Monday, August 30, 2010

Maurice Blanchot: The Madness of the Day

From The Madness of the Day, by Maurice Blanchot, trans. Lydia Davis

I am not learned; I am not ignorant. I have known joys. That is saying too little: I am alive, and this life gives me the greatest pleasure. And what about death? When I die (perhaps any minute now), I will feel immense pleasure. I am not talking about the foretaste of death, which is stale and often disagreeable. Suffering dulls the senses. But this is the remarkable truth, and I am sure of it: I experience boundless pleasure in living, and I will take boundless satisfaction in dying.

I have wandered: I have gone from place to place. I have stayed in one place, lived in a single room. I have been poor, then richer, then poorer than many people. As a child I had great passions, and everything I wanted was given to me. My childhood has disappeared, my youth his behind me. It doesn't matter. I am happy about what has been. I am pleased by what is, and what is to come suits me well enough.

Is my life better than other peoples lives? Perhaps. I have a roof over my head and many do not. I do not have leprosy, I am not blind, I see the world—what extraordinary happiness! I see this day, and outside it there is nothing. Who could take that away from me? And when this day fades, I will fade along with it—a thought, a certainty, that enraptures me.

I have loved people. I have lost them. I went mad when that blow struck me, because it is hell. But there was no witness to my madness, my frenzy was not evident: only my innermost being was mad. Sometimes I became enraged. People would say to me, Why are you so calm? But I was scorched from head to foot; at night I would run through the streets and howl; during the day I would work calmly.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

History for the Future: David Roediger on Race and Whiteness

(HUM 121 students--link to your assignment: HUM 121: The People Speak, Pt. 2 and "The Body Rituals of the Nacirema")

David Roediger on Race and Whiteness
History for the Future (WRCT: Pittsburgh)

... Historian David R. Roediger discusses the history of race and “whiteness” in America. The author of several books on labor, race, and power, including The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, and most recently, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon, Roediger’s work explores how the idea of race — including “the white race” — has been made and re-made throughout American history. In the interview Roediger talks about this history, how President Obama has navigated the issue of race, and how current debates over Islam and Muslim immigration fit into America’s racial past.

To Listen to the Discussion

Jane Mayer: Covert Operations -- The Billionaire Brothers Who are Waging a War Against Obama.

Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.
by Jane Mayer
The New Yorker

On May 17th, a black-tie audience at the Metropolitan Opera House applauded as a tall, jovial-looking billionaire took the stage. It was the seventieth annual spring gala of American Ballet Theatre, and David H. Koch was being celebrated for his generosity as a member of the board of trustees; he had recently donated $2.5 million toward the company’s upcoming season, and had given many millions before that. Koch received an award while flanked by two of the gala’s co-chairs, Blaine Trump, in a peach-colored gown, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, in emerald green. Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had been a patron of the ballet and, coincidentally, the previous owner of a Fifth Avenue apartment that Koch had bought, in 1995, and then sold, eleven years later, for thirty-two million dollars, having found it too small.

The gala marked the social ascent of Koch, who, at the age of seventy, has become one of the city’s most prominent philanthropists. In 2008, he donated a hundred million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears his name. He has given twenty million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of the fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Koch pledged at least ten million dollars for their renovation. He is a trustee of the museum, perhaps the most coveted social prize in the city, and serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than forty million dollars, an endowed chair and a research center were named for him.

One dignitary was conspicuously absent from the gala: the event’s third honorary co-chair, Michelle Obama. Her office said that a scheduling conflict had prevented her from attending. Yet had the First Lady shared the stage with Koch it might have created an awkward tableau. In Washington, Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

A few weeks after the Lincoln Center gala, the advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—an organization that David Koch started, in 2004—held a different kind of gathering. Over the July 4th weekend, a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a chilly hotel ballroom in Austin. Though Koch freely promotes his philanthropic ventures, he did not attend the summit, and his name was not in evidence. And on this occasion the audience was roused not by a dance performance but by a series of speakers denouncing President Barack Obama. Peggy Venable, the organizer of the summit, warned that Administration officials “have a socialist vision for this country.”

Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”

In April, 2009, Melissa Cohlmia, a company spokesperson, denied that the Kochs had direct links to the Tea Party, saying that Americans for Prosperity is “an independent organization and Koch companies do not in any way direct their activities.” Later, she issued a statement: “No funding has been provided by Koch companies, the Koch foundations, or Charles Koch or David Koch specifically to support the tea parties.” David Koch told New York, “I’ve never been to a tea-party event. No one representing the tea party has ever even approached me.”

At the lectern in Austin, however, Venable—a longtime political operative who draws a salary from Americans for Prosperity, and who has worked for Koch-funded political groups since 1994—spoke less warily. “We love what the Tea Parties are doing, because that’s how we’re going to take back America!” she declared, as the crowd cheered. In a subsequent interview, she described herself as an early member of the movement, joking, “I was part of the Tea Party before it was cool!” She explained that the role of Americans for Prosperity was to help “educate” Tea Party activists on policy details, and to give them “next-step training” after their rallies, so that their political energy could be channelled “more effectively.” And she noted that Americans for Prosperity had provided Tea Party activists with lists of elected officials to target. She said of the Kochs, “They’re certainly our people. David’s the chairman of our board. I’ve certainly met with them, and I’m very appreciative of what they do.”

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Frank Rich: The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party
The New York Times

ANOTHER weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who. Last Sunday the site was Lower Manhattan, where they jeered the “ground zero mosque.” This weekend, the scene shifted to Washington, where the avatars of oppressed white Tea Party America, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, were slated to “reclaim the civil rights movement” (Beck’s words) on the same spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream exactly 47 years earlier.

Vive la révolution!

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.

Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.

Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”

The other major sponsor of the Tea Party movement is Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, which, like Americans for Prosperity, is promoting events in Washington this weekend. Under its original name, Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks received $12 million of its own from Koch family foundations. Using tax records, Mayer found that Koch-controlled foundations gave out $196 million from 1998 to 2008, much of it to conservative causes and institutions. That figure doesn’t include $50 million in Koch Industries lobbying and $4.8 million in campaign contributions by its political action committee, putting it first among energy company peers like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Since tax law permits anonymous personal donations to nonprofit political groups, these figures may understate the case. The Kochs surely match the in-kind donations the Tea Party receives in free promotion 24/7 from Murdoch’s Fox News, where both Beck and Palin are on the payroll.

The New Yorker article stirred up the right, too. Some of Mayer’s blogging detractors unwittingly upheld the premise of her article (titled “Covert Operations”) by conceding that they have been Koch grantees. None of them found any factual errors in her 10,000 words. Many of them tried to change the subject to George Soros, the billionaire backer of liberal causes. But Soros is a publicity hound who is transparent about where he shovels his money. And like many liberals — selflessly or foolishly, depending on your point of view — he supports causes that are unrelated to his business interests and that, if anything, raise his taxes.

This is hardly true of the Kochs. When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed. As Mayer details, Koch-supported lobbyists, foundations and political operatives are at the center of climate-science denial — a cause that forestalls threats to Koch Industries’ vast fossil fuel business. While Koch foundations donate to cancer hospitals like Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, Koch Industries has been lobbying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying another product important to its bottom line, formaldehyde, as a “known carcinogen” in humans (which it is).

Tea Partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government and Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety and the subsistence of the elderly.

