Sunday, April 30, 2006

Today's Boycott

It's going to be one hell of a May 1st guys. If people at my school follow it, the classrooms will be empty tomorrow, as will the cafeterias. Let's see how the subway runs now. Some mysterious commenter on this blog mentioned it and linked to Facing South's" article" critical of the "progressive blogosphere" for its failure to discuss the imminent boycott. Chuck Mertz, my current favorite radio talkshow host, asked a similar question of an immigrant rights organizer following the huge Chicago demonstration last month. "why is there such a big separation between the immigrant rights movement and the anti-war movement?"
Her answer was simple: people in the immigrant rights movement are coming out in response to something that affects them directly and while immigration "reform" is newly up-to-the-minute, the discimination against immigrants has been an issue for a long time. They're not all liberal, they're not all conservative, and they're a large and essential part of our communities.
I do think there is a separation between white, English speaking middle-class anti-war activists and progressives in general and the immigrant rights movement. The immigrant rights movement seems to be coming from community organizing around direct needs rather than ideologically oriented organizations, who have gotten involved only after immigrant service and self-help organizations got the ball rolling to begin with. I hear more about these protests through my union (which supports immigrant rights) than I do anywhere else. I have wondered who is organizing demos and actions in NY. So far, I've found two answers: I have seen a flier about a May 1st demo from the "Troops Out Now coalition" (an offshoot of the IAC) and this much more mainstream coalition is supporting the boycott.
If you want my opinion on the whole matter, I say: shorten the working day, keep the pay the same, and you'll have more jobs to go around. The reason we don't have enough jobs for people now is because capitalists benefit from unemployment. They also will always try to increase their profits and productivity at workers' expense. It doesn't matter where the reserve army of labor comes from. Also, I continue to find it ironic that we are constantly told to celebrate corporate mobility and flexibility, and yet to be afraid of worker mobility. If laws loosen it up so Shell can go Nigeria, etc.etc., why don't they loosen up in the other direction too?

Prix De Beaute and "Hammer and Tickle"

Today was book-ended by two Tribeca movies. The first was Prix de Beaute, a recently rediscovered silent film starring Louise Brooks from 1930, featuring live piano music. The film was wonderful, charming, a delight. I can see why Brooks was so popular. It was also beautifully restored by the ever-reliable Cineteca De Bologna, whose restorations are consistently among the best films shown in the Tribeca Film Festival every year. The music was also lovely. I particularly liked the way the pianist played the "dream tango," with castanets as the "love theme" for Brook's character and her mysterious Count.
I really loved this movie and the whole experience of seeing it. Unfortunately, because the movie was so long and showed with a short, and because the screening started more than 1/2 hour late, I had to leave before the end of the movie. To do that, I had to climb arduously over a bunch of people in the Pace Schimmel Auditorium. I know I probably disrupted several people's enjoyment, but what was I to do? blow off my whole family? So, I've never been so pissed at the TFF staff. These late starts are a problem. Is it so wrong to expect to see a 108 minute movie at 11:00 am and be able to leave by 1:30? I hadn't expected to be able to stay for the Q&A, but it would have been nice to see the entire film, which I hope will later get a bigger theatrical release in the US, but knowing previous Cineteca restorations, I don't think it will. Maybe some day, I'll find out whether Miss Europe stayed with her husband, Andrea, or whether she went off with the dashing, but sinister? Count, and what eventually happened.

The second film I saw today was nowhere near as good nor as special. However, it was amusing, and about a subject near my heart: the use of humor as a form of political resistance. "Hammer and Tickle: The Communist Joke Book" was a collection of Soviet-era jokes knitted together with a (simplistic, cold war) narrative of Soviet history. The jokes were funny, the interviews were good (except for the excessively enthusiastic and heavily accented simultranslations) and the cartoon versions of many of the jokes were cute. Unfortunately, the film included an awful lot of Ronald Reagan telling Soviet jokes. I wanted to comment to the director at the end, "In the Soviet Union, you've described jokes as a weapon against propaganda. Do you think it's possible that in the United States, that jokes can be a form of propaganda?" All that uncritical Reagan footage just undermined the rest of the movie for me, but instead of asking that, I asked what jokes they were telling in the East now. Despite these flaws, you don't hear Soviet jokes that often, and it was nice that there were so many people from the former Soviet Union there, and they were quite enthusiastic about having their part in history restored. After all, hadn't we heard that it was the aforementioned US president who ended the cold war all with his Star wars plan? bleccch.
So far, the best films I've seen in the festival were this morning's "Prix De Beaute" and Lech Kowalski's "East of Paradise." Unfortunately for Kowalski, his film's audience was tiny, and when I voted enthusiastically for it, I tore the wrong side of my ballot, because they've reversed the meaning of the numbers from previous years. So much for his audience award. I saw Amy Taubin, Village Voice film reviewer at my family gathering. She says she's off to see "Men At Work" next. She also told me that Pereira Dos Santos' last three films have been far below his previous standard of film-making, so that sort of explains why Brasilia 18% was so disappointing.

