones we've gotten used to (e.g. Hunter S. Thompson's "gonzo journalism"), a manner that I dare describe as "distinctly Italian", which produces "unidentified narrative objects".

7. Last but certainly not least, a "communitarian" use of the Internet to - as Genna himself put it - "share a hug with the reader".

Several books published in Italy in the past few years share all or many of these features. Each one is peculiar, and sometimes, if we judge by immediate appearances, a novel doesn't resemble the next in the slightest: different styles, different plots, different historical backdrops, seemingly different genres. And yet, if we go down deep enough, we'll see that all these books are in resonance with each other.

The most famous and successful of these works is of course Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah, which sold about a million and a half copies and triumphantly entered Italian popular culture. In Gomorrah the synthesis of non-fiction and auto-fiction is so subtle that it reaches uncanny heights. It looks like a powerful report on Naples' organized crime and the way it operates in the globalized economy, and certainly the state of things it describes is painfully real, but this is no ordinary piece of journalism. There are also autobiographical, introspective chapters. In many passages the prose is rather visionary. The "narrating I" frequently hallucinates and "hijacks" the points of view of other people, intentionally playing on the confusion between the author, the narrator and a "narrating I" that doesn't belong to any of them. Alessandro Vicenzi summarized this matter in the most simple and effective way:

Saviano indifferently uses police reports, judicial documents and personal experience, and describes the camorra adopting a first-person narrative, but the "I" of the novel isn't always the real Roberto Saviano. The book oscillates between objective accounts and literary renditions of facts. [...] If Saviano uses the first person to describe things he didn't actually witness it's because that is the most effective way of telling them, the most communicative one, the most absorbing one. [...] Saviano doesn't only jump over the barriers between fiction and non-fiction: he utterly ignores them. I don't know on what shelves bookshop clerks are putting Gomorrah now. I suspect that the success of the book allows them to overcome embarrassment and put the book in those displays of best-sellers at the entrance, where there are no particular genre distinctions.

As I said a few minutes ago, these works are different from the"non-fiction novels" and hyper-subjective news stories in the tradition of so-called "New Journalism" or "gonzo journalism". That kind of writing is now quite familiar, while these works are more disquieting. I believe that the most appropriate adjective is "uncanny". When the book was published in the English-speaking countries (unfortunately in a poor translation), reviewers got puzzled about it. Here's a passage from Rachel Donadio's review in The New York Times:

Far more problematic is the difficulty in pinning this book down. In Italy, Gomorrah was described as a "docufiction," suggesting that Saviano took liberties with his first-person accounts. [The American publisher] calls it a work of "investigative writing," a phrase that suggests careful lawyering. Some anecdotes are suspiciously perfect — the tailor who quits his job after seeing Angelina Jolie on television at the Oscars wearing a white suit he made in a Camorra sweatshop; the man who loves his AK-47 so much he makes a pilgrimage to Russia to visit its creator, Mikhail Kalashnikov. Did the author change any names? If so, readers aren’t informed. These are ot small matters, and should have been disclosed. But the emotional truth of Saviano’s account is unassailable. I could not get this brave book out of my head.

I guess Donadio never had such perplexities in reading a book by Hunter S. Thompson. Nobody ever cared about what was true and what was fictional in Thompson's writing. What's the difference here?

The difference is that Gomorrah is far from being an ironic piece of work. Gomorrah is d-e-a-d-l-y serious.

As you all probably know, "uncanny" is the way we translate into English a word Sigmund Freud used: "Unheimliche". Unheimliche is used for things that look repulsively strange and attractively familiar at the same time.

As happens in Genna's Medium, in Gomorrah too a troublesome relationship between the narrator and his father becomes strongly symbolic of something bigger. It casts light on the ambiguous "double-consciousness" several Southern Italians are painfully aware of. The narrator is the child of a culture that he cannot really renounce, and although he deeply despises the mafia and fights against it, he knows that the mafia is part of that culture, that it is consistent with that culture. In fact the nàrrator shares some deep conceptual frames with the people he denounces, and he admits it by sharing with us memories from his childhood, conversations with his father. To the narrator's eyes, the camorra is uncanny, it's repulsively strange and attractively familiar at the same time. Gomorrah is an unidentified narrative object about an unidentified feeling. The readers read their way through an "uncanny valley", and Saviano walks through another "uncanny valley": a larger one, a social one, an anthropological one.

"Uncanny valley" is a phrase coined by Japanese engineer Mori Masahiro in 1970. Mori's hypothesis is that when a robot looks and acts almost like a human being, this will cause a response of horror and rejection among humans. According to Mori, it's a case of the night being darker just before dawn, because as soon as the robot will look and act exactly like a human being, reactions among humans will be positive. He calls this period of revulsion "the uncanny valley", because it's a dip in a graph.

