Thursday, May 30, 2013

Andrew Bacevich -- Naming Our Nameless War: How Many Years Will It Be?

Naming Our Nameless War: How Many Years Will It Be?
by Andrew Bacevich
Common Dreams

For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name?

It did at the outset. After 9/11, George W. Bush's administration wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT. With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.

Upon succeeding to the presidency in 2009, however, Barack Obama without fanfare junked Bush’s formulation (as he did again in a speech at the National Defense University last week). Yet if the appellation went away, the conflict itself, shorn of identifying marks, continued.

Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much so.

Names bestow meaning. When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about. To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations.

Americans should not expect this war—inherently open-ended and strikingly nameless—to end anytime soon.

With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the horrendous fraternal bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War. Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even the War of Northern Aggression). The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought -- preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states’ rights -- had been worthy, even noble. So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.

Schoolbooks tell us that the Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended in August of that same year. The name and dates fit nicely with a widespread inclination from President William McKinley’s day to our own to frame U.S. intervention in Cuba as an altruistic effort to liberate that island from Spanish oppression.

Yet the Cubans were not exactly bystanders in that drama. By 1898, they had been fighting for years to oust their colonial overlords. And although hostilities in Cuba itself ended on August 12th, they dragged on in the Philippines, another Spanish colony that the United States had seized for reasons only remotely related to liberating Cubans. Notably, U.S. troops occupying the Philippines waged a brutal war not against Spaniards but against Filipino nationalists no more inclined to accept colonial rule by Washington than by Madrid. So widen the aperture to include this Cuban prelude and the Filipino postlude and you end up with something like this: The Spanish-American-Cuban-Philippines War of 1895-1902. Too clunky? How about the War for the American Empire? This much is for sure: rather than illuminating, the commonplace textbook descriptor serves chiefly to conceal.

Strange as it may seem, Europeans once referred to the calamitous events of 1914-1918 as the Great War. When Woodrow Wilson decided in 1917 to send an army of doughboys to fight alongside the Allies, he went beyond Great. According to the president, the Great War was going to be the War To End All Wars. Alas, things did not pan out as he expected. Perhaps anticipating the demise of his vision of permanent peace, War Department General Order 115, issued on October 7, 1919, formally declared that, at least as far as the United States was concerned, the recently concluded hostilities would be known simply as the World War.

In September 1939 -- presto chango! -- the World War suddenly became the First World War, the Nazi invasion of Poland having inaugurated a Second World War, also known as World War II or more cryptically WWII. To be sure, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin preferred the Great Patriotic War. Although this found instant -- almost unanimous -- favor among Soviet citizens, it did not catch on elsewhere.

Does World War II accurately capture the events it purports to encompass? With the crusade against the Axis now ranking alongside the crusade against slavery as a myth-enshrouded chapter in U.S. history to which all must pay homage, Americans are no more inclined to consider that question than to consider why a playoff to determine the professional baseball championship of North America constitutes a “World Series.”

In fact, however convenient and familiar, World War II is misleading and not especially useful. The period in question saw at least two wars, each only tenuously connected to the other, each having distinctive origins, each yielding a different outcome. To separate them is to transform the historical landscape.

On the one hand, there was the Pacific War, pitting the United States against Japan. Formally initiated by the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, it had in fact begun a decade earlier when Japan embarked upon a policy of armed conquest in Manchuria. At stake was the question of who would dominate East Asia. Japan’s crushing defeat at the hands of the United States, sealed by two atomic bombs in 1945, answered that question (at least for a time).

Then there was the European War, pitting Nazi Germany first against Great Britain and France, but ultimately against a grand alliance led by the United States, the Soviet Union, and a fast fading British Empire. At stake was the question of who would dominate Europe. Germany’s defeat resolved that issue (at least for a time): no one would. To prevent any single power from controlling Europe, two outside powers divided it.

This division served as the basis for the ensuing Cold War, which wasn’t actually cold, but also (thankfully) wasn’t World War III, the retrospective insistence of bellicose neoconservatives notwithstanding. But when did the Cold War begin? Was it in early 1947, when President Harry Truman decided that Stalin’s Russia posed a looming threat and committed the United States to a strategy of containment? Or was it in 1919, when Vladimir Lenin decided that Winston Churchill’s vow to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle” posed a looming threat to the Russian Revolution, with an ongoing Anglo-American military intervention evincing a determination to make good on that vow?

Separating the war against Nazi Germany from the war against Imperial Japan opens up another interpretive possibility. If you incorporate the European conflict of 1914-1918 and the European conflict of 1939-1945 into a single narrative, you get a Second Thirty Years War (the first having occurred from 1618-1648) -- not so much a contest of good against evil, as a mindless exercise in self-destruction that represented the ultimate expression of European folly.

To Read the Rest

Dan Carlin: Military History/Podcaster/Political Commentator


Dan Carlin's Hardcore History

Common Sense with Dan Carlin

Wikipedia: Dan Carlin

Twitter: Hardcore History

Reddit: Hardcore History

Twitter: Common Sense

Facebook: Dan Carlin

Resources by/about Dan Carlin:

"The 99 Percent Wakes Up (Occupy Wall St Part 1)." Best of the Left #538 (October 15, 2011)

Benton, Michael. "Why I Listen to Common Sense." Dialogic (September 17, 2008)

Carlin, Dan. "An Army of One." Common Sense #260 (September 3, 2013)

---. "The Bitter Harvest of Fear." Common Sense #214 (December 15, 2011)

---. "Blueprint for Armageddon I." Hardcore History #50 (October 29, 2013)

---. "Blueprint for Armageddon II." Hardcore History #51 (January 30, 2014)

---. "The Challenges of Living Dangerously." Common Sense #269 (February 5, 2014)

---. "Death Throes of the Republic, Pts. I - VI." Hardcore History #34-#39 (June 27-29, 2010)

---. "The Fruits of Disillusionment." Common Sense #208 (October 18, 2011)

---. "Gunning for Violence." Common Sense #244 (December 28, 2012)

---. "Liberty of Life Support." Common Sense #231 (July 4, 2012)

---. "Neutral Nets & Reform Bets." Common Sense #268 (January 20, 2014)

---. "Old School Toughness." Hardcore History #33 (April 27, 2010)

---. "Poking the Bear." Common Sense #270 (February 24, 2014) ["Ukraine has erupted in violence as protesters in Kiev oust the country's leader. Dan thinks U.S. efforts to clandestinely support or encourage one side of the conflict are dangerously short sighted."]

