>Zinn on War and Social Justice

>Howard Zinn gave a talk just after the presidential election. It is worth listening to. The audio/picture don’t quite match in the video in the intro, but the rest looks okay.


He mentions the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you are not familiar with it, check it out here, and learn more about it here.

Also, Democracy Now is one of my favorite news programs. I usually watch/listen to it online while I eat lunch and do emails.

>Profile: Noam Chomsky

>I have mentioned Noam Chomsky before on this site. Here’s a profile of the man:


There is no need to say that Chomsky is a controversial figure in the world of ideas. One thing for sure, his ongoing critique of power is as relevant today as it was when he began; all the more so this heightened political season. I want change, and will vote for change in one way or another, but I am also interested in knowing exactly what it is I will be voting for: What kind of power, who will have it, how will it be used, and to what ends? These are questions I think about all the time.

>A Recomendation: The Take

>There are violent revolutions and there are more peaceful ones. Some revolutions are based on ideals and theories and Utopian visions. Others grow out of simple needs for decent jobs and human dignity. The later is the story of the documentary film The Take (2004).

Created by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, The Take chronicles the struggles of out-of-work laborers in Argentina trying to take over abandoned factories and run them for themselves. Driven by basic necessity rather than ideology, these workers desire the simple ability to have a job and provide for the basic needs of their families in the wake of devastating economic policies by the county’s capitalist leaders.

What is truly wonderful about this film is it ability to tell a powerful story, set it within a complicated historical context, and do so while showing the very human realities of the struggle. In other words, it’s not really about revolution, or jobs, or capitalism versus a kind of collectivism. It is a story about people.

And yet, even though it is a story about people, it is also a story about a revolution. Argentina once had a thriving economy. But then new strategies were introduced by a government set on getting themselves rich as whatever cost. The country went into a downward spiral. Factories closed, unemployment skyrocketed, and the World Bank and IMF offered the kind of help one gets only from enemies who claim to be friends. The problem with bad macro-economics is the inevitably tragic micro-economic fallout. Simply, it’s the burden placed on the families who can no longer afford to feed themselves, go to the doctor, or pay rent.

But in Argentina something new began happening. The workers went back to the shuttered factories in which they formerly labored and re-opened them. These workers took over the means of production, produced products, sold them, paid their bills, gave themselves paychecks, and ran the factories collectively. The former owners, who legally were still the owners, were kept out, often by court orders based on Argentine laws, and mostly by the sheer tenacity of the workers who put their hearts and bodies on the line.

If there is anything truly remarkable about this story it is the way ordinary people, people with wives and husbands, with kids, with dreams and desires, walk the thin line between despair and possibilities. These are people like me, like you, who want decent jobs, who love their families, love their friends and their communities, who are not seeking power and glory, but only want a chance to live as they should.

Where the film ends is not where the story ends. Some challenges are overcome, but others still loom. The workers get mostly what they seek, but their future is uncertain. The government took a turn towards the left and is therefore more amenable to the workers, but, like all governments, it is still a mixed bag. If anything, The Take is a realistic look at the human struggle for life and liberty, for work and pay, for present needs and future dreams. It is, in short, a story of humanity.

>The challenge of July 4th


Make sure you’ve got on your flag pin.

When I think about celebrating this Fourth of July, I find myself wondering about where we are and what has got us here. What most fascinates me, and what I am most amazed by, are the stories of people like you and me who have fought for freedom. I don’t necessarily mean soldiers, but ordinary people who became extraordinary because of circumstances. I mean those who stood up against slavery, stood up for women’s right to vote, stood up for workers’ rights, stood up for civil rights, stood up for you and me.

One of the finest works of historical investigation and writing is Howard Zinn’s remarkable A People’s History of the United States. Throughout that book there are challenges on every page, challenges that remind us what freedom really means and what it takes for people to be free, and just how much freedom is truly a deep, deep longing.