Yet inexorably the Koch agenda is morphing into the G.O.P. agenda, as articulated by current Republican members of Congress, including the putative next speaker of the House, John Boehner, and Tea Party Senate candidates like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and the new kid on the block, Alaska’s anti-Medicaid, anti-unemployment insurance Palin protégé, Joe Miller. Their program opposes a federal deficit, but has no objection to running up trillions in red ink in tax cuts to corporations and the superrich; apologizes to corporate malefactors like BP and derides money put in escrow for oil spill victims as a “slush fund”; opposes the extension of unemployment benefits; and calls for a freeze on federal regulations in an era when abuses in the oil, financial, mining, pharmaceutical and even egg industries (among others) have been outrageous.

To Read the Rest of the Column

Rebecca Solnit: In New Orleans, Kindness Trumped Chaos: Lessons of dedication, solidarity, love, and recovery, five years after Katrina.

In New Orleans, Kindness Trumped Chaos: Lessons of dedication, solidarity, love, and recovery, five years after Katrina.
by Rebecca Solnit
Common Dreams

The taxi driver called me "girlfriend" and "sweetheart" with the familiar sweetness of New Orleanians, so I figured I could ask a few personal questions. He was from the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods inundated by Katrina--a mostly poor, mostly black edge of the city isolated and imperiled by two manmade canals--and it had taken him three and a half years to return to New Orleans. He still wasn't in his neighborhood, but he was back in the city, and his family was back, and they were determined to come back all the way.

What happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is more remarkable than almost anyone has told. More than a million volunteers came to New Orleans to gut houses, rebuild, and stand in solidarity with the people who endured not just a hurricane but a deluge of Bush Administration incompetence and institutionalized racism at all levels of government, which temporarily turned the drowned city into a prison. Supplies were not allowed in by a panicky government; people were not allowed out, and a wholly unnatural crisis ensued.

Even so, an astounding wave of solidarity and empathy arose. At more than 200,000 people volunteered to shelter evacuees, often in their own homes. And then there were those legions of volunteers, many of them white, working in a city that had been two-thirds black.

I have again and again met passionate young activists who intended to come for a week or a month and never left. In the Lower Ninth, my taxi driver's neighborhood, things looked better than even six months before. Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation now has dozens of solar-powered homes, built on stilts for the next inundation, scattered across the lowlands of the neighborhood. New businesses have opened on St. Claude Avenue, the main thoroughfare, and children play in the once-abandoned streets.

It's hard to say that there is a recipe for solidarity across race and class lines. During crises, the official reaction from government and media is often widespread fear--based on a belief that in the absence of institutional authority people revert to Hobbesian selfishness and violence, or just feckless conduct. Scholars Lee Clarke and Karon Chess call this fear of the public, particularly the poor and nonwhite public, "elite panic." Because these "elites" shape reaction as well as opinion, their beliefs can be deadly.

But the truth is that most people are altruistic, resourceful, and constructive during crisis. A disaster is actually threatening to elites, not because the response is selfish but because it often unfolds like a revolution, in which the status quo has evaporated.

Civil society improvises its own systems of survival--community kitchens, clinics, neighborhood councils, and networks of volunteers and survivors--often decentralized and deeply empowering for the individuals involved. What gets called recovery can constitute the counter-revolution--the taking back of power.

Perhaps the biggest question for a disaster like Katrina is to what extent this transformed sense of self and society lasts and matters: Can it be a foundation for a stronger civil society, more solidarity, and grassroots power? It has been so in many ways in New Orleans, with groups like the Common Ground Clinic--a free health clinic that was started days after the hurricane and is still going strong five years later.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Friday, August 27, 2010

Allison Kilkenny: It’s not racism when we say and do racist things

It’s not racism when we say and do racist things
by Allison Kilkenny


The defacto leadership of the Republican Party has been – for many months now – the extreme right fringe. The RNC has done nothing to control the violent, racist rhetoric sputtering from its base. In fact, GOP leaders have been completely silent while media personalities – the unceremonious leaders of the party – like Rush and Beck continue their rich tradition of being disgusting racists.

Then, when racism erupted during the Park 51 controversy, Republican politicians clutched their fans and pretended to act appalled. As though there could have been any other possible outcome after months of Republicans encouraging the most fearful, primal responses from their frenzied mob.

Geller, Limbaugh, and Beck have successfully combined hatred of Muslims with hatred of the others (blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays – you know, the fake Americans). Without the presence of adult supervision, they have coaxed their listeners and viewers into accepting that Barack Obama is a creepy foreigner who is not to be trusted. It’s okay. You don’t hate him because he’s black. You hate him because you know he’s inauthentic. You’re just perceptive! And then one morning, we all woke up and found out one in five Americans think Obama is a Muslim.

Not only do they think he’s a Muslim, but apparently they’ve been harboring latent hostility toward Muslims since 9/11. The extreme right has lassoed that hatred into a movement to reject anyone and anything that isn’t white and Christian. At one of the Park 51 protests, two Egyptian Christian men were harassed by the mob. “Go home!” someone yelled. “Get out!” another chimed in. It didn’t matter that the men were Christian. They have dark skin, and so they are part of the others.

In another protest, Kenny, a union carpenter, who happens to be black, is screamed at as he walks through a Park 51 protest. The crowd has mistaken him for a Muslim because Kenny made the mistake of WWB (Walking While Black).

Defenders of the Park 51 protesters claim that not all of their members are racist. Of course not. In any bigoted movement, I’m sure you can find at least a handful of individuals who really believe what they’re doing will protect the motherland, and they don’t have anything personally against _____, but maybe if ______ just tried a little harder to assimilate, this wouldn’t be a problem at all. And then there are the people protesting ______ because their granddaddy hated _____, and their daddy hated ____, and now they’ve taken taken up the mantle of hating _____ because it’s something of a family tradition, but they would never hurt a _____, or anything, and to tell you the truth, they once worked a job with a _____, and he was a nice enough guy.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Media Matters: Islamophobia Outbreak Across the USA

Nothing to see here: Right-wing media dismiss notion of nationwide "Islamophobia"
Media Matters

In recent days, right-wing media have dismissed the idea of a nationwide "Islamophobia." In fact, there has been a well-documented trend of "Islamophobia" throughout the country in the wake of the right wing's extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric over the planned Islamic community center in Manhattan.

To Read the Archive of Reports

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the Media: The Iranian Protests, One Year Later; An Iranian Journalist Risks His Life "For Neda"

On the Media (NPR)

The Iranian Protests, One Year Later

One year after post-election protests in Iran captured the world’s attention, a number of Iranian-American journalists are taking stock. Was the reporting accurate? Were U.S. news consumers left with an accurate sense of the protest’s impact? Has Iran changed? Reza Aslan, Iranian-American journalist and author, holds the media and himself accountable.

To Listen to the Episode

An Iranian Journalist Risks His Life "For Neda"

The death of Neda Agha-Soltan, captured on video, came to symbolize the violence of Iran's post-election protests. Now, a new documentary called "For Neda" tells the story of her life and features the first on-camera interviews with her family. Reporter Saeed Kamali Dehgan describes the risks he took to secretly find Neda's family.