---. "Probing the President." Common Sense #253 (May 15, 2013)

---. "Second Guessing the Navigator." Common Sense #210 (November 4, 2011)

---. "Secret Leakage." Common Sense #248 (March 2, 2013)

---. "Security Uber Alles. Common Sense #219 (February 9, 2012)

---. "A Show in Pieces." Common Sense #209 (October 26, 2011)

---. "The Specter of Dissent." Common Sense #275 (May 24, 2014)
["The worst nightmare of the global Establishment isn't Islamic terrorism, it's critical mass levels of domestic dissent. If that's your worst worry, wouldn't you use every tool you had to forestall it? Dan thinks they are. Notes: 1. "The Six Principles of the New Populism (and the Establishment's Nightmare)" by Robert Reich, May 6, 2014; 2. "Sen. Warren's Floor Speech in Opposition to Michael Froman's Nomination for U.S. Trade Representative" (Text of speech on the Senate Floor); 3. "Glenn Greenwald: from Martin Luther King to Anonymous, the state targets dissenters not just "bad guys" " by Glenn Greenwald for The Guardian Newspaper, May 12, 2014."]

---. "Stirring the Pot." Common Sense #207 (September 28, 2011)

---. "Tyranny of the Unwise." Common Sense #211 (November 12, 2011)

---. "Vlad and Dianne." Common Sense #272 (March 22, 2014) ["Russia annexes the Crimea and the intelligence community's biggest supporter, Sen. Feinstein turns against the CIA. How can Dan choose between these two stories? He doesn't. He deals with both of them in this episode."]

---. "The Wages of Fear." Common Sense #274 (May 7, 2014) ["Should police need a warrant to search the cellphones of arrested individuals? The Supreme Court is debating it and Dan is using it as a springboard to discuss the how our fear is affecting the 4th Amendment."]

Common Sense with Dan Carlin: Probing the President

Probing the President
Common Sense with Dan Carlin

Dan analyzes the three main scandals currently plaguing the Obama Administration. He breaks them down individually while trying to put them in a historical context.


1."Top IRS official didn't reveal tea party targeting" by Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press, May 14, 2013.

2."Gov't obtains wide AP phone records in probe" by Mark Sherman for The Associated Press, May 13, 2013.

3."White House tiptoes around Justice phone record seizure" by Aamer Madhani and Kevin Johnson for the Associated Press, May 14, 2013.

To Listen to the Episode

Monday, May 27, 2013

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf

Memorial Day 2013

[MB: It is always difficult to raise these issues in the midst of patriotic holidays, but it seems to me if people truly want to honor those that have served and are serving in the military then they should be fighting to stop the insanity of endless global warfare. I believe it is simplistic and simple-minded to have a holiday for soldiers without remembering "all" of the people that have lost their lives, had their communities left devastated, and are continuing to suffer because of historical and ongoing wars/conflicts.

I am not anti-soldier, I am pro-humanity. I believe the best solidarity I can show toward all soldiers is to join with veterans that are fighting to end the current wars. Support the soldiers, bring them home.

It makes me sick to see the blind patriotism that says soldiers simply serving in the military are heroic. That is patently absurd and insulting to all soldiers. I resist this labeling for any group of people because it is a 'stereotype" used to manipulate people (those serving as soldiers and those on the home front). No one is simply heroic because they have joined something or stand for something -- we must resist this notion.]

Democracy Now Memorial Day Special: U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit

Kathy Kelly: Tales of War in a Kabul Restaurant

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Najmeh Khalili Mahani -- Mirroring History: Fassbinder’s The BRD Trilogy

Mirroring History: Fassbinder’s The BRD Trilogy
by Najmeh Khalili Mahani


Rainer Werner Fassbinder shares with many of his contemporary New German cineastes the romantic pessimism about the quest for love and freedom, which gets thwarted by individual limitations and the circumstantial wickedness of society. But, in dealing with the post-war ‘inability to mourn’, Fassbinder is one of the least apologetic filmmakers of the New German Cinema. Although critical of trauerarbeit, he falls neither in the realm of narcissistic self-pity (e.g. Volker Schlondorff’s Tin Drum (1979) or Sander Brahms’ Germany, Pale Mother 1980) nor in the domain of schizophrenic self-justification (as in Syberberg’s Our Hitler, 1978). Instead—as Elsaesser notes, Fassbinder treats German history and fascism “in relation to the present, and its representation across the dialectics of identification, the splitting and doubling of the self.” [2] The BRD Trilogy (Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), Lola (1981), and The Longing of Veronika Voss (1982)) continues in the tradition of Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (1973) and The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972), to interview, and not judge, the Federal Republic of Germany in Adenauer’s era.

The trilogy films are highly stylized and classically narrated melodramas about Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla), Veronica Voss (Rosel Zech) and Lola (Barbara Sukowa) who represent women in an antagonistic interaction with a patriarchal society. The main characters of each film have in common the persona of a somewhat femme-fatale woman, trapped by her desire for emotional (like Maria Braun), financial (like Lola) and psychological (as in case of Veronika Voss) emancipation. The narratives revolve around the ambivalence of love, with women caught in a corrupt man’s world, and in quest of their post-war socio-economic place. Typically, the road to success for these women in the Fassbinder-depicted patriarchal society, is paved by their mastery of seduction and betrayal (of men). The stories are told against the backdrop of the “economic miracle” which functions as a historical motif, and shapes the characters’ persona and motives, thus driving the causal (melodramatic) relationships between the women and the society to which they belong. Classically narrated as a ‘Sirkian’ melodrama, with lavish lighting and costumes, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss and Lola lend themselves to a conventional reading of a linearly constructed story about the rise and fall of a character; characters with personal histories and individual dramas in a given historical moment.

