Friday, June 29, 2012

We Are Many: Trayvon Martin & The Fight Against The New Jim Crow

Trayvon Martin & The Fight Against The New Jim Crow
We Are Many

Thousands of people across the United States have taken to the streets to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. These protests have revived a desperately overdue discussion about the persistence of racism and discrimination in American society.

We will continue to demand justice in this case, but we also know this case highlights the continuing war against Black America. From police brutality and corruption to mass incarceration- from the school to prison pipeline, to disproportionately high unemployment and home foreclosures; racism is alive and well in the United States.

This is a discussion of how we can continue to build a fight against the New Jim Crow.

Co-Sponsored by Rainbow PUSH Coalition, The International Socialist Organization & The Campaign to End the Death Penalty

A panel discussion featuring the following speakers...

A message of Solidarity from Dr. John Carlos, the 1968 Olympian who raised his fist on the podium to protest racism and inequality in America.

Simeon Wright- cousin of Emmett Till and author of Simeon's Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till

Martinez Sutton- brother of Rekia Boyd, young woman killed by an off-duty Chicago police officer on March 21, 2012

Bishop Tavis L. Grant- National Field Director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition

Rev. Jeanette Wilson- Rainbow PUSH Coalition

Steven Watts- father of Stephon Watts, 15 year old killed by Calumet City Police on February 1, 2012

Wayne Watts- uncle of Stephon Watts

Allisah Love, of the Free Howard Morgan Campaign, Howard Morgan was shot 28 times by four white Chicago cops and was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison for the attempted murder of those four cops.

and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor- International Socialist Organization & columnist for

To Watch the Presenters

History for the Future: Maurice Isserman on Michael Harrington, “The Other American”

Maurice Isserman on Michael Harrington, “The Other American”
History for the Future

HFTF celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Other America: Poverty in the United States, by Michael Harrington, with an interview with Harrington’s biographer, Maurice Isserman. After publishing The Other America and before his untimely death in 1989, Michael Harrington was the U.S.’s leading democratic socialist and served as a political and social conscience to the country during the turbulent years of the 1970s and 1980s. Isserman is a professor of American history at Hamilton College and author of The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington. On the show he discusses Michael Harrington’s “discovery” of poverty in the early 1960s, the legacy of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and the enduring significance of The Other America. He concludes by answering the question, “What would Michael Harrington say if he were alive today?”

Be sure to check out Isserman’s recent article in Dissent magazine, titled “50 Years later: Poverty and The Other America.” Also, Maurice recently participated in a great conference at the College of the Holy Cross (which Michael Harrington attended) on the “The Other America, Then and Now.” Many of the lectures, including Maurice’s and one by William Julius Wilson, can be streamed on the conference’s website.

To Listen to the Interview and Access More Resources

Thursday, June 28, 2012

History for the Future: Bob McChesney on the Crisis in Journalism and Democracy

Bob McChesney on the Crisis in Journalism and Democracy
History for the Future (WCRT: Pittsburgh)

... Bob McChesney on the serious crisis facing journalism in the United States and what to do about it. McChesney is professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has written widely on issues related to the media, journalism, and society. Most recently he is the author, with John Nichols, of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again. We spend the whole half-hour discussing this brand new, and critically important book that details how the decline in the production of journalism (particularly at the local level) is a potent threat to our democracy. McChesney is also a co-founder of Free Press, the media reform organization. If you like the interview be sure to check out their website to get involved!

To Listen to the Interview

Democracy Now: Supreme Court Upholds Healthcare Overhaul, Individual Mandate

Supreme Court Upholds Healthcare Overhaul, Individual Mandate
Democracy Now

A one-hour Democracy Now! special broadcast hosted by Amy Goodman, covering the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice John Roberts was the swing vote in upholding the Act, joining Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. From outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D..C, to New York and around the country we get reaction from: filmmaker Michael Moore; health insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter; Georgetown University law professor David Cole; Elisabeth Benjamin of the Community Service Society of New York; Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN); Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program; Hilary Shelton of the NAACP; Russell Mokhiber of; and Karen Higgins of National Nurses United.

To Watch the Special Report

Erich Kuersten: Sex is a Hen Decapitated -- Bluebeard and the Eroticism of Catherine Breillat

Sex is a Hen Decapitated: Bluebeard and the Eroticism of Catherine Breillat
by Erich Kuersten

The ancient tale of Bluebeard is rife with archetypal resonance for the budding feminine psyche: it's a rite of passage myth, a map of patriarchal oppression's mine field, an initiation into sexual maturity, where the fear of pain is enough to make actual pain a relief in contrast; a color-symbolic dream where the blood of menstruation anxiety (the redness of the clitoral "riding" hood) and the swollen purples of honeymoon savagery (the black and blueness of the groom's bristly beard) mix and match. Like many fairy tales centered on a young girl, it encodes the onset of menstruation into a Pandora's Box moment of discovery, from which innocence can never return, leading inexorably into the scary rites of the marital bed, the agonies of childbirth, and so forth. Do we not, in associating white for virginity and purity, forget that red means the alchemical opening up of that purity into the raw violence of procreation? So what does that third color of the French flag--blue--represent? Naturally, the cooling rescue of death--or rather as symbolized in the 'bloody chamber' where all the previous brides are stored, a suspended animation, a sleeping beauty status wherein the enslaving agonies of childbirth and old age are forever kept at bay, in short, the blue represents frozen death and timeless decadence, pleasure and a disruption of the natural enslavement process of patriarchy. Bluebeard postpones sexual relations in order to keep romance forever young.

The coming of age girl myth tends to focus on the moment of the first dripping eradicable red stain, one that no amount of Clorox will undo. Such a moment--loss and gain coagulated into one crimson blotch --seems to obsess French director Catherine Breillat, a female auteur as detached and horrified in her existential search for meaning as her fellow Frenchmen Gasper Noe, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Claire Denis [note from Michael Benton: Denis is a French woman]. But as Breillat is a woman, her take on femininity is free to delve much much deeper into waters too cold and dangerous to ever be known to men. Eagerly complicit with the grotesque truths of feminine sexuality, Breillat's eyes are not blurred by the glamor and beauty that hypnotize most male directors. Rather than 'fall' for the genetic con job of desire, she focuses on her gender's fascination with the gross otherness of the male body, and vice versa - she wants to explore her own body--stripped of its veils and glamor-- through male eyes. Men after all aren't as obligated to be beautiful. They're position as desirable or beautiful is seldom considered in a marriage. If a woman can't learn to love ugliness, she never gets a prince and stays forever turned off; the beast stays a beast.

For his part, when Bluebeard spots the telltale blood stain on the key to the forbidden chamber, he is sad and disappointed, once again his bride has been unable to remain 'unopened' and so must be literally opened, as in decapitated. But Breillat's crafty beauty knows to stall, to feign compliance with her impending death on certain conditions, and to seek help from the passing musketeer/woodsman(the woodsman gets all the girls because he's already 'slain' his own wolf). If she merely screams and cringes, she's devoured. This is a valuable honeymoon lesson considering the absurdly young marriage ages of our forebears, one surely told by moms of old: do not resist or cringe when your new husband advance; instead, flatter, and stall him. If he will but relent today he shall get double tomorrow, and so on until a nice woodsman can rescue her, or she can develop enough that her deflowering is less of a painful, traumatizing violation.

The patriarchal readings of these tales runs counter to this approach, flipping the beast into a prince with a magic (phallic) wand and happily ever aftering the story before the children reading can learn that the magic wand's spell fades in a matter of hours. Soon enough the hair begins to creep back on their prince and his fangs grow long with the full moon. He seems to get uglier and more ill-tempered as the marriage marches on; that's the part Disney rolls its credits over. Only Breillat dares see not just the beast, but the frog, the vile toad still dwelling behind the sparkly eyes of the prince, and only Breillat nonetheless finds a way to love the thing, proverbial warts and all.