Street Thief: An Enjoyable Hoax, Or was it?

Tonight's movie was "Street Thief" which was billed by the Tribeca Film Festival as a documentary: the story of a couple of documentarians following Caspar Karr, a burglar, as he did his burglaries. The film was entirely believable and completely enthralling: heists were pulled, money was counted, police scanners were listened to, etc. etc..... and for about 90 minutes, you just sat there wondering how on earth the film-makers could go along with this guy while he did these burglaries, and why did he let them?
.....And then the film-makers came out for the Q&A. As the first questioner asked, "where did you find that guy? [the burglar] and why do you look just like him?"...and he answered, "because, uh...I played him." He went on to say that all the burglaries in the film are based on real burglaries, but that Karr wasn't a real person, and that the documentarians in the movie were actors too. However, Bader insisted that since they created the crimes based on stories that real criminals had told them, that indeed it was true. True perhaps, but a documentary?
"It's not like Blair Witch," he said, "because they just made that up. I know burglars and people who do this sort of thing. My brother is in prison right now for burglary. Everything you seen is real." He even, he reassured us, stood inside a box in a movie theater filming before the robbery of that theater, during which the fictional karr gets $104,000.

He hoped, he said, that people would just talk about whether "Street Thief" was good or not, and not whether it was real, but I think that the conceit of pitching it as a documentary is what made people want to see it. If I had been told, there's a fiction movie about a guy doing burglaries and a film crew who follows him around, I would have said, "didn't we see explore that ground already, in Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers?" I wouldn't have been half as interested in seeing a fiction film about film-makers doing some imaginary law-breaking as I was in the seeing real burglaries and real film-makers "blurring the line" between being film-makers and criminal accomplices.
This way of building the film is unfortunate and doubly dishonest. The "reality conceit" gets interest for the film because it promises to satisfy a voyeuristic desire to see real crimes being committed, and being bizarrely complicit with them. As a result, it's hard to see how it would stands on its own merits as a work of art. After all, there are many movies out there about criminals of various kinds, some documentaries, some fiction films. Only a few of them are very good, and it takes a lot to make one stand out from the pack.
The Sting for example, was like "Street Thief" in that it involved a window into actual criminal methods, as depicted in the wonderful book, The Big Con. However, because it was a fiction film, which didn't try to woo the audience by promising a voyeuristic look into real cons in action, it also had to be a great story using the basic building blocks of fiction, things like character, relationships and conflict. The same is true for the brilliant, "Dog Day Afternoon," which has replaced the real events in the mind of the actual bankrobber on whom Pacino's character was based. You don't see that kind of complexity in a film like "Street Thief" because you think that what are watching is real crime, which in itself creates a lot of excitement.
Call me conventional, but I think the "is it a documentary or is it real?" move is just a gimmick that proves the lack of quality in the movie in the long run. If it were a real documentary, it wouldn't be likely that the burglar would let anyone film him. If it were a fiction film, these people would have had to come up with a more complex story than the tired old, "aren't journalists, et al, just enabling criminals because of their fascination with crime?"
Despite all that, the film was enjoyable,and Malik Bader played an excellent criminal; there were comic turns (such as phonecalls using fake accents) that were simply hilarious on their own. However, I'd have to say that it's going to be more memorable for this gimmicky pretense than it will be for what it does as a movie.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Day Two: Disappointment with Brasilia 18%