The exaggerated stylization of the films (especially in acting, colors, costumes, and lighting) also serves as a distanciating device that takes the stories beyond the realm of personal into the possible allegorical reading of the anxiety of the post-war Germany as a nation in a dubious historical stance during the 50s. As Elsaesser notes, the BRD Trilogy is a fulcrum for Fassbinder’s thinking about German history, prompting the thought that for Fassbinder the decade (50’s) was a “metaphor for the different cycles of new beginnings that had marked the new German history, or more a metonymy, where the decade could stand as a part for the whole, or even the fast tracked replay of Germany’s entire modern development after total destruction, best described by the Marxian motto that history always repeats itself, once as tragedy, the second time as farce …” [3]

The stories of the BRD Trilogy (“BRD” stands for Bundesrepublik Deutschland, which is the official name of West Germany) spans the periods of American occupation, Konrad Chancellor Adenauer’s era of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the miraculous recovery of the West German economy (Konrad Adenauer being the first Chancellor of post-war Germany/West Germany, from 1949-1963, who helped guide Germany through its economic miracle). This era began at the Postdam conference (July 17-August 2, 1945), where three Heads of Government of the U. S. S. R., the U. S. A., and the U. K. drafted the principles to govern the treatment of Germany under total occupation in the initial control period. The purpose of the occupation was stated as total destruction of the industrial war machine, complete abolishing of the militarism and Nazism and convincing the German people that they had suffered a total military defeat and that they were responsible for what they brought upon themselves, since their own ruthless warfare and the fanatical Nazi resistance had destroyed German economy and made chaos and suffering inevitable.” [4] A Joint Chief of Staff (JCS 1067) directive given to General Eisenhower reiterated these aims of occupation and went so far as to forbid fraternization with the German population and to prohibit giving the Germans food beyond the minimum requirements necessary to prevent famine and starvation. [5] Given the tight leash of the JCS 1067 directive, the economic miracle in West Germany came at the wake of the Cold War, and at the price of setting the foundations of their infantile democracy on Adenauer’s autocratic manner of government, losing the eastern zone to unquestionable control of Russia, rearmament in compliance with the demands of occupying forces, and reinstating many a Nazi officials within the governing bodies of the Federal Republic.

Ironically, the Federal Republic of Germany sprouted through the widening gap between the communist Russia (who conquered Berlin) and the capitalist Western Allies (who claimed the victory). In 1948, ideological phobia split the Western and the Soviet parties; disagreements over control of Ruhr culminated into Russia leaving the Control Council; and, in a few days, Russians began the blockade of Berlin. This event brought to public view the hostile rift between the old allies (Russia versus France, USA and UK) and eventually it ended in a formation of alliance between the old enemies. Germany was warmly embraced by the United States to the extent that the increasing rancor of West’s denunciation of the Soviet Union gave the Nazis a sense of justification for having been the first to warn against the perilous outcome of Bolshevism. [6] The push for the creation of West Germany came from abroad, especially from the Americans; and the Germans—although ambivalent about the unity of their country—immediately realized the economic opportunities of the Marshall plan that also guaranteed the political support from the United States. As such, they set up a ‘provisional’ Constituent Assembly on July 1st 1948, and to draw a ‘Basic Law,’ which was completed in spring of 1949. [7] Under the terms of the Basic Law an election was held; a coalition government between Christian Democrat Union (CDU), the Free Democrats and the German Party was formed; and Adenauer with majority of one vote was chosen as federal chancellor. The United States, Great Britain and France formally recognized the Federal Republic; however, in a revised Occupation Statute, they reserved to the occupying forces the power over disarmament, demilitarization, reparations, industrial controls in the Ruhr, foreign affairs and foreign trade, displaced persons and refugees, and the protection of Allied forces and their families. The wall that cut through Germany and broke its heart, Berlin, also split the national psyche of the German people into a schizoid of conscience versus reality. Partitioned and lacking sovereignty, guilty of abandoning the Eastern zone, West Germany took comfort from active economic support of United States, given in exchange for their opposition to archrival, the Eastern Block.

Similarly to the dichotomous dynamics that created West German history, the narratives of the BRD trilogy take shape from dialectical interrelations between assumed moralities and existing realities that consume the characters (or a nation) within paradoxical periods of history. Fassbinder’s trilogy juxtaposes the hunger years in Maria Braun with the plenteous days of the economic recovery in Lola, and uses Veronika Voss to draw a psychological trajectory between the contrasting features of German history. In fact, the passage from the convictions of Maria Braun and the longing of Veronica Voss, to the pragmatic Lola, parallels a passage from melancholia and mourning (the objects of remembrance) to action towards reconstruction of new—and not necessarily more promising—realities.

To Read the Rest

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lindy West: Fuck Your Delicate Sensibilities, I'm Going to Swear as Much as I Want

Fuck Your Delicate Sensibilities, I'm Going to Swear as Much as I Want
by Lindy West


Language is powerful. Language pushes and pulls on our culture and culture pushes and pulls on language, and acknowledging that power can have a profound effect on actual human lives. Reverence for language means both opposing its restriction and encouraging its responsible use. I want people to wield their words freely but carefully; anyone who thinks language doesn't hold real power has no business making a "free speech" argument in the first place. The dissemination of the printed word, the right to assemble and dissent, the spread of literacy among oppressed populations—these are the things that drive major cultural and political shifts. The way we talk about things can directly affect the way we feel about things, and the way we feel about things of course affects the way we act on things. Fucking duh.

The problem is that people mistake the "language is powerful" argument for "it stings my granny when you say the fuck word." The history of swear words is interesting, but swear words themselves don't matter one fucking bit. Swear words are what people whine about when they want a cheap way to derail an argument. Swear words are for people who don't have anything real to complain about. I wish my life (or, at least, my awareness of the shit going on in the world) was simplified to the point where swearing could be my top priority—where swearing could be worth complaining about. But fuck that.

When I say "language is powerful," I'm talking more about intent than about the actual arrangements of letters. What are you saying and who are you saying it to? Are you punching up or down? Do you have a reason to be angry?

Do I somehow care less if someone calls me a "filthy pig" instead of a "fucking filthy pig"? Fuck no. And should you somehow care more if I say "fuck the pope" (because of the Catholic Church's track record as a global anti-gay, anti-prophylactic, child-molestation cover-up racket) than if I'd said "I strongly dislike the pope"? Should you really be more offended by the swearing than by the fucking behavior of the fucking Catholic Church? Not from where I'm fucking standing. The fact that people get more offended by "fuck" and "shit"—any swear words that aren't ethnic or gendered slurs—than by life-ruining concepts like institutionally protected pedophile priests, or violent anti-gay rhetoric, or the puritanical refusal to cover women's reproductive healthcare, or blatant rape apologia in the mainstream media, or the grindingly self-perpetuating wealth disparity in this country, is FUCKING KOOKOO-BONKERS, YOU GUYS.