In her fearless approach towards this taboo subject, Breillat seems to possess an ambivalent--if not outright hostile--attitude towards sex. Her liberated female characters are often accused of being masochist subjects. But we have to dig deeper for her real reaction, perhaps a way would be to see her as the French female version of Lars Von Trier. But where Lars uses the D.W. Griffith / Sirkian soap opera woman's story in his savage deconstruction of innocence, purity, deflowering and sex, Breillat eschews any direct relation with 'woman's picture' trappings, to shoot for pure myth, looking past Griffith all the way back to the dawn of the printing press. Her cinema is--in Bluebeard literally--like the pages of a storybook that shows everything the normal books do not.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Marilyn Manson: Tainted Love

Tariq Ali (Historian/Journalist/Filmmaker/Activist)

Wikipedia: Tariq Ali

Ali's personal website

Achcar, Gilbert, Tariq Ali, Kevin Onden and Ahmed Shawki. "End the Siege of Gaza." We Are Many (June 17, 2010)

Ali, Tariq. "A new beginning: As social revolutions sweep through the Arab world, how will they affect the role of the US in the region?" (February 28, 2011)

---. "The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad." Democracy Now (September 21, 2010)

---. "The Rotten Heart of Europe." Unwelcome Guests #637 (January 5, 2013)

---. "Turning Points in the History of Imperialism." Law and Disorder Radio (Decenber 31, 2013)

Ali, Tariq and Noam Chomsky. "Global Politics." The World Tomorrow (June 26, 2012)

Ali, Tariq and Oliver Stone. "Academy Award-Winning Filmmaker Oliver Stone Tackles Latin America’s Political Upheaval in "South of the Border", US Financial Crisis in Sequel to Iconic "Wall Street." Democracy Now (June 21, 2010)

The World Tomorrow: Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky

The World Tomorrow

Monday, June 25, 2012

North of Center: On the Proposal That Downtown Lexington Converts to Two-Way Streets

Here's North of Center's commentary on the Lexington Herald-Leader article by Scott Sloan "Fugate calls development of Limestone, Cheapside districts top successes downtown.":

Interview today with David Fugate, the new director for the [Lexington, KY] Downtown Development Authority. In it, he weighs in positively on 2-way street conversion. "The question of two-way streets needs to be an economic one. Will two-way streets downtown increase commerce and investment downtown?"

First off, notice how Fugate frames the question: it's a 1% fealty to commerce and investment--and that only. Fugate is not concerned with pedestrian walkability, nor with the increased pollution, or increased traffic or increased traffic accidents. These quality of life issues that come along with 2-way streets are subservient to increasing downtown investment.

Second, Fugate's not talking about Local First shops investing downtown--these places have already located on and spurred development along 1-way streets. It's the national retailers that are demanding 2-way streets. He calls it "the wisdom of national retailers who heavily weigh two-way streets in site location." So while he says that downtown shouldn't become like a mall environment, that is precisely the type of businesses he's talking about attracting. This is the real driver of the change, not the feel-good "downtown vibrancy" or "pedestrian-friendly" reasons cited by cover-up politicians (hello Steve Kay!). Big box-store type national retail outlets value two-way streets, so that's what county residents will have to pay for.

Third, he cites "case-studies of cities that have taken the plunge without heavy regret." This is interesting because none of these case studies have been reported--though David Shattuck in NoC has cited several cities that have had problems with 2-way conversions....not to mention the "regret" many residents surely feel from sitting in more traffic, polluting more, and being in more danger from auto, bike and pedestrian accidents.

In the next issue, Shattuck will let you know how much money and effort will go into converting 2-way streets to get more downtown mall-type national retailers. Corporate-first Lexington!

Todd McGowan: The Love of Antagonism in Le Mepris (Contempt)

The Love of Antagonism in Le Mepris (Contempt)
by Todd McGowan

Certainly the most conspicuous dimension of Jean-Luc Godard's refusal of the Hollywood aesthetic is his departure from traditional narrative structure. Godard does not begin with exposition and then proceed to lay down a straightforward narrative arc. Instead, the exposition often lasts throughout the film, and the narrative circles back on itself rather than moving forward toward a clear resolution. As David Bordwell puts it in his analysis of Godard's deployment of narrative, Godard delays and distributes his exposition more than any other director. For Bordwell, Godard is a representative figure of art-film narration, a narration that he opposes to that of the classical Hollywood type. But Godard's distance from Hollywood should not be measured primarily by his attitude toward narrative. It is instead his insistence on depicting sexual antagonism in his early films that separates him not only from the Hollywood aesthetic but from most auteurs outside of Hollywood as well.

The fundamental form that contemporary ideology takes is the idea that the romantic union has the ability to resolve antagonism. Even as belief in social authorities wanes, the belief in the complementary partner who would resolve the subject's lack in a romantic union remains almost perfectly unassailed. The idea of the soulmate penetrates the most cynical veneer, and Hollywood plays an essential role in sustaining this idea. More than providing spectators with a sense of social stability and meaning through narrative, Hollywood cinema supplies them with the ideology of romance. Godard's early films represent a response to the predominance of this ideology.

One of the recurring ideas in the early films of Godard is their insistence on the antagonism that haunts every couple. This is evident in À Bout de Souffle (Breathless, 1960), Une Femme Est une Femme (A Woman Is a Woman, 1961), Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders, 1964), Alphaville (1965), and Pierrot le Fou (1965), among many others. In his films, desires never match up no matter how ideal a couple may seem. Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963) shows this disjunction of desire through the relationship between Paul (Michel Piccoli) and Camille Javal (Brigitte Bardot). The film depicts the deterioration of their marriage, and it reveals the roots of this deterioration in the interplay of their desires, desires that resist complementarity rather than facilitating it. Their relationship plays itself out against the backdrop of Paul's decision to work on rewriting the script for a film version of The Odyssey being directed by Fritz Lang (played by himself) and produced by American producer Jerry Prokosch (Jack Palance), who hires Paul to fix the film. Neither Paul nor Camille have a sense of what the other really wants, and this ignorance leaves them completely isolated as desiring subjects. And yet, at the same time, both believe that they do know what the other wants, and it is this shared belief that ultimately destroys their relationship. As Godard shows, it is the attempt to fill the emptiness of one's desire with an actual object that destroys romance, though this is precisely what cinema typically offers its spectators.

After the opening credit sequence (in which the credits are spoken rather than written), the film begins with Paul and Camille in bed together. Though this opening scene seems to show Paul and Camille experiencing a kind of happiness that they would subsequently lose, it already exposes the antagonism that exists between them. Here, even at this early point, their desires are completely at odds. At the precise moment that Paul believes he is giving Camille what she wants, he reveals to her that he fails utterly to love her in the way that she wants to be loved. Godard reveals this through their verbal interaction in the scene. Camille asks Paul a series of questions about his feelings toward the various parts of her body if he loves her shoulders, her breasts, her legs, and so on. Each time, Paul avows his love for the particular body part. After Paul responds affirmatively to all of the questions, Camille then asks him, Donc tu m'aimes totalement? [Then you love me totally?]. Paul answers, Je t'aime totalement, tendrement, tragiquement [I love you totally, tenderly, tragically]. Here, Paul seems to express total love for Camille - precisely what we would assume that she wants to hear. However, as Paul is speaking, Camille looks down away from his face, seemingly disappointed with this response. This show of disappointment stems from Paul's belief that she constitutes a whole that he can love totally.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sigur Ros: Starálfur

MB: I remember hearing Sigur Ros' Starálfur for the first time near the end of Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and it encapsulated the quirky romanticism of this crazy crew of misfits struggling to make sense of their world (and generally failing horribly... in the true tradition of the absurd) -- this song never fails to move me -- a bonus for those trapped in the unending dry heat this homemade video is of winter.

Larry Zaroff: Medicine and the Human Condition

A conversation with local Stanford legend, Larry Zaroff, professor, writer, and doctor, on medicine and the human condition.
Entitled Opinions with Robert Harrison (KZSU: Stanford University)

Larry Zaroff is a Senior Research Scholar with the Center for Biomedical Ethics and also a Consulting Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Program in Human Biology. Recently, he was selected to receive the Human Biology Award for Excellence in Faculty Advising. He has also been chosen as Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Teacher of the Year. He teaches courses in medical humanities, including the core medical humanities course for the medical school's Biomedical Ethics and Medical Humanities scholarly concentration. His research interests have included pacemaker development, connections between literature and medicine and the history of medicine. He was a cardiac surgeon for twenty-nine years and a mountain climber for ten before coming to Stanford to complete his Ph.D. He also writes a column for the science section of the New York Times, and works as a volunteer family doctor at the Marin Health and Wellness Clinic.

To Listen to the Conversation

Steven Shaviro: Matthew De Abaitua's The Red Men

MB: Just finished this book that I first learned about in a review by Steven Shaviro. I thought it was amazing and eerily playing out the implications of our current and future relations to/with technologies, especially those that interface with our conscious lives (or better yet consciousness).