Last night I saw "Brasilia 18%" at the Tribeca Film Festival. I had been expecting something really unusual and politically hard-hitting, given the status of director, Nelson Pereira Dos Santos as a pioneer of Brasilian Cinema Novo and the critical acclaim for many of his previous films, which include "How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman," "Rio 40" and "Barren Lives." When Peter Scarlet got up and talked about it so enthusiastically before it began, I was ready to be wowed. Unfortunately, my friends and I all found "Brasilia 18%" to be a somewhat sleepy political thriller. The most interesting aspects of the film to me were the musical score and the sense of foggy ambiguity that surrounds all of the main character's experiences and some of the "backroom" scenes of political movers and shakers, but this foggy ambiguity was also a weakness; it made the film fail to connect emotionally.
The movie worked best on an allegorical level; the central conflict is whether Medical Examiner Bilac will sign a false identification of a body who the government claims is a missing congressional aid, Eugenia. If he does so, he will be helping the corrupt government hide a budget scandal. He can tell quite early on that the dead body he's to identify is not Eugenia. In fact, he comes to believe that Eugenia is still alive and in hiding. As he's making an effort to maintain his integrity, he dreams of his dead wife (the angel), fantasizes about the possibly dead, possibly alive Eugenia, (the elusive truth) and is seduced by the beautiful Georgesand, (devil) a hard drinking senator's daughter and member of congress. All of this seems like it might make for an interesting movie, but with such simple divisions of good and bad, and a lackluster main character whose actions seem quite mysterious and unmotivated leave you wondering "what did I miss?"
Dos Santos wants to emphasize the character as "lost" but I'm not sure how that lends itself to a hard-hitting critique of contemporary politics. Instead of provoking us with moral questions, or showing us his interest in the truth, or giving us someone with whom to identify common human experiences, Bilac bumbles around with the tempting "devil" character, Georgesand, and even his hallucinatory experiences with phantom women come across as somewhat inexplicable. While Dos Santos may be aiming for a kind of Godardian (or Brechtian) detachment, "Brasilia 18%" is no "Contempt" - a film that managed to make an interesting conceptual point through its complicated and fascinating characters.
Overall, while I didn't find this to be a bad movie, I didn't think it was great. This is unfortunate, because the director really was attempting to make a major comment about corruption in Brasil and to show the decadence of those in power. The lifeless quality of this movie may speak to the difficulty of making a really good political fiction film, and the double difficulty of trying to make that film with some big artistic effort at ambiguity and/or the "alienation affect." The films that I was most reminded of while watching this one were "Memento" and "Syriana" - and yes, "Contempt"- (as in, hmm, now "Contempt," THAT was a good movie.)
- but it wasn't as good as any of those on any level. I don't know if there was a lot lost in translation, but the movie just didn't work.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Tribeca Movie Reviews Part One