To Listen to the Episode

World Cinema: Horror

A student has asked me what I would suggest and I have to admit this is not my specialty, so, please feel free to provide suggestions in the comments:

Battle Royale (Japan: Kinji Fukasaku, 2000: 121 mins)

Brotherhood of the Wolf (France: Christophe Gans, 2001: 142 mins)

The Company of Wolves (UK: Neil Jordan, 1984: 95 mins)

Cube (Canada: Vincenzo Natali, 1997: 90 mins)

The Devil's Backbone (Spain/Mexico: Guillermo del Toro, 2001: 106 mins)

The Host (South Korea: Bong Joon-Ho, 2006: 119 mins)

Hour of the Wolf (Sweden: Ingmar Bergman, 1968: 90 mins)

Let the Right One In (Sweden: Tomas Alfredson, 2008: 115 mins)

Pan's Labyrinth (Spain/Mexico: Guillermo del Toro, 2006: 119 mins)

The Pitfall (Japan:
Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1962: 97 mins)

Pontypool (Canada: Bruce McDonald, 2008: 95 mins)

Ringu (Japan: Hideo Nakata, 1998: 96 mins)

Save the Green Planet (South Korea: Jang Joon-Hwan, 2003: 118 mins)

Scanners (Canada: David Cronenberg, 1981: 103 mins)

HUM 121: The People Speak, Pt. 2 and "The Body Rituals of the Nacirema"

Here is your reading assignment: The Body Rituals of the Nacirema

Other texts along these lines that make me think about social rules/rituals:

Wikipedia: Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

Text of Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron"

Wikipedia: Harrison Bergeron

Text of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

Wikipedia: The Lottery

Additional resources/topics:

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. (Available online)

An ongoing archive of materials on Howard Zinn

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

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.

History is a Weapon

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Michael Benton: Dialogic Writing

"Notes on Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophernia." Dialogic (February 20, 2014)

"Introduction and Discussion of The Battle of Algiers." Dialogic Cinephilia (February 20, 2014)

"Exploring the Nature and Causes of Violence in Film." Uprooting Criminology (February 10, 2014)

"Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008): A Powerful Exploration of Political Resistance and Retributive Justice"

Initial Thoughts on the George Zimmerman Verdict

“'He Could Resist': The Lexington Tattoo Project and A Noosed Life."

If a Tree Falls: Enforcing the Green Scare

A Nation Starts to Mobilize: Something's Happening Here

Getting Off On John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Fragile victory in Egypt: Will U.S. foreign aid impede the will of the Egyptian people?

Violence and Film

Straightlaced: How Gender Has All Tied Up

Response to Jarhead

Some Questions I Have About the World

On Feminism

Oikos ... random thoughts on a sleepless night

James Allen: Without Sanctuary; The Debate Over the Hanging of a Barack Obama Effigy on the Campus of the UK; The History of Lynching in America

Here There Be Monsters: A Response to the Public Outcry Surrounding the San Diego High School Shootings

City of God, Schindler's List and Contextual Viewings

"The Stars are Projectors": A Modest Appreciation of Modest Mouse


On Anarchism

American Sex and Sexuality 3.0

The Politics of Meat 3.0

"Be Me, for Awhile": Ideological Becoming and Future Objectivity in Let the Right One In

I Am Past Imperfect

Thoughts on Blogging by a Poorly Masked Academic

Rhetorics of Place: The Importance of Public Spaces and Public Spheres

What We Write and Why (as part of a group of editors--collective piece)

Learning From "El Mexterminator" and "Cyber Vato": Social Anxiety as a Performative Pedagogy

Quentin Tarantino, King of the Mooks - One Basterd’s Inglourious Response

Gender and Sexuality at the Carnegie Center

So Long, It's Been Good To Know You: Remembering Howard Zinn (with Michael Marchman)

Recovering the Commons: A conversation with Herb Reid and Betsy Taylor

Collective Cinephilia/Steve McQueen's Hunger

Michael Wesch: A Portal to Media Literacy/Michael Benton: Thinking About 21st Century Multiliteracies

Learning From the Dahlai Lama?

Pantheist Anarchists: Should We Fear Them?

Teacher Reflection

Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story

True Literacy (Pastiche)

Darren Aronofsky Initiates a Fictional Derive 3.0

Doctorow's City of God

Environmental English Studies: The Poetics of Relation

Mort Rosenblum's Escaping Plato's Cave; Carlotta Gall's Story; Taxi To the Dark Side

Film and the Meaning of Life

The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic

Notes on Parker Palmer's "Community of Truths"

On Thinking

Ph.D Exams and Fools Crow

Response to Marleen S. Barr's "Grizzly Gidget Goes to the Whitehouse"

What is the Most Fun I Ever Had

Alexander Zaitchik: The Sick Farce of Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor’ Rally

The Sick Farce of Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor’ Rally
by Alexander Zaitchik
Southern Poverty Law Center

America, the first step in your spiritual and political redemption is finally at hand.

Or so Glenn Beck would have us believe. After an eight-month build-up that began at an Orlando retirement community last November, Beck is now making the final preparations for his “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall, scheduled to begin early on Saturday morning with a salute and a prayer in front of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the Fox News host’s loyal fans.

On a stage at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, Beck will headline a bevy of conservative guest speakers familiar to his radio and television audiences. Most notable among them will be Sarah Palin, whose political career received early and enthusiastic support from Beck. Despite the event’s sponsorship by the NRA, the host maintains the rally will be a “non-political” event, meant to honor American troops overseas and grounded in the nonpartisan themes of “faith, hope, and charity.”

Since Beck first announced the event, much critical attention has been paid to the date. This Saturday is the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” a landmark event in the history of the civil rights movement that is also enshrined in the national mythology as one of the finest expressions of American ideals. Beck claims that the scheduling is mere coincidence. But he has eagerly claimed King’s legacy, and the meaning of Aug. 28, as his own. On the May 24 edition of his radio program, he described himself and his conservative-activist legions as “the inheritors and the protectors of the civil rights movement”; liberals, he claimed, “are perverting it.” He said he “wouldn’t be surprised if in our lifetime dogs and fire hoses are released or opened on us. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of us get a billy club to the head. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us go to jail — just like Martin Luther King did — on trumped-up charges. Tough times are coming.” Two days later, he reiterated his intent to “reclaim the civil rights movement,” since “we were the people that did it in the first place.” More recently, he has described the alleged scheduling coincidence as “divine providence”—as God’s way of telling Beck he walks in King’s footsteps.

If this is true, and a supreme being did in fact decide that Beck should hold his self-branded Tea Party rally in the shadow of Martin Luther King, then we should take this as proof that God has a very dark sense of humor.

Far from being a civil rights icon, Glenn Beck has built his empire and fame in part by being a master divider along racial lines. Especially since the inauguration of Barack Obama on the eve of his Fox News debut, Beck has emerged as the media’s boldest manipulator of white racial anxieties, fears and prejudice. His willingness “to go there” has even earned him grudging respect from hardcore white nationalists who usually have little patience for major media.

Most people are aware by now that more than 100 sponsors have fled Beck’s program since his June 2009 claim that President Obama was a racist “with a deep-seated hatred of white people.” But this is only the best known event in a 30-year career in broadcasting that has been partly defined by racist humor, racially charged venom, and advocacy for far-right foes of the civil rights movement.

Throughout his career in Top 40 radio, Beck was known for his imitations of “black guy” characters and racist tropes. According to Beck’s former colleagues in the late 90s, this included mocking unarmed blacks shot and killed by white police officers. Such was the case of Malik Jones, the victim of a controversial killing that took place in 1997.