To Read the Rest

Seth Rosenfeld: Spies in the Hills

A great portrayal of the dirty secrets in the rise of J. Edgar Hoover to decades long power in America, check out pages 16-22 in this excerpt "Spies in the Hills" from Seth Rosenfeld's Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power (my favorite book last year)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

James Bruggers: Natural gas liquids pipeline planned for Kentucky

Natural gas liquids pipeline planned for Kentucky
by James Bruggers
Louisville Courier-Journal

Various news reports and websites are saying land agents are in Kentucky now, seeking to buy right-of-way for a new Bluegrass Pipeline that will help convey “natural gas liquids” from the fracking zones of Pennsylvania and New York.

Earlier this month, The Kentucky Standard reported the pipeline may pass through Nelson County:

Homeowners in Nelson County have been approached by representatives of a business partnership about easements for a natural gas liquids pipeline that could eventually transport 400,000 barrels a day.

One other good clue something is afoot — at least one group of lawyers is advertising for business by saying its attorneys can help make sure landowners get all they deserve and make sure their rights are protected when agents for the so-called Bluegrass Pipeline come calling with offers or inquiries:

Attorneys Steve Davis and Craig Vandervoort are now forming a group of landowners affected by the Bluegrass Pipeline. Each member of the group will be a landowner whose property is affected by the Bluegrass Pipeline. Although all members will enjoy the benefits of negotiating from a position of size and experience, each member enters an individual attorney-client agreement. No information or final settlement amount of individual members is shared with other members of the group. In fact, we anticipate that all of our members final agreements will be subject to confidentiality agreements.

Those lawyers have prepared a map showing “estimated” pipeline route in Kentucky (see above, at right), among other maps, found here.

This has been bubbling along now for several months but apparently now is starting to get more serious and the company proposing the pipeline moves forward with its plans.

To Read the Rest

The Distillers: Sing Sing Death House

Democracy Now -- Killing Americans: Jeremy Scahill on Obama Admin’s Admission 4 U.S. Citizens Died in Drone Strikes

Killing Americans: Jeremy Scahill on Obama Admin’s Admission 4 U.S. Citizens Died in Drone Strikes
Democracy Now

The Obama administration has admitted for the first time to killing four U.S. citizens in drone strikes overseas. Three died in Yemen: the Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. A fourth, Jude Kenan Mohammed — whose death was not previously reported — was killed in Pakistan. In a letter to Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that all but the attack on the elder al-Awlaki were accidental, saying the other three "were not specifically targeted." The admission came on the eve of a major address in which President Obama is expected to defend the secret targeted killing program and announce modified guidelines for carrying it out. We’re joined by Jeremy Scahill, author of the new book, "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield," and co-producer of the upcoming documentary film by the same name.

To Watch the Episode

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hole: Live Through This

Tom Mangold: Murder in Mayfield (KY)

Murder in Mayfield
by Tom Mangold

Veteran BBC investigative reporter Tom Mangold got an email out of the blue one day from a woman in Mayfield, Kentucky, asking him for help to find the murderers of a teenage girl. Intrigued, he flew out to meet her soon afterwards, and stumbled into an extraordinary story.

As soon as I landed in Paducah, Kentucky, I went straight to the local wine shop and bought a case of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Mayfield, 30 miles from Paducah, is a dry town. One needs to get one's priorities right.

The Mayfield Super 8, the best (and only) accommodation in town is run by a lovely Indian man originally from Wembley, north London. I was greeted like a prince, went to my room, and waited for the phone to ring.

She called just as I had finished unpacking, the voice dark, firm and rather appealing. I asked her to come up, and the moment we met I knew we were going to be fine. Susan Galbreath has a pretty face with smile wrinkles, a head of highlighted blonde and shrewd eyes that miss nothing. She was carrying a huge file of papers and after brief pleasantries, we sat in the work area of the modest room, and started talking.

She was terrified I would think my trip had been a waste. I reassured her it had been my call from the outset. There was no ceremony, we started work almost immediately. I unscrewed the Sauvignon, we filled two plastic toothbrush cups, and she began to brief me. No time to indulge in jet lag. Susan was in a hurry.

It was clear from the very start that Susan, for all her enthusiasm, was failing to distinguish fact from gossip, rumour or supposition. A life spent in journalism had taught me one thing if nothing else - I knew from the start what needed doing first.

I let Susan talk me through every rumour, assumption and piece of half-digested tittle-tattle on how 18-year-old Jessica Currin had met her death, each one more unlikely or unprovable than the last.

At the end of the 10th uncheckable theory of how Jessica had met her death, Susan beamed at me and asked: "What do you think?"

I treated her as brusquely as I had been treated by my first Fleet Street news editor, launching into a lecture on the nature of factual - "that's factual, Susan, hard, double-checked factual" - reporting.

It was the moment we might have parted. I saw a look of hurt and disappointment cross her face, but she didn't stop listening.

Then I went from theory to practice.

"This is the most delicious wine," I told her as we sipped our way through the Sauvignon. "You're right," she said. "It's a great wine."

"How do you know?" I challenged her rudely.

"Er… well you just told me," she answered.

"How do you know I know what I'm talking about?"

"Well, you seem to like your wine, and I assume…"

I stopped her on that one word, "assume". Then, a little more gently this time, I pointed out that assumptions were for academics and warned her never to assume anything while we worked on the case. Everything had to be checked, double-checked, tested and re-tested.

Only then did I explain why our white wine really was great. I told her to read the label; that Sauvignon Blanc is a good wine especially when it comes from New Zealand and even more so when it comes from the Marlborough region. I told her to smell the cork, ensure the label wasn't fake, sip the wine and roll it round the mouth, wait for the tingle, the slightly acidic blush and the hint of gooseberries followed by the confirmation of taste glands seemingly buried at the very base of the tongue. Then, and only then, would she be able to state as a fact that this was a great wine.

Susan got it in one. From that moment on, I never needed to ask her to give me proof of something she stated unequivocally.

Slowly, we began to form an investigative team.

She left all her paperwork. Letters, phone records - the bits and pieces that form a good kick-off to any investigation - and she went home. I fell asleep reading.

The key question - was our chemistry such that we could work together, trust each other and tolerate each other's company - had been answered.

To Read the Rest

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin

The DispossessedThe Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are those books that it just seems like they arrive at the perfect time. This is one of those books. It is the story of Shevek, a fiercely individualistic physicist, from an anarchist society, who travels to a long forbidden "profiteer" society A-io(clearly meant to be capitalist USA) on the planet Urras to possibly re-open communication/interaction between these two closed-off societies (on Urras there is also Thu which stands in for the totalitarian Soviet Union). With alternating storylines that reflect the protagonist's work in physics (time and space, nonlinear) we learn about these two richly drawn societies through Shevek's experiences and find both the good/bad in them. Most importantly the novel continuously pushed me to consider what complete "freedom" actually is and whether it is possible (or even always a good thing). I have a very clear desire for autonomy and community... this was one of the fullest explorations of what that would consist of (the depiction of the anarchist society Annarres), the advantages, the difficulties, the drawbacks, and the possible rewards.

