Friday, April 27, 2007

Tribeca Film Fest Review One: Lillie and Leander: A Legacy of Violence

I figured I could handle the matinee prices at this year's Tribeca Film Fest ($14). I'm glad I swallowed my complaints and went, because my choice for today: "Lillie and Leander: A Legacy of Violence" was a movie worth seeing on a big screen, and seeing at a festival. In our culture, so saturated with cathartic stories of violence, justice and redemption, there have been very few films that have dealt seriously with the issue of lynching. "Lillie and Leander" succeeds in tackling this difficult subject because of the way it makes the past so present.
The film, which centers on a hunt for long-buried bodies evokes in the viewer a sense of the South as a haunted place where death and terror are both ubiquitous and invisible. At one point, an archaeologist says of what she expects to find at one promising site something to the effect that "the graves will be shallow. Just dirt thrown quickly to cover the bodies." But, in the end, the bodies can't be found.
It's a bit like a metaphor for the larger problem. During the film, we hear the stories of living communities, both Black and white, who simultaneously have carried around and handed down secrets of extraordinary violence in the midst of the mundanest of lives. A Black family sits on the screened porch as the eldest member talks about the day the white folks came for Uncle Wiley in the middle of the night. Several people say that they knew not to go to that county, where there was a sign on the road that read "Read, Nigger and Run, and if you Can't Read, Run Anyhow."
After a large picnic, the whites whisper and and some laugh nervously about what their uncles and grandfathers did over at the "curve in the road", about a small child finding a skull on the ground near the local church.
The stories match up eerily. In one especially poweful sequence, the film juxtaposes the narrow perspectives of the whites who think the deaths are insgignificant anyway, with the discussions of lost relatives and friends among the Blacks, all punctuated by shovels smacking the dirt of a suspected grave-site. In these interviews, people express great truths without any effort at profundity. The film-maker's 96 year old uncle stumbles along, trying to explain what the outcome will be if they find some bodies now. He looks worried about whay may happen now that times have changed, and says, "Of course, there wasn't much...there wasn't really back then." Despite that concern, the hard evidence has yet to come out in Pensacola. As the film-makers explained in the Q&A after the screening, the more they found out about the bodies, the less interested were the police in investigating the scene.
Like Anna Rasmus, the real woman depicted in the the German film, "The Nasty Girl" , Alice Bruton Hurwitz's research into the story of her own family and town led to controversy. Several outspoken members of her family would much prefer that the past be kept that way and in their efforts to keep the secret within the family, they reveal the same indifference to Black lives as their murderous parents. However, unlike Hurwitz's family, the city of Pensacola has proven to be supportive, and is screening "Lillie and Leander" next fall at their own festival. I look forward to the dialogue that this film may inspire when it does, and when it moves to other Southern venues, but I admit I feel a bit trepidatious when I think about the number of similar buried secrets that may come to light in its wake. That reaction must be a sign that this movie works in some important way; it opens up, but does not neatly resolve or seal up the big problem of racial violence in our society. As the archaelogist suggests at the end of another day of digging, "the fact that we didn't find the body today doesn't mean there aren't bodies there; they just aren't in the spot where we looked." But one reason the bodies were so hard to find was that the smell of the cadavers had, over time dispersed into the soil itself. It's not unlike the way we experience race today: the problem is all around us but it's become so diffuse that it's very difficult for most people to see it, to identify it and do something about it.

Anxiety Index: The Cell Phones and the Bees

Since I last posted on flowers, and even though I did notice a single bee busily pollinating one of my perennials just yesterday, I thought I'd post this article on Colony Collapse Disorder.
Not only does it suggest that a collapse in the beepopulation might be linked ot cellphone radiation, but also brings up the issue of the connection between cell phones and brain tumors, which hasn't surfaced in a while.
So, while I start worrying about crop failures and starvation, I'm going to get a new headset for my cellphone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Briefly, Imus - Sharpton Links

I see that a lot of people came here yesterday looking for the Al Sharpton - Don Imusargument on the radio. Here they are. I woke up to it this morning being replayed on WBAI's Wake-Up Call. Here's something that I haven't seen anyone talking about, and it speaks to the general politics and economics of talk radio. Sharpton's show, on Syndication Oneisn't on the radio in NY. It is too bad, because listening to this conversation between not only Sharpton and Imus, but also Rev. Buster Sawyers and Byron Monroe, the head of the National Assoc. of Black Journalists was one of the few times when I've heard a number of Black people get together to confront a white dude with his racist statements. Crooks& Liars doesn't have the whole thing, and Syndication One doesn't seem to have podcasts available.
Meanwhile, for other "Blacks in the News", here's the Black Agenda Report's commentary on the Congressional Black Caucus/Fox scandal.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Shortcuts Along The Information "Superhighway": You Too Can Be an Expert, or Just Feel Like One.

I think the lesson I've learned from doing this blog is that answers to questions about major news items are readily available if you are willing to look for them and if you know how to evaluate sources. You don't have to be an expert, or even following a particular news cycle with great attention, to find out more than what the "mainstream" media has to offer.
For example, the first big piece of news I read in the corporate media this morning was the Washington Post story on the problems of Kyoto's "Cap and Trade"efforts to reduce carbon emissions as practiced in the EU. It lays out the idea that the plan is pushing energy prices in the EU so high that even "green" companies can't survive. I found it curious that the paper would be so critical of a policy to reduce carbon emissions, and that it would use the "too expensive" claim that is so important to global warming naysayers. I also found it interesting that the paper reported that companies were able to get around climate regulations by buying products made in developing countries who weren't part of the Kyoto treaty, given the American press's general dismissal of such arguments in other contexts as being against "free trade." As Europeans have long argued, it will be hard to get developing countries to agree to participate in international cap and trade agreements when the world's biggest polluter continues to opt out.
So, I wondered what else had been said about it. The Guardian printed a rather differentstory on the problems with Cap and Trade earlier in the week. According to them, the problem with the "cap and trade scheme" is that large companies have figured out how to get around the system, but they also quote environmental organizations, who say that the second phase, which will "squeeze" more, will be better. Indeed,it has led big companies from polluting countries to "squeal" - to the delight of these environmentalists. US Steel, for instance, is suing over Slovakian allocations. That would suggest that the "cap and trade" policy is working at least a little bit. Then, I learned that a large group of American CEOs had earlier this year, been lobbying the Bush admin. to do a similar "cap and trade" plan.
The support for such a plan by major CEOs made me suspicious again. Finally, by searching "Kyoto too little too late" I found this article on Alternet which calls for "cap and tax" over "cap and trade," and includes a reference to a new book by George Monbiot called Heat which denounces the "trading" part, (ie, buying Carbon offets) as akin to buying absolution from sin in the Middle Ages.
So, in a bit more than an hour I found liberal, conservative, and left critiques of the Kyoto protocol and was able to sort them out.
The problem is, of course, that many people take the common-sense claims of corporate media without skepticism so they don't bother to look up other sources. I find this hard to understand in an age of such intense skepticism. However, if you think about it for 1/2 a minute, you'll realize that a lot of the skeptical impulse has already been channeled into futilty by a host of corporate spin-meisters. The thing that annoys me most about these wacko conspiracy theories is that researching things from "alien abductions" to "the Freemasons" and the great effort of the government to "regulate us to death" with carbon emissions caps, provides the experience of asking probing questions, and hunting up things on the internet (ie doing research). However, without a simple standard for evaluating their sources, lots of people are getting off the superhighway at the exit that says "Willy Wonka's Cognigive Rest Stop Up-Ahead - Don't Criticize, Just Supersize...the Only limitation is your Imagination!"