“After the shooting, Beck sometimes did a racist shtick,” remembers Paul Bass, a former radio host and Beck colleague at a Clear Channel station cluster in New Haven. “Glenn did routines about Jones’ grandmother being on crack. Generally he made fun of his family and the loss of life—as joke routines.”

Beck’s racially tinged tirades did not disappear after he switched formats in 1999. During his first talk radio stint in Tampa, he often referred to the Rev. Jesse Jackson as “the stinking king of the race lords.” Most recently, Beck has worked to resuscitate the names of famously anti-civil rights figures from the history of his adopted Mormon faith. He has respectfully played tapes of Ezra Taft Benson, who thought Martin Luther King was a communist agent out to destroy the Mormon Church (and who once wrote the foreward to a book of race hate whose cover illustration featured the severed, bloody head of an African American). Beck has also implored his viewers to read the “divinely inspired” books of W. Cleon Skousen, another John Birch Society fantasist who believed that the civil rights movement was part of a worldwide Communist (and, later, “New World Order”) conspiracy.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Phoebe Bronstein: Man-Made Martyrs in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction -- Disturbing Manufactured Martyrdom in Paradise Now

Man-made martyrs in the age of mechanical reproduction: disturbing manufactured martyrdom in Paradise Now
by Phoebe Bronstein
Jump Cut

In the span of two days, two lifelong friends, Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), make the transition from car mechanics to suicide bombers. Their mission requires them to move undetected across the Israeli-Palestinian border and detonate two bombs in sequence in the city of Tel Aviv. Paradise Now (2005), written and directed by Palestinian-born Dutch director Hany Abu Assad, is set and shot on location in Nablus, a portion of the West Bank under Palestinian control. In combining fictional and documentary elements Abu Assad takes a cue from Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1967 film Battle of Algiers; and in a nod to Pontecorvo, Khaled even quotes a line from the paradigmatic film of the Third Cinema: “If we had airplanes, we wouldn’t need martyrs” (Rich).[1] [open endnotes in new window]

As a young Jewish woman, with a particularly religious extended family, I must first admit that I had my reservations about seeing (and later about writing on) a movie about Palestinian suicide bombers. I saw the film for the first time in 2005 in a New York art house theater. The movie had yet to gain ground in the United States and many people, myself included, knew little about it, save that it was a political thriller dealing with a hot-button issue. However, what is remarkable about this film, in a year when Stephen Spielberg’s film Munich (2005) premiered, is that Abu Assad refuses to engage in the melodramatic discourse that too often defines Israeli-Palestinian relations from the rhetoric of political news coverage to dinner-table conversations. According to Abu Assad this discourse often figures suicide bombers as either heroes and martyrs or villains and criminals. Instead, in Paradise Now Abu Assad works against these prevailing notions by revealing the construction and production of martyrdom. In this way, he calls attention to the incorporation of individual identities — that are neither good nor evil — into the collective identity of the Palestinian Resistance.[2] Abu Assad insists on a heterogeneous collective identity, all under the auspices of Palestine, which defies and subverts the dominant hegemonic ideologies that consistently stereotype and do violence to Palestinian identity.[3]

The Palestinian Resistance in the film both relies on the individual identity of its martyrs and on the construction of what Faisal Devji refers to as the “forging of the generic or universal Muslim,” a process both compelled and constructed by the media. By showcasing the production of the two men as martyrs instead of focusing on the violent back and forth of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Paradise Now presents an image of the Palestinian Resistance that subverts both the Resistance’s self-representation and Western media’s representation of it. By representing these tensions and suggesting a larger system outside of this violent back and forth of colonial/anti-colonial aggression, Abu Assad insists on a dialectical mode of thinking about, and a new image of, the Palestinian Resistance.[4] In this way, the film does not function to condemn the men, the Palestinian Resistance, or even Israel, but instead it condemns this cyclical system of violence perpetuated by both sides, the destruction reaped on the individual by the infrastructure of colonial and anti-colonial aggression, and the mediascape that compels and compounds that violence.

(Un)Spectacular violence: contextualizing the media, martyrdom, and Paradise Now

Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, pioneers of Third Cinema, argue in “Towards A Third Cinema” that systems of mass communication are akin to napalm, or in the 21st century perhaps weapons of mass destruction. Today, more than ever, these systems are all pervasive — from the Internet to television to Hollywood films — and so whoever controls and knows how to manipulate those channels holds incredible, potentially deadly power. However, Faisal Devji suggests in Landscapes of the Jihad that suicide martyrdom, particularly in the Islamic world, is a phenomenon compelled and constructed by the mass media, and so it makes use of those very same channels of mass dissemination through which oppression functions.[5] This phenomenon is alluded to in Paradise Now in the Resistance’s shooting of martyr videos and again when Said and Suha, his female friend and potential romantic interest, come across videos about both collaborators and martyrs for sale. By making use of the same channels of dissemination, the Palestinian Resistance remains locked in a violent conversation with the Western mass media in a type of colonial/anti-colonial struggle, where both sides produce and thrive on images of violence. This mediascape, which is reiterated time and again in political thrillers like Stephen Spielberg’s Munich or Peter Berg’s The Kingdom (2007), engages us emotionally rather than intellectually and discourages us as viewers from engaging critically with the films or issues represented, and so such media representations reiterate the “prevailing ideologies of society” (Hill 115).[6]

To Read the Rest of the Essay

POLICING FREE SPEECH: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment‐Protected Activity

POLICING FREE SPEECH: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment‐Protected Activity
An ACLU Survey of Reported Incidents
June 29, 2010

United States law enforcement agencies, from the FBI to local police, have a long history of spying on American citizens and infiltrating or otherwise obstructing political activist groups. Political spying was rampant during the Cold War under the FBI’s COINTELPRO, the CIA’s Operation Chaos, and other program.

Unfortunately, it appears that these old tendencies have once again come to the fore. Law enforcement agencies across America continue to monitor and harass groups and individuals for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.

A thorough search and review of news accounts by the ACLU reveals that these law enforcement behaviors have taken place in at least 33 states plus the District of Columbia in recent years. Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints, and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking
photographs in public.

For example, in the past year, at least four troubling Fusion Center reports have come to light:

The Virginia Fusion Center’s Homegrown Terrorism Document

The Texas Fusion Center’s Prevention Awareness Bulletin

The Missouri Fusion Center’s Document on the Modern Militia Movement

‐ The Massachusetts Fusion Center’s “Commonwealth Fusion Center’s Standard Operating
Procedures” (not available online)

The following is a state‐by‐state compilation of examples of these behaviors in recent years.

To Read the State by State Reports

HUM 121: The People Speak, Pt 1

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

Additional resources/topics:

An ongoing archive of materials on Howard Zinn

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

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.

History is a Weapon

Fora TV: David Boies -- Overturning Prop 8

Overturning Prop 8: David Boies
Fora TV

Boies has been deeply involved in some of the most prominent legal disputes of the past two decades. From serving as special counsel to the Justice Department in the United States v. Microsoft trial to representing Vice President Al Gore in the Bush v. Gore case following the 2000 presidential election, Boies' legal experience is extensive and varied.

Currently, Boies and former Solicitor General Theodore Olson are working to overturn California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. In a recent interview with, Boies asserted that overturning this legislation will "improve the lives of gay and lesbian will not in any way harm heterosexual marriage." In 2010, Boies was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Boies will provide a behind-the-scenes look at his most well-known cases, including Prop. 8, and provide insight into what it takes to challenge the status quo and make legal history.