View all my reviews

Democracy Now -- "The Unimaginable Has Happened": Massive Tornado Kills Dozens, Flattens Suburb of Oklahoma City

"The Unimaginable Has Happened": Massive Tornado Kills Dozens, Flattens Suburb of Oklahoma City
Democracy Now

Dozens have been killed and more than 200 wounded in a devastating tornado in Oklahoma. The storm tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, leveling two elementary schools, a hospital and scores of homes destroyed. Rescue crews continue to dig through the rubble in a bid to find survivors. It was the deadliest tornado to hit the United States since 161 people were killed in Joplin, Missouri, two years ago. We’re joined by two guests: Beverly Allam, an Oklahoma resident who lives a few miles from Moore and lost everything in the state’s tornado in May 1999; and Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground.

To Watch the Episode

Friday, May 17, 2013

Democracy Now -- "Astoundingly Disturbing": Obama Administration Claims Power to Wage Endless War Across the Globe

"Astoundingly Disturbing": Obama Administration Claims Power to Wage Endless War Across the Globe
Democracy Now

A Pentagon official predicted Thursday the war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates could last up to 20 more years. The comment came during a Senate hearing revisiting the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, enacted by Congress days after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. At the hearing, Pentagon officials claimed the AUMF gives the president power to wage endless war anywhere in the world, including in Syria, Yemen and the Congo. "This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I’ve been to since I’ve been here," said Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine. "You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here today." We play excerpts of Thursday’s Senate hearing and our recent interview with Jeremy Scahill, author of the new bestseller, "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield."

To Watch the Episode

Mark K. Smith: Dialogue and Conversation for Learning, Education and Change

Dialogue and conversation for learning, education and change
by Mark K. Smith
The Encyclopedia of Informal Education

Conversation and dialogue are not simply the means that educators and animators use, but are also what educators and animators should seek to cultivate in local life. They may be approached as relationships to enter rather than simply as methods. We focus on the thinking of four people in particular:

Paulo Freire – with whom the notion of dialogue has been linked as an educational form;

Hans-Georg Gadamer – the philosopher who uses the metaphor of conversation to think about how we may come to understand the subject matter at issue; and

Jürgen Habermas – the social theorist who argues for the need for ‘ideal speech situations’ in fostering both understanding and a humane collective life.’[A] humane collective life’, he said (1985: 82), ‘depends on vulnerable forms of innovation-bearing, reciprocal and unforcedly egalitarian everyday communication’.

David Bohm – the eminent physicist and friend of Krishnamurti, whose example and practical proposals for dialogue have met a response from a number of different areas – but particularly those, like Peter Senge, who are concerned with organizational development.

Martin Buber has also made a significant contribution to the appreciation of encounter and dialogue in education. Gadamer – horizons of understanding

I want to begin by approaching conversation as a way of coming to an understanding (sometimes called a dialogic structure of understanding). This particular way of approaching matters is linked to the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer. He describes conversation thus:

[It] is a process of two people understanding each other. Thus it is a characteristic of every true conversation that each opens himself to the other person, truly accepts his point of view as worthy of consideration and gets inside the other to such an extent that he understands not a particular individual, but what he says. The thing that has to be grasped is the objective rightness or otherwise of his opinion, so that they can agree with each other on a subject. (Gadamer 1979: 347)

In conversation, knowledge is not a fixed thing or commodity to be grasped. It is not something ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered. Rather, it is an aspect of a process. It arises out of interaction. The metaphor that Gadamer uses is that of the horizon. He argues that we each bring prejudices (or pre-judgments) to encounters. We have, what he calls, our own ‘horizon of understanding’. This is ‘the range of vision that includes everything that can be see from a particular vantage point’ (ibid: 143). With these pre-judgments and understandings we involve ourselves in what is being said. In conversation we try to understand a horizon that is not our own in relation to our own. We have to put our own prejudices (pre-judgments) and understandings to the test. ‘Only by seeking to learn from the ‘other’, only by fully grasping its claims upon one can it be critically encountered’ (Bernstein 1991: 4). We have to open ourselves to the full power of what the ‘other’ is saying. ‘Such an opening does not entail agreement but rather the to-and-fro play of dialogue’ (op cit). We seek to discover other peoples’ standpoint and horizon. By so doing their ideas become intelligible, without our necessarily having to agree with them (Gadamer 1979: 270), we can come to terms with the other (Crowell 1990: 358).

The concern is not to ‘win the argument’, but to advance understanding and human well being. Agreement cannot be imposed, but rests on common conviction (Habermas 1984: 285-287). In this, the understanding we bring from the past is tested in encounters with the present and forms what we take into the future (Louden 1991: 106). We experience a ‘fusion of horizons’.

The horizon of the present is being continually formed, in that we have continually to test all our prejudices. An important part of that testings is the encounter with the past and the understanding of the tradition from which we come… In a tradition this process of fusion is continually going on, for there old and new continually grow together to make something of living value, without either being explicitly distinguished from the other. (Gadamer 1979: 273)

Whether ‘fusion’ is quite the right word is a matter of debate. It does not quite fit the ‘ruptures that dis-turb our attempts to reconcile different ethical-political horizons’ (Bernstein 1991: 10). However, what we do know is that in that ‘moment’ our own horizon is enriched and we gain knowledge of ourselves. Emotions and virtues

For there to be dialogue in the dictionary or etymologically sense we look to dia meaning two or between or across and logos speech or ‘what is talked about’. Dialogue is , thus, speech across, between or through two people. It entails a particular kind of relationship and interaction. In this sense it is not so much a specific communicative form of question and answer, ‘but at heart a kind of social relation that engages its participants’ (Burbules 1993: 19). It entails certain virtues and emotions. Burbules lists some of these:

concern: In being with our partners in conversation, to engage them with us, there is more going on than talk about the overt topic. There is a social bond that entails interest in, and a commitment to the other.

trust: We have to take what others are saying on faith – and there can be some risk in this.

respect: While there may be large differences between partners in conversation, the process can go on if there is mutual regard. This involves the idea that everyone is equal in some basic way and entails a commitment to being fair-minded, opposing degradation and rejecting exploitation.

appreciation: Linked to respect, this entails valuing the unique qualities that others bring. affection. Conversation involves a feeling with, and for, our partners.

hope: While not being purely emotional, hope is central. We engage in conversation in the belief that it holds possibility. Often it is not clear what we will gain or learn, but faith in the inherent value of education carries us forward.