The Red Men (Matthew De Abaitua)
by Steven Shaviro
The Pinocchio Theory

Matthew De Abaitua’s The Red Men (2007) is a literary/SF novel about digital simulation and corporate power in the new millennium. In the wake of 9/11, and with the increasing power of computing technology, the “brand age” of the late 20th century, in which we founded our identity on our favorite corporate brands, has come to an end. It has given way to the “unreal age” (64), a situation in which we find ourselves still subsisting after the apocalypse, or “after the end of the world” (175ff). In the “unreal age,” the cheery brand identification of the 1990s has been replaced by a general atmosphere of fear, anxiety, and distrust. The Red Men offers us a vision of how corporate power and exploitation continue to flourish in this new age of anxiety, and after the “irrational exuberance” of neoliberalism has collapsed along with the economic bubbles that fueled its excesses (cf. 73-74).The corporate-dominated control society now works through an eerie combination of disenchantment and mystification, low-level uneasiness and aggressive solicitation, dreary resignation and the looming threat of brute force.

The Red Men articulates all this through a combination of its general ambiance and its careful prose. The book presents a recognizable present-day world (specifically, England) whose deviations from actuality into science-fictional extrapolation are all-too-disturbingly believable. At the same time, striking aphorisms well up throughout the narration, linking the protagonist’s hair-raising experiences to larger trends. The book is smart, self-conscious, and self-lacerating: but all this in an utterly unpretentious way. On a psychological level, The Red Men combines a lucidity born of disappointment and disillusionment with a deeper understanding of how such disenchanted lucidity is itself an alibi for failure, cowardice, and complicity. And on a sociological level, it probes the ways in which we continue to mythologize an innovative future long after that future has been exhausted.

To Read the Rest of the Response

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Severine Benzimra: French cinema and French sexual attitudes and culture

State of French Cinema: French cinema and French sexual attitudes and culture
by Severine Benzimra

French sexual attitudes and culture have wildly evolved within the last 20 years. A TV documentary which premiered on June 14th on M6, one of the free French channels, should help us grasp the breadth of the evolution.

Les Français, lamour et le sexe (French people, love and sex) is based on the latest statistics, interviews, and the analysis of sexologist Pascal de Sutter. The first episodes deal with the way French people make love: seduction, preliminaries, and positions; orgasm and fantasm. In the midst of the evening, more than 3 million people were watching - about 21% of the audience.

French cinema naturally mirrors these evolutions, sometimes in a confused way. Sexual repression provokes artistic provocation; cinema might seem less "advanced" (especially to people claiming for an equal treatment of teenagers and grown-ups, gays/lesbians and heterosexual people) in France than in the USA for this reason. Globalization can lead to self-reflection but also to some alienation. When watching US movies, French people often ignore that some scenes were censored in the USA or that a movie was X-rated. Some might consider a kind of race toward freedom is open.

Censorship officially disappeared in French cinema in 1974. It was the end of the Gaullist period and the first year of the presidency of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing; the government wasn't so liberal yet. At the end of 1975 a law was adopted concernng pornographic and extremely violent movies. Porno movies couldn't be shown in traditional movie theaters; they were reserved for specialized theaters. The next major move was made in 2000 with the restriction of some movies to those over 18 (after the Baise-moi affair). Before this, movies could be forbidden to viewers either under age 16 or 12.

French directors aren't interested in making familial movies, lets admit it. Movies for kids are mostly animated or made for TV. Beware if you want to take the pony-club class to see Dance with Him; they might leave laughing about the effects of some perfumes on a stallion or of a lady training with a mechanical horse, or the heated discussion of gluteal muscles. Some parents will consider these better topics than others, but there's no consensus. What Americans call family movies are called kid's movies or --exceptionally-- all-audience movies in France (for movies about nature especially, like Jacques Perrins' Peuple migrateur). In December 2009, the town of Libourne organized an election of the best family movie. Seven of the 16 selected films were foreign movies: Star Trek, Ice age 3, Slumdog millionnaire, Harry Potter and the half-blood prince, Up, the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Gran Torino. The French movies selected were two movies on nature (Home, Loup), two movies inspired by mythical books (Le Petit Nicolas, Lucky-Lucke), some comedies (Neuilly ta mère, Rose et noir), the very funny French James Bond (OSS 117, Rio ne répond plus), a Jeunet movie (Micmacs à Tire-Larigot), and the very commercial Arthur et la vengeance de Malthazar (produced by Luc Besson).

The French approach to onscreen sex differs from the American approach mainly through its form rather than its content. American directors tend to make "pretty" scenes, while French people shoot them more naturally (less filters, music, cuts). An exception: love scenes in Claude Brisseaus movies, like between the actresses of Les anges exterminateurs.

Americans tend to shoot very handsome and young actors, which isn't the case in France. On the contrary, the representation of teenagers having sexual intercourse is considered more shocking. Ken Park was forbidden to the under-18, an exceptional measure: the sexual scenes were considered a bad encouragement for teenagers (risk of AIDS contamination, etc.) as for adults (pedophilia, etc.). Shouldn't sex be attractive? Oh, no but it must be personal. Sexual scenes aren't supposed to, on this side of the ocean, attract the audience. They represent a part of the life of the character that it is necessary to represent. They aren't meant to excite. Sexual excitation is linked to imagination to be provided by all-audience movies (meaning not the audience of pornographic/erotic movies) if it can be provided by a movie, an idea on which French people wildly discuss and disagree. Most French people would tell you that the image neutralizes the imagination in this field and suggest you to read, or ask someone to read you erotic littérature. It might seem that the subjectivity of beauty (its effect on libido) is much more emphasized in the USA. French actors and actresses don't wish to be called sex symbols. To be "attractive", "sexy", or "hot" is not a compliment in France - traduce it and it might well be received as an insult. Especially "hot." If you look hot because you want it, you are vulgar (and thus not so hot). If you're an actor/actress who looks hot without wanting it, you're a bad actor/actress. Cold can be hotter - see Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's movies, Romy Schneider in any movie, or Catherine Deneuve - they strike one's imagination. A perfect body is cold, secretive, tends to hide itself, while an overweighted, underweighted, aged body is seen as much hotter. The hero of Le roi de l'Evasion (below), a 2009 movie by Alain Guiraudie, a large 43 year old man, had four partners: a "beur" (French-North African) girl, and several elder men.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Pink Floyd: Fearless

[because Ryan Smith played it for us around the fire tonight]

Mother Love Bone: Bone China

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Jean Marie Apostolidès: On the Literary Career of Albert Camus and His Novel The Stranger

Jean Marie Apostolidès: On the Literary Career of Albert Camus and His Most Famous Novel The Stranger
Entitled Opinions with Robert Harrison (KZSU: Stanford University)

Professor Apostolidès was educated in France, where he received a doctorate in literature and the social sciences. He taught psychology in Canada for seven years and sociology in France for three years. In 1980 he came to the United States, teaching at Harvard and then Stanford, primarily French classical literature (the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) and drama. He is interested in avant-garde artistic movements such as dada, surrealism, and situationist international; as well as the theory of image, literary theory, and Francophone literature. He is also a playwright, whose work has been staged in Paris, Montreal, and New York.

Professor Apostolidès has served as chair of the Department of French and Italian and as executive editor of the Stanford French Review and the Stanford Literature Review.

His literary criticism focuses on the place of artistic production in the French classical age and in modern society. Whether it be the place of court pageantry during the reign of King Louis XIV (Le Roi-Machine, 1981), or the role of theater under the ancien régime (Le Prince Sacrificié, 1985), or even the importance of mass culture in the 1950s (Les Métamorphoses de Tintin, 1984), in each case Professor Apostolidès analyzes a specific cultural product both in its original context and in the context of the contemporary world. Some of his most recent books include L’affaire Unabomber (1996), Les Tombeaux de Guy Debord (1999), L'Audience (2001), Traces, Revers, Ecarts (2002), Sade in The Abyss (2003), Héroïsme et victimisation (2003), Hergé et le mythe du Surenfant (2004). The tools required for such analysis are borrowed from literary criticism and from the social sciences, particularly psychoanalysis, anthropology, and sociology.

In his books, Professor Apostolidès interprets the works of the past as witnesses of our intellectual and emotional life. His examination of the distant or near past seeks to make us more sensitive to the social changes that are taking place now, in order to improve our understanding of the direction in which contemporary society is moving.

To Listen to the Conversation

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ralph Nader: Where are the Lawyers? -- Obama at Large

Where are the Lawyers?: Obama At Large

The rule of law is rapidly breaking down at the top levels of our government. As officers of the court, we have sworn to “support the Constitution,” which clearly implies an affirmative commitment on our part.