To Watch the Program

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bluegrass Film Society Spring 2010

August 25: Paths of Glory (USA: Stanley Kubrick, 1957: 87 mins)

September 15: The Sword of Doom (Japan: Kihachi Okamoto, 1966: 119 mins)

September 22: Seven Beauties (Italy: Lina Wertmüller, 1975: 118 mins)

September 29: Revanche (Austria: Götz Spielmann, 2008: 122 mins)

October 13: In the Mood for Love (Hong Kong/France: Wong Kar Wai, 2000: 98 mins)

October 20: The World According to Monsanto (France/Canada/Germany: Marie-Monique Robin, 108 mins)

October 27: Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Middle Ages (Denmark/Sweden: Benjamin Christensen, 1922: 104 mins)

November 3: Paisan (Italy: Roberto Rossellini, 1946: 120 mins)

November 10: Che, Pt 1 (France/Spain/USA: Steven Soderbergh, 2008: 134 mins)

November 17: Che, Pt 2 (France/Spain/USA: Steven Soderbergh, 2008: 135 mins)

November 24: Ballast (USA: Lance Hammer, 2008: 96 mins)

December 1: Antichrist (Denmark: Lars Von Triers, 2009: 108 mins)

December 8: Dead End (France/USA: Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, 2003: 85 mins)

Max Blumenthal: Days of Rage

Days of Rage -- The Noxious Transformation of the Conservative Movement into a Rabid Fringe
By Max Blumenthal


The experiments in "Terror Management Theory" of Sheldon Solomon, professor of psychology at Skidmore College, Jeff Greenberg, professor of psychologist at the Unviersity of Arizona, and Tom Pyszczynski, professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, have demonstrated the connection between fear of death and intensification of conservative attitudes. The findings help explain the effectiveness of the death panel rumor and insinuations by conservative figures that Obama was not truly American and somehow sympathetic to Islamic terrorists. Indeed, these seemingly irrational smears were guided by tactical reasoning, calculated to agitate voters with constant reminders of their own mortality. Whether or not Independents responded, the rhetoric of death kept the Tea Party crowd in a persistent state of panic and rage, ensuring a standing army ready to fan out to rallies and town halls at the first sign of liberal malfeasance.

Obama's first year in office was marked by more than raucous protests; there were several disturbing murders committed by far-right extremists. In April 2009, a 22-year-old neo-Nazi wannabe named Richard Poplawsi mowed down a SWAT team of Pittsburgh cops, killing three. Poplawski's best friend told reporters the young killer "grew angry recently over fears Obama would outlaw guns." Later it was discovered that Poplawski had posted a video clip to a neo-Nazi Web site portraying Fox's Glenn Beck contemplating the existence of concentration camps. (After a characteristically thorough investigation, Beck conceded they were not real.) On another occasion, the killer posted a video promoting Tea Party rallies. A month after the Pittsburgh bloodbath, Scott Roeder, a supporter of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, shot Dr. George Tiller to death while he prayed at his church in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller was declared fair game by the anti-abortion movement because of his role as Kansas's only late-term abortion provider. During at least 28 episodes of Bill O'Reilly's "O'Reilly Factor," O'Reilly had referred to Tiller as "Tiller the baby killer," a criminal guilty of "Nazi stuff." "I wouldn't want to be [Tiller] if there is a Judgment Day," O'Reilly proclaimed.

In August 2009, a middle-aged professional named George Sodini walked into a health club in suburban Pittsburgh and gunned down three women. The mainstream press explained Sodini's motives away by homing in on passages in his online diaries describing his loneliness, inability to convince women to have sex with him, and descent into chronic masturbation. Nearly every major media outlet omitted or ignored a long deranged entry in which Sodini projected his sexual frustration onto Obama, whom he seemed to view as a symbol of black male virility and predation.

The day after Obama's election victory, Sodini wrote: "Good luck to Obama! He will be successful. The liberal media LOVES him. Amerika has chosen The Black Man. Good! In light of this I got ideas outside of Obama's plans for the economy and such. Here it is: Every black man should get a young white girl … Kinda a reverse indentured servitude thing. Every daddy know when he sends his little girl to college, she be … real good. I saw it. 'Not my little girl', daddy says! (Yeah right!!) Black dudes have thier [sic] choice of best white?? [ellipses in original]."

In another posting to an anti-Clinton forum in 1994, during the height of the Republicans' Whitewater investigation, Sodini revealed that he had purchased a bumper sticker reading, "Stop Socialism, Impeach Clinton," from a National Review ad. A year later, Sodini ranted on an anti-government militia site, "I am convinced that more drastic action is required to bring the country back to the Constitutional order that it was 200 years ago. I don't think any group of political leaders will achieve this for us." Whether or not Sodini's murder spree was motivated by his political passions, he was pathologically death-driven and fixated on the phantasmagoria of right-wing imagery. In his final diary entry, Sodini proclaimed, "Death lives!"

More than any other media figure of the Obama era, Glenn Beck encouraged the campaign of racial demonization and conspiracy that consumed the Tea Party "Patriots." During a broadcast of "Fox and Friends," Beck opined that Obama "has exposed himself over and over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture." As evidence, Beck pointed to White House green-jobs czar Van Jones, an African American former community organizer who was eventually forced to resign as a direct result of Beck's crusade. From there, Beck targeted another black Obama adviser, Valerie Jarrett, highlighting her ties to ACORN while upholding her and Jones as evidence of Obama's "socialist" agenda. In another broadcast, Beck played an audio clip of unidentified African Americans referring to "Obama money" as they collected welfare checks in Detroit. Then he showed footage of members of a Kansas City-based youth group practicing a step show, a traditional African-American group dance apparently unfamiliar enough to Beck and his transfixed audience that he felt at liberty to claim the footage as evidence that "Obama's SS" was being trained across inner-city America.

In September 2009, Beck relentlessly targeted ACORN, the Right's new favorite hobgoblin, admitting that he intended to use the poor people's advocacy group to distract his viewers from the health care debate. "Trust me," Beck said, "Everybody now says they're going to be talking about health care. I don't think so." (His statement was reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh's scandal-mongering remark during the early Clinton administration: "Whitewater is about health care.") Beck promptly cued up a series of hidden camera videos shot by conservative youth activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles inside ACORN field offices. In the videos, O'Keefe baited African-American staffers into making statements explaining that Giles, who claimed she was a prostitute, could obtain low-income housing. O'Keefe edited in images of himself clad in an outlandish pimp costume to create the impression that he was dressed that way during the meetings with ACORN; however, Giles later admitted her partner had lied about wearing his costume to further incriminate ACORN. In the end, ACORN was exonerated of all criminal wrongdoing while in a separate incident O'Keefe was arrested and charged with a federal crime after he and several conservative pals disguised themselves as telephone repairmen and attempted to wiretap phone lines in the office of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Like Ryan Sorba, O'Keefe and his posse were movement cadres paid and directed by well-funded conservative outfits; O'Keefe had been trained by the Leadership Institute, the right-wing youth group that nurtured leading lights like Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and Jeff Gannon.

While O'Keefe and his buddies plea-bargained with prosecutors, Beck basked in his formula for success. His show earned the highest ratings at Fox News, topping network franchises like O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. In the process, Beck's opinions became firmly implanted in the nervous systems of Tea Party activists. "Glenn Beck has taught us everything we know," a demonstrator at the 9-12 rally told me. "He's opened our eyes to so much."