So it is, Martin Buber believed, that real educators teach most successfully when they are not consciously trying to teach at all, but when they act spontaneously out of their own life. ‘Then he can gain the pupil’s confidence; he can convince the adolescent that there is human truth, that existence has a meaning. And when the pupil’s confidence has been won, ‘his resistance against being educated gives way to a singular happening: he accepts the educator as a person. He feels he may trust this man, that this man is taking part in his life, accepting him before desiring to influence him. And so he learns to ask….’ (Hodes 1972: 137).

To Read the Rest and Access More Resources

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Danny O'Brien -- We Beat Them to Lima: Opening a New Front Against Secret IP Treaties

We Beat Them to Lima: Opening a New Front Against Secret IP Treaties
by Danny O'Brien
Electronic Frontier Foundation

An expanded edition of EFFector, EFF's almost-weekly newsletter.

I’m Danny O’Brien, EFF’s new International Director. Five years ago, I worked on the EFF team that identified the threat of ACTA, a secret global intellectual property treaty we discovered was being used to smuggle Internet control provisions into the laws of over thirty countries. Together with an amazing worldwide coalition of activists from Europe to South Korea, we beat back that threat.

I’m writing to you today to explain what's happening with the new ACTA: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). TPP has been around since the Bush administration, but recently the pace has picked up, with governments saying they want to get the agreement signed and done by the end of this year.

Global activism can stop TPP, but preventing the endless merry-go-round of new IP treaties means tackling the problem at its roots. I'd like to describe what we're doing on both those fronts, and how you can help. But first, I'd like you to meet this gentleman:

Meet Michael Froman: The Most Important Man in Global Copyright

This is Michael Froman, and barring a scandal, he's about to be the new United States Trade Representative (USTR). The U.S. Trade Representative negotiates international trade agreements on behalf of the United States. Congress has one opportunity to ask him questions at his nomination hearing.

They should take full advantage of it. Right now, the only reason the public knows anything about what the USTR is doing on IP is that whistleblowers participating in the treaty process have leaked what they can. (Congressman Darrell Issa re-published the leaks on his own office site, over the USTR's objections).

Those documents show that the American proposals for the Trans-Pacific Partnership would export the worst of modern U.S. copyright law, and thwart other countries' ability to create laws that best meet their domestic needs:

The proposed rules could prevent individuals from circumventing DRM—the technical barriers put in place to make copying, accessing, and sharing copyrighted content more difficult. This would hinder technical fixes necessary to make content accessible for the blind or to unlock your phone.

It contains provisions that would, by default, regulate "temporary" reproductions of copyrighted files, thereby restricting all kinds of intrinsic functions of your computer.

It increases copyright terms well beyond international standards, adding some 20 years to copyright terms worldwide, potentially robbing the public domain of decades of cultural works.

In many countries, an allegation of infringement is not enough to get material taken offline. TPP’s proposals, by contrast, put in place a system (similar to the one we have in the U.S.) that encourages ISPs to take down content based on nothing but a notice. We’ve seen how that can be abused here—do we really want to export it wholesale?

Treaties like this also help to fossilize existing U.S. law and force other countries to sign up for American missteps. Momentum in D.C. for rolling back copyright terms and DRM law is growing, but opponents of those changes have argued that lawmakers can't undo their own mistakes—because, they say, we've already signed onto IP trade agreements that we supposedly can't undo.

To Read the Rest of the Statement, Access More Resources, and Learn How You Can Help

Monday, May 13, 2013

John Engle -- August and Everything After: A Half-Century of Surfing in Cinema

August and Everything After: A Half-Century of Surfing in Cinema
by John Engle
Bright Lights Film Journal


The tensions of these real and screen lives have in large part remained those of the film genre Gidget engendered. In the half-century since, from the Beach Party franchise and its early '60s spin-offs, through Big Wednesday, Point Break, Blue Crush, and many others, and on to Chasing Mavericks in 2012, filmmakers have gone to the sand a couple dozen times to produce narratives either focused expressively on surfing as sport or obsessive life choice, or at least as significant background informing and directing the film's meaning. The result has been movies that are often more incisively pertinent in their treatment of growing up, family tensions, a world of dizzying social change, race and class, and the seductive lure of commerce and appearance than their wicked barrels, great tans, and dudespeak might presage. With an eye to the meanings behind their attractive surfaces, I'll be looking at a handful of these, at least one from each decade, for the most part relatively high-profile examples of a film type that, if rarely the source of smash hits, has generally met with commercial success. Hardening firmly in place by the 1970s, a highly restrictive formula thereafter rules the near totality of these films: given their interest in young people on the cusp of adult life, it's not without a certain logic that they return repeatedly to such story elements as the wise mentor, the temptation to sell out, the preparation sequence, and the concluding challenge or competition. The remarks to follow will examine the genre's creation in the beach-craze '60s, then turn to its elaboration in what one might consider the main line of "classic" surf films, with their reliably formulaic focus on childhood's end; the conclusion will explore how, while remaining generally faithful to established patterns, certain films have brought within their widened purview broader social and political issues. With the exception of Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer (1966) — a documentary but vaguely story-centered and, in any case, so iconic as to be compulsory — all of the films under discussion are pure narratives. As such, they should be distinguished from the grainy collections of hot rides Greg Noll brought to stoked kids in countless multipurpose halls and their often lyrical or thrilling cinematic descendants. Whether big deals like Riding Giants and Step into Liquid, or smaller, edgier efforts like BS!, these documentaries are absolutely central to the surfing subculture and merit separate study, with their specialist target audience, their shared values, and visual assumptions.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the first treatments of waveriding were documentary in nature and aimed at the widest possible audience. Like les Pathé-Frères, who put together 100 minutes on Le Surfing: Sport national des iles Hawaii in 1911, filmmakers in the first half of the century responded periodically to a curious public's hunger for images of exotic locales and practices that, even in the era of grand liners and early aviation, remained largely inaccessible. By the thirties, in any case, the word on surfing was getting out, if Hawaiian Holiday, the first cinematic narrative treatment of the sport, is any indication. In this 1937 Mickey Mouse featurette, Goofy recklessly challenges waves that, with the typical extraordinary range of Disney's animation teams, manage at once to be dumb funny, anthropomorphically nasty, and possessed of a frothy, sculpted loveliness drawn straight from Hokusai. While the cartoon is (somewhat speciously) considered the source of the term goofy-footed for surfers who, like its hero, lead with their right foot, its variation on the timeless theme of the arrogant individual chastised by a recalcitrant natural world in fact says little more about surfing than that it was just edging into the public consciousness. It would take the '50s and early '60s and the sport's headlong drop into popular culture before filmmakers would begin to recognize and exploit its rich visual and thematic possibilities.