Today was my first day at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, and I'll first note some changes from last year from the audience perspective. On the good side: there are no lines for ticket holders outside the theater any more and they give you a mini-Zagat's guide on your way into the movie. On the bad side: The free popcorn cart only seems to be in one location, right outside BMCC. The Loews theaters are not as nice as the Regal Battery Park, but they'll do.
Now, the movies.
First, I saw Lech Kowalski's "East Of Paradise." I hadn't really known what to expect, but I was very pleased. The film is the third of the "Wild Wild East" Trilogy and after seeing this one, I'm very curious to see his other films. While the story as it was described in the program note: a son compares his experiences on drugs and porn to his mother's time in the Russian gulag, could easily have been done in a self-consciously hip or overtly sentimental fashion, this was a completely simple, straightforward and beautiful film. It began with about an hour of Kowalski's mother speaking to him about her experiences in the Gulag in Russia. She speaks in Polish and as she describes horrible experiences, including missing one train, being separated from her family and having to follow the train tracks for miles and miles in the snow. This somehow happens both to her and a thirteen year old boy who's just missed the train with his mother (who I think was her sister) on it. Once on the train, she was so happy just to be back with her family, but once there, the horror begins again. She describes watching the lice jump off the dead bodies of people who had died from typhus and then jumping onto the other people on the train in search of "live blood." Throughout this section, the camera simply stays on her as she speaks, close up, further away, sometimes her hands. Sometimes it wanders around the room. We see some paint on the wall, a molding, leaves on the outside of a window sill. No archival footage, no dramatizations, but it manages to stay interesting, perhaps the most interesting "talking head" sequence since Lanzman's "Shoah."
For the second hour, Kowalski, in a voice over, tells his story of making porn films, being around drugs (he doesn't talk about doing them) and drug addicts, and seeking to compete with his mother's pain. We see little of him. Instead, we see a lot his films, one that is vagely pornographic, but not exactly. And mostly, as he talks about his attraction to the 1970s-1980s punk scene, we see John Spacely, aka Gringo, about whom Kowalski made a film in the 1980s, now released as "Story of a Junkie". Kowalski talks about his attraction the world of Spacely and others, including Johnny Thunders, who we see get into a fight with Spacely on stage at (I think) the Mudd Club, as a fascination with pain, isolation, and victimization. He sees the people who followed the Sex Pistols, whom he filmed on tour and later made into the movie "DOA," as victims of both the conformist society around them, and of their own destructive efforts to rebel against it. Throughout, Kowalski's understated expression of emotion lends an air of profundity to everything. Finally, Kowalski also tries to address the issues of poverty and class struggle in the film, showing a demonstration of Black workers who want jobs and cops who won't let Kowalksi film them. Kowalski's voice over in this section is intersting, but the whole economic piece of the analysis could have been worked into the film as a whole more smoothly. Nonetheless, I found this film both riveting and likely to stick with me for a long time.
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A couple of hours later I went to a less stunning set of short films. In the "Observation Deck" short program, for me the standout was "Never Like the First Time!" an animated documentary in Swedish by Jonas Odell, who is mostly famous for making the video of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out." The link above describes this short film, which has already won some big international film festival awards well, so I'll let you go there. The animation is really varied and quite excellent. It was so sensitive without being smarmy. The other nice film in this group was Third World Newsreel's She Rhymes Like a Girl," about a hip-hop project that seeks to empower young Black women to find their own voices. The most conversation-provoking of the films was "Playing the News," a documentary about Kuma War, a company that produces video games based on the military's most detailed available versions of such events as the "battle" of Fallujah. The phenomenon that it documents is sick, and the film is a document of a sick culture. be more precise about what I mean. It's not just sick because it blurs the line between journalism and entertainment (Kuma games come complete with a fake news anchor at the beginning of each "mission") but because it's selling a completely false version of the war. One of the things I noticed about the scenarios in the battle scenes in the Kuma war clips shown in the movie is that there are no civilians present in any of them. I asked the director, Jigar Mehta, if Kuma had included white phosphorous and civilian casualties in their missions since the revalations in the documentary linked above. He said that they hadn't, at least that he was aware of. This is probably among the most powerful methods of militarist indoctrination yet. ick.
And that's all for now. Tomorrow, it's going to be "Brasilia 18%"

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Round Up with No Headline News Items

One reason I haven't been blogging much lately is that I have a pressing deadline approaching...and my friends, it's related to that thing that academics fear, loathe and hope for, the tenure review. I won't say much more about that, but those of you who complain about the dearth of entries lately, to you I say -- There are times when even I don't procrastinate, times when I pay for all the previous procrastinating with hours and hours of work and very little sleep. So at around 8 this am, instead of reading news and thinking about current events, I was up reading some simply fascinating literature review articles on the latest things people in Soviet studies have been saying about Leon Trotsky. This was all motivated by a question I'd come up with the night before after reviewing some notes I'd scribbled down in an archive last summer after reading a simply fascinating exchange between Roger Baldwin, of the ACLU and Earl Browder, of the CPUSA, about the CP's infamous attacks on socialist party meetings. Since I'm loathe to put out pieces of unfinished work, you'll just have to wait till I'm done ruminating, and till the footnotes are finished to find out what really happened.
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Big events just gone by. This year, because I'm suffering from a problem with muscles in my jaw that requires me to eat only soft food for several months, I did not observe Passover. However, I did go to the Jews Against the Occupation (JATO) seder, themed "After the Exodus." I found the event informative, moving and even, in parts joyful. I learned at this seder about an ongoing crisis in Palestine about which I had never heard anything. At one point during the reading of the Haggadah, JATO's seder involved everyone getting up from the table and reading stories of people living under occupation that were posted on the walls. Two of the stories I read involved women giving birth or in labor at Israeli checkpoints. In one of the incidents, the baby died as soon as it was born. In another, the Israeli police shot and killed the pregnant woman's husband as he was driving the car. While these two incidents were shocking, I didn't know until just now that they are a recognized ongoing problem. As of last Fall, the UN had documented 60 births at checkpoints, 36 of which resulted in the death of the babies. Andrea Robertson, of "Birth International" an organization active in promoting pre-natal health and midwifery, has reprinted some examples of stories similar to ones that I read at the seder. They are just heartbreaking.