Now, forget about robots. I think this is a useful metaphor to describe the way an unidentified narrative object is perceived by attentive readers. There's a phase in which you start asking yourself: how is it possible that Saviano witnessed a scene like this? Mobsters using heroin addicts as guinea pigs to test newly arrived stuff, junkies collapsing after they shot up, people left to die? Where the hell was Saviano to see anything like this? Who's the narrating I? If this is undercover journalism, what is Saviano's cover? Where is he hidden? Is the narrator Saviano? Am I reading a piece of journalism or am I reading a novel disguised as a piece of journalism? You just entered the "uncanny valley" of the unidentified narrative object. Less attentive readers may never experience this, because they take everything for granted.

Anyway, it's just a dip in the graph, because you go on reading the book and gradually understand what Saviano is trying to do, and you not only accept it: you're moved by it, because this thing does the job very well, and doubts and revulsion are replaced by admiration.

My hypothesis is that many of those who criticized Gomorrah for its "ambiguity" and accused Saviano of "having confused things", never got over the dip, they stopped reading right in the middle of the "uncanny valley", and never got out of it.

Every "unidentified narrative object" has its "uncanny valley". In Medium, for example, it is located at the beginning of the second chapter, right after the funeral.

One of the most impressive things in Gomorrah is the scope, the scale of the book: the journey begins at the docks of Naples and in the destitute outskirts of that city, but then Saviano takes us to Russia, Bélarùs, Scotland, the United States, Spain, the Middle East, Hollywood, Colombia... Saviano's gaze makes incursions all over the world, because Italian organized crime makes business all over the world.

Nothing to be patriotic about.

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Bill Moyers Journal: Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander -- Are We Living in Marting Luther King Jr.'s America?

Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander
Bill Moyers Journal

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. This week, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL observes the anniversary of King's murder by examining America in light of his dream. What would he think of our country today and where would he focus his fight against inequality and injustice?

Two talented lawyers who've dedicated their careers to fighting inequality, Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson, join Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL to examine justice and injustice in America 42 years after King's death.

Alexander believes that King would be deeply troubled by the remaining inequality in America. As she tells Bill Moyers, "I think Martin Luther King would be thrilled by some of the individual progress of African Americans, but stunned, absolutely stunned and saddened, by the state of African Americans as a whole today."

Stevenson adds that to reach King's dream, America must address the causes of poverty, "I think in America, the opposite of poverty is justice. I think there are structures and systems that have created poverty, and have made that poverty so permanent, that until we think in a more just way about how to deal with poverty in this country, we're never gonna make the progress that Dr. King envisioned."

Both believe that America's policies of mass incarceration continue the cycle of poverty. America is the largest jailer on the planet, with 2.3 million people behind bars. But the policy of mass imprisonment, unique among industrialized nations, disproportianatetly affects minorities, especially African American men. One in 100 adults in America is behind bars, but one in nine African American men aged 20 to 34 is behind bars. Much of this arises from the "war on drugs." According to Human Rights Watch, African American adults have been arrested at a rate 2.8 to 5.5 times higher than white adults in every year from 1980 to 2007. Yet, according to government statistics, African Americans and whites have similar rates of illicit drug use and dealing.

A consequence of this disparity, and America's harsh treatment of lawbreakers, according to Alexander, is a population of people living in conditions shockingly like African Americans experienced under Jim Crow:

Today in communities of color across America, large majorities of African American men have been branded criminals, felons for life. And as a result, many are denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to public education-- public benefits. Many of the forms of discrimination we thought we left behind in the Jim Crow Era are legal again, once you've been branded a criminal.

Stevenson points out that these are not inevitable policies:

We didn't have to incarcerate people for 10, 20, 30, 40 years for simple possession of marijuana, for drug use. We didn't have to do that. We made choices around that. And now the consequences are devastating. I think they're not only devastating from a political perspective, but — I think this is the way I think it relates to Jim Crow, as well — it's also been devastating within communities of color. Right now, for black men in the United States, there's a 32 percent chance you're going to jail or prison. In poor communities and minority communities, urban communities, rural communities, it could be 60 percent or 70 percent. You're born, you're a ten-year-old kid. There's a 70 percent chance that you're going to go to jail and prison. What does that do to you?

To Listen to the Episode and Access More Resources


Reflections on King's Dreams

U.S. Prisons and Drug Laws

Bill Moyers Journal: Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett -- American Inequality

(Moyers essay on American Inequality)

American Inequality
Bill Moyers Journal

In his closing essay for the April 2, 2010 JOURNAL, Bill Moyers references several works on inequality in America. Among these is THE SPIRIT LEVEL: WHY GREATER EQUALITY MAKES SOCIETIES STRONGER by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, who together have spent more than 50 years studying how inequality affects the health of a population.