And what visuals, for there is something basically unbelievable about human beings standing up on a tumbling wave, not to mention carving sleek sweeps and tight reverses back up its face. Cinematically, what's not to like about good-looking kids in a dream locale practicing a potentially dangerous sport that, even straight-on from a fixed shore location in black and white, films like a million bucks? Considered a moment, however, the scene is much more than its very pretty pictures, in large part because of the richly conflicting signals it emits. As sport, identity definer, and style locus, the surfing we have come to know these last decades is a space of, variously, big-money competition, reverent communication with the natural world, heavy partying, one-to-one confrontation with appalling physical force, proprietary localism of the ugliest sort, New Age self-discovery. It is a counterculture and a culture, a way to rebel and a way to grow up, and some live an entire adult life, work and all, still somehow rhythmed by the daily wave report. Surfing is the Beach Boys sweet in their striped Kingston Trio short-sleeve button-downs, and it's Dora dive-bombing kooks and bouncing checks. It's the garden and the salesmen who slither into it. Let's go surfin' now, everybody's learnin' how, we are joyfully urged, but to paddle out as the new guy is in fact to try entering the most closed of societies. Surfing can seem like an ocean of style, posing, and attitude, but out in the impact zone and beyond, the superficial abruptly washes off. To choose a short board or long, three fins or one, can be no less than to define different selves and value systems.

The very physical space offers an equally rich palette of thematic opportunity. From knee-high kids' stuff to Fukushima, pure fluid energy rears in defiance at sudden, solid resistance. The arriving swell is pattern and endless variety, or as Laird Hamilton says of the big ones in The Wave, "it's never the same mountain" (72). Proceeding in stately sequence, breakers seem all ruler-edged order, but of course they are also sites of chaos and fear. There the simple can become "in practice immediately complex," writes Woolf in To the Lighthouse, "as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by steep gulfs, and foaming crests." Wild swings of perspective rule the sand as well, for what place is more one for sun-drenched, thought-free lotus-eating than the beach. Yet on that thin strip of dry land the tragic drama of our collective addiction to fossil fuels will play out first. And even carefree Waikiki lies hard by an ocean's unfathomable mass with its troubling, timeless reach of myth and suggestion. It is on the shore after all that Wordsworth rejects that world that is too much with us, yearning seaward to affirm the deeper truths of Proteus and Triton. The beach is just the beach, and it is much more than that. The greatest of the wavewriters, Daniel Duane, recognizes the way the surf scene can encode paradox, locate that sweet spot where the deeply complex and the unreflective simple both somehow find their footing.


To Read the Entire Essay

Red Hot Chili Peppers: By the Way

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Naam: Naam

[MB: finally finished grading the final essays from my three writing courses! This helped me get through the last of them]

David Graeber and Criag Calhoun: The Democracy Project

The Democracy Project
Speakers: David Graeber and Craig Calhoun
The London School of Economics and Political Science

From the earliest meetings for Occupy Wall Street, David Graeber felt that something was different from previous demonstrations. What was it about this particular movement that worked this time? And what can we now do to make our world more democratic again? Graeber presents a vital new exploration of anti-capitalist dissent, looking at the actions of the 99% and revealing the alternative political and economic possibilities of our future.

David Graeber is an anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, who has been involved with the Occupy movement most actively at Wall Street. He is widely credited with coining the phrase "We are the 99%" and is the author of the widely praised Debt: The First 5000 Years. His new book The Democracy Project is published by Allen Lane.

Craig Calhoun is a world-renowned social scientist whose work connects sociology to culture, communication, politics, philosophy and economics. He took up his post as LSE Director on 1 September 2012, having left the United States where he was University Professor at New York University and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge and President of the Social Science Research Council. He is the author of several books including Nations Matter, Critical Social Theory, Neither Gods Nor Emperors and most recently The Roots of Radicalism (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

To Listen to the Conversation

Melissa A. Fabello: Five Locker Room Myths About Penises Debunked

Five Locker Room Myths About Penises Debunked
by Melissa A. Fabello
Everyday Feminism

As the sixth graders noisily filed out of the library, I uncrumpled the index card and smoothed it over against my thigh.

The boy who had dropped it into the anonymous question box in my sex education class told me that he felt very strongly about it and wanted me to read it right away – anonymity be damned.

I passed the card over to my co-facilitator, a smile forming across my lips. “This one is endearing,” I said.

The card read: Why do boys’ penises grow when they see a cute girl?

What a vitally important question to know the answer to! It’s so imperative for us to understand our own bodies and why they react the way that they do.

Reading the question, I remembered – suddenly, joltingly – how confusing it is when your body does things that you don’t understand and can’t ask about.

Whispers from the mainstream media, pornography, friends, and locker room walls sell lies, telling us what we want to hear, convincing us of untruths.

It’s like a game of Telephone, but what’s at stake is our understanding of ourselves and our relationships.

And that’s a dangerous game.

So here’s the truth – about penises.

To Read the Rest

Bad Religion: True North

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Dan Sharber - World on Fire: Capitalism, the Environment, and Our Future

World on Fire: Capitalism, the Environment, and Our Future
by Dan Sharber
We Are Many

The Keystone XL Pipeline, the recent nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant in Japan, the BP oil spill-- these are just three of the most recent and egregious examples of environmental destruction. Many people are standing up and saying that enough is enough. From the tree-sitters blocking the bulldozers in Easy Texas to Daryl Hannah getting arrested, resistance is growing. But what are the causes of the environmental crisis? And what solutions should we offer? More importantly how do we get there from where we are now?

To Listen to the Presentation

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Aesop Rock: None Shall Pass

Downset: American Prayer; Together

[via Andy Yates]

Entitled Opinions: A conversation with Thomas Sheehan about the historical Jesus.