Recently there have been public readings of that book. Here are some excerpts:

Brain Jones reads Frederick Douglass

Lili Taylor reads Susan B. Anthony

Steve Earl reads Joe Hill

This country has always been an experiment. Our freedoms are probably more tenuous than we tend to believe. We have freedoms because they were fought for, because they are still being fought for. Those freedoms will, I’m sure, need to be fought for again. I believe the Fourth of July should be more than a commemoration of 1776. I want to remember how so many ordinary people all along the way have struggled to achieve this country’s ideals. And how many still do. Every Fourth reminds us of how we too are part of this on-going experiment. It is a challenge to each of us to do the work of freedom. I do not want to forget that.

May you have a great Fourth of July!

>Chomsky on the U.S. elections, oil politics, and the current state of resistence

>Inside USA, an English language program on Al Jazeera recently did an interview with Noam Chomsky. I have never watched or read anything from Al Jazeera, that I know of. I did not realize they had an English version, but I guess that makes sense.

From the website, Inside USA says this about its mission:

Inside USA’s mission is to strip away the spin, and highlight some of the real issues in America – poverty, violence, race, health, and immigration.

We will be speaking to people on the ground – not television pundits, but real people with stories to tell – a full spectrum assault of American voices -young, old, white, black, immigrant, rich, and poor.

Here is the interview with Noam Chomsky:

Part one:

Part two:

I have always found Chomsky fascinating. His work on East Timor and Latin America is groundbreaking. So is his work on US politics. Maybe his biggest contribution is his relentless focus on power, that is, political, social, imperial, military power, and its role in shaping how the world functions. This focus puts him somewhere else than simply “left” in terms of politics. The great irony is that although he most likely should be labeled as a radical his views are very close to what most ordinary people think, even if they think they must disagree with Chomsky.

La Chinoise & The Weather Underground

The other day I inadvertently created one of the best double features that I’ve ever seen: First, the fictional narrative La Chinoise (1967) and then, second, the documentary The Weather Underground (2002), based on the revolutionary group of that name.

Silhouetted hands in La Chinoise.

What makes this double features so powerful? We live in an age where violence against human beings in the name of some cause (religious jihad, war on terror, patriotism, personal peace and prosperity, etc.) is accepted by many generally reasonable people. The U.S. government and TV pundits are currently debating whether torture is okay, or whether certain kinds of torture can be called something else to get around legal requirements. Some argue that extreme force, including the killing of innocent people (collateral damage) in order to send a message (to those who would dare to use violence as a means of sending a message), is an acceptable response to terrorist acts – in other words, matching fatal violence with increased levels of the same.

But does violence work? I suppose it depends on what are one’s goals. In general, though I would argue, violence does not incite peace.

La Chinoise plays out the philosophical debates underlying these issues within a somewhat humorous and heavily symbolic world that might be called godardian. La Chinoise is a fictional tale of what underlies potential violent action, and of political idealism amongst the educated children of the bourgeois. La Chinoise is also considered to have presaged (and possibly encouraged) the student protests in Paris that occurred exactly one year after the film’s release.

The Weather Underground, on the other hand, exposes the reality of those actions and their implications by showing what actually played out in the U.S. In other words La Chinoise says “suppose” and The Weather Underground says “regard.”

La Chinoise is a kind of remarkable film. I say kind of remarkable because it is also enigmatic and therefore its remarkableness is still very much open to interpretation and evaluation (but isn’t most Godard?). One asks is Godard serious or making fun? Is the film a polemic or a comedy? Is it meaningful or ultimately empty? I can’t say. Many others have done a far better job than I at exegeting the film. But I can say there is one scene I believe is the centerpiece of the film, at least philosophically. That scene is the discussion on the train between Veronique and Blandine Jeanson (playing himself).

Veronique argues for violence.

In that scene they talk about the value and implications of using terrorism in the service of a cause. Veronique, and the revolutionary cell of which she is a part, is planning on using a bomb to kill some students and teachers at the university in order to jump-start a revolution. She argues that the bomb will convince others of the seriousness of their cause. Jeanson argues that violence will not produce the results she is looking for. In fact, killing others will only cause everyone to turn against her and her political group.

Jeanson argues for non-violence.

From my perspective Veronique seems very naive. However, many people felt similarly in the 1960s and early 1970s. I suppose some still do. What would drive a person to such conclusions as Veronique? The Weather Underground explores just such a question.