Bill Moyers talked to them about their work.

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The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Tea America; Bernie Goldberg Fires Back; Go F--K Yourself

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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Tea America
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Ben Craw: The Ultimate Goldman Sachs Metaphor Reel

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Eric Nalder: Seattle computer security expert investigates police practices -- An 'urban golf' outing raises civil liberties questions

Local computer security expert investigates police practices: An 'urban golf' outing raises civil liberties questions
Seattle PI

A drunken street golf game with foam balls has led to a serious civil rights issue, pitting computer geeks against police practices.

Eric Rachner, a Seattle cyber security expert and one of the golf players, wasn't satisfied when the city dismissed charges against him after a possibly illegal arrest for refusing to provide identification.

Rachner discovered through sleuthing that police had withheld video-recorded evidence in his case.

Rachner also hired Seattle attorney Cleveland Stockmeyer to look at his case and probably others where arrests might have been illegal or where police claimed to have destroyed valuable arrest videos that weren't, in fact, erased.

"How many people are sitting in jail who asked for their tapes and were told no, they can't have them," says Stockmeyer. "I don't know. But I tell you we're going to freaking find out."

On a Saturday night in October 2008, Rachner was one of a sizeable group of "urban golfers" who were whacking the faux ball from bar to bar on city sidewalks, alleys and parking lots, imbibing more than keeping score.

Near the last "hole" a sliced shot hit a 22-year-old passerby in the face. The 1 ½-inch foam ball caused no harm other than a sting, but when the golfers laughed at and "heckled" the victim he called 9-1-1, the police report said. Seattle police responded in force.

While their colleagues would soon be investigating a shooting across town, the East Precinct sent four officers to spend an hour rounding up golfers.

"Twenty to thirty people are detained over a Styrofoam ball?" said Dan Kaminsky, an internationally famous Internet security expert himself, who was not arrested, but was among those detained for questioning. "This is ridiculous."

Rachner was wearing a faded t-shirt, jeans and leather jacket, and didn't remotely resemble the guy who misfired the ball, who wore English golfing duds, a Tattersall's hat and fake orange sideburns.

Confronted by officer Michele Letizia, Rachner politely declined to state his name. He also indicated where he kept his wallet with ID. The policeman removed the wallet from Rachner's pocket, but both men declined to open it. The officer expressed fear he could be accused of stealing cash.

Letizia threatened to arrest the 32-year-old Capitol Hill reveler for obstruction if he didn't provide his name as others had. The cop told Rachner that booking on a Saturday night could mean cell time until Monday. Rachner remained mum. Letizia arrested him, based on the refusal to provide ID, according to arrest and court documents.

With those facts, the arrest appears to have been illegal based on a 1982 Washington Supreme Court ruling, though a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court case makes the situation less clear-cut.

Custody for Rachner lasted two hours, not days, but a charge was leveled against him in Seattle Municipal Court for obstructing a public officer. Controversial laws known as obstruction, "stop and frisk" and "stop and identify" statutes have been abused in other cities like New York, studies and news stories show. An obstruction case cited in a 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigation ended with a federal jury hitting Seattle police with a six-figure penalty.

Rachner's criminal defense attorney sought dismissal of his gross misdemeanor charge, citing the Washington State Supreme Court decision that says arresting a person for nothing more than withholding identification is unconstitutional. One reason cited by the court: This practice allows police too much discretion to pick targets and punish with arrest. Also, the state constitution is more protective of these rights than the U.S. constitution.

But then-city attorney Tom Carr's office kept the prosecution going for half a year. William Ross, the former assistant city attorney who handled part of the case, acknowledged that it is illegal to arrest someone for nothing more than failure to give ID, but declined to discuss case details other than to say the office didn't abuse its authority.

When the arresting officer was asked recently in an interview whether the ID issue was the only reason he took Rachner into custody, he said "no". But he declined to address why his arrest reported cited ID as the only reason, and refused further comment.

Inconsistent memories are why every Seattle officer has a video camera in the squad car and a microphone on their uniform. Expanding in use nationally, they provide an unblinking witness and are automatically activated when the patrol car's flashing lights are turned on. Cops are often more protected than citizens by these videos, but are the police willing to produce the recordings when they might be in the wrong?

Rachner repeatedly tested that question, asking for the video and audio recordings of that night's arrest as part of pre-trial discovery and, separately, in requests under state public disclosure law. That part of the discovery request wasn't fulfilled and the SPD denied the first disclosure request because the criminal charge was pending, records show.

On the day last May when the city attorney dropped the charges because of unexplained "proof" problems -- nearly six months and more than $3,500 in defendant legal expenses after the incident -- Rachner filed another disclosure request for the recordings.

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