Take the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The conservative American Bar Association sent three white papers to President Bush describing his continual unconstitutional policies. Then and now civil liberties groups and a few law professors, such as the stalwart David Cole of Georgetown University and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, have distinguished themselves in calling out both presidents for such violations and the necessity for enforcing the rule of law.

Sadly, the bulk of our profession, as individuals and through their bar associations, has remained quietly on the sidelines. They have turned away from their role as “first-responders” to protect the Constitution from its official violators.

As a youngster in Hawaii, basketball player Barack Obama was nicknamed by his schoolboy chums as “Barry O’Bomber,” according to the Washington Post. Tuesday’s (May 29) New York Times published a massive page-one feature article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, that demonstrated just how inadvertently prescient was this moniker. This was not an adversarial, leaked newspaper scoop. The article had all the signs of cooperation by the three dozen, interviewed current and former advisers to President Obama and his administration. The reporters wrote that a weekly role of the president is to personally select and order a “kill list” of suspected terrorists or militants via drone strikes or other means. The reporters wrote that this personal role of Obama’s is “without precedent in presidential history.” Adversaries are pulling him into more and more countries – Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other territories.

The drones have killed civilians, families with small children, and even allied soldiers in this undeclared war based on secret “facts” and grudges (getting even). These attacks are justified by secret legal memos claiming that the president, without any Congressional authorization, can without any limitations other that his say-so, target far and wide assassinations of any “suspected terrorist,” including American citizens.

The bombings by Mr. Obama, as secret prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, trample proper constitutional authority, separation of powers, and checks and balances and constitute repeated impeachable offenses. That is, if a pathetic Congress ever decided to uphold its constitutional responsibility, including and beyond Article I, section 8’s war-declaring powers.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Surviving Progress (Canada: Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, 2011: 86 mins)

[via Documentary Heaven]

Film about the risks we pose to our own survival in the name of progress; connecting financial collapse, growing inequality and global oligarchy with the sustainability of mankind.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy: Kim Stanley Robinson Sees Humans Colonizing the Solar System in 2312

Kim Stanley Robinson Sees Humans Colonizing the Solar System in 2312
Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

In 1948, George Orwell looked ahead to 1984 and imagined a grim totalitarian world. In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke looked ahead to 2001 and imagined transcendent alien contact. Now, Kim Stanley Robinson is looking ahead to the year 2312.

“I decided I wanted to go out a long way — at least for me,” says Robinson in this week’s episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Projecting 300 years into the future is no easy task. But it’s made a bit easier by the fact that Robinson, who is best known for his novel Red Mars and its sequels about terraforming Mars, has spent a lifetime thinking about the future. 2312 combines many of the concepts the writer has developed throughout his career, such as the idea of a city that constantly circles the planet Mercury, remaining in the temperate zone between night and day (an idea that originally appeared in his first novel, The Memory of Whiteness).

Most stories about space exploration imagine starships zipping between alien worlds, but 2312 is set firmly in our solar system. Yet the novel shows that a single solar system can provoke plenty of wonder and provide ample territory for intrigue. In this future, rising sea levels have turned New York into a city of canals, asteroids are hollowed out to create giant nature preserves, and malicious schemes are calculated with the aid of quantum computers. Citizens live hundreds of years, are augmented with cybernetic technology, and casually swap genders.

It’s hard to say how much of this might come true. For example, Robinson points out that even the world’s top researchers can’t say how much ocean levels might rise. But nothing in the book violates known science.

Read our complete interview with Kim Stanley Robinson below, in which he describes how the Mondragon Accord might replace capitalism, recalls running into Jimmy Carter in Nepal, and expresses skepticism about the technological singularity. Or listen to the interview in Episode 62 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast (link above), which also features a discussion between hosts John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley and guest geek Tobias Buckell about ecological themes in fantasy and science fiction.

To Read and/or Listen to the Interview

The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy: #2 Paolo Bacigalupi

#2: Paolo Bacigalupi
The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Windup Girl and Ship Breaker, talks global warming, literature for boys, and how SF can cause change in the real world...

To Listen to the Episode

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Alyssa Figueroa and Sarah Seltzer: #SayVagina -- Politicians Perform “The Vagina Monologues” in Protest at Michigan’s State Capitol

#SayVagina: Politicians Perform “The Vagina Monologues” in Protest at Michigan’s State Capitol
by Alyssa Figueroa and Sarah Seltzer

Female lawmakers in Michigan gathered on the steps of the State Capitol last night to protest the ban placed on members for using the word “vagina.” The lawmakers, along the play’s author Eve Ensler, performed “The Vagina Monologues” for a crowd of about 5,000.

Last week, Michigan Democratic lawmaker Lisa Brown spoke on the House floor to voice her opposition to the state’s recent law that would restrict access to abortions. In her closing remarks, she stated: "Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no."

Brown was then banned from speaking by the Republican-led chamber for using the word "vagina." Fellow female lawmaker Barb Byrum was also banned from speaking because she was “out of order” after protesting that she was not allowed to speak on her amendment, which would have banned vasectomies unless there was a medical emergency or a man’s life was in danger.

Supporters of the act of protest used #sayvagina on Twitter and Facebook to provide live feedback on the event.

Detroit Free Press reporter Kathy Gray, who tweeted from the scene, posted that Brown stated, "I'm overwhelmed. Who knew one little floor speech could end in this? … We're not going to let legislators turn the clock back … We shouldn't be legislating vaginas if you can't say vaginas.”

To Read the Rest of the Article and View Videos

Entitled Opinions: Monika Greenleaf on Vladamir Nabokov and his novel Lolita

A conversation with Professor Monika Greenleaf about Vladamir Nabokov
Entitled Opinions with Robert Harrison (KZSU: Stanford University)

Monica Greenleaf is Associate Professor of Slavic Studies and Literature and of Comparative Literature. She has received B.A.'s from Stanford and Oxford and received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale. Since returning to Stanford in 1994 she has taught classes on Pushkin, women poets, the Russian novel, Nabokov and Modernism, among others. In her research she she works on the theory and practice of 18th century autobiography, Catherine the Great, the poetics of Empire and subjectivity, Pushkin, Gogol, Tsvetaeva, and Nabokov, film and women's poetry. Her publications include Russian Subjects: Nation, Empire, and the Culture of Russia's Golden Age (ed. 1996) and Pushkin and Romantic Fashion (1994). She is currently completing a book on Pushkin entitled The Art of Debut and is working on a book-length study of Catherine the Great as author.

To Listen to the Conversation

Entitled Opinions: Jeffrey Schnapps on the Phenomenon of Crowds

A conversation with Professor Jeffrey Schnapp about the phenomenon of crowds.
Entitled Opinions with Robert Parke Harrison (Stanford University)

Professor Jeffrey Schnapp is the Rosina Pierotti chair and professor of French and Italian and comparative literature. His research falls into two main areas: Italian literature in the age of Dante and the emergence and institutional articulation of Fascist culture in Italy. His other interests are the troubadour lyric; Franco-Italian cultural relations from 1850 to 1950; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travel and transportation literature; and Georges Sorel and French anarcho-syndicalism.

Professor Schnapp received his B.A. from Vassar College and his Ph.D in Comparative Literature from Stanford. He is the author of several books, including The Transfiguration of History at the Center of Dante's Paradise (1986) and Staging Fascism: 18BL and the Theater of Masses for Masses (1996). He is editor of Bernardino Daniello's Commento sopra la Commedia di Dante, as well as The Poetry of Allusion and A Primer of Italian Fascism. His current projects include a cultural history of speed and accident from eighteenth century to the present and a study of mass panoramic photography in Soviet Russia and Fascist Italy. He has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, the second literary historian ever to be granted this honor.

To Listen to the Conversation

Budd Wilkins: Birthing Bad -- Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist Through the Lens of “Nordic Horror."

Birthing Bad: Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist Through the Lens of “Nordic Horror."
by Budd Wilkins

When the always-polarizing Lars von Trier released his expectedly off-kilter take on the horror genre Antichrist in 2009, it was met with predictable critical excoriations in equal measure to any positive assessments. (The films closing dedication to art-house favorite Andrei Tarkovsky didn't seem to help matters much.) Fortunately, Antichrist did not lack for reviewers who took it seriously. Several were canny enough to place the film within the context of Scandinavian horror films or, at any rate, the art-house/horror variety that remains for the most part the only type accessible to North American audiences. Nevertheless, even informed reviewers were content to merely sketch in these perceived influences in the most general sorts of ways. For example, the excellent introductory essay by Ian Christie contained in the Criterion Collection DVD package suggests a sort of historical lineage, through which he supposes it might be productive to understand Von Triers approach to genre and material, but can do no more than briefly limn the interconnections. Seeking to follow in Christie's footsteps, let us attempt to further explicate the nexus of contextual relations by 1) establishing the historical basis for a genealogy of Nordic horror (specifically, the Danish variety) and 2) examining Antichrist in some detail at both the thematic and formal level, in order to assess the similarities and contrasts to its antecedents.