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To come: Next week, when I'll be (sort of) done with one large chunk of work, I'll be going to several movies at the Tribeca Film Festival and I promise to write about them all. As one commenter noted yesterday, there's plenty of press about the festival this week, and The Reeler helpfully sums it all up.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Niche Gardens

Mom's Backyard

On the Carrboro Art Walk

Lazy Sunday Blogging

I know I promised pictures yesterday, but I'm using my parents' technology, so I don't have the immediacy I'm used to. They'll be up before I leave. This morning, I'm catching up on the Rumsfeld news of the week. The NY Times today has taken the predictable tack of defining this as a civilian vs. military leadership constitutional issue. However, as I see it, this is way of defining the problem misses a lot of contemporary developments in the US military industrial complex.
First of all, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld as "civilian leaders" have circumvented basic international laws of war - with torture and spying being the most obvious examples - and have based their own argument on the idea that the President is "commander in chief" of the armed forces. In this way, the "civilian leadership" has become a kind of military dictatorship by default. It's just sort of interesting that the actual military is out-of-sync with the cabal. So, there are two interesting articles on the situation that I've read so far Greg Palast's, which says that Bush, not Rumsfeld should be the target of the generals' ire; and Thaddeus Hoffmeister's on Counterpunch, which describes a civilian meddling with matters of military planning that is parallel to Cheney's meddling with the CIA.
We have a mega-military with its own intelligence advisors, experts in the field, etc. who exist to advise elected leaders. When elected leaders ignore this advice and information and go ahead with plans not based on reality, whether for reasons of personal financial gain, ideology, or political advantage, they are behaving irresponsibly and dishonestly.
The point is still this one: something must really be going wrong if even organizations like the CIA and the US military come forward and talk to the public about abuses of power within the executive branch.
While a few of the articles I've seen this week draw a parallel between this current civilian/military conflict and the standoff between Truman and MacArthur, I'd say it's more parallel to the much less public fight between the military and Truman over the use of the atomic bomb in Japan. In that conflict, military advisors told the president that Japan was ready to surrender. Truman, who wanted to intimidate the Russians during peace negotiations at Potsdam, ignored these missives and proclaimed that beating the Japanese would otherwise cause the loss of thousands, if not millions of American lives. For a brief description of that conflict, you might want to read this article by Gar Alperovitz, for whom military estimates, including General Eisenhower's are central evidence.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Uglier and Uglier

This morning, when I tried to go to the "Blackacademic" link I posted yesterday (to see if she had made the quotes the anonymous person was associating with me in the comment) and I got nowhere. First, I thought maybe she had pulled down her blog because of personal attacks, now I see that I just screwed up. To read her views go to
Based on what I've seen on Technorati's links and bloggers, it getting uglier and uglier in the Triangle, and people are making this week's news about the lack of DNA evidence into a referendum on both the alleged victim and the people who have supported her, including the DA. Circumstantially, the story is a convincing one, and the attacks from Duke students and supporters just make her story more sympathetic to me.
Meanwhile, Tidewater Muse reminds us of history and a Southern fraternity rape case from the early 1980s.
Here's my view of everything I've read so far. First, if there is really no DNA evidence at all, I'd find the whole thing suspicious. No one can ignore the revolutionary impact of DNA evidence in proving "actual innocence" in many cases in recent years...which is why I'm really curious to see whether Scheck and Neufeld will get involved in this case, and if so, how. The police call evidence that came out this week doesn't strike me as so significant in undermining the case. The fact that someone was "passed out drunk" as the police allege, or that she did not appear "distressed" to the police is not evidence that she was not a crime victim. Furthermore, there was some mention of being assaulted with a "broom handle" which would obviously not leave DNA evidence. I guess we will find out more next week.I was late in catching up with this case because I didn't hear it in national news until Amy Goodman covered it on Democracy Now, so I may be missing many details. What the public outcry reveals about college sports culture and Southern politics is, as Tidewater Muse suggests, not surprising.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

From the Sunny Southland (pictures coming tomorrow)

Today I'm blogging from my parents' home in Chapel Hill, where I came for some dentist appointments. Yes, that's right, I could begin today's commentary on what it means that as a 37 year old woman with a PhD and a tenure track job that I have to go to Mom when it's time to get my semi-permanent bridge replaced. If I do it here, which it looks like might happen, I'll be back in the sunny South three times this Summer. But on to more important things.