But unlike the right-wing radio warhorses who helped usher in Newt Gingrich's Republican counter-revolution of 1994, Beck was not an authentic product of the movement. When Rush Limbaugh first began dominating the AM airwaves, Beck was mired in the world of mid-level commercial radio, delivering corny yarns about lesbians and celebrity trash in hopes of becoming the next Howard Stern. By night, as he has tirelessly recounted, he medicated his anxiety with cocaine and alcohol, destroying his first marriage in the process. "We remember Glenn from the womanizing, the drinking, the drugs. Everybody who knew him at the time saw what a complete mess he was," a shock jock from Tampa, Florida, who called himself Bubba the Love Sponge remarked to me during a broadcast of his nationally syndicated show.

Like Dusty Rhodes, the pseudo-populist demagogue of Elia Kazan's 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd, Beck was a self-destructive drifter who might have been crumpled up with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 in an alleyway or been locked away in a prison cell had fame not found him first. Beck was only able to stabilize his life when he made his escape from freedom, marrying a conservative Mormon, converting to her religion, and transmuting his urge to abuse drugs into conservative radio diatribes. When Beck first broke into television on CNN's Headline News Channel, he struggled to articulate a coherent political worldview. If he distinguished himself from other big-time conservative hosts in any way, he did so through strained and often snide attempts at humor, remnants of his failed radio career. Nevertheless, with help from his liberal agent, Matthew Hiltzik, Beck snagged a primetime slot at Fox News in early 2009. Around this same time, Beck began promoting the work of an arcane Mormon conspiracy-peddler named W. Cleon Skousen, whom he described as his political lodestar. Suddenly, Beck had something more to offer than irritable mental gestures.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Frank Rich: How FOX Betrayed Petraeus

How Fox Betrayed Petraeus
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

THE “ground zero mosque,” as you may well know by now, is not at ground zero. It’s not a mosque but an Islamic cultural center containing a prayer room. It’s not going to determine President Obama’s political future or the elections of 2010 or 2012. Still, the battle that has broken out over this project in Lower Manhattan — on the “hallowed ground” of a shuttered Burlington Coat Factory store one block from the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club — will prove eventful all the same. And the consequences will be far more profound than any midterm election results or any of the grand debates now raging 24/7 over the parameters of tolerance, religious freedom, and the real estate gospel of location, location, location.

Here’s what’s been lost in all the screaming. The prime movers in the campaign against the “ground zero mosque” just happen to be among the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan. The wrecking ball they’re wielding is not merely pounding Park51, as the project is known, but is demolishing America’s already frail support for that war, which is dedicated to nation-building in a nation whose most conspicuous asset besides opium is actual mosques.

So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right — abetted by the useful idiocy of the Anti-Defamation League, Harry Reid and other cowed Democrats — that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus’s last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?

You’d think that American hawks invested in the Afghanistan “surge” would not act against their own professed interests. But they couldn’t stop themselves from placing cynical domestic politics over country. The ginned-up rage over the “ground zero mosque” was not motivated by a serious desire to protect America from the real threat of terrorists lurking at home and abroad — a threat this furor has in all likelihood exacerbated — but by the potential short-term rewards of winning votes by pandering to fear during an election season.

We owe thanks to Justin Elliott of Salon for the single most revealing account of this controversy’s evolution. He reports that there was zero reaction to the “ground zero mosque” from the front-line right or anyone else except marginal bloggers when The Times first reported on the Park51 plans in a lengthy front-page article on Dec. 9, 2009. The sole exception came some two weeks later at Fox News, where Laura Ingraham, filling in on “The O’Reilly Factor,” interviewed Daisy Khan, the wife of the project’s organizer, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Ingraham gave the plans her blessing. “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it,” she said. “I like what you’re trying to do.”

As well Ingraham might. Rauf is no terrorist. He has been repeatedly sent on speaking tours by the Bush and Obama State Departments alike to promote tolerance in Arab and Muslim nations. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported last week, Rauf gave a moving eulogy at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, at the Manhattan synagogue B’nai Jeshurun. Pearl’s father was in attendance. The Park51 board is chock-full of Christians and Jews. Perhaps the most threatening thing about this fledgling multi-use community center, an unabashed imitator of the venerable (and Jewish) 92nd Street Y uptown, is its potential to spawn yet another coveted, impossible-to-get-into Manhattan private preschool.

To Read the Rest of the Column

As GOP and Some Top Dems Unite in Opposing NY Islamic Community Center, a Roundtable Discussion with Mother of 9/11 Victim, Rabbi, Muslim Lawmaker ...

As GOP and Some Top Dems Unite in Opposing NY Islamic Community Center, a Roundtable Discussion with Mother of 9/11 Victim, Rabbi, Muslim Lawmaker and Islamic Scholar
Democracy Now

We spend the hour on the controversy around the proposed construction of an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, which has turned into a national issue. Opposition to the center first started among fringe, right-wing blogs but has swept into the mainstream, with some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, coming out against it. Republicans have vowed to make the controversy a campaign issue in the fall. We host a roundtable with four guests: Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress; Rabbi Irwin Kula of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; Islamic scholar John Esposito of Georgetown University; and Talat Hamdani, whose son Salman died on 9/11 in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Errol Morris: The Anosognosic’s Dilemma -- Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Pt. 1)

The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Pt. 1)
The New York Times

David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology, was perusing the 1996 World Almanac. In a section called Offbeat News Stories he found a tantalizingly brief account of a series of bank robberies committed in Pittsburgh the previous year. From there, it was an easy matter to track the case to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, specifically to an article by Michael A. Fuoco:


At 5 feet 6 inches and about 270 pounds, bank robbery suspect McArthur Wheeler isn’t the type of person who fades into the woodwork. So it was no surprise that he was recognized by informants, who tipped detectives to his whereabouts after his picture was telecast Wednesday night during the Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers Inc. segment of the 11 o’clock news.

At 12:10 a.m. yesterday, less than an hour after the broadcast, he was arrested at 202 S. Fairmont St., Lincoln-Lemington. Wheeler, 45, of Versailles Street, McKeesport, was wanted in [connection with] bank robberies on Jan. 6 at the Fidelity Savings Bank in Brighton Heights and at the Mellon Bank in Swissvale. In both robberies, police said, Wheeler was accompanied by Clifton Earl Johnson, 43, who was arrested Jan. 12.[1]

Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight. What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise. The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest. There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money. Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving. “But I wore the juice,” he said. Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras.

In a follow-up article, Fuoco spoke to several Pittsburgh police detectives who had been involved in Wheeler’s arrest. Commander Ronald Freeman assured Fuoco that Wheeler had not gone into “this thing” blindly but had performed a variety of tests prior to the robbery. Sergeant Wally Long provided additional details — “although Wheeler reported the lemon juice was burning his face and his eyes, and he was having trouble (seeing) and had to squint, he had tested the theory, and it seemed to work.” He had snapped a Polaroid picture of himself and wasn’t anywhere to be found in the image. It was like a version of Where’s Waldo with no Waldo. Long tried to come up with an explanation of why there was no image on the Polaroid. He came up with three possibilities:

(a) the film was bad;

(b) Wheeler hadn’t adjusted the camera correctly; or

(c) Wheeler had pointed the camera away from his face at the critical moment when he snapped the photo.[2]

As Dunning read through the article, a thought washed over him, an epiphany. If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.