For our purposes, discussion begins with Benjamin Christensen's Häxan (1922), a remarkable early example of the silent cinema as docudrama (coeval with Flahertys Nanook of the North, the recognized progenitor of that genre) that examines the phenomenon of the European witch craze. Christensen's film was apparently inspired by the directors encounter with the 1487 witch-hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum [Hammer of the Witches] while doing research for possible film topics. Opening with a kind of object lesson, complete with onscreen pointer and packed with copious information delivered via intertitle, Häxan fills its first chapter with medieval woodcuts and engravings pertaining to the history of witchcraft and demonology, as well as more recent diagrams that illustrate pre-Enlightenment (read: unscientific), primarily Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern, cosmological conceptions.

Throughout his film, Christensen is concerned to illustrate the hypocrisy and superstition of the Middle Ages and, while he does not imply that witchcraft never existed per se, he attempts to depict the cultural-historical matrix of forces that contributed to the prevalence of these beliefs. Furthering this progressive agenda, Christensen ends his film with a segment suggesting the parallels between the signs and portents that singled out a suspected witch (intermittent anesthesia of the skin, first and foremost) and the modern psychiatric understanding of the symptoms surrounding hysteria. The advancement of Knowledge, though still imperfect, has banished the irrational and ill-founded bogeymen of Belief.

The connections between Häxan and Antichrist are several: On a formal, organizational level, Antichrist is divided, like Häxan, into discrete sequences. Häxans divisions correspond to its length in reels, but are used to segment its documentary narrative (the object lesson introduction, a second chapter portraying a day in the life of a witch and her coven, the next several chapters given over to an extended case history of accusation, trial and execution, before concluding with its modern psychiatry coda. Antichrist, in keeping with Von Trier's other works, contains a prologue, four named and numbered chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are as follows: 1) Grief, 2) Pain (Chaos Reigns), 3) Despair (Gynocide) and 4) The Three Beggars. The latter, interestingly, refers to a fairly common fairy tale (there are Serbian and ethnic Russian variations) that centers around acts of negligence and abandonment involving a child.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Wanda Sykes: Detachable Vagina

Monday, June 18, 2012

Erich Kuersten: Swedish Death, American Style

Swedish Death, American Style
by Erich Kuersten

"A film by Matt Reeves" (Cloverfield), Let Me In (2010) barely even acknowledges it's a remake of a 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In (dir. Thomas Alfredson), which was an adaptation of a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, also from Sweden. The American version keeps the snowy, desolate, alien mood via wintry Los Alamos, New Mexico, with Kodi Smith McPhee as the human boy, and the startling Chloe Grace Moretz as the vampire. One of the changes from the original are scenes were Moretz morphs into the CGI silhouette of a flying pit bull. In quieter moments she's startlingly ageless and we're forced to contend with the idea that she could be five or five hundred; she may have picked her young girl form the way a Venus flytrap picks its sticky sweet scent. In the book, I'm told, she's not even a real girl, but a castrated boy. She could be a thousand year old shapeshifting venus fly cactus. This mystery enhances the bizarre love story at the film's heart. It's one we all know- the old lover making way for the new - but in this case, oh man, we're talking some serious age differences.

Perhaps I mention all this to show how having a Swedish original to work from enables American filmmakers to explore the darker side of childhood, the place where empathy is easily drowned by the desire for companionship, safety, validation, power, and revenge against one's enemies. If the motivation for these remakes boils down to middle America's hatred of subtitles, the ability to depict things American films never could otherwise is surely a close, unspoken second. Ever since Spielberg's E.T. set the tone for the 1980s, movie audiences have reveled in their horror over child abuse scandals and as a result have shied away from portraying kids as anything but saints or, occasionally, evil demons... but either way beset on all sides by skeevy male abductors. Never are they allowed to be sexual and/or ignored - is neglect 'worse' than 'physical' abuse? Is there even a difference?

Having these topics come from Sweden washes the blood off our hands as nervous Yanks. We can do more dark stuff with kids, because hey, it's a remake, of a Swedish film. I have a feeling the same marker of moral responsibility exemption will accompany the sexual violence in Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake. Thus the Swedish cinema has re-attained its status as America's go-to taboo breaker, a status it won back in 1967 with I am Curious... Yellow, a film that dared to not just show sex, but to show realistic sex, as part of the experiences of a young leftist blonde girl and her older lover filmmaker. The protagonist's sexual openness isn't 'titillating' as much as a provocation . Americans were allowed to see it as 'art' and since it made money, the stage was set for the XXX boom. The leftist politics and new wave handheld style was forgotten but the sex was kept. The phrase 'Swedish erotica' became a redundancy, like American jazz, or Argentine tango.

The original Let the Right One In (2008) dared to assume the American art house market would abandon prurience and moral outrage over the whole child sexuality angle and remember instead the mix of loneliness and exalted terror that is being a child, those pre-empathic Lord of the Flies, Over the Edge kind of feelings from the days when we were sent to our rooms for trying to rebel, and we rolled around in bed and wished we could just kill our parents and be free to eat candy all the time; the agony of being called in by your parents, right when you were about to play a game of 'doctor' with your hot neighbor. When you ran outside after wolfing down your warm milk and yucky vegetables, she was gone.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

J.M. Tyree: The Archive Fighter

Archive Fighter: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
by J.M. Tyree
Film Quarterly

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher’s latest antiblockbuster, is a baroque rethink of the serial-killer subgenre; a subtly retuned adaptation of the first novel in Stieg Larsson’s penny-dreadful Millennium trilogy; a technical achievement of narrative compression and pacing in a mainstream thriller; and the most recent proof of the director’s trademark habit of unleashing bad vibes in the multiplex. It’s a sick kind of holiday movie. The story is bookended by two Christmases—a year its two protagonists pass among murderers, sexual predators, and a wealthy family with a history of sadistic brutality (and Nazi sympathies), all stirred up by a cold case involving the disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl from a private island. With good reason, Fincher called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo “the feel-bad movie of the season.” The director renders its source material in the coolly droll yet fundamentally shocking and disturbing style of his previous films about psychos, Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999), and Zodiac (2007). In the manner of Tod Browning’s subversive 1931 take on Dracula, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo frightens the viewer while injecting grimly fiendish jokes into an earnest literary artifact with an intractably complicated storyline.

Like Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), and The Social Network (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a movie subdivided into dozens of impeccable segments, some lavishly arranged shots lasting no more than a flashing second or two. Among the first in this series of mini-films is the peculiar titles sequence that recalls both Fincher’s early days as a director of music videos and the James Bond movies’ graphic set pieces. It features a fittingly icy cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” vocalized by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. Along with this gender-bending, the song’s lyrics provide signposts for interpretation of a film that will “whisper tales of gore” set in remixed Viking landscapes. The sequence’s images of black sludge dripping from motorcycle tires, laptop keyboards, electronic wires, deadly flowers, dark phoenixes, and faces vomiting coins and stinging insects (a reference to the pseudonym, Wasp, of the eponymous hacker in Larsson’s novel) suggest the stylized iconography of a world drowning in liquid evil. These and other touches of deliberate artifice—Polaroid-tinted flashbacks, talking text from the primary victim’s diary, establishing shots of moving trains and snowbound houses that turn landscapes into glimpses from nightmares, multitasking montages that playfully detach sight and sound, and Fincher’s toxic light filters—at once encapsulate and provide layers of chill to distance the awful horrors in store. The movie’s sound design often intrudes, consistently and violently, in ways that lend a surreal aura to the noise of passing trains, closing doors, and moving elevators.

These reminders of unreality also might serve as annotations to a story that is about acts of reading and misreading. Both the novel and the movie begin with a major interpretative mistake. Harriet Vanger (Moa Garpendal), missing for forty years from her wealthy family’s enclave, is presumed murdered. Her uncle, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), has been receiving mysterious packages each year containing pressed flowers, posted from around the world. He hires a disgraced investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), to look into Harriet’s case, and Blomkvist takes on freelance security consultant and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as his research assistant. Together, they uncover what Blomkvist describes as a story of “rape, torture, fire, animals, religion— am I missing anything?” Of course, everyone is missing something in this thriller, namely that the flowers are being sent by Harriet herself to let her beloved uncle know that she remains alive, rather than by a clever killer attempting to torment Henrik.