As my Mom and I were walking to lunch across the UNC campus, we heard two guys talking about what everyone's talking about down here, and that's the Duke Lacrosse team and the rape case. I overheard one of them saying, "I hope he doesn't make it so black and white." I don't know why, but it sounded to me that these two guys thought that the latest DNA evidence isn't enough to exonerate, that the evidence of the doctors that she was raped meant that there was enough evidence for a trial. As Blackacademic says, "how can there be evidence of rape in the emergency room and then no DNA evidence?" My original thought was "OJ Simpson in reverse??" But it's also true that these DNA tests are being publicized by the Defense attys, and that it's been said that the prosecutors are also doing their own DNA tests. DNA evidence often involves duelling experts. But, I hesitate.
It's rare that I'm on the side of the prosecution, but in this case I am. There are just too many incidents like this to think there's nothing to it - and what exactly would this woman have to gain? I'm very curious to see what Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, DNA evidence pioneers and co-founders of the "innocence project" have to say about the whole thing. One thing...I think it's fair to say that it's a post-civil rights movement phenomenon for a rape case involving a Black female victim and white male perpetrators to stir up anger like this in a Southern town - a generation ago, there would have been no press attention. However, it's also business as usual for that woman to be disputed and the "boys" defended. If I hear more word of it on the Southern street tomorrow, I'll surely post.

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Also, as one of you noted, Chris Hitchens, everyone's favorite drunken spewer of right-wing talking points recently referred to Richard Armitage as "Colin Powell's bitch." Counterpunch has an article about it today. The ad-hominem keeps coming, and what a target for it.

For less political news. On my first day back home, I already ate some grits - with wild mushroom sauce and baby lettuce - at a bar and grill and pasta place that's a favorite with alumni, parents, and local college sports fans for the "business casual" kind of a meal. On the TV? Nascar, natch. "And that's what they think Red America is all about," I said to my Mom, as the college girls next to me discussed how drunk they had gotten last night/were planning on getting this weekend. Couldn't tell for sure, but I think they had some grits and mushrooms too.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Occasional Insomnia

I haven't been a true insomniac in years, but last night the combination of spicy food late at night, Philip Gourevitch's book on Rwanda and worry about my upcoming Spring Break travel combined to wake me up at 4 this morning.
Big news that I didn't witness: Yesterday, at my school, many students left chanting and went off to rally at City Hall. It felt momentous to be sitting in my office, advising a student on what courses to take in the Fall and to be interrupted by the sound of slogans outside in the hallway. This morning, I've read a couple of stories about the nationwide demonstrations. Apparently the one in NY was very diverse, but presided over by a bunch of politicians.
Meanwhile the Whitehouse is at the center of several scandals. There's this one and the gathering focus of Fitzgerald's investigation, which as Kossacks predicted last Summer, is indeed leading to an overall discussion of the lies that led to war.
There are various discussions about this in the blogosphere. This one is funny. This post on Dkos is interesting.
The question remains, is this one finally going to have an impact? What do you think, and how do you measure it?

Maybe all this isn't enough to keep a person up at night, but thinking about the Rwandan genocide is. It began twelve years ago on April 7, 1994 and continued until nearly 1 million people were killed within slightly more than three months. Given what's going on in the world today, I have to agree with Gerald Caplan who writes in the "Globe and Mail" that we have learned nothing from these events. The next book I plan to read about this genocide is Linda Malvern's "Conspiracy to Murder," the product of ten years of research on the planning of the genocide and the complicity of the UN and the US to cover it up once it began. For a more academic discussion of genocide in general, see this review in the London Review of Books.
Now, I'm going back to bed.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It's Time to Plant the Annuals