Dunning wondered whether it was possible to measure one’s self-assessed level of competence against something a little more objective — say, actual competence. Within weeks, he and his graduate student, Justin Kruger, had organized a program of research. Their paper, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments,” was published in 1999.[3]

Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

It became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect — our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence. But just how prevalent is this effect?

To Read the Rest of the Essay and the Other Four Parts

Alex Zuckerman: The Hill -- Winter's Bone

The Hill: Winter's Bone
by Alex Zuckerman
The Chances We Take

The nature of the film industry has relegated rural America to a symbolic representation of itself. Coastal elites retire to the back country only to make some larger political point about the country as a whole. Small-town poverty is far less compelling than urban decay, if only for its less compelling visual elements. While films like The Deer Hunter and Harlan County, PA made heroes of the heartland, they did so to score political points. White trash are never just allowed to be white trash - they are forced to stand for something more, and usually come off as cartoonish or pathetic. Debra Granik's Winter's Bone avoids these cliches, instead revealing a compelling narrative set in an undiscovered country. A double-winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Winter's Bone brings a regional familiarity and genuine soul that proves why small, smart independents remain indispensable to American film.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl saddled with caring for her two younger siblings and catatonic mother. When the Sheriff (Garrett Dillahunt) informs her that her dad Jessup has skipped out on his bond, the meager existence eked out by the Dollys is threatened. Her family and home hanging in the balance, Ree must find her father, dead or alive. She sets out on foot across a landscape last seen in John Hillcoat's adaptation of The Road; burned out cars dot decaying forests, while weeds over take derelict houses.

To Read the Rest of Response

Michael Franti/Spearhead: Yell Fire

First day of classes

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"I Have No Regret to Anybody in the Military. This Is Clearly a Failure of Our Government"–Iraq War Vet Dan Choi Discharged ...

"I Have No Regret to Anybody in the Military. This Is Clearly a Failure of Our Government"–Iraq War Vet Dan Choi Discharged Under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"
Democracy Now

“As we mark the end of America’s combat mission in Iraq,” President Barack Obama said this week, “a grateful America must pay tribute to all who served there.” He should have added “unless you’re gay,” because, despite his rhetoric, weeks earlier the commander-in-chief fired one of those Iraq vets: Lt. Dan Choi. Choi is a West Point graduate, an Arabic linguist and an Iraq war veteran. He was fired under the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. We talk to him about his life, his coming out and his military service.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Julian Assange: Why the World Needs Wikileaks

Reel Visions: A Spotlight On Kentucky Filmmakers (Call For Short Films: Dec 1st Deadline)

Hello All,

We are excited to announce that we are requesting short films for the fourth season of Reel Visions: A Spotlight on Kentucky Filmmakers! We have been having a wonderful time watching and showcasing the work of filmmakers right here in our state. If you are unfamiliar with the Reel Visions, it is a short film series program on KET. Each season is made up of four, half-hour programs that feature the work of filmmakers native to or living in the state of Kentucky.

If you are interested in seeing your work become part of our program, please submit your film(s) to:

Sara O’Keefe
KET/Reel Visions
600 Cooper Drive
Lexington, KY 40502


We will view films as they are received, the sooner we receive your work the better. We accept all formats but prefer DV-CAM, Mini DV, or DVD. Please include your contact information with your film. Films of any length not exceeding 25 minutes are acceptable.

Feel free to send art films, experimental films, documentaries, narrative films, student films, etc. Be mindful that Reel Visions is intended for an all ages, PBS viewing audience.

Please forward this message to any Kentucky filmmakers you may know. We also encourage film students to submit their work. For questions or more information, visit our web site at Reel Visions or contact me at

Sara O'Keefe

Celebrating the Start of a New College Year


Julian Assange Responds to Increasing US Government Attacks on WikiLeaks

Julian Assange Responds to Increasing US Government Attacks on WikiLeaks
Democracy Now

... WikiLeaks published the massive archive of classified military records about the war in Afghanistan, but the fallout in Washington and beyond is far from over. Justice Department lawyers are reportedly exploring whether WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange could be charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for publishing the classified Afghan war documents. Meanwhile, investigators in the Army’s criminal division have reportedly questioned two students in Boston about their ties to WikiLeaks and Private First Class Bradley Manning, a leading suspect in the leak. We speak with WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

To Watch/Read/Listen



Jeremy Scahill: End of Iraq Combat Operations or Beginning of Downsized, Rebranded Occupation Relying Heavily on Private Military Contractors?

End of Iraq Combat Operations or Beginning of Downsized, Rebranded Occupation Relying Heavily on Private Military Contractors?
Democracy Now

President Obama said Monday in a speech before the Disabled American Veterans national convention in Atlanta that the US military is on target to withdraw all its combat troops from Iraq by the end of August. We speak with independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, who says this instead marks the beginning of a downsized and rebranded occupation that will rely heavily on private military forces.

To Watch/Listen/Read and Access More Resources

Monday, August 16, 2010

Deltron 3030: Madness

DJ Spooky: Sampling & the Creative Act; RiP: A Remix Manifesto (Brett Gaylor: 2008); Jonathan Lethem: The Ecstasy of Influence - A Plagiarism

(A brilliant synthesis/celebration/defense of open culture and the art of the remix from Jonathan Lethem inspired this derive. Thanks to Open Source with Christopher Lydon for reminding me to revisit this essay. Free the culture!)

"If you think of an artist as a person who is creating singularly, you are missing the point."

--Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, "In Through the Out Door: Sampling and the Creative Act."

Trailer for RiP: A Remix Manifesto (Brett Gaylor: 2008)

To watch it online: RiP: A Remix Manifesto (Brett Gaylor: 2008)

The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism
By Jonathan Lethem
Harper's Magazine



The Walt Disney Company has drawn an astonishing catalogue from the work of others: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Song of the South, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, and, alas, Treasure Planet, a legacy of cultural sampling that Shakespeare, or De La Soul, could get behind. Yet Disney's protectorate of lobbyists has policed the resulting cache of cultural materials as vigilantly as if it were Fort Knox—threatening legal action, for instance, against the artist Dennis Oppenheim for the use of Disney characters in a sculpture, and prohibiting the scholar Holly Crawford from using any Disney-related images—including artwork by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Oldenburg, and others—in her monograph Attached to the Mouse: Disney and Contemporary Art.

This peculiar and specific act—the enclosure of commonwealth culture for the benefit of a sole or corporate owner—is close kin to what could be called imperial plagiarism, the free use of Third World or “primitive” artworks and styles by more privileged (and better-paid) artists. Think of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, or some of the albums of Paul Simon or David Byrne: even without violating copyright, those creators have sometimes come in for a certain skepticism when the extent of their outsourcing became evident. And, as when Led Zeppelin found themselves sued for back royalties by the bluesman Willie Dixon, the act can occasionally be an expensive one. To live outside the law, you must be honest: perhaps it was this, in part, that spurred David Byrne and Brian Eno to recently launch a “remix” website, where anyone can download easily disassembled versions of two songs from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, an album reliant on vernacular speech sampled from a host of sources. Perhaps it also explains why Bob Dylan has never refused a request for a sample.