Why the most obvious assumption about these secret messages is never made could be the focus of a Derridean highlight reel about the slipperiness of writing, from the expanded definition of the word in 1967′s Of Grammatology (the flowers form a kind of living hieroglyph) to the games about letters in 1980′s The Post Card (Harriet’s flowers are messages mailed but not adequately received). Fincher’s emphasis on textual instability and the control of documents intersects with what Derrida calls the “politics of the archive” in his 1995 essay Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (translated by Eric Prenowitz, University of Chicago Press, 1996, 4). In Melancholy and the Archive (Continuum, 2011), Jonathan Boulter calls archive fever “an addiction to past events which transforms the subject into a crypt” (141), and in Fincher’s film all manner of often macabre texts, images, and objects entomb as much as they disclose, as if attesting to a semantic death drive and to haunted memory. Newspaper clippings, crime-scene pictures, binders of family snapshots or tourist photographs, corporate files and libraries, Bible codes, encrypted documents, video surveillance clips, scars, and of course tattoos record—even if they do not always spell out—nightmare crimes. Larsson’s novel mentions a “death book” that Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgård) fills with research on his potential victims, but in a way the whole story is an elaborate memento mori.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Joseph Summers: Decresendo

In the land of the creative class, the real estate prices are booming. The restaurants are booked, and all the business corporations are dedicated anew to cutting edge thinking. The menswear may be nothing to emulate, but you can’t quarrel with the data. In Silicon Valley, job creation clicks in at three times the national average. Scrums of young billionaires collect record salaries and profits, offer world-beating stocks, and host bacchanalias at night after changing the world during the day. Just now, in fact, the tech industry’s self-made men are locked in a battle for the ages, pitting the boldest companies and savviest minds in a contest to reinvent … television. What won’t they think up next?

A great deal, it turns out. The fable that we are living through a time of head-snapping innovation in technology drives American thought these days – dystopian and utopian alike. But if you look past both the hysteria and the hype, and place the achievements of technology in historical perspective, then you may recall how business leaders promised not long ago to usher us into a glorious new time of abundance that stood beyond history. And then you may wonder if their control over technology hasn’t excelled mainly at producing dazzling new ways to package and distribute consumer products (like television) that have been kicking around history for quite some time.

Joseph Summers, "Decrescendo" (2012)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On Point: Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky
On Point (WBUR: Boston)

These seem like big troubled times and Noam Chomsky joins us to give us his take on everything from the Occupy Movement to the Arab Spring.

Noam Chomsky has been calling for decades for a kind of revolution. For Americans and everybody else around the world to wake up to how power is used and abused, and how people need to take it back. It was a lonely road he often walked in this country when times were good and the Cold War was won and bubbles were big.

Today, a lot of bubbles have burst. And the rebel Noam Chomsky has people listening who might never have paused to think. It’s a deep, fierce critique he offers, of American capitalism today, of American foreign policy and more.

To Listen to the Interview

Noam Chomsky: The Purpose of Education

Boyce Watkins: University of Kentucky -- The Plantation that Never Quits

University of Kentucky: The Plantation that Never Quits
by Boyce Watkins
Black Blue Dog

This week, the University of Kentucky, who won the national championship in basketball with an all-black team, let go of one of it’s most legendary African American figures on campus, Chester Grundy. Grundy was the head of the Martin Luther King Cultural Center and a leading icon on campus.

Grundy graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1969 and helped to establish its black student union. He has been at the university for over 30 years and has served as the director of the Office of African American Student Affairs. Grundy has been responsible for the cultural evolution of thousands of African American students through the years, and was one of the beacons of racial hope on a campus with a long history of embarrassing racism.

The University of Kentucky is the same place where a member of the Board of Trustees, Happy Chandler, consistently used the word “nigger” openly during board meetings and was never disciplined for his behavior (in fact, they have a building named after him). It’s the campus where Aldoph Rupp refused to let African American players step onto the court (there is a building named after him too). The racial history is nasty and it continues to this day where one discriminatory incident after another is quietly swept under the rug.

The university says that it had to get rid of Grundy to fill a budgetary hole, but the move is interesting in light of the fact that they are very good at recruiting African Americans to fuel the economic engine from the basketball program. Grundy’s greatest crime is that he is an intelligent and conscientious black man, which is an academic felony on campuses like The University of Kentucky. Grundy would be better off if he were 6’9″, 250 pounds, with a cheesy smile from ear-to-ear, and the reading level of a fifth grader. In that case, he’d be welcome with open arms, and there’d be no budgetary shortfall too big to keep Mr. Grundy on campus.

The mistreatment of African Americans at The University of Kentucky is pervasive across both space and time. Dr. Lachin Hatemi, a non-black graduate from the university’s medical school, has filed a petition with protesting the treatment of African American medical students. Dr. Hatemi says that most of his African American classmates were mistreated or kicked out of the program during their time at the university. He says that since that time, the recruitment of African American students has been virtually non-existent and the medical school faculty is extremely undiverse.

Even as Dr. Hatemi has attempted to obtain data on the recruitment and retention of African American students and faculty, the university has refused to release the information. So, while the university is more than happy to parade its thoroughbred negroes on television who dribble basketballs for free, it is entirely unwilling to show evidence that it’s respect for African Americans goes beyond the basketball court. The reason the diversity information is hidden is likely because it is atrocious.

I am a graduate of The University of Kentucky and could personally spend the entire day discussing all of the racist experiences I had on the campus. Sadly, many of the diversity goals stated by the university in 1993 have not been met to this day. Most figureheads in charge of diversity are not given real power to make a change, and progressive African Americans are quarantined like a deadly virus. In many ways, the campus is still the ultimate plantation.

To Read the Rest of the Statement More resources: Linda B. Blackford: Supporters, former UK students protest dismissal of MLK Cultural Center director

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tom Engelhardt: Journalist/Editor/Geopolitics

Wikipedia: Tom Engelhardt

Tom Dispatch (edited by Englehardt)

Engelhardt, Tom. "The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s." Democracy Now (June 18, 2010)

---. "Iraq By the Numbers." AlterNet (June 28, 2007)

---. "The Long March of Jeremy Scahill's 'Dirty Wars'." The Nation (April 23, 2013) ---. "The National Security State Cops a Feel: Taking Off the Gloves (and Then Everything Else)." Tom Dispatch (November 30, 2010)

---. "Praying at the Church of St. Drone: The President and His Apostles." Tom Dispatch (June 5, 2012)

---. "The US Has 761 Military Bases Across the Planet, and We Simply Never Talk About It." AlterNet (September 8, 2008)

Engelhardt, Tom and Jonathan Schell. "America's Nuclear Trajectory." TomCast (April 5, 2010)

Tom Englehardt: Praying at the Church of St. Drone

Praying at the Church of St. Drone: The President and His Apostles
By Tom Engelhardt
Tom Dispatch


Religious Cult or Mafia Hit Squad?

Here’s a believe-it-or-not footnote to our American age. Who now remembers that, in the early years of his presidency, George W. Bush kept what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward called "his own personal scorecard for the war" on terror? It took the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out by Bush once captured or killed. That scorecard was, Woodward added, always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

Such private presidential recordkeeping now seems penny-ante indeed. The distance we’ve traveled in a decade can be measured by the Times' description of the equivalent of that “personal scorecard” today (and no desk drawer could hold it):

“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret 'nominations' process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases, and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by [counterterrorism ‘tsar’ John O.] Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name.”

In other words, thanks to such meetings -- on what insiders have labeled “terror Tuesday” -- assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president. Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children. He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations. On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked. He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out.

He and he alone can decide that assassinating known individuals isn’t enough and that the CIA’s drones can instead strike at suspicious “patterns of behavior” on the ground in Yemen or Pakistan. He can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him. An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual. This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.

In the process, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the president has shredded the Fifth Amendment, guaranteeing Americans that they will not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a secret memo claiming that, while the Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantee does apply to the drone assassination of an American citizen in a land with which we are not at war, “it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.” (That, writes Greenwald, is “the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime.”) In other words, the former Constitutional law professor has been freed from the law of the land in cases in which he “nominates,” as he has, U.S. citizens for robotic death.

There is, however, another aspect to the institutionalizing of those “kill lists” and assassination as presidential prerogatives that has gone unmentioned. If the Times article -- which largely reflects how the Obama administration cares to see itself and its actions -- is to be believed, the drone program is also in the process of being sanctified and sacralized.