A conversation with Professor Thomas Sheehan about the historical Jesus.
Entitled Opinions with Robert Harrison

Thomas Sheehan has been Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford since 1999. Before coming to Stanford he taught at Loyola University of Chicago since 1972. He received his B.A. from St. Patrick's College and his Ph.D. from Fordham University. He has been the recipient of many academic honors including: Ford Foundation Fellow (1983-85), Resident Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (1983), National Endowment for the Humanities (1980), Fritz Thyssen Foundation (1979-80), and a Mellon Foundation Grant. Professor Sheehan specializes in contemporary European philosophy and its relation to religious questions, with particular interests in Heidegger and Roman Catholicism. His books include: Becoming Heidegger (2006); Edmund Husserl: Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Encounter with Heidegger (1997); Karl Rahner: The Philosophical Foundations (1987); The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (1986); and Heidegger, the Man and the Thinker (1981).

To Listen, go to January 31, 2006 episode in the archives

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Michael Thomsen: The Case Against Grades

The Case Against Grades: They lower self-esteem, discourage creativity, and reinforce the class divide.
by Michael Thomsen


John Taylor Gatto, a one-time New York State Teacher of the Year turned fierce education critic proposed an education system built around "independent study, community service, adventures in experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, [and] a thousand different apprenticeships." Schools built on these values have flourished in the margins of state-funded, graded education throughout the 20th century. The most famous example are Montessori schools, noted for their lack of grades, multiage classes, and extended periods where students can chose their own projects from a selected range of materials. The schools have educated many of today's wealthiest entrepreneurs, including Google's Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales, business management legend Peter Drucker, and video game icon Will Wright.

A 2006 comparison in Milwaukee found that Montessori students performed better than grade-based students at reading and math; they also "wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school." Some contend that Montessori schools attract more affluent and successful parents, who give their children an inherent advantage, but the Milwaukee study was built around a random lottery for Montessori enrollment. All the children in the study came from families with similar economic backgrounds, with average incomes ranging between $20,000 and $50,000.

Free schools have taken the gradeless structure even further, treating the school as an open space where students are not only allowed to self-direct but are given equal responsibility in the organization and rule-making of the school itself. The Summerhill School in England is one of the most recognizable and longest-running, founded in 1921 by A.S. Neill. Summerhill is built around the idea of creating stable, happy, and compassionate humans capable of filling any role in society—a janitor being no less a success than a doctor. In place of dedicated courses, students are free to follow their own interests while teachers observe and nudge them toward new ways of thinking about what they're drawn to. Students with an interest in cooking, for instance, might learn the basics of chemistry by way of thickening a sauce. Those drawn to playing soccer might learn to improve their game with some fundamental principles of Newtonian physics.

Schools inspired by the Summerhill model have flourished in recent years, with free schools operating around the country from Portland, Ore., to Sudbury, Mass. The Brooklyn Free School has earned attention for its open structure and regular democratic meetings, where students debate how to handle problems like boredom and whether playing video games on the school computers should be considered a learning activity. The higher tuition costs do tend to attract wealthier families with well-supported children, but many go out of their way to provide assistance to low-income families, favoring diversity over bill-paying. The Manhattan Free School in Harlem makes do on an annual budget of $100,000 and collects full tuition from only 20 percent of its students. The Brooklyn Free School operates on a sliding scale of tuition, collecting full payment from only half of its students, with some paying as little as $20 every few weeks.

It’s a common misnomer to assume no student evaluation happens in environments like these, but in most cases free-school environments require more teacher attention than traditional classrooms. Instead of testing for comprehension of a select group of facts or ideas, teachers constantly monitor a child’s behavior, support an array of student experimentation, and subtly encourage efforts that best match the student’s abilities. In free schools failure is not a punishment for bad study habits but the sign of students testing their knowledge to see if it holds true in practice. In our soccer analogy, success wouldn’t be evaluated by students scoring goals but in gradually learning how and why the ball curves in some cases and goes straight in others, a process that would surely produce many more misses than scores.

And free schools perform reasonably well. A survey of former students at Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts found 80 percent of its students went on to college or professional school, and 20 percent enrolled in graduate programs. In 1998, 75 percent of Summerhill students who took Britain's certificate-qualification exams passed.

Abandoning grades would be a massive shock, but holding onto them has not forestalled decay, from waves of school closures for poor standardized test results to the trillion-dollar debt guillotine awaiting college students who'll struggle to win unpaid internships for all their hard work. Eliminating grades would not singlehandedly bring salvation. There is a whole new world of challenges and complications in a classroom without pedagogy and rank. But it would be an ideal place to start anew, to stop motivating students, teachers, and underperformers with the fear of being flunked, fired, or shut down. Without that dysfunctional ranking we could instead form a child’s education around his or her eagerness to discover, contribute, and share. An A-to-F grade scale is only a distraction from that process and in many cases an outright deterrent. It’s time to admit that system has no place in our future.

To Read the Entire Article

This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow: Does Guantanamo Exist?

The Nation

Happy May Day 2013: International Workers' Holiday

IWW: The Brief Origins of May Day

Ahead of May Day, David Harvey Details Urban Uprisings from Occupy Wall Street to the Paris Commune (Democracy Now)

Peter Linebaugh: The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day (Revolution By the Book)

Seeing Red Radio: A Musical Celebration of May Day

Noam Chomsky: Labor History and Anarchism (repost) + May Day Started Here (Dandelion Salad)

Anarkismo: Mayday. Remembering the past, fighting for tomorrow

School of the Seasons: Pagan Roots of May Day

Events Around the World (as I see them -- feel free to leave reports in the comments):

May Day Protests Worldwide Oppose Austerity, Exploitation
Protests are being held around the world on this May 1st to mark May Day, or International Worker’s Day. In Bangladesh, thousands of workers marched through central Dhaka to demand workplace safety following last week’s factory collapse where more than 400 people died — mostly female garment workers. Across Europe, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest austerity measures that have cut wages, benefits and social services. In Greece, train and ferry service has been canceled as public sector workers take part in a series of strikes and rallies. In Turkey, riot police fired water cannons at a large crowd of demonstrators in Istanbul. In Spain, more than 80 protests are being held nationwide. And here in the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement is planning a series of New York City actions including a "Rally for Labor & Citizen’s Rights" at City Hall.

May Day Protests Shut Down Central Jakarta (Jakarta Globe)

Jerry Ashton: Is Occupy Successfully Answering the May Day Call for Help? (Huffington Post)

Sarah Sachelli: May Day parade brings labour history to life (with video)."