Kenneth Koch once said, “I'm a writer who likes to be influenced.” It was a charming confession, and a rare one. For so many artists, the act of creativity is intended as a Napoleonic imposition of one's uniqueness upon the universe—après moi le déluge of copycats! And for every James Joyce or Woody Guthrie or Martin Luther King Jr., or Walt Disney, who gathered a constellation of voices in his work, there may seem to be some corporation or literary estate eager to stopper the bottle: cultural debts flow in, but they don't flow out. We might call this tendency “source hypocrisy.” Or we could name it after the most pernicious source hypocrites of all time: Disnial.

My reader may, understandably, be on the verge of crying, “Communist!” A large, diverse society cannot survive without property; a large, diverse, and modern society cannot flourish without some form of intellectual property. But it takes little reflection to grasp that there is ample value that the term “property” doesn't capture. And works of art exist simultaneously in two economies, a market economy and a gift economy.

The cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange is that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people, whereas the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection. I go into a hardware store, pay the man for a hacksaw blade, and walk out. I may never see him again. The disconnectedness is, in fact, a virtue of the commodity mode. We don't want to be bothered, and if the clerk always wants to chat about the family, I'll shop elsewhere. I just want a hacksaw blade. But a gift makes a connection. There are many examples, the candy or cigarette offered to a stranger who shares a seat on the plane, the few words that indicate goodwill between passengers on the late-night bus. These tokens establish the simplest bonds of social life, but the model they offer may be extended to the most complicated of unions—marriage, parenthood, mentorship. If a value is placed on these (often essentially unequal) exchanges, they degenerate into something else.

Yet one of the more difficult things to comprehend is that the gift economies—like those that sustain open-source software—coexist so naturally with the market. It is precisely this doubleness in art practices that we must identify, ratify, and enshrine in our lives as participants in culture, either as “producers” or “consumers.” Art that matters to us—which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience—is received as a gift is received. Even if we've paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us that has nothing to do with the price. The daily commerce of our lives proceeds at its own constant level, but a gift conveys an uncommodifiable surplus of inspiration.

The way we treat a thing can change its nature, though. Religions often prohibit the sale of sacred objects, the implication being that their sanctity is lost if they are bought and sold. We consider it unacceptable to sell sex, babies, body organs, legal rights, and votes. The idea that something should never be commodified is generally known as inalienability or unalienability—a concept most famously expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the phrase “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . .” A work of art seems to be a hardier breed; it can be sold in the market and still emerge a work of art. But if it is true that in the essential commerce of art a gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity. I don't maintain that art can't be bought and sold, but that the gift portion of the work places a constraint upon our merchandising. This is the reason why even a really beautiful, ingenious, powerful ad (of which there are a lot) can never be any kind of real art: an ad has no status as gift; i.e., it's never really for the person it's directed at.

The power of a gift economy remains difficult for the empiricists of our market culture to understand. In our times, the rhetoric of the market presumes that everything should be and can be appropriately bought, sold, and owned—a tide of alienation lapping daily at the dwindling redoubt of the unalienable. In free-market theory, an intervention to halt propertization is considered “paternalistic,” because it inhibits the free action of the citizen, now reposited as a “potential entrepreneur.” Of course, in the real world, we know that child-rearing, family life, education, socialization, sexuality, political life, and many other basic human activities require insulation from market forces. In fact, paying for many of these things can ruin them. We may be willing to peek at Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire or an eBay auction of the ova of fashion models, but only to reassure ourselves that some things are still beneath our standards of dignity.

What's remarkable about gift economies is that they can flourish in the most unlikely places—in run-down neighborhoods, on the Internet, in scientific communities, and among members of Alcoholics Anonymous. A classic example is commercial blood systems, which generally produce blood supplies of lower safety, purity, and potency than volunteer systems. A gift economy may be superior when it comes to maintaining a group's commitment to certain extra-market values.

Another way of understanding the presence of gift economies—which dwell like ghosts in the commercial machine—is in the sense of a public commons. A commons, of course, is anything like the streets over which we drive, the skies through which we pilot airplanes, or the public parks or beaches on which we dally. A commons belongs to everyone and no one, and its use is controlled only by common consent. A commons describes resources like the body of ancient music drawn on by composers and folk musicians alike, rather than the commodities, like “Happy Birthday to You,” for which ASCAP, 114 years after it was written, continues to collect a fee. Einstein's theory of relativity is a commons. Writings in the public domain are a commons. Gossip about celebrities is a commons. The silence in a movie theater is a transitory commons, impossibly fragile, treasured by those who crave it, and constructed as a mutual gift by those who compose it.

The world of art and culture is a vast commons, one that is salted through with zones of utter commerce yet remains gloriously immune to any overall commodification. The closest resemblance is to the commons of a language: altered by every contributor, expanded by even the most passive user. That a language is a commons doesn't mean that the community owns it; rather it belongs between people, possessed by no one, not even by society as a whole.

Nearly any commons, though, can be encroached upon, partitioned, enclosed. The American commons include tangible assets such as public forests and minerals, intangible wealth such as copyrights and patents, critical infrastructures such as the Internet and government research, and cultural resources such as the broadcast airwaves and public spaces. They include resources we've paid for as taxpayers and inherited from previous generations. They're not just an inventory of marketable assets; they're social institutions and cultural traditions that define us as Americans and enliven us as human beings. Some invasions of the commons are sanctioned because we can no longer muster a spirited commitment to the public sector. The abuse goes unnoticed because the theft of the commons is seen in glimpses, not in panorama. We may occasionally see a former wetland paved; we may hear about the breakthrough cancer drug that tax dollars helped develop, the rights to which pharmaceutical companies acquired for a song. The larger movement goes too much unremarked. The notion of a commons of cultural materials goes more or less unnamed.

Honoring the commons is not a matter of moral exhortation. It is a practical necessity. We in Western society are going through a period of intensifying belief in private ownership, to the detriment of the public good. We have to remain constantly vigilant to prevent raids by those who would selfishly exploit our common heritage for their private gain. Such raids on our natural resources are not examples of enterprise and initiative. They are attempts to take from all the people just for the benefit of a few.

Artists and intellectuals despondent over the prospects for originality can take heart from a phenomenon identified about twenty years ago by Don Swanson, a library scientist at the University of Chicago. He called it “undiscovered public knowledge.” Swanson showed that standing problems in medical research may be significantly addressed, perhaps even solved, simply by systematically surveying the scientific literature. Left to its own devices, research tends to become more specialized and abstracted from the real-world problems that motivated it and to which it remains relevant. This suggests that such a problem may be tackled effectively not by commissioning more research but by assuming that most or all of the solution can already be found in various scientific journals, waiting to be assembled by someone willing to read across specialties. Swanson himself did this in the case of Raynaud's syndrome, a disease that causes the fingers of young women to become numb. His finding is especially striking—perhaps even scandalous—because it happened in the ever-expanding biomedical sciences.

Undiscovered public knowledge emboldens us to question the extreme claims to originality made in press releases and publishers' notices: Is an intellectual or creative offering truly novel, or have we just forgotten a worthy precursor? Does solving certain scientific problems really require massive additional funding, or could a computerized search engine, creatively deployed, do the same job more quickly and cheaply? Lastly, does our appetite for creative vitality require the violence and exasperation of another avant-garde, with its wearisome killing-the-father imperatives, or might we be better off ratifying the ecstasy of influence—and deepening our willingness to understand the commonality and timelessness of the methods and motifs available to artists?


To Read the Entire Essay and Access the List of Sources