You get a sense of this from the language of the piece itself. (“A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan…”) The president is presented as a particularly moral man, who devotes himself to the "just war" writings of religious figures like Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and takes every death as his own moral burden. His leading counterterrorism advisor Brennan, a man who, while still in the CIA, was knee-deep in torture controversy, is presented, quite literally, as a priest of death, not once but twice in the piece. He is described by the Times reporters as “a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama.” They then quote the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, saying, “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

In the Times telling, the organization of robotic killing had become the administration’s idée fixe, a kind of cult of death within the Oval Office, with those involved in it being so many religious devotees. We may be, that is, at the edge of a new state-directed, national-security-based religion of killing grounded in the fact that we are in a “dangerous” world and the “safety” of Americans is our preeminent value. In other words, the president, his apostles, and his campaign acolytes are all, it seems, praying at the Church of St. Drone.

Of course, thought about another way, that “terror Tuesday” scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating “hits” in a rough-and-tumble world.

How far we’ve come in just two presidencies! Assassination as a way of life has been institutionalized in the Oval Office, thoroughly normalized, and is now being offered to the rest of us as a reasonable solution to American global problems and an issue on which to run a presidential campaign.

To Read the Entire Essay

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Steven Shaviro: After Hope -- The Life and Death of a Porno Gang

After Hope: The Life and Death of a Porno Gang
by Steven Shaviro

Mladen Djordjevic's Life and Death of a Porno Gang (Serbia, 2009) contains explicit representations of sex and violence, including scenes of golden showers, zoophilia, animal slaughter, rape, murder, wartime atrocities, the production of snuff films, and suicide. In its extremity, Porno Gang has a lot in common with its sister film, Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film (2010), with which it shares a cinematographer (Nemanja Jovanov), as well as the plot premise of porno actors lured into making snuff films. Both of these movies allude, at least implicitly, to the American torture porn franchises of the past decade (the Hostel series and the Saw series). They also bring to mind the controversial but highly visible and critically acclaimed transgressive art cinema of Western Europe and East Asia, including such works as Gaspar Noë's Irreversible (2002), Pascal Laugiers's Martyrs (2008), Lars von Trier's Antichrist (2009, below), Takashi Miike's Audition (2000), and Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy (2002-2005).

However, Life and Death of a Porno Gang stands out among all these films for a number of reasons. It is unique in terms of its style, in terms of its particular geographical and historical location, and in terms of the types of social and economic conditions that it explores. In the first place, Porno Gang rejects both the commercial-genre functionalism of movies like Hostel, and the art-film self-consciousness of directors like Noë and von Trier. Instead, it adopts an informal, low-budget aesthetic; it has the look and feel of a video documentary. The film is largely shot in natural light, in real locations, with small, handheld video cameras, the same kind of cameras that the characters within the film themselves use. In this way, Porno Gang picks up from Djordjevic's previous film, Made in Serbia (2005), a downbeat documentary about the small size and limited horizons of the Serbian porn industry. Porno Gang retains its predecessors' look and feel, as well as subject matter, even though it is a fictional film, entirely scripted and staged.

Life and Death of a Porno Gang also stands out for the way that it tends to shy away from, and representationally underplay the horrific violence that it nonetheless explicitly depicts. This is its biggest difference from A Serbian Film, which presents its depraved visions with a hallucinatory hyperrealism, often pushed to the point of campy excess. In contrast, Life and Death of a Porno Gang remains largely naturalistic, and is not edited for shock value. Indeed, Djordjevic's editing style is oddly elliptical; it gives us buildups, but it often cuts away before the horror it depicts has had enough time to register in its full intensity. Porno Gang neither dwells on its carnage with long takes and a fixed or slow-moving camera, nor riles up its viewers with rapid, disjunctive montage. Instead, there is a kind of everydayness to its horror. The film records the experiences of its characters in a manner reminiscent sometimes of a first-person video diary, and other times of reality television. The film's most shocking moments emerge from this background of everydayness, and then quickly recede back into it.

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Quebec Student Protest, June 7

Thousands of protesters spilled into downtown Montreal on Thursday night, June 7, many of them naked or barely clothed, as police used stun grenades and truncheons to prevent them from confronting Montreal Grand Prix Formula One parties. For weeks, protesters have been promising to disrupt the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix, one of the biggest annual tourist events in Canada.

(Photo by Toma Iczkovits -- description by Occupy Gainesville)

Wikipedia: 2012 Quebec Student Protests

"Nudity and violence: Canadian students strip in protest, clash with police (PHOTOS, VIDEO)."

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Stephen Hinton: The Love/Hate Relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner

Entitled Opinions (KZSU: Stanford University)

Robert Harrison in conversation with Stephen Hinton, Stanford University professor of Music, about the love/hate relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner.

To Listen to the Episode (MP3)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Megan Erickson: A Nation of Little Lebowski Urban Achievers

A Nation of Little Lebowski Urban Achievers
By Megan Erickson

The year Reagan was elected to his first term, the GOP’s educational agenda consisted of two main objectives: “bring God back into the classroom” and abolish the Department of Education. This put the Reagan-appointed Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, in an awkward position. Pressured to dismantle the very organization he’d been chosen to oversee, Bell asked the President to devise a national task force on American education, which he hoped would show the necessity of federal involvement in public schools. Bell, notorious within the cabinet for being too liberal, was ignored.

He responded by assembling the task force himself. Chaired by David Pierpont Gardner, president of the University of Utah and an active member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the eighteen members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) were charged with synthesizing a vast archive of data that had been collected but never before analyzed by the Department of Education and making recommendations based on their findings. In his autobiography, The Thirteenth Man: A Reagan Cabinet Memoir, Bell insists that he did not even hint to the NCEE what these recommendations should be – and yet, his designs were evident: “I wanted to stage an event that would jar the people into action on behalf of their educational system,” he writes. Milt Goldberg, a prominent member of the commission, later remarked in an interview that he believed Bell had always seen the NCEE “as a way to shore up the Department of Education.”

In 1983, the NCEE released A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform – arguably the most influential document on education policy since Congress passed Title I in 1965. But where Title I took an equalizing approach to reform, prioritizing the distribution of funds to districts comprised primarily of students from low-income families, A Nation at Risk called for higher expectations for all students, regardless of socio-economic status: “We must demand the best effort and performance from all students, whether they are gifted or less able, affluent or disadvantaged, whether destined for college, the farm, or industry.”

At the time of the report’s release, Americans were, as Bell recalls, fraught with anxiety over job loss, inflation, international industrial competition, and a perceived decline in prestige due to the hostage crisis in Iran. Education ranked low on the list of national priorities. So the NCEE used the language of warfare to conflate what was supposedly a crisis in public schools with a crisis in national security. The “risk” in the title refers to the once unthinkable loss of global dominance. The U.S. was threatened by a “rising tide of mediocrity,” said the authors of the report, and, somewhat more ambiguously, by a lack of a shared vision. Riding the most recent wave of hysteria over the Cold War, they warned, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

The problem, as they saw it, was that kids were graduating from high school unprepared for success in a global economy. Their solution was more effort, with an emphasis on the advancement of students’ personal, educational, and occupational goals. A list of action items to be implemented immediately included: performance-based salaries for teachers, the use of standardized tests for evaluation, grade placement determined by progress rather than by age, the shuttling of disruptive students to alternative schools, increased homework load, attendance policies with incentives and sanctions, and the extension of the school day – in other words, longer, harder hours. Every one of these ideas is rooted in the free market ideology of business. For the first time since Sputnik, the role of the public schools had been re-imagined as a kind of baptism by fire into the competitive world of adulthood.

“Overall, I felt that [Reagan] could support its findings and recommendations while rejecting massive federal spending,” says Bell. As one journalist noted at the time, the language of A Nation at Risk was clearly meant to jar Reagan into action. By that measure, the report was a smashing success. The publicity inspired by the narrative of a hidden crisis in the public schools made it politically impossible for Reagan to shut down the Department of Education. And the incorporation of free market language gave him a reason to embrace it, which he did, a year later – taking credit for having assembled the commission in his 1984 State of the Union Address.

In 1988, Congress’s reauthorization of ESEA (the bill that provides federal funding to American public schools) required for the first time that states “define the levels of academic achievement that poor students should attain” and “identify schools in which students were not achieving as expected.” George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s Republican successor, referred to himself as the “Education President,” an issue the Republicans had previously been happy to let the Democrats own. The conventional wisdom that schools were in crisis was now accepted as fact.