Haskell Wexler films the Underground.

The activist group The Weather Underground began as the Weathermen, a radical outgrowth of Students for a Democratic Society. The film The Weather Underground is a history of that group and the times in which it functioned. It is one of the best documentaries I have seen.

Bomb making.

What drove the Weathermen was a desire to change the world. Frustration in the slowness of change, and even the continued deterioration of certain concerns (such as the escalating war against the Vietnamese), gradually led the group down the path toward violent action.

A revolutionary gets nabbed.

Much of the film includes interviews with former members of the group. It is fascinating to hear them describe what choices they made, why they made those choices, and what they think of them now. There is a lot of regret for some of the former members. In a sense the film pulls back the romantic veneer of the 1960s anti-war movement and shows a more realistic complexity. What we get is something that makes La Chinoise appear to be both more profound and more like a cartoon of itself.

>a foreign policy

>What makes this image so interesting?

Those are U.S. soldiers marching on Russian soil in order to fight the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yes, the United States, along with several other countries, invaded the fledgling Soviet Union to put an end to their civil war and destroy the chances of Lenin and his comrades from establishing the first communist country. They failed.

Below are a couple of additional pics of U.S. soldiers suffering the harsh winter in northern Russia as they take the fight to the communists. One wonders if the extreme paranoia of the Soviet leadership towards the U.S. government didn’t stem, in part, from this failed attempt to turn the Bolshevik tide at its most critical time. Regardless, it is a fascinating time in history that I knew nothing about.

Here is some movie footage of the event:

There were even ads for government stamps to fund the affair.

I have to add that, although I have no particular feelings of fondness for Lenin and his buddies (to put it mildly), I am often non-plussed by U.S. foreign policy. These are the kinds of actions about which the U.S. public forgets quickly (if they know about it at all), but many others in the world do not forget so quickly. To me that truly is a “foreign” policy.

>vive la commune | vive la vérité


Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

~A. J. Liebling

One of the most fascinating and important scenes in Watkins nearly 6 hour (the shortened version) masterpiece La Commune (Paris, 1871) is when the established press (print) discusses with the burgeoning Commune TV* crew about the nature and goals of journalism. They argue over the nature of television news and its relationship to the worker’s uprising and the establishment of La Commune de Paris (the temporary socialist/anarchist government that ruled Paris in mid 1871).

The question on the table is why the television team doesn’t dive more deeply into the issues and, in particular, focus on the debates raging within the new government about its policies and procedures. The short answer is that serious debate just isn’t appropriate to the nature of television. This is the same concern we have today.

At its inception Commune TV was all enthusiasm. They had taken/stolen some television equipment and started covering the revolution like some community television crew – great ebullience and limited technical knowledge.

Here the two reporters, male and female (as apposed to the single male reporter for national television), introduce themselves. Alongside them stands a representative of the revolutionary press.

Commune TV gets many of its ideas from the press. In some ways they become a kind of mouthpiece for the revolutionary newspapers, but they also back away from getting too deep into the issues. Their goal is to primarily give voice to the citizen revolutionaries. So they provide lots of individuals’ opinions and talking heads without a lot of organization.

The national television station provides the “official” perspective on the revolution. This perspective represents the traditional bourgeois and ruling class interests. Its format and style is much more professional and apparently reasonable, conveying ideas and perspectives in a droll monotone as though they are merely unarguable facts.

And here is the scene in which the revolutionary press argues with Commune TV about how they cover the revolution and why they don’t present some ideas critical to the raging debates about the new government and its direction.

The answer given by Commune TV is essentially two parts, 1) They don’t want to cover anything that isn’t import, thus censoring their coverage based on what they like and don’t like, and 2) They don’t like long, drawn out debates, rather they like short, exciting pieces that keep people interested. In this way Commune TV provides a kind of in-the-trenches, embedded revolutionary news while following some of the assumptions of the national news about the television medium itself. Thus, what we find is that both the national television news and the commune’s television news provide limited and distorted perspectives on what is happening.