This is my first year planting and tending bulbs, and it's making this Spring's garden planning different. The little bunches of tulips here, daffodils there, and the beginnings of the noble irises that should start blooming in a couple of months have given the garden a structure that I've never started with before. One of my big problems in the past has been with too much that's at the same height, and the sense that my garden just spreads on a horizontal a bushy hairstyle. My landlord has always been complimentary about the chaotic and wild look that results by July, but there's a limitation built in. This year, there's much more variation, and the annuals can "fill in" instead of being the main attraction. Also, the various types of leaves make the whole thing more interesting ot me.
In addition, several of last year's perennial plantings are still around: there's a stinky cat-pee smelling plant that's budding anew. The hollyhock, while pruned to a stick, is growing at a fast pace, and several of last year's pansies made it through the winter and are blooming again or on the way to doing so. It means less work in the Spring, and more to look at on the way to full on lush growth. Both my miniature rose bush and the mini-azaela are in much better shape than they were at this time last year. After the rain yesterday, both the azaelas and the gardenia are budding, so it looks like there will be flowers soon.
This year in the planter.... Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa and this year's garden is shaping up too.
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Thursday, April 06, 2006

How Big Is it?

I was sitting in my office this afternoon when a colleague came in and told me that Libby had testified that it was Bush who authorized the Plame leak. Woo HOO! I cheered. But then I wondered...will it make any difference?
I'm a couple of days behind national news right now because I've been mainly listening to back issues of Chuck Mertz's "This is Hell" and weeks old Amy Goodman shows while riding the train. And in the morning, when I used to be reading the NYT, Counterpunch and the rest, I spent weeks reading student blue books. During office hours, when I used to spend time reading news and thinking about history, I've just been meeting with students or working away on trying to turn out the vote for the PSC's New Caucus (that's the CURRENT leadership in case you were wondering). All I do these days is wander the halls at work and ask people if they want to wear a "New Caucus" sticker and "did you get your ballot in the mail?"
Some of you regular commenters are way more up on the news than I am, so you probably know better than I do whether this latest bombshell is going to have an impact.
First of all, it seems, based on this most recent NY Times article, that my colleague was misinformed by an article published in the NY Sun, which said Bush had leaked Plame's name, rather than that Bush had leaked a classified National Intelligence Estimate, (NIE) in order to "bolster" his war claims. The fact that this NIE doesn't actually make a good case for Iraq's pursuit of WMDs didn't seem to matter to the cherry-picking prez.
Anyway, I'm sure you caught Murray Waas's article of last week about the role of the "NIE" document and the increasing "smoking gun" evidence of the lies that led ot the war. You've probably already seen Jason Leopold's Truthout article, which I read today, and which succinctly explains the NIE/Plame/Wilson leaks and the general effort in the Whitehouse to combat Wilson's critique of the Whitehouse war claims. You probably also read this regularly updated Dkos article on the Bush connection to the Plame outing.
The Guardian story today is a little more detailed than what you'll see in the US mainstream news.
Meanwhile, as Media Matters keeps us updated on spin," I'm beginning to understand a pattern.
First: a story comes out describing something that seems, well...PLAINLY ILLEGAL. You know: "fixing the facts around the policy"...."warrantless wire-tapping of American citizens" or "leaking the name of a covert agent to the media" and now "leaking classified military intelligence docs to the press for political reasons."
Then, as the public outcry begins, pundits appear to explain that while these actions might SEEM illegal, actually they're not. It might sound like the president was "spying on citizens" but you know, it's more complicated. In fact, words, like "spy" and "lie" aren't part of our vocabulary. So, vulgar. Moreover, the laws are so specific that don't really apply to things like lying to congress or spying on citizens; these kinds of activities are ordinary, part of the job of being president. In fact, if presidents stopped doing these seemingly illegal actions which seem like spying and lying, but aren't really, politics as we know it would just come to a halt, and that would be a disaster. If such actions are maybe, technically illegal, they're not if it's the president who's doing them, because just by the fact that he's the one doing the action, the action becomes "legal."
That this is Bush's argument is hardly surprising. Nixon said the same damn thing during Watergate. The fact that the media repeats it is an outrage. The fact that anyone believes this convoluted horse-shit is just depressing.
I knew that this was all starting to sound familiar and I realized that it's because we are all living in "This Modern World."