But had the NCEE really understood the data they were tasked with analyzing? A Nation at Risk contains zero citations, making its claims difficult to verify. Two sociologists of education, David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, have argued that a main point on which the authors based their recommendations – that SAT scores had steadily declined since the 1960s – was actually a misinterpretation of the data. As a voluntary test taken specifically by those intending to go to college, the SAT should never have been aggregated to evaluate the quality of teachers or schools. The slight drop in test scores interpreted by the commission to mean that America’s schools (and its prosperity, security, and civility) were spiraling downward, instead reflected a postwar shift toward inclusion, as more and more people signed up to take the test. Disaggregated data shows that math scores for all groups during the years preceding the release of the report increased, while verbal scores remained constant.

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

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

Monday, June 04, 2012

Flobots: Rise

Ellen Cantarow: The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America

The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America
by Ellen Cantarow
Tom Dispatch

Introduction by Nick Turse: When workers drilling tunnels at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, began to die, Union Carbide had an answer. It hadn’t been taking adequate precautions against the inhalation of silica dust, a known danger to workers since the days of ancient Greece. Instead, in many cases, a company doctor would simply tell the families of the workers that they had died of “tunnelitis,” and a local undertaker would be paid $50 to dispose of each corpse. A few years later, in 1935, a congressional subcommittee discovered that approximately 700 workers had perished while drilling through Hawk’s Nest Mountain, many of them buried in unmarked graves at the side of the road just outside the tunnel. The subcommittee concluded that Union Carbide’s project had been accomplished through a “grave and inhuman disregard of all considerations for the health, lives and future of the employees."

Despite the “Hawk’s Nest Incident” and thousands of Depression-era lawsuits against foundries, mines, and construction companies, silicosis never disappeared. In the decades since, as TomDispatch authors David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz have repeatedly demonstrated, industry worked tirelessly to label silicosis a “disease of the past,” even while ensuring that it would continue to be a disease of the present. By the late 1990s, the Columbia University researchers found that from New York to California, from Texas all the way back to West Virginia, millions of workers in foundries, shipyards, mines, and oil refineries, among other industries, were endangered by silica dust.

Today, there’s a new silicosis scare on the horizon and a new eco-nightmare brewing in the far corners of rural America. Like the Hawk's Nest disaster it has flown under the radar -- until now.

Once upon a time, mining companies tore open hills or bored through or chopped off mountain tops to get at vital resources inside. They were intent on creating quicker paths through nature’s obstacles, or (as at Gauley Bridge) diverting the flow of mighty rivers. Today, they’re doing it merely to find the raw materials -- so-called frac sand -- to use in an assault on land several states away. Multinational corporations are razing ancient hills of sandstone in the Midwest and shipping that silica off to other pastoral settings around the United States. There, America’s prehistoric patrimony is being used to devastating effect to fracture shale deposits deep within the earth -- they call it “hydraulic fracturing” -- and causing all manner of environmental havoc. Not everyone, however, is keen on this “sand rush” and coalitions of small-town farmers, environmentalists, and public health advocates are now beginning to stand firm against the big energy corporations running sand-mining operations in their communities.

Ground zero in this frac-fight is the rural Wisconsin towns to which TomDispatch’s roving environmental reporter Ellen Cantarow traveled this spring to get the biggest domestic environmental story that nobody knows about. Walking the fields of family farms under siege and talking to the men and women resisting the corporations, Cantarow offers up a shocking report of vital interest. There’s a battle raging for America’s geological past and ecological future -- our fresh food and clean water supplies may hinge on who wins it.

To Read the Essay

Audun Engelstad: It's not TV - or is it?

It's not TV - or is it?
by Audun Engelstad

. . .

TV vs. High Art

It is perhaps an outdated discussion, but there seems to be a repeated tendency to see quality and popular culture as two different and mutually exclusive entities. If a product of popular culture is endowed with an aura of quality, it ceases to exist as popular culture. Instead it moves to the realm of the art world. Historically, we can find this view expressed in W. H. Auden’s (1948: 151) classic article on the crime genre where he suggests that Raymond Chandler is not writing detective fiction, but rather serious studies of a criminal environment, and that his books “should be read and judged, not as escape literature, but as works of art.” And Tzvetan Todorov (1977), in his famous article “The Typology of Detective Fiction”, claimed that any experiment with the established features of the genre, in order to improve upon them, implied a move towards serious literature. In line with arguments like these, popular culture and high art exist as two different systems – and never shall the twain meet.

Needless to say, this position has been challenged, in particular as a consequence of the interest postmodern theory has taken in popular culture. Jim Collins (1989) has demonstrated how crime fiction applies many of the strategies that define the writings within a modernist realm, such as a highly sophisticated play on intertextuality and the foregrounding of a self-conscious style. Indeed, much of the postmodernist aesthetics have been invested in blurring the boundaries between high and low culture, re-circulating tropes, forms, and narrative schemes established by popular culture. Apparently, postmodernism has put an end to the divide between the two art systems, it is all one mix now. Or so it seems at times, but perhaps it is not that easy.

The reason for bringing this issue up again, even though it is easy to get the impression that it is settled, is that the conflict between high and low appears to be embedded in the slogan that defines HBO as different from television. And much of the literature on quality television, a term that until recently was something like an oxymoron, is bent on drawing attention to traits like narrative complexity, character density, and a distinctly defined style – traits that otherwise belong to the field of high art. At the peak of postmodernism, by the late 1980s and early 1990s, television looked quite different from today. Perhaps this is the reason why the notion of artworks within television comes so belatedly to television studies.

The notion that the HBO television drama raises above the medium seems to be advocated by the series’ creators as well as HBO’s advertising department. Both writer-producer of The Sopranos, David Chase, and writer-producer of The Wire, David Simon, have in several interviews expressed a general lack of interest in television drama, and, it seems, in television altogether. Such a position is quite puzzling when looking at the track record of the two of them. It is obvious that they are well-seasoned within the trade of serial television drama. Chase has a background as a writer and a producer for television series such as The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure. Originally, his ambitions for The Sopranos was for it to be a movie, and he has stated that he treated every single episode as an equivalent to a stand-alone film. Much can be said about such a claim, but it definitively works towards distinguishing The Sopranos as something other than ordinary television drama. As for Simon, he was a former crime reporter who was introduced to television as a writer and producer on Homicide: Life on the Street, based on his book Homocide: A Year on the Killing Street. As en executive producer and writer for The Wire he has made a point about bringing in creative people with little or no background in television. This, obviously, serves the impression that The Wire was conceived as unrelated to television. Both Chase and Simon, in their publically well-known statements, express a disdain towards television drama, what it is recognized by and what it achieves (see e.g. Biskind 2007 & Goldman 2006).

TV Auteurs

Whether or not Chase and Simon’s disdain for television is reasonable is beside the point. By their positions they – consciously, or not – apparently align themselves with the nouvelle vague filmmakers who revolted against the current state of French cinema and called for a politics of auteurs (fig. 4-5). If we follow this line of argument, Chase and Simon et al, do not necessarily express a desire to make something else than television – a film, a visualized novel, or something else – rather the goal is to make television drama into something other than what it is otherwise recognized as, yet still television drama. In other words, to explore and stretch the possibilities of television as an art form.

The idea of an auteur within television has been something of a contradiction in terms. The influence of auteur criticism arrived in USA in the 1960s at a time when cinema had lost the competition against television and found it necessary to distinguish itself from television. Ironically, some of the auteurs that came out of the period known as the Hollywood Renaissance had their background in television, such as Robert Altman, Bob Rafelson, Arthur Penn and John Cassavettes. Within cinema, the auteur is recognized as a person with a strong artistic impulse, the director who rises above the craftsmen on the film set, acting on an impulse to tell something of significance or of poetic value, and who is able to transform cinema to an art form worthy of serious debate. Television, on the other hand, is typically centered on personalities in front of the camera – the talk show host, the news anchor, the leading star of the soap series, and so forth. Take, say, The Late Show with David Letterman. The form follows a fairly strict format, and it really should make no difference who is doing the various jobs behind the camera. They are all replaceable. The only one that cannot be replaced without altering the show is David Letterman, the television personality. David Letterman can probably (and he once did) take his show to any other network channel, and it will still be recognized as The Late Show with David Letterman. The HBO drama series, by contrast, elevates the executive producer to the role of the artist. All though less pronounced, it is much the same position that Robert J. Thompson gives the producer in his study of quality television series of the 1980s and 1990s.

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