La Commune (Paris, 1871) is a remarkable film. It is a far more important film than its largely unknown status might indicate. It will never be widely popular because it does not fit the mold of popular films, but it is both mesmerizing and challenging. By raising the questions of what is the role of news and, in particular, what is the role of news in a time of revolution (war), this film calls us to re-evaluate the present. We are in a time of revolution. There are those today who, with unprecedented corporate power and military might, are seeking to shape the world according to imperialistic philosophies of power. This is truly revolutionary. And the mainstream media plays along. I would argue that we need another revolution, one that is not based on imperialism, “might equals right”, corporate greed, or nationalistic patriotism – even if the words freedom or democracy are attached.

If this is brought up in polite conversation many will say, “I just don’t see it.” At least that has been my experience. But we are often like fish in water when it comes to our own culture. I think of it like the visual puzzles that look like one thing, but if you stare long enough, and maybe with someone guiding your vision a little, you begin to see the “buried” image hidden within. Look behind our popular media and you will find amazing and troubling things.

That is why I like Democracy Now.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now.

Democracy Now is just one outlet, but a great one for alternative news, and this is not an endorsement, just a statement of fact. Other outlets include The Guerrilla News Network and Truthdig.

What then is the role of independent news? The following video is one of the most powerful examinations of how the media and the Iraq war have and continue to go together like hand and glove. Without an independent media, without other sources of news, how are we to know what is really going on in the world? How are we to realize that when we think we understand even the basics we too easily don’t?


*Just in case your were wondering, television had not yet been invented in 1871. Watkins uses this creative device to draw comparisons with that era and ours, and the to highlight the relationship of news media to truth.

Mai 68

Lest we forget, 40 years ago this month it was “Mai 68”, that is, it was May 1968.

For most Americans (like me) the protests and riots that raged in France in 1968 are largely unknown. Like many protests of the 1960s there are questions as to their ultimate effectiveness. Certainly de Gaul was eventually pushed out, signaling a change from conservatism to liberalism. And, of course, Langlois was restored to his position, which was a part of the whole Mai 68 thing, though protests on his behalf started even earlier than May. But who really knows if any particular protest changed anything that would not have inevitably been changed anyway. And yet, those were glorious days, so I have read.

Here is a nice overview of some key elements of Mai 68:

My français is a bit rusty, but this is a nice retrospective timeline from French television:

There is a part of my soul that loves those protests in France, much like I love the protests in the U.S. in the 60s, or the anti-war protests and anti-globalization protests in recent years. Protesting is so romantic. Many cinephiles may not know that filmmakers shut down the Cannes festival (mentioned in the overview piece above) in 1968 as well.

The gang’s all here. Can you name each filmmaker in the photo?

This is a wonderful verité piece showing the debates among the filmmakers at Cannes deciding what their protest was going to mean and what actions that would require:

The fact that Cannes was closed down in 1968 shows that, as a film festival, it had clout, that it was important, and that films were important. I would love to see the Oscars shut down in protest to any number of things, such as the war in Iraq. But that would mean the Oscars are important and are we ready to admit that?

Special bonus: Captain Beefheart live in 1968 on the beach in Cannes.

*Filmmakers in the photo, left to right: LELOUCH, GODARD, TRUFFAUT, MALLE, POLANSKI

>Nowa Książka (New Book)

>Over at Andy Horbal’s blog he discusses, among other things, the Polish filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczynski. Andy’s post reminded me of Rybczynski’s 1975 short film New Book (Nowa Książka), which is a film I showed in a media studies course about 18 years ago. I had almost forgotten that wonderful little experimental film.

Here is the film. It might take a while to load because it is coming from a Chinese web site.

One thing that makes this film technically remarkable is the fact that this was made before the advent of digital video or non-linear editing systems. Each of the nine individual screens had to be synced up with each other without (I presume) the benefit of timecode. One can see how the action will sometimes speed up or slow down just slightly in individual screens as though being adjusted for the pacing of the other screens. I also love the soundtrack.

More importantly, New Book is an interesting look, albeit limited, at life in communist Poland in the mid 1970s (and not that I know much about that). As one follows the man in the red coat through the various screens from the upper left to the lower right and back, one also watches his apartment while he is gone. Who is the man in the red coat? What is this new book he is carrying? What is going on in his apartment while he is away?